Mitchell: Public ‘Let Down’ By City Council in Budget Vote
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell isn't happy with the way the City Council narrowly avoided a shutdown of city government when they passed the Fiscal Year 2018 budget Monday night.
In his weekly appearance on WBSM, Mayor Mitchell named those he felt understood what was at stake--namely Joe Lopes, Deborah Coelho, Hugh Dunn and Jim Oliveira--and said the rest of the council who voted against the budget in the first vote (a 4-7 vote) didn't grasp what a failed budget would mean.
"You've seen a series of votes that are contradictory with one another, that raise the question of whether every single councillor understands the implications of the ways they voted, and I think raises questions about political vindictiveness," Mitchell said.
The council took a recess and reconvened for another vote Monday night, with it passing that time by a 7-4 margin.
"They came within a hair's width away of shutting down the city government. I swear some of them had no idea what would hapen if they did that," Mitchell said. "We'd be looking at next week, when the fiscal year starts, shutting down everything--unless people wanted to work for free, which I don't see happening."
Mitchell said the councillors are fighting over cuts of a couple of thousand dollars in the city's budget, while refusing to adopt Section 21 of the Municipal Healthcare Reform Law of 2010, which would allow the city to use an arbitor to negotiate health insurance with city workers, which he says could save the city millions. He said Fall River adopted it a few years ago, and is saving about $3 million per year.
"What we do with healthcare has ramifications for all the other things we do, all the other budgetary decisions--how much people are taxed, whether they get more police officers on the street, get more firefighters, more money for schools, you name it," he said.
Mitchell noted that perhaps as many as more than 100 cities in towns in Massachusetts have already adopted Section 21, and he said New Bedford should have been a leader in that regard, not a follower. He said healthcare is growing at about a 10 percent clip, and is only going to accelerate.
"We as a city only control a small portion of our budget, because much of it is preordained. The one thing we have in our quiver is to adopt Section 21," Mitchell said. "Our public employees work very hard, and deserve good benefits, but nobody thinks we should have inefficient healthcare plans."
He believes that most of the council just doesn't understand what adopting Section 21 could mean, and that they're doing their constituency a disservice by not knowing how to maximize savings for the city.
"We held the meetings, and some of them just didn't show up," Mitchell said of the city council. "It's a frustration, that the public is missing out. It's not me; we're getting stuff done. We don't have to go to the City Council for everything. But to the public, to which we owe a solemn obligation, the public was let down by the city council this week."