Mayor Domenic Sarno has always had a somewhat rocky relationship with the City Council, with tensions especially apparent during the annual budget season, going back to the mayor’s attempt, in his first term, to bar councilors from attending department budget hearings.
In recent years, councilors (and the public) were expressly invited to attend those hearings. But that doesn’t mean the Council is particularly happy with the way the administration has been putting together the fiscal 2013 budget—which begins July 1—as made clear in a letter the majority of councilors sent yesterday to the mayor.
In the letter, the councilors chastise Sarno for failing to involve them adequately in the budget process, including only making them aware of a “budget crisis” in March, nine months into the fiscal year, and proposing ideas to increase revenue “on the backs of taxpayers” with little notice.
“ These decisions should not be made hastily, and should have been discussed earlier in the fiscal year,” the councilors wrote. “As the legislative body of the city, it is incumbent upon us to scrutinize both increasing fees and the budget in general; we feel that we have not had a sufficient opportunity to do so this year.”
The letter lists several areas of concern, including hiring decisions “in excess of what is reasonable and prudent” made by the Sarno administration without Council input, and despite a call by some councilors for a hiring freeze. The councilors also criticize the administration for proposing about $3 million in new fees on residents without adequate notice to the public or the Council. “Due to the timing, we feel that we are being given an ultimatum,” they wrote. “If these proposals and this information had been made in the Fall, there would have been adequate time to study all of them.”
In addition, the councilors expressed unhappiness with Sarno’s decision not to invite them to attend meetings he and his financial staff had earlier this month with state legislators, where the Springfield team made a pitch for additional state assistance.
The letter also included numerous budget questions the councilors have for the mayor, including requests for information they say they’ve asked for in the past but never received. The list includes a request for a “narrative” describing how the administration has made hiring decisions and other moves that affect the budget, and an explanation of how additional revenue will be spent. The councilors also call on Sarno to seek competitive bids for the city’s employee health insurance plan—something at-large Councilor Tim Rooke has been pushing for years, but Sarno has declined to do.
The letter is signed by 11 of the 13 councilors: President Jimmy Ferrera, Vice President John Lysak (Ward 8), at-large Councilors Rooke, Tommy Ashe, Kateri Walsh and Bud Williams, and ward Councilors Zaida Luna (Ward 1), Mike Fenton (Ward 2), Melvin Edwards (Ward 3), Ken Shea (Ward 6) and Tim Allen (Ward 7).
Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs and Ward 5’s Clodo Concepcion did not sign.