Budget talks heat up

  • The Greenfield Town Hall FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/11/2019 11:29:56 PM

GREENFIELD — Financial issues of recent years surfaced Thursday evening at the city’s first meeting over the mayor’s proposed $51.3 million budget, which is a 4.5 percent increase from what the City Council approved for the current budget. 

Finance Director Liz Gilman said this year’s budget was extremely under-funded by about $840,000. The 2020 budget is a $2.3 million increase and, Gilman said, $2.1 million of it is for fixed increases. 

The large increase in the budget, the most Mayor William Martin in his 10 years has recommended, corrects a city spending plan that Gilman said has been “artificially low” for at least a few years. 

The city’s financial team has been under the scrutiny of the council for the past few years. The most recent director was fired, which she is currently disputing in court. The city was left without a finance director for a period of time as well. 

Thursday at the John Zon Community Center, Gilman and the five councilors who comprise the Ways and Means Committee, spent the evening parsing through the state of the budget. 

Precinct 3 City Councilor Brickett Allis, who is running for mayor this November, critiqued the sincerity of the city’s financial team that presented a budget well over a typical year-by-year increase. 

Allis brought the conversation back to the council’s recent approval of a new $19.5 million public library. He explained feeling he did not have sufficient information before voting on a library. He suggested the city knew at the time that the budget may face a more significant increase. 

Along with other typically fiscally conservative elected officials, Allis had balked for months at voting for a new library at that cost until a library-for-zoning deal was brokered earlier this year. 

Library budget documents indicated a general 2 percent increase to the operating budget over the long run, while next year’s proposed budget came in at 4.5 percent. 

“I’m not trying to argue; I’m just trying to make the point,” Allis said. “They’re double what we were given when we were asked to vote on something else. I’m nervous.”

Gilman and Martin downplayed this characterization. They said the city has had to spend more than what the council approved, for instance, back funding the health and inspection departments. 

Ways and Means Chairman Otis Wheeler often jumped into the conversation when issues heated up between At-Large Councilor Mass or Allis and the financial team. 

“What I’m hearing is we had some catching up to do,” Wheeler, the Precinct 7 councilor, said about the budget this year.

Mass and Allis questioned position changes proposed to the Mayor’s Office that may have shuffled the deck between departments. The mayor’s office removed its executive assistant, whose contract may not have been renewed recently. 

The Mayor’s Office may be staffed differently next year under a new mayor, when Martin’s term finishes. Some of the responsibilities of the mayor’s chief of staff may be transferred to the finance department in lieu of a cut to the staff. The point was contentious. 

Mass said he wants to beef up the Assessor’s Office so the professionals doing assessments are local people who know the local scene. Currently the city is set to continue to contract out some of the work. 

“This is the department that is being privatized and has been over the last six years over many citizens’ objections,” Mass said. 

Budget cuts to the $51.3 million proposal may lead to layoffs of city employees, councilors and Martin said. 

Mass and Martin debated over the procurement officers of the city. The mayor said he thought the job could be done with one employee next year, under a new mayor, and not two. Mass pressed him on why and Martin said he was “done with these interrogation” questions. 

City employees may be shifted between departments as a means of securing people’s positions in anticipation of changes in the executive branch. 

Director of Community and Economic Development MJ Adams pitched her budget to no questions from the committee. 

“I don’t think anyone would argue that you are one of the more active and important employees of Greenfield government,” Wheeler said. 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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