Saturday, April 09, 2005

It’s Budget Time Again. How Other’s Do it.

The fourth budget under the current economic downturn has been submitted for the Town Meeting’s consideration.

And even more than under the prior three budgets, the impact on town services is being disproportionately borne by the 3,700 children who attend the Milton Public Schools. The School Administration’s first attempt to live within the proposed budget calls for the elimination of 40 + positions from the School’s payroll, as well as the closing of the 1909 wing of the High School, currently home to the Collicot and Cunningham Elementary Schools. At the same time, the proposed budget preserves the staffing levels in the two other large town departments, the Police department and Fire department. During the last 4 years, the cumulative losses in School staffing total 80+ positions.

A year ago just before Town Meeting, listening to the usual arguments that Public Safety must be preserved at all costs – another way of saying that the School budget can be our stabilization fund during economic hard times – I decided to find out how other communities were handling their budget crises. We were then in the third year of an economic downturn which forced cuts in state aid, and in some cases local receipts. Communities were struggling to meet rising costs with little or no increased revenue. And the result had been a significant downsizing of local government in Massachusetts. Communities all over the state were eliminating positions in significant numbers. How were other towns and cities going about making these drastic cuts in their service infrastructure?

The information which follows was gathered from online news databases, various organization websites, and telephone interviews I conducted with town officials from other communities with whom I had established contact during my years on the Warrant Committee.


Terri Ackerman – Executive Secretary

Despite the increase in income from instituting a trash fee of $162, which raised $1.2 million, 100 positions cut in ‘04 budget. Of these 70 were school positions, 30 were municipal positions. Seven of these positions were in the fire department, resulting in occasional station closings and occasionally taking equipment out of service. The Police Department was down 13 officers from its authorized strength levels, with 2 more vacancies anticipated. Two schools closed.


Brian Sullivan – Town Administrator

In FY ’04 eliminated 99 positions, 59 school and 40 municipal, including 7 from the Police department and 9 from the Fire Department.


Brian Sullivan – Town Administrator until March 2004.

In FY ’04, 4 municipal and 2 school positions cut. In ’05 planning 6 municipal cuts and 20 school cuts.


Donna Leete – Personnel Director

Ms. Leete negotiated a 0% contract with municipal unions in FY’04, and the city took $1.2 million from its stabilization fund. Despite this, 40 positions, or 10% of the municipal workforce, has been lost in the last 2 years, including 7 from the Police, 6 from Fire and 4 from DPW.


Mel Kleckner – Town Administrator

Hiring freeze for a couple of years. Municipal cuts in FY 04 10-12, including 2 Police. FY 05 anticipates four lost positions – dispatcher, town clerks office, accountant’s office. One Police position along with overtime and training, reduced patrol capacity and special assignments, and Police officers will substitute for crossing guards. Two consecutive school overrides have kept the schools level.


David Berry – Town Administrator

In FY ’04 dipping into stabilization fund kept lost positions to about 33. 11 of these were municipal, of which 2 were Police. In FY ’05 anticipating 54 total positions to be cut, 28 on the municipal side. This includes 3 Police, 3 fire, 4 DPW, 2 in Town Administrators office, and 4 dispatchers.


Kate Fitzpatrick – Town Administrator

School override prevented layoffs in FY’04. 36 municipal government cuts, including 5-6 from Police/Fire, and 10 from general government. For FY ’05 anticipate cuts of 1 from Police, 2-3 from fire, and 6-10 from schools.


Mass AFL-CIO Romney Watch

One of the hardest hit communities in the state.

Schools, 150 positions lost, school closings, programs eliminated. 30 full time employees in City Hall. 50 additional municipal side cuts, most in the fire department. 3 library branches closed. Court ordered city to restore $2.1 million to fire department. The city council refused at the recommendation of the Mayor who said that DPW, Police and School departments would suffer even more cuts. One fire station was closed and service cut backs occurred in two others.


Mass AFL-CIO Romney Watch

Positions lost include 17 teachers, nine police officers “fresh out of the academy”, six firefighters, two schools were closed. Two override attempts failed.


Mass AFL-CIO Romney Watch

Peabody lost 7 teachers, 9 custodians, 7 firefighters, 8 police officers and 5 DPW staff.


Mass AFL-CIO Romney Watch

Revere lost, in the beginning of ’03, 13.5 teachers, 7.5 police officers and 11 firefighters. Additional cuts to teachers occurred in May.


Patriot Ledger week of March 22, 2004

12 Fire fighter positions were cut in FY’03. The Police department is down by 8 positions in the last few years.


Boston Municipal Research Bureau

For the two year period ending in January of 2004, Boston has lost 182 FTE positions in the Police department and 87 FTE positions in the Fire department. The Boston Public Schools have lost over 700 FTE positions.

Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts – Statewide labor union
Lexington Fire Lieutenant Kenneth Donnelly

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, budget cuts in local communities have forced the layoff of 600 firefighters statewide.

Massachusetts Municipal Association Survey

More than 1,000 personnel on the municipal side of local government were cut through layoffs or attrition in fiscal 2003 and 2004 in the 135 communities responding to the MMA’s Fiscal Pressures and Service Delivery survey. Another 360 unfilled positions were eliminated rather than filled in fiscal 2004. (Respondents account for 38 percent of all Massachusetts municipalities.)

Of these personnel reductions, 41 percent were in the area of public safety (police and fire) and 59 percent were in other municipal (non-school) departments.


What we see all across the state are reductions to staffing being made to reduce services to the level supportable by a reduced flow of revenue. And what we find when we look at the choices these communities are making for these reductions is a proportional distribution across the three largest departments – schools, police and fire. Even in Boston, the 6th largest metropolitan area in the United States, the public safety budgets have absorbed over 25% of the reductions contributed by the big three budgets.

So why are we in Milton managing economic distress almost exclusively through the downsizing of our school system, as we all the while proclaim our support for the schools?

The response I get to this question, when I get one, is that we decide what we think is best for Milton and it doesn’t matter what others do.

While that is obviously the case, it doesn’t really answer the question, does it.


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