Published: 06/04/2022 10:57:15
Modified: 04/06/2022 10:55:04 AM
NORTHAMPTON — City Council passed Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra’s first budget on Thursday night, approving a $126 million plan that increases spending on schools, public health and libraries while funding the new care department communities and increasing property taxes by 2.5%.
The budget that comes into effect on July 1 is 4.07% higher than the current fiscal year. Due to depressed revenues like parking and marijuana, coupled with higher insurance costs, as well as low projected tax base growth, most departments will remain at service levels in the new fiscal year. .
The Department of Public Works has had its budget increased to cover higher fuel and equipment costs. Forbes and Lilly libraries saw their allocations increase by 3.12% and 3% respectively.
“I just want to thank Mayor Sciarra for this budget, which I believe strikes a balance between important needs,” Ward 5 Councilor Alex Jarrett said before the vote. “I very much appreciate the strong support for schools, and even our extension a little further than is comfortable as we recover from the worst of the pandemic.”
Sciarra warned the board in a letter last month that while the public schools budget would increase 5.07% to $35.16 million, it is heavily dependent on school choice reserve funds and the temporary federal aid. During the budget approval process, councilors and other officials expressed concern about the possibility of teacher layoffs in the coming years.
Jarrett said he was “very concerned about the upcoming tax cliffs” but would favor finding a way to pay all school employees “more equitable” wages that reflect their value, rather than a rate determined by “what the market will pay”. ”
Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge also flagged the public school budget as a potential source of trouble in the near future.
“We need the money,” LaBarge said. “How are we going to get it, I don’t know. Perhaps by taxing the wealthy” through the upcoming election issue known as the Fair Share Amendment, which would add a surtax for the highest earners in the state and dedicate the money in part to education. .
“I hope that happens, and I’m just on point with our schools that I worry about it every year,” she said. City council passed a resolution in favor of the fair distribution amendment.
Some councilors said they were also concerned about inflation and its impact on average families, as well as city coffers, while Ward 2 Councilor Karen Foster criticized ‘regressive’ tax laws of the state that aggravate income inequalities.
Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School’s budget will increase 4% from the current year.
This week, department heads, including Police Chief Jody Kasper, presented their department budgets to the council and answered questions. The police department received $6.2 million in the new budget, a cut of about $7,600.
Kasper told advisers that a much larger cut in police funding two years ago devastated officer ranks, leading to 17 resignations, and the impact continues. Between May 20 and June 1, she said, officers were too understaffed to respond to 53 calls for service.
The council’s 2020 decision to cut police spending by 10% was “flawed,” Jarrett said, because of the impact it had, but it was “significant” and supported by the public “to the aftermath of the police killings” of unarmed minority Americans around the country. He said the Department of Community Care (DCC) “needs to be built well” in order to start supporting responses to non-violent calls from the police.
“I haven’t seen any other way to go against the interests of the status quo,” Jarrett said, adding that the money from the cut was being used for other essential city services. “Having served on the Northampton Policing Review Commission, I don’t see any major reform or change coming from the police. … It is important that we build an alternative response and expand that response as we are ready.
DCC will be under the newly renamed Department of Health, now known as the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Sciarra proposed a 112% increase in the DHHS budget, allocating $1.26 million in fiscal year 2023.
Ward 1 Councilor Stanley Moulton said he expects the DCC “to be a model that will be looked at nationally” and “to bring some relief to the police service”.
Brian Steele can be contacted at [email protected]