By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Last night the City Council approved an amended version of Mayor Thatcher Kezer’s $59 million municipal budget for the upcoming year, locking in budget increases for numerous departments while leaving the school system with half of what they had been hoping for.
The council specifically appropriated $55,855,221 in city funds toward the budget, and for the most part councilors voted consistently with their Finance Committee recommendations, which included a $915,000 budget increase for the schools and a $29,000 cut to the Police Department.
The $55 million total includes funding for the city’s three enterprise funds, which are sewer ($2,790,362), water ($3,815,093) and Landry Stadium ($9,000). The remaining $3.2 million in the budget not covered by the council appropriation would be funded by state and county assessments, which don’t require action by the council.
The majority of the discussion focused on the school budget as a large and vocal crowd of supporters spoke at length during the public hearing about the need to fully fund the schools.
Last Monday, the Finance Committee recommended that councilors approve a $915,000 budget increase, which was a higher amount than the $800,000 originally proposed by Kezer but still only half of the $1.8 million that the School Committee initially requested.
A number of teachers addressed the City Council last night and one high school student took the councilors to task for their proposal to grant themselves raises while numerous courses and electives are being cut due to a lack of funding.
Math teacher Tim Angerhofer described the whole budgeting process as a “runaway train” and urged councilors to rise above the process and be leaders.
“What I’m going to challenge you to be is to be more than managers of process, but to be effective leaders,” Angerhofer said. “And to be an effective leader, you need to have a budget that meets the needs of our children.”
Despite the outpouring of concern for the schools from those in attendance, councilors stood by their Finance Committee recommendations, saying there simply isn’t enough money to fully fund the schools even if they wanted to.
The remaining city budgets passed without much discussion. The majority were passed unanimously and the only budget that deviated from the Finance Committee’s recommendation was that of the Community and Economic Development Department.
The Finance Committee had previously recommended that $42,000 be cut from the budget and funded through bond authorization means, but after it was determined such a method was unfeasible, the funding was restored.
Councilor Joseph McMilleon also put forth a motion that $85,000 in additional funds be allocated to the school system to bring its total budget increase to $1 million, but the proposal was soundly defeated.