Council Passes $181.5 Million City Budget with Reservations

The City Council passed a nearly $181.5
million City Budget for Fiscal Year 2020 Monday night, but not without some
dire warnings about the financial future of the City by a few of the
councillors.

The $181,486,465 budget passed by an 8-3
vote, with Councillors Damali Vidot, Joe Perlatonda, and Robert Bishop voting
against the 3.7 percent increase over the FY19 budget. The School Department’s
$95.4 million commitment comprises the largest chunk of the budget.

The Council also approved the Water and
Sewer Enterprise accounts for FY20, bringing total City appropriations to
around $205 million, but the water and sewer accounts are paid through the
water and sewer rates, not taxation.

Several attempts were made to cut money from
the budget Monday night, but with the exception of a $1,300 cut in the
Emergency Management department budget, none of those efforts garnered a
majority.

Among those failed efforts was one by Vidot
to cut salary lines in the police, fire, and planning budgets.

Vidot proposed the $80,000 cut to the
planning budget, $50,000 to the police, and $100,000 to the fire last year as
well, citing a top heavy administrative budgeting in the Police and Fire
departments, and her displeasure with the way the Downtown Coordinator position
in the Planning Department has panned out.

One of the biggest issues, Vidot said, is
that the Downtown Coordinator has not been properly involved with the small,
local businesses in the city.

“We have to think about the future of this
city, and (the position) is leaving out a huge part of Chelsea,” said Vidot.

Perlatonda said he couldn’t agree with an
effort to cut $80,000 from the planning budget when the Council didn’t take
action to cut millions of dollars from the Department of Public Works budget.

Perlatonda made his own amendments looking
for the cuts in the DPW budget, which would have effectively ended a request by
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino to have the DPW oversee a new City Water and
Sewer Department, rather than contracting for the services.

Those amendments also failed.

Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda also
voted against the cuts to the planning budget, noting several recent city-wide
events that have brought hundreds of people to the downtown area.

Vidot noted that her amendment was not a
personal attack on anyone, but added that City events would more appropriately
be funded in the Recreation Department budget.

In casting his vote against the overall
$181.5 million, Bishop said the constant increases in City spending are
unsustainable.

“Last year, I voted against the budget
because it was unsustainable,” said Bishop. “This year, it is even more

unsustainable … this can’t continue. It’s no surprise to everyone that I
usually oppose certain spending.

“I’m against a lot of spending because I
think it is not spent wisely,” he continued. “When is this going to end? I hope
I am not around when the bottom falls out, because it is going to fall.”

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero
voted for the budget, but said the City needs to seriously heed Bishop’s
warning, noting that other large cities in Massachusetts such as Springfield
and Lawrence have seen the economic bottom fall out.

“It can happen anywhere, … and then we will
have to start laying people off,” said Recupero. “We only have 1.8 square miles
in the city, how much can you grow in our city?

“I am going to vote for the budget because
it is the right thing to do now, but like Mr. Bishop said, we have to beware of
the future, because the future is not too far away,” he continued.

Perlatonda said that the budget is rising
without the City doing enough to help its poorer residents through things like
tax and water and sewer rate breaks.

“When is it going to end?” he said. “This budget
needs to be stopped at some point.”

District 8 Councillor Calvin Brown said the
councillors have gone through a long budget process with ample chance to make
amendments or address their concerns to Ambrosino.

“I believe this budget is solid, well thought
out, and well supported,” Brown said. “I know the investment we are making
today is sound.”

Avellaneda voted to approve the budget, but
said it is the first time he has ever given serious pause to voting in favor of
a budget.

“What I have seen during the last year with
the budget process is that I don’t think we are doing enough during budget
season,” he said.

Avellaneda said there should have been more
debate about, and more information provided about, the proposed change to the
control of the Water and Sewer Department.

He also noted that the budget will have to
be paid for in October, when the Council sets the City tax rate.

When that time comes around, Avellaneda said
he will have questions for the City’s Assessing Department, which he said has
been doing a “terrible job” capturing the true value of many larger properties
in Chelsea.

“Across the board, there are many, many,
many buildings, and these are large landlords, that are not paying their due in
this community,” Avellaneda said.

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Council Passes $181.5 Million City Budget with Reservations

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