Revere City Councillors approved the $160.92 million budget on Monday night, but with no small amount of pushback from a vocal – but growing – minority of councillors who are wary of increased spending.
At the same time, the Council approved a plan to use $2.5 million of Free Cash to shore up a large budget deficit.
There were, however, no cuts to jobs or personnel.
“It’s a very lean budget,” said Ways and Means Chairman Richard Penta. “There’s not a lot of room. On the school side, they are $600,000 short. They’re making up for that without coming up here to us and asking for more. Everything else that’s going up in the budget is pretty much contractual.”
There were no cuts or adjustments to the budget by the Council.
In what was essentially a very “lean” budget dictated by salary contractual agreements with the Revere Police and Revere Fire unions – including more than $1 million in back pay – the Council still found room within that leanness to up it’s expense account and hand out some salaries increases that were not essential.
The Council expense account has been at $480 per month since 2008, and several attempts to restore it to $600 per month have fallen flat until now. The total increase in the budget for that item is $15,820, for a total of $79,200 for the Council expense account. That account is in addition to the regular salary given to councillors.
Likewise, the Economic Development Director position – created only a few years ago – increased when grant funding ran out this year. The $90,000 salary for that new position is now being absorbed in the budget. Similarly, some councillors noted that small non-contractual raises were given to staff members in the Mayor’s Office.
That said, there were also some very tough situations, such as more than $1 million in back pay that had to be delivered to firefighters and police officers after contract negotiations left over from the previous administration were finally resolved.
Also, a dozen new firefighters hired on a federal grant by the previous administration were also absorbed in the budget for a second year after the federal grant money dried up.
However, the major issue was the use of reserves to plug the budget gap.
Some councillors – primarily Brian Arrigo – were very critical of the use of Free Cash reserves to meet budget demands. He was also critical of the administration’s spending patterns saying that difficult decisions have not been made, but merely kicked down the road.
It was something he was very adamant about all during budget discussions, which Councillor Penta has been running in a marathon-session over the past two weeks.
“I think we do find ways to spend money; I think we do,” he said. “The fact is we do go out and find ways to spend money…We’re just not going to have relief for the taxpayer or ratepayer unless we get a casino. There are raises in here that aren’t contractual. There are raises in the Mayor’s Office. These are things we probably shouldn’t be spending money on until we know what happens with this casino…Nobody’s saying this is an easy situation, but we have to make difficult decisions. That hasn’t been done. Difficult decisions haven’t been made. We’re kicking the can down the road. Reserves are being used to fill up a budget.”
Others, such as Councillor Stephen Reardon weren’t quite as biting in their remarks, but still brought home the point that taxpayers and water & sewer ratepayers need to get a break soon – and Reardon put that date at next year’s budget cycle.
“At some point, and I would hope in the next budget cycle, consideration has to be made to giving taxpayers back something tangible, meaningful and concrete in the form of a break,” he said. “I want to make sure the administration gets the message that I, for one, am going to be very circumspect that the taxpayer, property taxpayer and the water ratepayer are getting their just due. I want to tell them ‘Thank you,’ and give them something meaningful.”
Councillor John Powers also toed the same line, saying he believes Free Cash could be used more appropriately for one-time expenditures that will help the residents rather than to shore up budget deficits. He said he would have rather seen the reserves used to combat potholes in the early spring.
“This is a bit like taking money out of your saving account at home, but sometimes though it’s something you have to do,” he said. “I also feel…that this is money put in from Free Cash over the last several years and Free Cash is to be used for one time expenditures. I feel very bad that sometime in March we didn’t sit down when people were driving through potholes and trenches that weren’t repaired…I suggested that and I suggested we use Free Cash for them. That’s a one-time expenditure. That’s how I feel about Free Cash, but I realize we have to use that money to balance the budget…I think before any more pay raises are granted in this city, we really need to talk about giving something back to the people in this city.”
Others – including Penta – countered such talk, saying the City was in good financial shape. They also pointed out there were no personnel cuts, which can be devastating to City workers.
“Tell me where we would cut this budget?” asked Councillor Arthur Guinasso. “There’s nothing to cut; 75 percent of our budget is wages and salaries. The message we have to send out is that we’re a very strong community. We’re solvent. We’re not going into receivership.”
Penta said not dipping into the reserves would mean only one thing – cuts to personnel.
“They used this $2.5 million to give back to the seniors and taxpayers,” said Penta. “If there were no appropriation from the Rainy Day Fund, what would happen? Simple; cuts across the board and more taxes. The mayor saw that to take $2.5 million out of the Rainy Day Fund was making things easier on the senior citizens and taxpayers.”
However, Council President Tony Zambuto had the final word – though that wasn’t easy.
Councillors Arrigo and Reardon challenged him when he began to speak from the chair, which is technically not allowed for a president under the official rules of order.
A vote to overrule was taken, and it was narrowly defeated 5-6, allowing Zambuto to speak from the chair.
“I, unlike some of my younger colleagues, was up here when we did not have a Rainy Day Fund,” he said. “We’re talking about dipping into the Rainy Day Fund like we’re dooming the City. Let me tell you, most cities and towns dip into their Rainy Day Fund if they’re fortunate enough to have one.”
The budget was approved by a vote of 10-1, with Arrigo voting against.
The use of the $2.5 million in reserves was approved by a vote of 9-2, with Arrigo and Jessica Giannino voting against.