June 15, 2007



Budget committee recommends staff cuts

By Nick Pinto
Staff Writer

NEWBURYPORT - A City Council committee is recommending $144,930 in cuts - along with a symbolic recommendation not to pay the assesment for the Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School - to the mayor's proposed budget, achieved largely by eliminating or reducing several municipal employee positions.

The City Council's Budget and Finance Committee took 10 minutes last night to vote for the cuts, which will be recommended to the full council at its meeting Monday night.

Mayor John Moak's proposed budget of $43,878,628 represents a 1.96 percent increase over the previous year's spending.

Committee members Gary Roberts, Larry McCavitt and Tom Jones were joined at the meeting by the other councilors and almost every city department head.

Moak and some department heads had expressed concern that the committee had asked relatively few questions of department heads in earlier budget sessions over the last month. Roberts, the committee chairman, disputed this, saying the committee has asked city staff many questions at this year's budget meetings.

The committee recommended the elimination of the Human Resources and Payroll clerk, a position that does not currently exist but which the mayor had requested for the coming year.

It also proposed the elimination of the Economic Development coordinator position, currently held by Peter Abair. The position's future has been in doubt since the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry decided in April that it would no longer fund half of Abair's salary.

Other positions cut back but not eliminated by the committee include the Emergency Management director and the Management Information Systems director. Mark Kavanagh, who holds the latter position, is in charge of maintaining the city's computer networks and programs. In recent weeks, Councilor Bruce Vogel has proposed that the council consider whether the city's technology needs would be better provided by a private contractor. Kavanagh declined to comment on Vogel's proposal for this article, citing legal advice.

The largest cut of the evening was the city's entire $464,995 assessment for the Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School. City councilors have been feuding with Whittier officials for several years over the amount of the city's assessment. But councilors last night acknowledged that eliminating the assessment was a symbolic gesture, since the city is legally obligated to pay it and the state can deduct the assessment from the city's state aid if it refuses to pay the assessment.

After the meeting, Roberts said the city budget this year is especially lean.

"There just wasn't a lot to be taken out," he said.

Following custom, the committee also voted on recommendations for how the money saved should be spent if the full council approves the cuts. Councilors suggested that half should be given to the School Department, which is laying off teachers at every level, to balance its budget. It also recommended spending on new weapons for the Police Department and the hiring of more on-call firefighters.

The mayor is not bound to follow these recommendations, and Roberts said Moak has told him that this year he will not approve spending in areas other than those he has recommended. But he is bound to follow the budget the counil approves.

The full City Council will discuss the committee's recommendations and have the chance to make further cuts to the budget when it meets at City Hall Monday at 7 p.m.

Budget Cuts Recommended by Budget and Finance Committee:

Mayor's Request
Cut to
Human Resources and Payroll clerk
Economic Development coordinator
Training, travel and conferences

Assessor's technology stipend

Management Information Systems director
City solicitor
Police vehicle fuel and oil
Emergency Management director
Emergency vehicle maintenance
Whittier school assessment (remains due)
Total for net recommended cuts = $802,925.81 - $195,100.00 = $607,925.81
City legally obligated to pay Whittier assessment of $462,995.00, thus net recommended budget cut = $142,930.81


(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Daily News, an Eagle Tribune Newspaper.)

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