EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Mayor Lantigua

May 31, 2011

Mayor's next challenge: Getting OK on $71M budget

LAWRENCE — He's launching a search for a new school superintendent, confronting an alleged corruption probe and last week accepted the resignation of his chief of staff, leaving another empty seat in his administration.

Tonight, Mayor William Lantigua tosses another political ball in the air: A proposed budget of about $71 million for expenses for city departments and a 30-day clock for getting it through the City Council. Meanwhile, he must also satisfy a state overseer who has been monitoring city spending since last year.

The task will be made more challenging by the resignation last week of former mayoral Chief of Staff Leonard Degnan, who put together much of the new budget because Lantigua has not appointed a budget director or treasurer.

The budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, would propose huge challenges even for a mayor undistracted by other mounting challenges and with a full table of commissioners and advisors.

A top challenge facing Lantigua is that he can no longer use borrowed money to balance his budget. The special permission which the state gave Lawrence to borrow to cover operating deficits over the last three years has run out, and will be replaced next year by a payment of about $1.5 million on the $27.4 million borrowed by the city.

Nevertheless, Degnan said the new budget will contain none of the layoffs that occurred after the current budget was adopted in July, when more than 80 city workers, including 47 police and firefighters, lost their jobs. His comments came as he left City Hall for good last week to return to the insurance company he owns.

The Fire Department has been rebuilt in recent months by using a $6 million federal grant, which has allowed fire Chief Jack Bergeron to rehire 26 firefighters and to make plans to add 16 more. Those jobs are safe through next year, when the grant runs out, and will allow Bergeron to reopen the Prospect Hill firehouse by the end of the year. A ladder truck also has been returned to the South Broadway firehouse.

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