LAWRENCE - The City Council's budget committee last night proposed cutting $442,641 from the $76.5 million budget Mayor William Lantigua requested for city operations in the upcoming fiscal year. The council hoped he will use most of the savings to begin rebuilding police services that were slashed in this year's budget.
"These cuts are done in the spirit of putting more police officers on the street," committee chairman Daniel Rivera said in proposing a list of 19 cuts totaling $367,703 to Lantigua's budget proposal, which would result in four layoffs in the offices of the mayor, the comptroller and the treasurer. "The (police) chief has said he needs roughly $700,000 to get the auto theft and the drug unit back. This gets us at least halfway. My hope is the unions can give back at least this much if not more."
Budget committee members Modesto Maldonado and Oneida Aquino proposed another $90,000 in cuts that would cut funding for a part-time secretary working for Police Chief John Romero and for a custodian, bringing the total number of layoffs to six.
Many of the cuts came over the objections of Robert Nunes, the state budget official who oversees city spending and has veto power over the budget, and Patrick Blanchette, Lantigua's acting chief of staff, who both took to the podium in the council chambers several times to warn of the consequences.
"I don't know why you're laying people off - this will impact families and the services we provide to the city," Nunes said after Rivera proposed cutting one of four clerks from the staff of Treasurer's office, which would save $44,179.
Nunes also noted that Lantigua already has applied for a federal grant that would bring back nine police officers, and said he will "not recommend that the cuts the council is making transfer over to the police department."
Rivera's hope that the unions will match the cuts he proposed by offering workplace concessions that together would provide the $700,000 to restore the special police units faces one hurdle more - the police union so far has rejected Lantigua's requests for givebacks.
The three budget committee members voted unanimously to send the full council all of the 25 cuts they proposed last night, although several were sent on without a recommendation. The full council is scheduled to hold a hearing on the budget proposal at 7 p.m. Tuesday, immediately followed by a round of votes on the budget.
The City Council has no authority to direct Lantigua to make specific cuts in any line item, but can only cut a department's bottom line while making its intentions known to the mayor. The mayor can either accept the cuts or send amendments back to the council seeking to restore funding.
The budget committee did not suggest that any of the savings they identified be used to reduce the 2.59 percent increase in the tax levy that Lantigua proposed, which would increase the total levy $1.2 million, to $46.2 million.
The budget committee made no changes to the $143.9 million budget for the public schools that the School Committee approved earlier this year - a budget that is funded almost entirely by the state - although it cut $100,000 in city support for an Adult Learning Center operated by the school district.
The committee also left the $16.5 million budget for the special water and sewer funds untouched. But it approved cutting $15,369 in overtime spending from the $477,919 airport fund, which Maldonado said was intended to pressure Lantigua to reassign what he said is an incompetent laborer at the airport. The airport is funded entirely by the revenues it earns, so the cut would not affect the city's budget.
The budget committee also sent the full council proposals to:
ÔÇæcut council members' $15,000-a year salary 20 percent, which would save $28,842. The council accepted a 10 percent cut this year;
ÔÇæreduce spending for heating fuel, gasoline, diesel and electricity at several city buildings — including the police and public works headquarters and the cemetery, library and City Hall — by $89,045.
ÔÇæcut stipends for members of the health, zoning and licensing boards by $12,400.
ÔÇæcut $5,000 from the $15,500 Lantigua requested for police training.
The new fiscal year begins July 1.
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