Councillors Approve Budget in 8-3 Vote; Have Criticisms

The Chelsea City Council approved an overall City Budget of $181.086 million on Monday night, but not without a great deal of discussion and low marks for the effort and presentation by City Manager Tom Ambrosino.

The Budget was not a unanimous vote, passing 8-3. Those voting against were Councillors Damali Vidot, Enio Lopez and Yamir Rodriguez.

Council President Roy Avellaneda said if he were a professor, he would give this year’s City
Budget effort and presentation an ‘F.’ The Council was universally disappointed with the Budget as a whole, but passed it nonetheless by an 8-3 vote.

Those voting for the budget were Councillors Roy Avellaneda, Calvin Brown, Leo Robinson, Todd Taylor, Judith Garcia, Naomi Zabot, Giovanni Recupero, and Melinda Vega Maldonado.

The City Budget, by his own admission, wasn’t going to win any awards – Ambrosino said earlier this month – but it was one that avoided layoffs and major cuts to critical programs by using money from the Rainy Day Fund.

By renegotiating with City unions about deferring pay raises, most union workers in City Hall and beyond were spared layoffs – something that is happening in large numbers at other municipalities.

The three parts of the budget approved included:

•Salaries:  $49,580,934

•Operations: $131,210,157

•Capital Improvements: $295,000

To balance the budget that was approved, the Council had to give the okay to using $4.9 million from the Stabilization Fund – which has grown over the years as Chelsea socked away money in good times.

Now, everyone agreed, was a Rainy Day.

However, there was no love of the effort given to the City Budget this year by most every councillor, even those that voted for it.

Councillor Vidot led off the discussion by saying she would not vote for the budget, and followed through with that.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and yet we’re seeing proposed budget cuts to some of the most important departments, such as Health and Human Services” said Vidot. “We needed more creativity in this budget. Cutting the funding for this department in a city that has lost 152 lives is unacceptable…We had a chance here to lead and create a real need that addresses the needs of the community. I think it misses the mark sorely and I will not support it.”

Said Calvin Brown, “A lot more could have been done. I really think we had an opportunity to make some change on several issues. There were none of those things mentioned.”

Council President Avellaneda said he expected a more professional presentation, roles of employees defined and mission statements for every department. He said there were parts he couldn’t even follow, and if he cannot follow it with decades in government service, then certainly the public couldn’t either.

“Some of this didn’t even have page numbers,” he said. “It was a disaster. If I were a professor, I’d give you an ‘F’ absolutely. That’s not even something you could present online for the public to look at and digest. I don’t want to hear COVID-19 – I don’t. I’m not buying it. I hope next year this looks a lot better…This was unacceptable.”

He also said on the substance of the budget, he disagreed with a lot of the revenue projections, and predicted that the City Manager would be back in the fall for cuts or to try to raise taxes.

“Come October and November, we’re going to look at ourselves and say, ‘It’s time to pay for this budget.’”

Councillor Garcia said she understood the issues, and she too was disappointed with the budget, but felt voting against it wasn’t necessary.

“As much as I wish I could join in collectively to make a statement on the budget that we’re not proud of and could have been better, I have a civic duty to vote on a budget,” she said.

Councillor Taylor said he wasn’t impressed with the format or presentation, but he said it was quite an accomplishment to avoid layoffs in these dark times.

“Speaking as someone who has 700 employees and I had to lay all of them off and my industry has been destroyed, I’m pretty proud of this budget that we don’t have to lay anyone off. That’s a big deal,” he said. “To save people’s jobs and keep everyone employed is important and needs to be recognized.”

Councilor Robinson said the Council needs to shoulder some of the burden for the bad budget as well.

“We have just as much responsibility to develop programs and help our community,” he said. “We as a City Council need to step up to the plate and share in these responsibilities.”

There were no cuts to the City Budget in the form of amendments by the Council, though one was defeated.

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