Mayor Carolyn Kirk Tuesday sent the City Council an $87 million spending plan for fiscal 2012 — balanced with layoffs, vacancy deletions, the privatization of custodial work and an overall cut of 76 full- and part-time job cuts from the school and municipal payroll.
These include the already-disputed layoff of the assistant auditor and two Fire Department paramedics.
And a $628,865 cut in the requested budget for the School Department — $350,000 below the current year's school budget, as Kirk outlined Tuesday — auger a fierce debate over priorities between now and July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
With the mayor presenting the budget at the start of Tuesday night's council meeting, the council's budget hearings begin today at 6 p.m. in City Hall's third floor conference room, with an report on revenues, debt service, special reserves educational and state transfers.
"(There are) no gimmicks, no games, no 'gotchas,' no retaliations," Kirk said during a Tuesday briefing at the Times. "There is no use of one-time money or stabilization funds."
While acknowledging that the revised school budget proposal represents a cut below even the "level funding" spending plan she had sought, Kirk said councilors and other officials should consider what the currently proposed School Committee is slated to fund, rather than at what it won't.
She noted that the school side of the budget contained more than $1 million worth of wage and benefit increases, compared to $644,000 on the city side.
Schools 'step' raises
More than half of that amount, she said, is attributed to the school unions' failure to achieve a negotiated reform of employee health insurance rates. Other aspects of the school budget salary and benefit increases are due to the continuing "step and track" pay hikes for teachers and others built into the contracts.
"Please note that the administration, unlike the School Department, has not budgeted for any contracts that have not settled in fiscal 2011," Kirk said, "nor have we budgeted for future contract negotiations."
The mayor provided multiple contexts for her proposed handling of school spending, and noted that in addition to the $33.33 million for the public school education in Gloucester, another $10.3 million is budgeted toward paying for the charter school (from the proposed Gloucester District school budget), "school choice" defections, facilities, school-related debt, tuitions to the regional vocational school and retired teachers' health insurance.
Another contextual note for understanding the school spending proposal is that enrollment in the public schools, now at about 3,200 has declined by 911 — or 28 percent — over the past decade, Kirk said.
The budget package Kirk gave the council is the fourth in her two terms as she runs for a third term, to date without opposition.
Among the positions that were zeroed out in Kirk's budget, along with the assistant auditor, are those of the public health director, the assistant library director, a senior clerk in the treasurer/collector's office, three firefighters and three police officers.
The health director's position is vacant after the spring departure of Jack Vondras, who headed the department for the past seven years.
In all, the municipal side of the city is pegged to lose 34 full-time and five part-time positions, while the schools lose 24 full-time and 13 part-time post.
The school and city custodial staff also faces privatization that would remove 24 positions from the city's payroll in the coming fiscal year.
There are approximately 700 city and school employees, split about evenly
Early layoff dispute
The plans for fiscal 2012 job cuts come with layoffs proposed by Kirk within the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30, still up in the air.
In a unanimous but nonbinding vote last Thursday, the council agreed to restore assistant auditor Mary Richardson to the payroll in the face of a layoff notice issued by the mayor and personnel director David Bain.
A vote to do that would have been required Tuesday night.
In the city's "strong mayor, weak council" system, established in the City Charter and adopted by municipal voters in 1975, the council can shift funds and delete spending, but cannot add to the spending.
Kirk reported that the city expects revenues of $87.67 million from all sources, but $1.54 million overall is earmarked for the Gloucester Community Charter Arts School, and $1.92 million for debt service for the federally mandated combined sewer overflow or CSO municipal plumbing project.
Among the factors Kirk cited as forcing the shrinkage of the municipal work force is a projected $244,834 cut in state aid, not including earmarked charter school tuition payments.
"This is the fourth year in a row that state aid has been reduced," the mayor noted in her budget message to the council.
Health insurance issues
The mayor's budget message also contained a detailed report on "two developments emerging regarding employee health insurance."
"Neither is concluded in time," however, for the development of the budget submission, Kirk said.
She said that, while she applauds the House proposal on Beacon Hill to give municipalities discretion to reign in health insurance costs, she saw no chance of definitive reform in time to affect the budget to be approved by the council by the end of June.
"It is unclear what the final form the proposal will take at this time," she said, adding that health insurance reform is "vital."
At City Hall, she said, employee unions came back to the administration with a counter proposal.
"Negotiations have resumed but are not concluded," the mayor said.
"Should negotiations be successful, and there is savings realized in this budget," she said, her priorities for restoration are — bringing back public safety positions, allowing the School Department to benefit from school employee health insurance savings, which "will help offset the proposed cut in the school budget, restoring "per the council's wishes" the other deleted positions from the city workforce, and increasing the ice and snow appropriation.
Kirk questioned and explained at length strategems employed by the School Committee, on which she sits.
She said that, when the School Committee accepted federal stimulus funding two years ago, "it was understood that the city could not replace the funding once it was withdrawn."
The total loss between the current and coming fiscal years is $890,699, but "almost no positions funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have been cut in the proposed School Department budget," she said.
"Rather, the cuts have been focused in protecting the classroom and educational program," and instead, "various support services have been cut which is a reflection in the continued downward enrollment trends," she said.
Among the major city departments, the police loss of three positions come without a layoff — from the zeroing out of a position vacated by a death, and two impending retirements.
The Fire Department loses three positions, including the two layoffs announced last month and one position vacated by a retirement. The Public Works Department would essentially lose the 24 jobs via the outsourcing of custodial services and building maintenance, "subject to impact bargaining."
Kirk also reported that the budget contains funds to cover all settled union contracts, amounting to $104,000 for the two police unions — the patrolmen have settled while the superior officers are outstanding — and $150,000 for step and track obligations.
Only the firefighters' union has not settled, and Kirk said there only "going forward funding for contracts settled in the fiscal year."
She also announced the conversion of the Talbot Rink into an independent, self-sustaining enterprise fund.
"This self-supporting enterprise fund reflects revenue projects that are supported by reduced staffing levels and improved outreach efforts marketing the rink's availability," she said.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.