EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 22, 2013

Overseer, councilors spar over spending


“We got an upgrade because we have not used (surpluses) to balance the budget,” Nunes said, referring to Standard & Poor’s decision last year to upgrade the city’s credit rating a notch, to BBB. “That will continue as long as I’m here.”

“So when I go back to constituents whose houses have burned down, I tell them we had to cut 31 firefighters but our bond rating is very good,” Laplante responded. “I don’t think if our bond rating goes from Triple B to B- that will make a hill of beans to a person whose house has burned down.”

Nunes warned that the challenge of keeping the firehouses staffed will be made more difficult by other new demands on revenues, including the $10 million increase in spending in that Jeff Riley, the state-appointed receiver running the city’s public schools, included in the budget he has released. Even if the legislature approves the $8.4 million increase in state aid to Lawrence schools that Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed, the city would need to come up with another $1.4 million for its share of the school budget, Nunes said.

“Funding 31 firefighters and $1.6 million for the schools is impossible,” Nunes warned. “It’s absolutely impossible. The city doesn’t have that much money. It’s just impossible to do it all.”

Nunes also noted that members of the city’s firefighting union would be getting a 2.5 percent raise beginning July 1 under a contract they approved, a reminder that brought on another round of criticism from Councilor Daniel Rivera, who chairs the council’s budget committee and has said the money the city will spend on the raises should be spent instead to hire more firefighters.

“I urge you to be more responsible,” said Rivera, who is running for mayor. “You can’t promise people raises when you don’t have the money to fund it. A small amount of people will be very happy. A large group will be unsafe.”

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