NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Jon Mitchell presented the City's municipal budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019 to the City Council on Wednesday night. While he says that New Bedford is continuing to progress in many areas fiscally, Mitchell points out that financial restraints from Beacon Hill have made it difficult for cities and towns to operate.

The Mayor began by announcing the $378 million budget for FY19, which he says has not changed much from last year. He then went on to advocate for the city to continue the practice of developing a budget “that is aimed squarely at long term stability.”

“This budget builds on the collaborative process between the Council and my administration that started a few years ago,” said Mayor Mitchell. “Our collective work has been grounded in our recognition that our city must continue to steer itself through rough financial waters, which requires a deliberate approach by both branches of municipal government to develop a budget that is aimed squarely at long term stability.”

Mitchell argues that state mandates such as charter schools and the rising costs of providing healthcare to city employees have made it more difficult for cities and towns of the Bay State to keep up.

“What makes it harder for us is that in Massachusetts cities and towns have far less control over their finances than their counterparts in other states. Approximately three quarters of our general budget this year is predetermined by state mandates and regional assessments.”

Mitchell argues that the financial burden created by charter schools on small Massachusetts cities like New Bedford is one of the most restrictive state mandates for the budget. He says that for FY19 the net charter school costs for the city will be approximately $14 million.

“It doesn't matter what your position is philosophically on charter schools, they are just so hard to afford in a city like ours,” said Mitchell. “This is an area where there is a huge, huge disconnect between cities like New Bedford and Springfield, and some of the others that are not a part of Greater Boston and the cities in Greater Boston which are far more flushed with cash, let's just say, comparatively speaking.”

Mayor Mitchell also continued to point out during the presentation that the rising costs of healthcare and employee pensions, also dictated by state policy, have hampered the city's ability to fund other services.

“What's very frustrating is that healthcare costs are on a long term growth curve and they are tending to crowd out other services. The same thing can be said about employee pensions. There isn't much that we can do about that since eligibility and benefit levels are largely dictated by state policy,” Mitchell explained. “The one lever we do have to pull is to adopt municipal healthcare reform, and there is a proposal to do that before the City Council.”

Mitchell says that the city needs to stay committed to disciplined spending. He added that while New Bedford is “making progress in all fronts,” that the struggle with a tight budget makes him feel like “it's almost a tale of two different cities.”

“We in New Bedford have been living in a period of a tight finances in part, because of past neglect and inadequate planning,” Mitchell said. “We need to continue to be disciplined about how we spend money, continue to provide adequate public services for our residents, and to continue to make sure that we don't impose too much on our city's taxpayers.”

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