Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Citizen Committee: No Budget Increase

A 16-member citizens’ budget advisory committee has identified $2.5 million in cuts and recommends no budget increase, Chairman Bill Amirault told the City Council Monday (Nov. 24, 2009).

Amirault said given the short time the committee had to work and the fact that the city is already five months into the 2009 fiscal year, its findings may serve mainly to guide future budget prioritizing. Councilman Rashid Burney, chairman of the governing body’s Finance Committee, said several of the proposed cuts made their way into documents the council is now using to finalize the budget. A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 15, when amendments will also be offered. The council hopes for final passage on Dec. 22.

At present, the budget reflects a 9.5 percent increase that is expected to be offset by extraordinary state aid to be announced next month.

Much of Amirault’s presentation had to do with the way the city operates in general, with a report card laden with C’s, D’s and F’s in five areas. The group deemed public safety most important, with improved schools, economic development, communications and beautification as other targets for improvement. Amirault acknowledged that the school district was not under city control, but in comments after the presentation, Council President Harold Gibson expressed surprise that there would be any reference to the educational system in the report.

Besides recommending no budget increase, the committee suggested a salary freeze for non-contract employees for 15 months, a half-day weekly reduction in work hours for several weeks, removal of Dudley House from the city payroll and perhaps hiring more firefighters to cut down on overtime costs. Amirault credited committee member Nancy Piwowar with identifying $1.7 million in savings in the “other expenses” category, which covers items such as bottled water and supplies.

Committee members sat in on budget sessions led by Dashield and Finance Director Douglas Peck, but Amirault flatly called the presentations “sloppy.” Peck was not present Monday, but Gibson expressed disappointment with what he saw as “subjective criticism.” Noting his tenure ends Dec. 31, Gibson said it will be up to the other council members to decide how they want to handle the budget process next year.

Because a public hearing was advertised for Monday, the council permitted public comment, but most speakers expressed concern about Dudley House, a grant-funded program for addicted men. The program required only $28,000 in city funds until this year, when repairs had to be made to make the Putnam Avenue residence handicapped-accessible. Speakers said they want the program to be restored because it has saved lives.

Resident Dottie Gutenkauf asked that the report be made available to the public on the city web site and in print. The session was taped using new sound equipment and will be broadcast on the city’s local Channel 74.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

AS a member of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, I would like to respectively disagree with councilman Gibson's statement that the Committee's findings were subjective. The recommendations were not produced in a vacuum, and included the input of many citizens in Plainfield.

I spoke to many people who were not on the committee and solicited their input, as did other members of the committee. The outcome of those conversations were revealed in the presentation. I would like to know with which issues the councilman disagrees, and I hope he addresses those at the Dec. 15 hearing.

I am sure that Bill addressed the fact that this report was not personal. It has taken many years of neglecting this city to bring Plainfield where it is today. It will take bold and courageous steps by administrations and especially the councils to return this city to its rightful stature. I hope the 2009 council will lead the way in making right decisions, holding the city accountable for its actions, and doing what is best for Planfield.

I also call upon the citizens of Plainfield to participate in this change. Our taxes are not cheap, and our services should reflect that. I ask that the good citizens of Planfield stop settling and demand the best from the city. We are all in this together with a common goal. Let's make sure that the changes in government in 2009 does not only hold positive changes at the federal government level, but also touches Plainfield.

Jeanette Criscione

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why did the city council have this committee to speak to the school district? They have no authority on the schools and it seems to be a pattern developing of the council trying to get involved in the schools. Remember the track club? With all the problems that city is having and the recent successes of the school system people are starting to wonder is there another agenda in play.Resentment from the shared services no go?

2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reader above has a misunderstanding about speaking about the school system. The Budget Committee was well aware that the school budget was out of our scope. Here is why mention of the school system was presented.

The Budget Committee was asked to evaluate which services the citizens of Plainfield are willing to forgoe if a raise in taxes does not occur.

The Committee then decided to take those aspects of a community, which is important to someone living or moving into a community, and grade them. In that way, services could be prioritized. It was our opinion that having good schools was an aspect of a good community so we included that in our matrix. No other mention of schools or school budgets were made, discussed or evaluated.

Jeanette Criscione

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a school district employee, what was the criteria used for the grading of the schools? How was "good" defined? Was the school district involved in the process?

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exactly. No answer to the questions above. The city should stay out the school district and focus on lowering my taxes, cleaning up my streets, filling the potholes in the streets and reducing crime. The reassignment of the mayor's bodyguards back to real police work was a good start.

3:40 PM  

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