NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 19, 2013

Council finalizes budget for next fiscal year

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — The City Council Monday night approved a general fund budget for fiscal 2014 (July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014) of $53,929,463.

That budget document, which was signed by 10 of the 11 councilors, includes $23,231,943 for the management of the School Department. Councilor Steve Hutcheson was absent.

The budget represents a 5.1 percent increase over the current year’s expenditures. The revised Fiscal Year 2013 budget was $51,295,859, according to municipal figures.

The following enterprise fund budgets for Fiscal 2014 were approved as follows: sewer enterprise fund, $6,306,515, water enterprise fund, $4,883,855; and the harbormaster enterprise fund, $350,703. They represent spending increases of 19.7 percent for the sewer department and 24 percent increase for the water department, with most of that increase being spent on debt payments; and a 2 percent increase in harbormaster spending.

Those departments generate their own revenues that are used to pay most departmental expenses.

Councilors shaved $77,484 from the sewer enterprise fund and $48,000 from Mayor Donna Holaday’s general-fund budget.

The city will save $77,484 from its bio-solvent disposal account, in large part because the capability of the new sewage-treatment plant results in reduction in costs of disposing of impurities.

Councilors cut about $48,000 from such items as telephone, travel expenses, proposed cost of a grant writer and funding for extra hours in the Planning Department.

The council met close to a half-dozen times in recent weeks to discuss the budget, and there were no serious disagreements on line items.

Councilor Tom Jones, though, stated that more “fiscal conservatism” should be applied to the budget because it is rising every year.

He noted, however, that the greatest expenditures are those of salaries and benefits to municipal employees, and those are preordained by collective bargaining.

Councilor Greg Earls said that more attention should be paid to saving taxpayer money rather than adding even minor items to the general-fund budget.

“Maybe we should take something off the ratepayer’s plate,” Earls said.

Noting that secretarial expenses for board meetings comes out of the general fund, Earls suggested that city officials review the fee-schedule paid by applicants.

He said that if higher fees were charged, costs for running board meetings could be self-sustaining rather than an expense for taxpayers.

No action was taken on the suggestion of reviewing the fee-structure for applicants to such panels at the Planning Board, Conservation Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.