EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 3, 2014

Budget forum draws few, but they oppose cuts

Concerns include condition of parks, streets

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — A forum on the $78 million budget proposed by Mayor Daniel Rivera for the city’s upcoming fiscal year drew just six people to a Broadway restaurant last night.

Most of those who showed up said the City Council should reject many of the $511,000 in cuts that a council committee proposed last week.

The residents — all regulars at the council’s biweekly meetings — got a sizable concession from Councilor Kendrys Vasquez, the chair of the council’s Budget Committee. He said he will propose reducing the proposed cuts by nearly half when the full council votes on the budget June 10.

All of the committee’s proposed cuts came from public safety and public works.

Rather than eliminating all the $342,000 Rivera requested to hire six new firefighters — a cut Vasquez supported in his committee last week — he said last night he will propose reducing the line by just $106,000. He said then he will suggest using the rest to pay the overtime that may be needed in place of the six firefighters who wouldn’t be hired.

Vasquez said he still supports cutting the six firefighting jobs because Acting Fire Chief John Marsh told him it would take a year to train and hire people for those positions.

Vasquez otherwise stuck to his support for the five other cuts his committee suggested when it sent the budget to the full council last week, including cutting $72,000 for two park laborers. Vasquez said he supported cutting the two jobs because Public Works Director John Isensee told him before Rivera released his budget proposal last month that public works staffing was adequate.

“He contradicted himself,” Vasquez said. “We have to hold him accountable.”

“The result is that parks and streets are going to suffer,” Cross Street resident Dick Russell responded.

Vasquez also reiterated his support for eliminating $96,000 to hire an additional police sergeant and $25,439 to provide a 21 percent raise for Acting Fire Chief John Marsh. The raise would bring Marsh’s salary to $145,900, the highest salary on the city payroll. Vasquez said he believes the raise was intended for former Fire Chief Jack Bergeron, who preceded Marsh.

Otherwise, the conversation at Carleen’s Restaurant last night wandered widely, including discussions of how city overtime is distributed, who gets to take home city cars at night and the searches for new fire, police and public works chiefs.

Rivera’s budget proposal does not raise property taxes, although the total tax levy would increase 2 percent, to $52.4 million, as the tax rolls grow.