The City Council passed a nearly $181.5 million City Budget for Fiscal Year 2020 Monday night, but not without some dire warnings about the financial future of the City by a few of the councillors.
The $181,486,465 budget passed by an 8-3 vote, with Councillors Damali Vidot, Joe Perlatonda, and Robert Bishop voting against the 3.7 percent increase over the FY19 budget. The School Department’s $95.4 million commitment comprises the largest chunk of the budget.
The Council also approved the Water and Sewer Enterprise accounts for FY20, bringing total City appropriations to around $205 million, but the water and sewer accounts are paid through the water and sewer rates, not taxation.
Several attempts were made to cut money from the budget Monday night, but with the exception of a $1,300 cut in the Emergency Management department budget, none of those efforts garnered a majority.
Among those failed efforts was one by Vidot to cut salary lines in the police, fire, and planning budgets.
Vidot proposed the $80,000 cut to the planning budget, $50,000 to the police, and $100,000 to the fire last year as well, citing a top heavy administrative budgeting in the Police and Fire departments, and her displeasure with the way the Downtown Coordinator position in the Planning Department has panned out.
One of the biggest issues, Vidot said, is that the Downtown Coordinator has not been properly involved with the small, local businesses in the city.
“We have to think about the future of this city, and (the position) is leaving out a huge part of Chelsea,” said Vidot.
Perlatonda said he couldn’t agree with an effort to cut $80,000 from the planning budget when the Council didn’t take action to cut millions of dollars from the Department of Public Works budget.
Perlatonda made his own amendments looking for the cuts in the DPW budget, which would have effectively ended a request by City Manager Thomas Ambrosino to have the DPW oversee a new City Water and Sewer Department, rather than contracting for the services.
Those amendments also failed.
Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda also voted against the cuts to the planning budget, noting several recent city-wide events that have brought hundreds of people to the downtown area.
Vidot noted that her amendment was not a personal attack on anyone, but added that City events would more appropriately be funded in the Recreation Department budget.
In casting his vote against the overall $181.5 million, Bishop said the constant increases in City spending are unsustainable.
“Last year, I voted against the budget because it was unsustainable,” said Bishop. “This year, it is even more unsustainable … this can’t continue. It’s no surprise to everyone that I usually oppose certain spending.
“I’m against a lot of spending because I think it is not spent wisely,” he continued. “When is this going to end? I hope I am not around when the bottom falls out, because it is going to fall.”
District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero voted for the budget, but said the City needs to seriously heed Bishop’s warning, noting that other large cities in Massachusetts such as Springfield and Lawrence have seen the economic bottom fall out.
“It can happen anywhere, … and then we will have to start laying people off,” said Recupero. “We only have 1.8 square miles in the city, how much can you grow in our city?
“I am going to vote for the budget because it is the right thing to do now, but like Mr. Bishop said, we have to beware of the future, because the future is not too far away,” he continued.
Perlatonda said that the budget is rising without the City doing enough to help its poorer residents through things like tax and water and sewer rate breaks.
“When is it going to end?” he said. “This budget needs to be stopped at some point.”
District 8 Councillor Calvin Brown said the councillors have gone through a long budget process with ample chance to make amendments or address their concerns to Ambrosino.
“I believe this budget is solid, well thought out, and well supported,” Brown said. “I know the investment we are making today is sound.”
Avellaneda voted to approve the budget, but said it is the first time he has ever given serious pause to voting in favor of a budget.
“What I have seen during the last year with the budget process is that I don’t think we are doing enough during budget season,” he said.
Avellaneda said there should have been more debate about, and more information provided about, the proposed change to the control of the Water and Sewer Department.
He also noted that the budget will have to be paid for in October, when the Council sets the City tax rate.
When that time comes around, Avellaneda said he will have questions for the City’s Assessing Department, which he said has been doing a “terrible job” capturing the true value of many larger properties in Chelsea.
“Across the board, there are many, many, many buildings, and these are large landlords, that are not paying their due in this community,” Avellaneda said.