If you wanted to watch your city council address the manager’s proposed budget, you had to have the patience of a saint and the stamina of a night owl. The city budget hearing began as scheduled, Tuesday at 5 pm, and ended 7 ½ hours later with an approved budget of $296 million (includes Enterprise Fund). From the beginning, several parents, students, and four school board members spoke in support of more funding for the schools. (See my remarks here.) UTL President Paul Georges also spoke, telling the council he was prepared to ask his members to make concessions, save on health insurance, and work with other school unions to save about $800,000, but that he expected the city to show movement. As Georges noted, “I have 1,400 members. You have 105,000 people.” After public comments ended at about 6:30, the hearing recessed for the regularly scheduled council meeting, and I headed home to watch the rest on television. When I turned on my television, however, the council chamber was empty and a bulletin noted the council had gone into executive session. After about an hour, the council meeting resumed, adjourning at 9:20.
By 9:30, the budget hearing began again with about an hour of discussion that included a motion by Councilor Caulfield to send the budget back to the manager for “tweaking,” which failed (Councilor Broderick asked Caulfield to ”define tweaking”), as well as a motion to accept the budget as presented, which also failed. There was a lot of discussion about the budget being based on a 2.5% tax increase, which the manager explained would increase taxes an average of $60-$75 for a single family home, depending on its assessed value, and provide $5 million in additional revenue. On several occasions, both councilors Mercier and Caulfield wanted to know “when the tax increases would end,” to which the manager replied, “when people don’t want services.” At one point, CC Elliott suggested simply cutting each department 2.5%, noting “We need to make cuts. The schools are taking cuts.” His idea gained little support, however, and he did not make it in the form of a motion.
For more than an hour, the council went line by line over the budget, with the majority voting to accept nearly all the manager’s recommendations. (There was one $6,652 cut.) Councilors Caulfield and Elliott consistently voted no on each line item, but did not make specific motions to cut any expenses. Most surprising to me were comments by former school committee member Councilor Mendonca. Mendonca noted that when he was on the school board, he was fighting to get the city up to its minimum requirement which it had now surpassed for the second year in a row: “We can only do so much” to support the school department,” he said, adding that in “seven years, enrollment is down 2100 students,” and “there’s a reason for the formula.” Finally, by 12:18, it was over.