Monday, June 27, 2011

City Council budget fun

This past Thursday was a busy, busy night for the city council. In fact, the 7 o'clock meeting went well over four hours long. Even the public testimony portion of the meeting went over its allotted time. Councilor Pinto wouldn't know, as he walked in around 7:30. Smart man. Not nice to skip the public testimony, but hey. Why was this meeting so long? It's all about the benjamins! Passing the budget was a good 3 hours of the meeting.

Also on the agenda was the amended comprehensive parking plan we discussed here, the concept of meeting with deceiver or dummy (your choice) Lisa Abbate, and Councilor Ronan's proposal to have city council vote on tax rate increases on an annual basis, which we've discussed numerous times, here for one.

Councilor Lovely seems to have at least partially seen the light on the parking enforcement issue. She spoke about how much work the parking study group had put into their recommendations, and the council met a couple of times and proposed wholesale changes. She then modified the committee recommendation to enforce on-street parking meters until 8PM, while keeping the council's recommendation to stop enforcement at 6PM in the parking lots, and not enforce anywhere on Sundays. It's a compromise that shows Lovely's regular good sense, and will improve the downtown parking availability situation on the streets at least. I still think they should have accepted the parking study proposal, but this is better than the council's original recommendation.

Councilor Ronan's tax voted proposal was on the agenda with a committee recommendation for first passage, but when councilor Lovely provided the committee report she made a motion to send it back to committee to continue the legal review of what would be allowable and effective in reaching councilor Ronan's goal. The mayor, who was present to address any budget questions that arose, spoke vehemently against this ordinance, which I totally support. That said, her argument was a good one, and was really classic Kim Driscoll. Watch it below.

I completely grant her everything that she said. It's all true. Especially the part about council blowing the opportunity to save a bunch of money on the annex lease. In fact, the lease savings lost were more than the total dollars that the council finally cut from the budget. That said, I still think Ronan's proposal should pass. The way that we develop the budget is backwards. The people who have to appropriate the funds aren't really involved until after the size of the budget has been determined by the mayor. They then make cuts after the fact. That can't be the most efficient way. Wouldn't it make much more sense to tell the mayor what figures to use, how much of a tax increase they'll accept, and allow the mayor to budget as he or she sees fit within that dollar figure?

It's also interesting that the councilors who voted for the most drastic cuts to the proposed budget, in the name of the taxpayers, were largely the same ones who voted against saving money on the annex lease. Makes you wonder about the motives. It's a bit hypocritical at least.

Once they moved into the budget portion of the meeting, a few amusing things took place. The first one was city councilors debating whether or not to approve the mayor's chief of staff Jason Silva receiving a 7.5% raise. The funny part was they were doing so right in front of him, as he had a front row seat. When they got to finance director Rich Viscay he was having to recalculate and announce the impact of the cuts they were proposing to his salary.

The other high drama of the evening took place on the subject of proposed cuts of over $27,000 to the library. The proposed cuts, which were to the salaries of employees who had been promoted during the year, and would have taken them back to the salaries at their old positions, were opposed by all, even those who voted for them in committee. Additionally, the cuts would have led to the funding level falling below the amount required for library grants and participation in the North of Boston Library Exchange, which allows Salemites to borrow from other area libraries.

This part of the budget led to the below exchange between councilor Ronan and the mayor (more classic Kim Driscoll), and led to Councilor Ryan enforcing an illegal council rule again. He really should go read the charter. Also remember that the mayor was specifically invited to council to participate in the budget approval process.

We've talked about the mayor's contention that preventing her from speaking violates the city charter. In fact, we notified her office of it back in March. Councilor Lovely is an attorney, and as you heard in the video, she agreed that the charter gives the mayor the right to speak. I asked this question about something else just the other day, but why doesn't Jerry Ryan know this? I'm a nobody and I know. He's the one who SHOULD know these things.


  1. I'm betting I can guess which finance committee members skipped the budget retreat.

  2. A five hour Salem City Council Meeting?!
    The hot air from that chamber would have been enough to reinflate the Hindenburg.

  3. You have NO idea. Thankfully I was out of town and my DVR cut off the last hour.

  4. Between you and me (since nobody else reads here), I think Charlie Walsh must have taken an overdose of No-Doze and stayed up long past his bedtime (6pm?) to watch the entire meeting. This would explain why he dropped out of his council race THE FOLLOWING MORNING!


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