Let the New Bedford Budget Hearings Begin [OPINION]
The New Bedford City Council's Committee on Finance meets tonight for the first time since Mayor Jon Mitchell submitted his proposed $431 million budget for the new fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
The proposed budget is about $20 million more than the current $411 million operating budget. The city's contribution from the general fund is $383 million, some $18 million more than the current budget. The remainder comes from various forms of state aid.
Mitchell unveiled the spending plan during a virtual budget address to the council last Wednesday night.
Unlike the current fiscal year, when spending on public safety was reduced, Mitchell's FY22 budget calls for increased funding for public safety by as much as 2.2 percent. The budget for the current fiscal year called for decommissioning Engine 8 as well as the closing of the downtown police station, neither of which has happened yet.
The Mitchell Administration reversed its decision on Engine 8 as a result of a number of serious fires that have occurred in the city since last Thanksgiving. Mitchell pledged to keep Engine 8 in service for as long as it is sustainable and has applied for a federal SAFER grant from FEMA to help defray the cost.
Mitchell says fixed and mandated costs comprise about 75 percent of the city's operating budget, leaving only 25 percent for everything else. He cited increasing charter school expenses, employee health care costs, and pensions as three areas that strain the city's finances.
Finance Committee Chair Linda Morad has yet to release a schedule for department heads to appear before the committee to defend their spending requests for FY22. That could happen as soon as tonight.
The council cannot add money to the budget but can reduce spending or reject the budget altogether. Members will look for ways to reduce wasteful spending. Taxpayers appreciate that. But councilors should also be responsible in the way they approach the budget and not just cut spending for the sake of it. Sometimes saving a few bucks can cause more problems than it solves.
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.