After fine tuning by the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee that reduced a $833,000 shortfall projected the school system, the municipal budget of about $85 million to be raised and spent during fiscal 2013 comes before the City Council for final review, changes and approval tonight.
In its meeting last Thursday night, the Budget and Finance Committee also made minor rollbacks in the raises proposed by Mayor Carolyn Kirk for her department heads; overall, their pay will go up an average 13 percent instead of 15 percent.
The committee also agreed to fund one-quarter of a year's salary for an assistant director of Sawyer Free Library; with a match promised by the Friends of the Library, the $13,136 added to the library budget will allow Sawyer director Carol Gray to hire someone for the new role for Oct. 1.
The council meeting begins at 7 tonight and will go until votes are taken on the budget for each of the departments in the city government and for the school district.
Last-minute changes on the floor are possible, especially in the area of double-digit raises penciled in for some of the mayor's department heads, but traditionally, the run through the budget at this final stage follows subcommittee recommendations.
The Budget and Finance Committee, together with the mayor, agreed to use $366,075 in the Stabilization Fund — built to a modern record $2.7 million — to limit the cuts the School Department will be required to make.
"I infer the number is what they can live with," said Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Paul McGeary.
Even with the transfer, however, the School Committee will be faced with the unpleasantness of cutting $467,000 from the level services budget it submitted to the mayor.
"We're still four-something off," said School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope. "We have cuts to make, and we haven't made them. The School Committee has discussed them all but there's no consensus
"We're trying to avoid laying people off," Pope added. "We'll put off doing some maintenance," such as replacing lockers at O'Maley Middle School which are very old and "so tiny" winter coats can barely be stuffed in.
The city in the last budget cycle took responsibility for maintaining the school facilities, but "furniture is still our job," and lockers are considered furniture, Pope noted.
"We're trying to maintain operations using surpluses that are available," said Kirk. "We don't want to constrain services with obscene levels of free cash. The city had $2.7 in free cash from the reconciliation of the books for fiscal 2011. "We know we'll have free cash again this year" that can replace the appropriation from the Stabilization Fund for the schools.
Even after the shaving by the Budget and Finance Committee, Kirk's senior staff salaries go up an average of 13 percent, according to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Towne, who along with Public Works Director Mike Hale and Chief Assessor Nancy Pappos are not part of the group in line for raises.
The biggest percentage raise in the committee budget is now a 19 percent jump for Chief Administrative Officer Jim Duggan, from $85,797 to $101,892. Kirk had proposed pushing Duggan to $106,715.
The committee also approved a 9 percent hike in the salary of City Solicitor Suzanne Egan, who would see her salary increase from $92,365 to $100,394. Kirk sought close to 12 percent for Egan.
But Egan and her colleagues on Kirk's senior staff "got a big raise in January," noted McGeary, so — based on her salary at the end of fiscal 2011 — the hike the mayor sought for Egan equates to an 18 percent increase.
Teachers, meanwhile, are operating on an expired contract with a 1 percent increase, but Kirk asserted that "over the past 10 years, teachers have had cumulative total salary increases of 30 percent."
At the same time, " she said, "the cumulative total of unionized city staff — police, fire, public works — over that same period is 21 percent.
"The class of people — city non-union management — slated for upgrades in this year's budget have had a cumulative increase of zero percent over that same time period," Kirk wrote in an email. "We are bringing management salaries in line with other communities in order to be competitive and retain and attract talent."
The minor reductions made by the committee in the mayor's senior managers' pay keeps them near the mean for comparative communities nearby, but according to Superintendent Richard Safier, teachers' salaries in Gloucester are the lowest in the immediate region.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or email@example.com.