Mitchell: State Mandates Continue to Mire New Bedford Budget
NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Jon Mitchell gave a detailed outline of his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 before the City Council Wednesday night.
The $356 million General Fund proposed budget accounts for the majority of the $401 million overall proposed budget. The General Fund budget is 5.3% higher than last year's proposed general budget of about $339 million dollars.
Mitchell says state-mandated costs like education, charter school funding contributions, and healthcare and pensions are driving the budget higher, even though the public may not be seeing much in the way of improvements to City services.
"There are no grand expansions of services. No broad initiatives. It's not that you or I don't have new, good ideas that we would like to implement," Mitchell told the Council. "It's just that the constraints on us don't afford us the ability to try broad, new things."
Contributions to the City's school budget have increased by $1.3 million dollars over last year. The City is receiving approximately $16 million in additional funding through the proposed state budget, most of which would go towards public education. However, Mitchell says that welcome contribution is a "moving target" and is subject to change as the House and Senate debate the budgets and ultimately hammer out a compromise budget.
The proverbial elephant in the budget is the state's inability to properly reimburse communities that host charter schools, said Mitchell. The state has a set formula for charter school funding reimbursement, but has only partially followed its own parameters, putting an even larger strain on communities.
"Our obligation to fund charter schools diverts a growing share of funding away from our public schools," said Mitchell. "The City's obligation has been exacerbated by the state's failure to fully fund its reimbursement. It hasn't done that for many years now."
New Bedford must shoulder a $15.6 million obligation for charter school spending in the coming fiscal year, a $1.7 million increase over last year.
Mitchell says contributions to employee benefits, including healthcare and pensions, are also inflating. Another $2.7 million is being tacked on to this year's expenses for employee benefits.
Some of the only new costs in the budget are to provide funds for four new positions within the City that Mitchell believes will pay for themselves in one form or fashion.
"New discretionary spending is being proposed and only on one of three grounds: that it will actually save the City money in the long run; that it will lead ultimately to more revenue; or that it is essential to perform a core government function."
The positions include a preventative maintenance foreman for the City's fleet of vehicles, a cemetery superintendent, an assistant project manager for Parks, Recreation & Beaches, and a clerk typist in the City Clerk's office.
The City Council will spend the next few months paring the budget down in upcoming budget-cutting sessions. Once finalized, the budget will go into effect on July 1.