NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Jon Mitchell presented the city council with his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 Wednesday night at City Hall. 

The proposed $324.7 million budget, up 3.9 percent from last year, includes 85 percent of non-discretionary spending mandated by the state, leaving only 15 percent to be hashed out by city government over the coming weeks.

Among this state-mandated spending are healthcare costs of city employees and charter school obligations.

"The city doesn't have control over the entire budget, so when people see budget decisions being made and are being asked to pay for them, often times they just think that the city's just not making good decisions when in reality, the city is making really good decisions," said Mitchell.

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City of New Bedford
City of New Bedford

The most pressing matter to Mitchell is to get the city's healthcare plans on track before they begin to cost residents both money and services.

"The most urgent problem in this year's budget involves the city's healthcare program, whose budget is expected to go up by 9.8 percent in FY18," said Mitchell. "If left unchecked, it will inevitably crowd out our ability to provide basic services and will lead to a significant tax increase."

The city's share of healthcare premium costs is expected to increase by $3.5 million over the FY17 budget. City pensions will also increase by another $1 million.

The city is also responsible for contributing $12.1 million to local charter schools, up from $10.5 million in FY17.

City spending on New Bedford Public Schools is proposed at $131 million, an increase of 3.5 percent.

During his address, Mitchell outlined five pillars of primary needs to get the city's budget on track: budget carefully, focus on healthcare costs, advocate on the state level, greater efficiency and work together.

On the topic of efficiency, the city has proposed to fund a study to make sure it is working as efficiently as possible.

"We're proposing spending some modest amount of money on an efficiency study of city government to see whether we've missed anything," Mitchell said. "Something like that hasn't been done in a long time here, if ever."

Over the next several weeks, the city council will conduct hearings with all department heads to figure out what cuts to make to the proposed budget, if any.

"When it comes to the budget, because there is control over such a small slice, what ends up getting debated is really peanuts in the big scheme of things," Mitchell said.

City of New Bedford
City of New Bedford

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