May 31, 2006
The Honorable David Alves, City Council President
Councilors Morad, Lawrence, DeMedeiros, Saunders, Pina,
Gomes, Pimental, Gonsalves, Koczera, and Coelho
133 William Street
New Bedford, Massachusetts 02740
Dear Council President Alves and Members of the City Council:
This evening, I respectfully submit to you the proposed budget for the City of New Bedford for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006.This budget is balanced and addresses the top priorities of our city: safe neighborhoods, clean neighborhoods, improved infrastructure, a school system that profiles every student for success, citywide beautification with trees planted and blighted eyesores removed, and an open, efficient and courteous city government and services available to all residents. Our collective attention is fixed upon improving quality of life for our residents through responsible and efficient stewardship of the financial resources entrusted to us.We must constantly seek out new cost-cutting measures while aggressively implementing revenue-generating strategies.
The FY 2007 budget requests expenditures of $265 million.This is an increase of $7 million over last year’s operating budget, or a 2.78 percent increase over FY 2006.This budget focuses on the priority needs of our residents, our neighborhoods, and our City.Chief among these needs are the protective services provided by our police, fire, and emergency response departments, the public education system, and public infrastructure and facilities and general City services.
I. WHAT WE INHERITED
Shortly after taking office, it became apparent to me that the City of New Bedford was operating in a deficit situation.Our current deficit is $416,760 and will be carried over to the new fiscal year.We have done everything we can to bridge that deficit, curtailing spending when my term began.
I am embarrassed to report that the finances of this city were manipulated and concealed from the City Council and the citizens of New Bedford by the prior administration.It will never happen again.The era of fiscal irresponsibility and slight of hand is over.
In the past weeks, this Council and the public has learned of unauthorized spending regarding the rail yard project that has put New Bedford in a precarious financial position.I suggest to the Council that we correct this egregious error by expanding project bonding to cover unauthorized expenditures.However, I welcome the City Council’s input regarding this matter.
In addition, we now find ourselves in a discussion about raising sewer and water fees or placing an assessment on each household in the City to meet the approximately $3 million deficit we face within that department.If the former administration had exhibited fiscal responsibility by maintaining sewer and water fees at a rate current with inflation, we would not be in this situation.In difficult economic times, I do not favor raising fees on city residents, however, fiscal responsibility means we may have to examine that possibility.I welcome the City Council’s input in this matter.
The Keith Middle School construction project continues to be a source of great concern on two fronts–first, the environmental safety of the school, and second, the question of financing a $70 million dollar project.Again, the former administration’s complete fiscal irresponsibility has compromised the City’s taxpayers.We will resolve both of these important issues.
II. WHAT WE HAVE DONE TO SAVE MONEY
The school department has reallocated funds within their budget and re-appropriated$1.5 million to meet the promise made by the former administration to keep four elementary schools open during FY 2006.The former administration indicated it wanted to sell city real estate to meet general operating expenses.I do not believe it is appropriate to sell capital assets to pay for operating costs.I am deeply grateful to Superintendent Michael Longo and the School Committee for the $1.5 million that the school department was able to allocate to operate the four elementary schools over the past fiscal year.
I am constantly looking for ways to eliminate wasteful spending.I issued an executive order prohibiting the overnight use of any city vehicle without a specific emergency purpose.
Further, I have cut salaries on a number of positions to more closely reflect responsibilities.
We will decrease costs to the City by having workers’ compensation cases and Chapter 41, Section 111F cases administered by the City Solicitor’s office, and eliminating outside consultants.
We are now in the process of re-ordering departments in order to find economy of scale and efficient use of City resources and personnel.
I am always interested in hearing ways to eliminate waste from the Council and the public, and welcome feedback.
III. WHAT WE PROPOSE
The Budget for FY 2007
The budget I am presenting has few changes from last year.We do not know the final revenue amounts that New Bedford will receive nor are we sure of our final deficit for FY 2006.With that in mind, the following is a thorough representation of the changes that have been made:
City Council has an increased appropriation for Rental/Lease due to the acquisition of a new photocopier.
Mayor’s Office has seen reduced costs due to the restructuring of staffing.Chief Financial Officer position added to Mayor’s Office and taken from Treasurer’s Office.
Auditor’s Department includes the addition of a Grants Auditor and the upgrade of a Clerk Typist to a Senior Accounting Clerk.
Purchasing Department reflects the transfer of the Communications Department from Emergency Management to Purchasing.The positions of Telephone Operator and Senior Account Clerk were transferred with the Communications Department.Appropriations being transferred are for Repair and Maintenance and Telephone charges.Further, the appropriation for Postage was increased due to the census mailer.
There were no changes in the Assessors Office.
Treasurers reflects the position of Treasurer/Collector/Chief Financial Officer being split, with the Treasurer/Collector position remaining in Treasurers and Chief Financial Officer added to the Mayor’s Office.The appropriation for Bank Service Charges increased due the use of a lockbox service.
The Solicitor’s Office reflects the addition of Counsel I, Counsel II, part-time Associate City Solicitor, two Legal Secretaries and the elimination of the Risk Manager.The appropriation for Consultants was reduced, while Office Supplies slightly increased.
Labor Relations saw the appropriation for Rental/Lease increase due to the acquisition of a new photocopier.
MIS saw an increased appropriation for Computer Equipment to purchase a replacement high-speed printer and computers for new employees.
The City Clerk saw an increased Rental/Lease appropriation due to the acquisition of a new photocopier and Printing increased due to binding vital records.
The Elections budget includes the addition of a Senior Clerk and a decreased appropriation in Printing due to an anticipated reimbursement from the State for the State Election.
Licensing saw an increased appropriation for Rental/Lease due to the acquisition of a new photocopier.
Environmental Stewardship includes the elimination of a Senior Clerk and the addition of an Administrative Specialist.The appropriation for Other Financing Uses increased due to funding grant matches and Engineering Services decreased due to the completion of a project.
The Planning Board saw an increase for Salaries and Wages due to an anticipated increase in responsibilities due to the drafting of a Master Plan.Also, Planning reflects an increased appropriation for Printing due to printing of the Master Plan.
City Property shows no change.
Public Facilities reflects the addition of two Electricians for the purpose of maintaining our street lights in-house and continued maintenance projects, and a Superintendent of Custodians.The appropriations for Electricity, Natural Gas, Oil for Heat and Gas/Diesel have increased due to rising energy costs.
Clerk of Committee shows no change.
GG Unclassified reflects an increased appropriation of $1.3 million for Premiums Life Health and Medical and an increased appropriation of $1.9 million for retirement after deducting expenses for Water, Wastewater, Airport and Library.
The Police Department reflects the addition of a Deputy Chief and reflects the recently settled 3-year retroactive labor contract with the Police Union.The appropriations have increased due to the opening of the substations, maintenance costs, and rental/lease payments.
The Fire Department reflects the recently settled 3-year retroactive labor contract with the Firefighters Union.
EMS shows no change.
Inspectional Services shows no change.
Emergency Management reflects the movement of telephone staff to Purchasing and the addition of an Administrative Specialist to assist with homeland security issues.
Traffic shows no change.
The School Department budget is calculated by starting with the previous year’s General Fund Budget, adding the new Chapter 70 State Aid and the increase in the City’s minimum contribution as calculated by the Department of Education and subtracting the increase in School employee benefit costs and indirect costs.
School Unclassified saw a 7% appropriation increase.
Public Infrastructure includes the addition of a Working Foreman.The appropriation for Hospital & Medical increased while Engineering Services decreased.
Water includes the elimination of a Meter Service Inspector and Meter Installer.The appropriation for Electricity, Oil for Heat, Gasoline, Vehicle Supplies, Water Work Supplies, and Other Public Works Supplies increased due to the increase in utility costs.Funding for capital expenditures has been cut 95%.
Wastewater includes the elimination of a Senior Accounts Clerk.The appropriation for Electricity, Oil for Heat, Gasoline, Vehicle Supplies, Water Work Supplies, and other Public Works Supplies increased due to the increase in utility costs.
The Airport reflects an increased appropriation for electricity and gas due to the rising cost of utilities.Insurance and miscellaneous benefits costs also increased.
The Cemetery Department was created after removing their budget from the Department of Public Facilities budget.
The Health and Human Services Department has been eliminated and replaced with the Departments of Health, of Veterans, and of Community Services.
Health Department was created due to the elimination of HHS
Veterans Department was created due to the elimination of HHS.The appropriation for Veterans Benefits increased due to additional claims
The Library has seen a budget increase to meet the minimum requirements of the State Board of Libraries Commissioner.The budget includes the addition of eleven positions and increases funding for utilities, employee benefits, art insurance, library security, and books.
The Department of Community Services was created due to the elimination of the Health and Human Service Department.
The Buttonwood Park Zoo shows no change.
Marketing/Tourism shows no change.
The Treasurer’s Debt shows no change.
Fairhaven Mills Property
The City will seek fair value for the property it owns at the Fairhaven Mills site.New Bedford is fortunate to have one of the most valuable pieces of commercial property in New England at the site of the former Fairhaven Mills.The parcel is ideally situated on the waterfront with its own exit off of Interstate 195.I am firmly committed to ensuring that any development of the site be in the city’s best interest and that any public agreements that are entered into are reached in the bright light of day.
The City’s fiscal profile will strengthen with conservative budgeting and tight budgetary controls.This is excellent news for New Bedford’s long-term economic health.
The general economic circumstances under which we find the City are challenging but not unique.Cities across the Commonwealth are facing high unemployment rates, sharp competition for development projects, and rising costs of living for residents.State aid has increased by only 3.73 percent since FY 2006, causing us to make hard choices on fund allocations.It is within this framework that I, with strong input from city departments and the City Council, made the decisions reflected in this budget.
Despite these challenges, there is significant good news to report about the local economy.The City is an industrial center and is ranked the number one fishing port in the nation.We have seen the City’s assessed value rise annually by an average of 11.4 percent since 2001, with substantial growth revenue every year due to tax base growth and appreciation as well as commercial and industrial growth.Our business park continues to expand at a rapid pace, providing employment opportunities and a broader tax base.The economic potential presented by the creation of a commuter rail to Boston is enormous; therefore, commuter rail expansion is a project I am steadfastly pursuing.
Downtown New Bedford is undergoing a cultural and economic renaissance that will yield benefits for businesses seeking to locate in an attractive urban center and for citizens who have long awaited an appealing and inviting center for city government and services, educational opportunity, artistic and cultural programming, entertainment, and shops and restaurants.We anticipate a summer of diverse cultural events in the downtown area that will lure both residents and visitors to experience the best of what New Bedford has to offer: a national historic park located on the nation’s premier working waterfront with unique galleries and restaurants and a cultural tradition rivaled by none.We are seeing an increased presence of college students brought about by the full utilization of the downtown campuses of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Bristol Community College, the creation of condos in previously underutilized buildings, and the opening of new bars and restaurants.All of this contributes to a climate that encourages further economic development and a creative economy.
Our downtown revitalization must occur hand-in-hand with the revitalization of all of our City’s neighborhoods.I am pleased to see new businesses opening in all parts of New Bedford and am committed to leaving no neighborhood behind.I re-opened police stations in the North and South Ends to create an increased police presence throughout the City, enhancing quality of life for City residents and fostering an atmosphere in which families and businesses can thrive.I believe the City must open additional substations to secure a safe atmosphere in our city. I have also selected a new Chief of Police and two Deputy Chiefs who will effectively engage the department in a new community policing initiative.Public safety in every corner of our city must be realized for individuals and for the entire community in order to spur investment.We are seeking grants to bring the most modern surveillance technology to troubled areas of our City. The men and women who work for our City in every department begin this fiscal year with settled contracts through FY 2006 and we will shortly enter into negotiations for new contracts for FY 2007 and beyond.We must provide our employees with modern equipment and technology and streamlined processes that best enable them to serve the City.
We must provide opportunities for New Bedford youth to constructively interact with their community.I am committed to increasing youth programming this summer and beyond by strengthening public and private partnerships with businesses, social service agencies, and our faith-based community.We must invest in our youth to stop the violence that our City has experienced recently and to create an educated workforce capable of drawing businesses to New Bedford.We must strengthen the quality of our schools to make New Bedford a beacon for people who are looking for a place to live, work, and raise a family.
In March of this year, New Bedford held a major tourism summit that drew together hundreds of business and community leaders to consider potential paths for growth of the City’s tourism industry.This summit generated a bevy of ideas that we are analyzing and implementing to make New Bedford an attractive destination for visitors from within the region and beyond.This past Friday, the New York Times featured New Bedford as a tourist destination in their travel section.I believe this will be the first of many positive articles on our city and will generate economic opportunity.
IV. HOW WE WILL ACCOMPLISH THIS
Our City government will continue to make common-sense decisions to reduce costs to the City and conserve taxpayer money.These decisions also increase or upgrade city services.
I am pleased to announce that the City of New Bedford will be issuing a Request for Proposals for health insurance coverage.This competitive process, which has the City unions’ support, will yield a better selection and increased choices of health insurance programs for our employees.We will have many companies bidding for the insurance contract, and the competition for our business will yield positive financial results for the City employees and taxpayers.
We are aggressively pursuing tax title properties in an effort to realize some of the more than $15 million in outstanding property taxes owed to the City.We are increasing revenue streams through the foreclosure of tax title property, and have drafted a tax repayment agreement to allow for the payment over time of outstanding tax warrants and a reduction of interest with full payment.We are also moving to comply with Section 30B of Massachusetts General Law so that the City Treasurer and City Property Committee can dispose of property through a competitive Request for Proposals, tailoring the sale of properties to meet neighborhood needs and allowing for more control over property development.
In order to ensure that the City’s revenue is used most efficiently and that city services are of the highest quality, I have accepted the City Council’s recommendation to eliminate the street light contract and have City employees perform maintenance.This will yield improved service response time and hoped-for savings.
I have moved aggressively to capture revenues from the occupancy of city property.We have renegotiated leases in a fair manner at the New Bedford airport to reflect modern demands and increase tax revenue to the city.We have also negotiated fair leases for the tenants of the New Bedford Economic Development Resource Center/Quest Center.
Since January, New Bedford is fortunate to have received millions of dollars in grants from the state and federal government that will enable us to enhance quality of life for City residents in a number of ways.We are committed to aggressively seeking any and all available public and private funds from the state and federal government and foundations to enhance City services and opportunity for our residents.To facilitate this, we have created an Office for City Grants.
I look forward to working with each City Councilor to ensure long-term financial growth and stability in the City of New Bedford, bolstered by increased economic development and improved city services, and balanced with a strong effort to control costs.We will prioritize safety for all of New Bedford’s residents, create a public education system that develops a profile of success for each of our students, and we will work aggressively to ensure neighborhood development and home ownership, all of which promote economic investment.
I firmly believe that by working together, the future of our City is very bright.
Scott W. Lang