Dealing with budget shortfalls

Dealing with budget shortfalls

 By Dalia Diaz

             Last week I wrote about the way three cities handle the FY21 budget; this is an expansion of what they are doing.

First, I will remind you that Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham Hospital were having a huge deficit and their solution was reducing the salaries of all high-salaried executives.

Also, Northern Essex Community College found itself in the same predicament and laid off 10% of its employees.  I was saddened to find out some of the names because they were long-time, talented and productive employees at the college but that reflects a reduction of more than $4 million.

“Community colleges like NECC are underresourced already, and the people who work here are deeply committed to serving students and our community,” said Lane Glenn, president of NECC. “Any reductions we are forced to make in staffing will be difficult, and will impact our ability to provide that service, but we must prepare for the difficult budget year ahead.”

Due to increased costs, reduced enrollment, lost revenue from other sources, and steep declines in state support, Mr. Glenn offered important options like an Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) and Voluntary Unpaid Leaves of Absence (VULA).  Being a good leader, he and other members of the NECC Leadership Cabinet, will be taking Voluntary Unpaid Leaves of Absence to contribute toward the goal of balancing the budget while minimizing the need for staff reductions.

The question of how that would impact the Career Center located at 255 Essex Street came to mind, a place serving so many looking for employment, now that they are under NECC’s umbrella.

MassHire Career Center budget is separate from the college and has not been affected as yet since they have not received next year’s budget from the state. So, they don’t know if they will have funding reductions.

The City of Haverhill is facing a budget increase of $2.5 million and, instead of asking for a tax increase, the City Council approved a 1/12 budget to continue working on reasonable ways to reduce it before approving a full FY21 budget.  One way for Mayor James Fiorentini to find a solution is laying off certain employees.

The financial situation for the City of Methuen is dire.  Mayor Neil Perry knew what he was getting into and has shown the leadership necessary to make decisions in favor of the majority.

Facing a $4 million deficit, the City Council also passed a 1/12 budget and the administration will continue working on ways to reduce expenses during this month.  Mayor Perry is also presenting a list of 45 employees being laid off in order to achieve a balance.

That’s how responsible businesses and cities handle their money problems – judiciously!

Lawrence, instead, has a City Council that listened to the mayor’s explanations for the need to increase property taxes by the maximum allowed of 2.5% without even trying to make reductions to the budget.

Lawrence has money to spend because they paid $51,444.00 on the ‘new’ stainless steel bollards on Pemberton Way.  I don’t know if they were needed or not but the contract stated that the work was to be completed by June 30, 2020.

In an email message to DPW Director Brian Peña asking if there was a need to get it done and if it’s finished.  His only response was, “the work is about 50% complete due to delays in obtaining the materials. The contractor has installed most of the bollards on the Pemberton Street side, and will be moving to Appleton Street once the rest of the materials arrive,” said Brian.

The contract calls for a total of 36 bollards, and the purchase order states the $51,444 was for just the installation of “removable bollards” although the city’s invitation for bids calls for “supply and installation of removable bollards”.

But the bottom line still remains as to why the bollards were needed in the first place.

I asked several members of the City Council if replacing the bollards next to City Hall was necessary and if it was approved by them and only Ana Levy responded.

Councilor Levy told me that this was probably one of the many things that were approved as part of the Capital Improvement Plan.  I looked at the CIP and did not see it there; nevertheless, I am sure this was not the time to be spending money just because it had been approved long ago.  And that’s only one of the many ways the city spends while being unnoticeable.

Something that caught my attention was that the contract for this work was given to John Belko of Belko Landscaping of Salem, NH.  This company does snow removal every year for the city and for a few years has been in charge of maintenance of our city parks, instead of our city workers.  I have yet to check if he is also one of the mayor’s campaign contributors.