City Council Approves $115 Million Budget

How much will it cost to run the City of Chelsea in the next fiscal year that starts on July 1?

The answer is $115M.

And the number became official when the Chelsea City Council  on Tuesday evening gave its OK for the Fiscal Year 2012 budget presented by Jay Ash.

It is a budget very representative of the times, with $1.8 million taken from the city’s cash reserves to make up the deficit that existed in balancing it.

“We’re continuing to do more with less,” said Council President Marilyn Vega-Torres, referring to additions to the budget that included two police officers, one DPW laborer, two part-time DPW positions for a solid waste enforcer and a recycling coordinator, and one parking clerk should the Council adopt new parking regulations.

The new budget goes into effect July 1.

It represents a 4.5% overall cut in spending compared with FY2011.

“It’s remarkable that we can withstand these tough municipal finance times and still offer many critical services in a budget that is in balance,” said Councillor Leo Robinson.

He knows of what he speaks.

The budget making effort since the near collapse of the national economy has been thrown upside.

State aid to all cities and towns is down dramatically since 2008 and had been falling before that.

Increasingly, cities and towns like Chelsea have been made to move forward without the promise or the guarantee of added state aid.

Non school local aid cuts and skyrocketing health insurance costs for municipal employees have been the main culprits in making balancing budgets doable.

“Non-school local aid is down another 7% this year and a total of 40% over the past 11 years.  Put another way, we’ve lost $4.2 million in aid this year from the State, and yet our structural deficit is only $1.8 million.

“Health insurance for municipal employees and retirees is up another 7%, and has averaged a 10% annual increase over the last decade.  I remain hopeful that the reform the State Legislature is advancing on health insurance will produce meaningful savings, and reduce our structural deficit in half,” said Ash.

That being said, Ash indicated the structural debt situation the city finds itself in will be a thing of history in or within 5 years.

Additionally, he said the budget is in good shape with reserves to draw upon.

He said he was sorry to see the reduction of 5-25 school department employees in 2012.

Especially difficult to deal with, he said, are the costs for providing health insurance for those who are employed as well as for those who are retired from city service.

Councillor Brian Hatleberg believes everything must be done to keep water and sewer rates lower and he has said so at countless council meetings He and his colleagues approved a $15.8 million Water and Sewer Enterprise Funds budget for FY12.

The Council adoption of the budget occurred after a public hearing and two marathon sessions with department heads for Councillors to question individual spending items.  Having now adopted next year’s budget, the Council will turn its attention to closing out the current year’s budget.

“Budgeting is among the most important things we do,” commented Councillor Paula Barton.  “We’re making sure that we stay in balance and that there are no fiscal surprises to disrupt our services.  Overall, I’d say we’re succeeding in providing for those services and keeping costs to taxpayers the lowest anywhere in our region.”

“By hiring more police, instead of laying them off, and not needing a Proposition 2 ½ override to fill in budget gaps, the Council and the City Administration seem to be doing what we need to in order to survive during these difficult times.  That is good news for everyone,” concluded Councillor Richard Maronski.

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