Public Invited to Ward 3 Budget Briefing with Mayor Higgins, March 24 at 6:30pm

Councilor Robert Reckman will host Mayor Clare Higgins and Superintendent Isabelina Rodriguez-Babcock for a Budget Briefing meeting at the Bridge Street Elementary School, 2 Parsons Street in Northampton. The meeting will take place on Monday, March 24 from 6:30-8:30pm. The public is invited.

The new fiscal year begins on July 1. The future of the Bridge Street School is uncertain. Its closure could save the city $400,000.

Questions about the meeting? Please call Councilor Reckman at 413-584-8905.

See also:

Mayor’s Email Newsletter, March 14, 2008
…FY2009 Budget Overview

Local media outlets have been running stories about the difficult choices we will be facing in creating and approving next year’s municipal budget. There are still some moving pieces, and we are a long way from a final budget proposal yet, but I hold out no great hopes for significant improvements to our outlook. Both the House and the Senate in Boston have concurred with the Governor’s local aid figures, so we know now that the projections we have been using locally have been confirmed. The reality we are facing is another year of cuts to the services that we all need, value and depend upon.

As the local newspapers have reported, the City is facing a significant budget gap that will affect both city and school services. The gap in the school budget has been reported in all local news outlets recently. In order for our schools to continue to provide the same level of services next year as they are providing this year, the school department budget would have to grow to $28,045,358. In anticipation of this, I pledged to provide the schools with an additional $454,656 from the city this year. Even with this additional money from the city, the schools only had a projected revenue of $26,844,112, leaving a gap of about $1.2 million. The School Committee was able to work that down a bit, using funds from School Choice and Circuit Breaker funds to reduce the gap to about $801,246, where it stands today. (This is a slightly smaller gap than was reported earlier in the week, thanks to the school’s transportation bids coming in below expectations yesterday.) Our state aid for education remains $600,000 less than it was in 2003, and the state is grappling with structural budget problems as well.

On the City side, we are faces with a gap of about $2 million dollars, which includes the additional $454,656 school spending. Every department across the city will be affected as we try to build a balanced budget. I plan to use about half of our remaining Stabilization Fund, or $400,000, to help close the gap this year. These are enormous gaps to fill with either cuts or additional revenues.

I had been hopeful at this time last year that the State might authorize a local option Meals Tax, which would have helped us significantly, but unfortunately this did not come to pass, although both State Representative Peter Kocot and State Senator Stan Rosenberg were both very supportive and the Governor himself introduced the bill. The Bill remains in the Legislature, though it has not been debated or voted on. I continue to encourage folks to address the House leadership and urge Speaker DiMasi to allow the bill to move forward.

Given that we are extremely limited in the kinds of revenue we can raise, we must turn, once again, to the kinds of cuts we can make, and still try to maintain the excellent quality of life we enjoy in Northampton.

To that end, I have asked all city departments to present me with budget proposals that cuts 2 ½ % from the amount they would need to provide the same services next year. It is clear that this alone will not be enough to bridge the gap, but it is our starting line. On the school side, there has been a lot of public conversation about the possibility of closing one of our city’s elementary schools. I have reviewed the proposals that the School Superintendent and the School Business Manager have presented. None of the options is particularly palatable. All of the options will have significant repercussions and will create new challenges which we, as a community, will have to come together to address.

There are three main forces driving up municipal budgets across the Commonwealth: The rising cost of health insurance; the rate of increase of utilities; and contracted pay increases for city employees. Here in Northampton, our costs to provide health insurance next year is increasing by about $1 million. This is a large increase, but I am grateful it is only about a 10% increase. We have managed to hold our rate of growth in health insurance to well below the state average. Utility costs, also, have just about doubled in the last three years, as anyone who pays to heat their homes and drive their cars knows. These fixed costs have grown at a faster rate than our local revenues have been able to grow.

At this point, a number of options remain on the proverbial table. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and professionalism that our city and school department staff are bringing to these discussion, and I am grateful for the many Northampton residents who are involved and educating themselves and their neighbors about these serious issues. I will be holding budget briefings again this year in every ward in the city. Those meetings will be posted on the city website’s calendar… and I hope to see many of you there.

For the moment, it is important that everyone is aware that more budget cuts are on the way this year, and they will fall across every city department. All of us involved in this process are aware that these cuts will have real impacts on virtually every one of us. I will do my best to minimize those impacts to the extent possible. As always, feel free to contact my office with questions or ideas to share as we move forward. (

For those who are interested in lobbying at the state level for additional sources of revenues for our communities, I would bring your attention to the following three proposals which would benefit Northampton:
– the Local Option Meals Tax
– Transportation Reimbursement for Special Education Transportation
– Closing the Telecommunications Tax Loophole, which would bring an anticipated $149,000 into Northampton…

Springfield Republican: “Parents oppose closing schools” (3/14/08)

Gazette: “Loss of school a likely scenario” (3/13/08)
‘This is really the beginning of the budget process, not the end of the process,’ cautioned Bridge Street Principal Johanna McKenna. But, as the session wore on, it became obvious that something drastic is in the offing, and that barring unforeseen revenue, one of the city’s four elementary schools will probably close…

The only way to bridge the [anticipated budget] gap, say school officials, would be to close a school, and that would only save $400,000. Elimination of after-school enrichment, severely reducing transportation – including all buses to the high school – reduction of art, music, wellness and high school athletics, along with laying off staff, are measures that would have to be considered to make up the rest, according to officials…

‘We urged mobilization around the meals tax,’ [Rodriguez-Babcock] said, referring to a city revenue measure that failed to pass last year. ‘Enrollment has dropped significantly. We can’t continue to keep class sizes down and keep four schools open.’

Springfield Republican: “Mayor sees budgetary ‘bloodshed'” (3/7/08)