NEWBURYPORT — The City Council approved the city budget for fiscal 2020 on Monday after making $247,725 in cuts to funding proposed for several city departments and raises for officials.
The total approved fiscal 2020 budget was set at $83,731,690.54, which is a 3.7 percent increase from fiscal 2019. It was passed by a 9-2 vote, with councilors Sharif Zeid and Joseph Devlin opposed.
The council cut $3,757 from a proposed pay increase for Mayor Donna Holaday that would have raised her annual salary from $98,000 to $106,500. Holaday’s salary has not been adjusted for inflation since it was established by the city charter in 2014.
Holaday had also proposed increasing the total funding for city councilors’ salaries from $56,000 to $89,000, but the council decided to cut the increase to $6,000.
The council also cut $10,000 from a proposed increase in Department of Public Services funding which would have been used to hire two general laborers to better maintain the downtown.
On Tuesday, Holaday said she was disappointed with many of the council’s cuts, including their decision to lower an allocation that would have increased City Clerk Richard Jones’ salary from $75,812 to $91,510.
“The council really went after his salary — he has a lot of responsibility overseeing the parking program, and with the addition of the garage I felt like he really needed a bump up,” the mayor said.
In reaction to the council’s handling of the budget as a whole, she said she felt “disrespected” by some of their cuts, as well as the manner in which Monday night’s meeting played out in City Council Chambers.
“I don’t have issues with the City Council cutting the budget — that’s its job – but I think some of their cuts were inappropriate,” said Holaday. “I think their attitude and some of their dialogue was pretty disrespectful to city employees and myself.”
As the council’s budget talks neared a close several hours into Monday night’s meeting, Zeid proposed putting the $247,725 that was cut from the budget toward the city’s schools. His proposal was met with surprise from several councilors, including Ward 4 Councilor Charlie Tontar, who spoke up against the move, saying that it could upset the School Department’s already-established budget for next year.
“This superintendent is developing a strategy, and that takes time and a lot of discussion with teachers and parents. To throw money before he has that set of conversations and before that strategy exists is simply premature,” said Tontar.
Holaday and Superintendent of Schools Sean Gallagher also appeared to be caught off guard by Zeid’s proposal. Holaday addressed the council, asking that it vote against the idea.
“The School Committee unanimously approved the budget and the superintendent said he was fine with it,” said Holaday.
In an email to The Daily News on Tuesday, Zeid said he was surprised by the lack of support he received for the idea of repurposing the budget cuts for the schools.
“That money would have provided for important improvements with sustainable funds – things like additional course offerings, world languages, technology, later school start times, and more. I was deeply disappointed that the mayor would not accept the suggestion to strengthen our schools. That money remains unallocated and I am hopeful that a proposal will come forth soon to do the right thing and make education a top priority. Let’s dream big,” said Zeid in the email.
Devlin spoke in support of allocating the money for the schools shortly before he and Zeid voted against the overall budget.
“There are lots of things that this money could go to, and I think parents of children in the school system would be extremely disappointed at this lack of imagination,” said Devlin.
In other business, the council also unanimously approved an order to transfer care and custody of the former G.W. Brown School building in the South End from the School Committee to the City Council.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.