GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 3, 2013

Letter: Challenging mayor's 'free cash' priorities


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

This is an open letter to our elected officials.

Its my understanding that the City Council recently requested a preliminary estimate of the potential “free cash” for FY13.

The auditor’s guesstimate pegs it at about $3 million in general fund “free cash” for the fiscal year, including a significant chunk — $1.1 million — as a direct result of the closing of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School.

The question I have for the members of our two elected bodies is why didn’t that funding find its way back to the district budget despite the repatriation of approximately 100 charter students? And what of the impact on the existing students as a result of the need for extra staffing, tutoring and additional sped services required for those children?

While the operational budget for the year may have been set, there are plenty of needs desperately requiring filling that would have benefitted from this significant funding. It is possible, and indeed would have been responsible, to adapt to changing fiscal dynamics and redirect that funding back to the district and other underfunded services. It is my understanding that such an appropriation would have been legal and appropriate.

So what happened? Why was this money left on the table to augment the mayor’s seemingly insatiable appetite for amassing “free cash” at the expense of funding critical core services?

Occasional, modest levels of “free cash” are one thing, but when this kind of excess happens year after year, it becomes clear that the mayor is being enabled in her bacchanalia by a City Council and a School Committee unwilling to challenge her on this front.

As I write out one check after another for bus fees ($400), athletic fees ($230), basic school supplies ($300-plus), activity fees (to be determined), and watch continued privation in our classrooms and sacrifices to our programs, I have to wonder at what point the reckless quest for “free cash” is going to be reined in by a School Committee and City Council willing to challenge the mayor on her priorities.

My concern is not reserved solely for the treatment of our schools. The idea that significant swaths of our city are regularly underserved with regard to fire and paramedic protection is a continuing outrage.

With millions of dollars in “free cash” there is absolutely zero excuse for our outlying stations not to be operational 24/7. This willingness to cynically gamble with the lives of our residents has to end.

Fiscal responsibility is not simply about hoarding cash, it’s about budgeting properly and providing the services our community expects and deserves.

JASON GROW

Marble Road, Gloucester