Live blog: Greenfield Annual Budget Meeting

The Greenfield City Council is debating the FY2019 budget this evening. I will be providing updates here as long as I can hold out. These meetings always tend to be marathon sessions.

  • The meeting has been called to order, all Councilors present.
  • The first motion is to suspend the rules of procedure, passes unanimously. This allows the Council to proceed directly to the Second Readings of the various motions.

Town Clerk appointment

  • First motion is the appointment of the new City Clerk.
  • According to Council VP Ricketts, there were close to twenty applicants.
  • Councilor Mass states he intends to abstain from voting because the candidate is not a Greenfield resident.
  • Motion carries with four abstentions, Kathy Scott is the new Clerk.

Take from the table – FY 2019 Capital Budget Appropriate $195,000 for GCET Telecommunications Equipment

  • Council unanimously moves to take this motion from the table.
  • Councilor Mass (who originally moved to table the motion) due to concerns about indirect costs to the city says those concerns are now assuaged after meeting with GCET Manager John Lund and the GCET Board of Commissioners.
  • Councilor Allis also now intends to support this motion.
  • Motions carries unanimously.

Take From The Table – FY 2019 Capital Budget Appropriate $150,000 from Free Cash for Six (6) projects

  • Council votes unanimously to take this one from the table, so it is now up for debate.
  • Councilor Lobik wants to know why the DPW electricians can’t do the wiring that is part of one of these projects. Council President Renaud will not allow DPW Director Ouillette to answer the question because there is no public comment at this meeting. None of the other Councilors seems to know the answer either.
  • Councilor Mass moves for unanimous consent to bifurcate the item for $40k of panel work at the DPW garage into a separate motion. Motion does not have unanimous consent, so we’re back to the full motion.
  • Councilor Lobik moves to amend zero out the $40k for upgrading the DPW garage panels, reducing this motion to $110k.
  • Councilor Dolan states that he does not believe it is the Council’s role to manage department budgets like this, and that we should trust department heads.
  • Council VP Ricketts is not opposed to managing department budget, but will oppose this amendment because this process has been going for two months.
  • DPW Director Ouillette is sitting one seat over from me and is sighing heavily right now.
  • Councilor Allis laments the lack of detail in the budget book this year compared to previous years and anticipates more debates like this one tonight.
  • Councilor Wheeler speculates that this work involves removing knob-and-tube wiring at the DPW facility, and that kind of work tends to be both expensive and complicated. Director Ouillette is nodding vigorously in agreement.
  • The amendment version fails, so Council is now voting on the full $150k. Motion passes.

Take From The Table – FY 2019 Capital Budget Appropriate $49,250 from Building Maintenance Stabilization for two (2) projects

  • Council votes unanimously to take this one from the table, so it is now up for debate.
  • Trim repairs to North Parish School (AEL) and roof repairs at Four Corners.
  • Councilor Mass wants to know what is happening with the Green River School before giving money to a facility (NP) that may be vacated soon, moves to amend the motion to strike the trim repairs item. Also has concerns about the Mayor’s assertion that the School Committee’s request for money for swipe cards should come out of GPS operating budget rather than capital funds.
  • Councilor Stempel will not support the amendment. She asked Superintendent Harper and there not currently any plans to vacate North Parish.
  • Councilor Wheeler points out that items also included mold remediation and leaking skylights at Newton School, not just trim work at NP.
  • Councilor Mass now saying that this motion requires 2/3 majority to pass and that if the motion includes this money, it may not pass, meaning no funding for Four Corners roof. This is essentially a threat to tank the whole motion.
  • Amendment fails (including no vote from Council President Renaud).
  • Councilor Mass moves to table the motion because it will not get the required 2/3 majority. Council votes to table with Councilor Stempel abstaining.

Fiscal Year 2019 Originally Proposed General Fund Budget

  • This is the amended version of the overall budget.
  • Some parliamentary wrangling going on right now between Councilor Mass and Council President Renaud. This is about how to handle the extra $101k that was accidentally included in the Mayor’s proposed budget.
  • Amendment now to reduce the overall budget by $101k by reducing the Police Department salary and wages line item by that same amount. Seconded.
  • Amendment passes, on to the main motion by going through line items.
    • No discussion on the Legislative Branch line item
    • Now on to Executive Branch line item…
      • Councilor Allis moves to reduce Mayor’s salary and wages line item by $40k; seconded. Amendment fails on vote from Council President Renaud.
      • Councilor Allis moves to reduce Assessors salary and wages line item because the current assessor is retiring and a replacement will be much cheaper.
      • Councilor Mass says that the extra $400k the School Department has asked for requires a 2/3 vote of the full Council, but that they won’t get it unless it comes from corresponding cuts elsewhere.
      • Frustration from Councilor Stempel about the “crappy position” the Mayor has put them in (having to pull money from other departments to fund the schools). Council VP Ricketts expressing similar frustration, as well as anger at people showing up at the last minute instead of coming to prior meetings.
      • Councilor Gilmour acknowledges the remarks from Councilors Stempel and Ricketts, but thinks that this particular cut seems reasonable. Councilor Dolan agrees, and states that he intends to introduce a motion this evening to add $400k back into the School Department budget.
      • More open animosity from Councilor Allis toward Mayor Martin. I suspect this will be a theme throughout the evening.
      • Brickett/Mass amendment to reduce this line item passes.
    • Greenfield Technology Department line item… Amendment from Councilor Allis moves to reduce this line item as well.
      • Some elbows being thrown here between Councilors Dolan and Allis about the sources of Allis’s assertions in support of these proposed cuts.
      • Councilor Stempel offers a compromise amendment to reduce the amount of the cut to $11k. Motion passes.
    • Licensing and Registration line item…
      • Motion from Councilor Allis to reduce the City Clerk’s wages line item by $10k
      • Friendly amendment from Councilor Mass to drop the reduction to $5k, accepted by Councilor Allis. Amendment passes.
    • Land use and development line item… no changes.
    • Central Services line item… no changes.
    • Public Safety line item…
      • Council President Renaud: “This is going to be a long one.”
      • Councilor Allis moves to reduce this item by the amount for the additional School Resource Officers (~$118k, I believe).
      • Councilor Dolan: “There are so many good reasons to cut this money from the Police budget.” Cites the lack of any data in support of expanding the program.
      • Councilor Ricketts intends to offer an amendment to have one additional SRO instead of two, citing what she has heard from constituents.
      • Councilor Stempel expresses disappointment with the dialogue around this issue.
      • Councilor Sund is saying… something. I think he is opposed to reducing the number of SROs.
      • Councilor Lobik: “We’re going to keep debating this until something happens.” Now making assertions about how Israel solved this problem by putting soldiers in schools, also suggests metal detectors.
      • Councilor Dolan says that he is against trying to earmark money for specific things, that the best way to keep kids safe is to adequately fund the schools.
      • Councilor Mass: “I did not hear from a single parent in support of this [the SRO expansion].”
      • Motion passes unanimously, SRO line item is cut.
      • Now some wrangling around another amendment from Councilor Allis to reduce budget for training and vehicles.
      • Motion carries with “no” votes from Councilors Stempel and Ricketts.
      • Councilor Mass moves to reduce Parking Enforcement wages by $14k. Asserts this motion has nothing to do with disputes over parking enforcement over the last year, but rather that the 57% increase in parking tickets issued this year puts downtown business community at risk.
      • Councilor Stempel says she is “shocked that the two of you put this forward,” calls it “brazen.” Councilor Mass requests a point of privilege and pushes back.
      • Councilor Sund is saying… something. I think he is opposed to parking enforcement.
      • Councilor Ricketts says she cannot support this motion.
      • Councilor Dolan calls the question. Motion fails.
      • Councilor Allis moves to reduce the salary and wage line for the Building Inspector, eliminating a currently unfilled position.
      • Councilor Mass asserts that for most of the city’s inspection departments, “the work expands to fill the time.”
      • Councilor Sund is saying… something. I think he supports this motion.
      • Councilor Mass offers a friendly amendment to reduce the open building inspector position from a full-time to a part-time position. Allis accepts.
      • Motion passes with Councilor Wheeler abstaining.
    • Skipping Education line item for now, moving to Public Works line item…
      • Councilor Allis moves to reduce DPW Director salary and wages line item
      • Councilor Dolan calls a point of order on Councilor Allis’s litany of complaints about the DPW Director, calling personal attacks on a city employee inappropriate.
      • Councilor Mass a long list of complaints about problems with the Water & Sewer Enterprise Fund, water and sewer rates, etc. Council VP Ricketts calls a point of order.
      • Councilor Gilmour says it feels unethical to her to cut the salary of someone who is still in the job. Councilor Stempel says it is not okay to set the precedent that the Council can vote to reduce people’s pay while they are sitting in the job—”I really hope I never see something like this again.”
      • Councilor Dolan: “It seems like the two people who proposed this are mad at the DPW Director.”
      • Councilor Mass back to his claim that “We can’t add to the budget, we can only take away.” I don’t believe that is actually true.
      • Councilor Gilmour calls the question. Motion fails.
      • Councilor Allis moves to reduce salary and wage line item of snow and ice removal such that it matches what it was last year. Motion carries.
      • Council Mass moves to reduce snow and ice removal expenditures, same rationale as prior motion.
      • Councilors Wheeler and Stempel opposing this one.
      • Motion passes with three “no” votes.
    • Human Services line items…
      • Motion from Councilor Allis to reduce salary and wages in Health Inspection Services line
      • Same rationale as building inspector line above, position has been vacant for “quite some time.”
      • Debate between various councilors about whether this cut and other like it are punitive.
      • Motion passes with three abstentions.
      • Councilor Allis moves to reduce Youth Commission line from $2000 to $0. Rationale is that last year, they were told the Rec Dept. would run the Youth Commission.
      • Councilor Ricketts offers friendly amendment to reduce the Youth Commission line by $500 to $1500. Allis accepts.
      • Motion passes unanimously.
    • Culture and Recreation line item… no changes
    • Debt Service line item… no changes
    • Miscellaneous line item… no changes
    • School line item…
      • Councilor Gilmour moves to appropriate an additional $400k toward the GPS budget, as requested by the School Committee.
      • The cuts so far this evening come to around $350k.
      • Councilor Dolan joins Councilor Gilmour in calling for compromise to support fully funding the School Department.
      • Councilor Mass states he is not willing compromise on adding funds beyond what has been cut. Also states that never in the history of Greenfield has money been added to the budget in this manner.
      • Councilor Allis also seems to be unwilling to compromise on the $50k gap between this evening’s cuts and the $400k.
      • Councilor Wheeler acknowledges the unprecedented nature of this vote, but intends to support it.
      • President Renaud calls the vote. Motion passes with a single no-vote.

There are a few more budget items—various enterprise funds—for the Council to get through. At nearly the four-hour mark, though, I’m pretty done and am calling it a night.

Good night, everybody!