Higher Fees And Taxes Sought To Balance Budget
The city of Springfield Massachusetts will enter a new fiscal year this Sunday, July 1st, with a budget that officials describe as “ austere” and “ bare-bones”. It is also a budget that remains out of balance, as we hear from WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief, Paul Tuthill..
The $551.8 million dollar budget will cut more than 100 city jobs, cause three library branches to close, take a fire department ladder truck out of service, and result in reduced repairs and maintenance of streets, sidewalks and parks.
Springfield city councilors, confronting the grim result of plunging property tax collections, took the somewhat unprecedented step this week of approving all expenditures for fiscal 2013 exactly as recommended by Mayor Domenic Sarno. City Councilor Kenneth Shea said to cut the budget deeper would be unpalatable to city’s residents and its businesses.
Among the cuts that will occur as a result of the passage of the budget are the closing of three of the city’s nine branch libraries.
-The parks department will stop mowing the grass at ten city parks.
-The department of public works will no longer repair sidewalks, and street sweeping will be reduced.
-The city will stop collecting trash at apartment houses with more than three units, forcing the building owners to hire commercial rubbish haulers.
-31 vacancies in the police department will not be filled, and because of staffing shortages in the fire department, a ladder company will be taken out of service.
Mayor Sarno said the city will spend 2% less on municipal operations than it did in the current fiscal year. He said it is the fifth straight budget that has led to reductions in the size of the municipal workforce.
At the same time services are being cut, fees will increase for scores of city issued licenses and permits. That will bring in an estimated $2 million.
But, the city is projected to collect $7 million dollars less in property taxes, as a result of plunging real estate values and the Prop 2 and a half tax cap. The tax bill for the average single family house in the city is projected to drop $140.
To balance the budget, the mayor recommended drawing down $8 million from the city’s $40 million cash reserves. City Councilor Bud Williams advocated digging deeper into reserves.
The mayor’s budget is also based on a proposed $10 increase in the annual fee the city charges households for trash and recycling collections. Additionally it counts on an estimated $500 thousand that would come from increasing the local share of the hotel room tax rate by 2%.
Residents spoke out at public hearings against the trash fee hike. The region’s hospitality and tourism industry has lobbied against raising the hotel tax. City Councilor Timothy Allen plans to ask colleagues to approve a $15 increase in the trash fee with the additional revenue used to reopen the three soon to close library branches
The city council has scheduled a special meeting for July 3rd to vote on the trash fee and hotel room tax increases.