Below are more citizen ideas brought forward by email, phone or in person after Mayor Higgins' call to share any thoughts, concerns or priorities as we move forward in planning for FY2010. If you have ideas or thoughts to share, please email them to email@example.com, and we thank you for understanding that due to the volume of correspondence and the Mayor's demanding schedule, she will not be able to respond to each one personally, but we will continue to post your ideas here.
- Can we reduce the CPA to a minimum 1%?
- Review travel expenses / reimbursements for ideas to reduce costs.
- If paid overtime for taking minutes of meetings, use flex time, interns or hire intermittent non-benefited employees.
- The HR office could email job postings to city employees instead of sending printed notices citywide.
- Once again we're looking to close schools and layoff teachers. I drive down King St. and see your office hasn't figured out what to do with the HILL&DALE mall property.
- If our superintendent takes a position elsewhere, could we try to work next year without a superintendent?
- Let’s not hire any more consultants for anything.
- Stopping the night time snow plowing will reduce the costly overtime expenses.
- We could also eliminate the snow removal (except perhaps for downtown). This might help with ‘traffic calming’ issues!
- I think we should eliminate most of the city ‘personal’ vehicles. I see the Fire Dept cars everywhere, including parked outside of restaurants.
- Could we sign over the maintenance of the fire hydrants to the NFD instead of the DPW? I especially hate to see DPW shoveling out hydrants instead of plowing roads after snowstorms.
- When I was growing up, all of the firemen had a ‘specialty’ within the department. I don’t think that this is true anymore and we have to outsource those services at a cost
- In the School Department, two custodians will be retiring. Not replacing those positions could save $90,000.
- Cut all city employee wages by 2.5-5% depending on position. This would be a 1 time deal with wage freezes for FY2010
- Suspend 401K contributions to all employees for FY2010
- Reduce all office supply expenditures by 5-10%
- Increase employee contributions to health plans by 2-5%.
- Renegotiate current contracts with vendors if it will save money over the long haul
- Can expenditures in each department be approved by the department head?
- Eliminate or defer all capital expenditures that are not a public safety risk or an absolute operational necessity
- Eliminate all hiring unless it is an operational necessity
- Postpone any payments to the BID program until FY2011
- Suspend any vehicle purchases until FY2011
Because the Community Preservation Act was proposed and voted on by the Voters of Northampton, there is no way the Mayor or the City Council may make any changes to it in order to address any budget shortfall. Under the Mass General Laws governing the CPA, the percentage surcharge may be amended by a vote of the legislative body (City Council) and by referendum. So it would have to appear on a ballot for Northampton Voters to weigh in on. If citizens wanted to revoke the CPA, the city must wait at least 5 years after its acceptance (Northampton voted to approve the CPA in November 2005). Again, the City Council and the electorate would have to approve the revocation. It is also worth remembering that CPA funds do not go into the General Fund and are not connected with the budget gap for FY2010. However, as the citizen who asked this question noted, reducing the CPA levy might make taxpayers more willing to consider a Proposition 2 1/2 override, if such a measure is proposed for FY2010 (as of the first week in March it has not).
Like all other line items, travel costs are being closely scrutinized. A good reminder to Department Heads and staff who travel to regional meetings is to consider carpooling with other colleagues in the area or exploring the use of a ride-sharing system, such as RideBuzz to reduce travel reimbursement costs. In looking at the past 3 years, travel expenses have already been cut, and any further spending this year is subject to the Mayor's approval. In FY2006, we spent $172,053 on in-state travel expenses citywide. In FY2007, it was $154,198, a reduction of 10%. In FY2008, spending stayed pretty much flat at $154,932. In the current year, with 75% of the year behind us, we have spent $91,953. If we continue to expend travel at the same pace, despite the Mayor's restrictions, we are on track to spend about $122,603, a reduction from last year of almost 21%. Out of state travel for specialized regional conferences follows a similar downward trend: FY2006 spending was $1,247 citywide. FY2007 was a drop to $751, or nearly 40%. In FY2008, we spent only $349, another drop of 53%. So far this year, out of state travel accounts for $357 citywide, and is not anticipated to increase much more.
If paid overtime for taking minutes of meetings, use flex time, interns or hire intermittent non-benefited employees.
Many Boards and Committees keep their own minutes, but there are some which use city staffers for this task. Non-union City staff may already use flex or comp time at the discretion of the Department Head. The use of overtime for minute taking is an exception and not the rule. Using interns or hiring non-benefited interim employees to do the work that regular city employees could otherwise do would be a violation of our labor agreements with the city's unions.
The HR office could email job postings to city employees instead of sending printed notices citywide.
As of March 12, the HR Department has adopted this practice!
Once again we're looking to close schools and layoff teachers. I drive down King St. and see your office hasn't figured out what to do with the HILL&DALE mall property.
The Mayor and the Economic Development Coordinator have been working for the past eight years with the owners of this property (and others in Northampton!) to encourage positive development at that location. Unfortunately, the City does not have any authority to tell private property owners to whom they should sell their property or how (if, or when) they should develop it. The Mayor and her staff have worked with prospective buyers and lessees over the years, and unfortunately, many of the deals came to naught, although we have been very public about inviting development at that location. In the meantime, that property does remain on the tax rolls, although it is unsightly. The only way the City could directly market that site would be by taking control of the property through Eminent Domain, a lengthy and not inexpensive process, against which private property owners are well protected by law. The City remains available to assist private property owners as they work to develop their available properties throughout the city (for more information see http://www.northamptonma.gov/economicdevelopment/Commercial%5Fsites/).
The property did finally change hands not long ago, and the new owners are working on a redevelopment plan. Unfortunately, current economic conditions will delay any development plans. Although we currently do not have information about any specific new development the new owners have in mind for that location, once new construction takes place there, the property taxes will increase under New Growth. Until then, we continue to collect current property taxes, and there is no other impact on the city’s budget.
If our superintendent takes a position elsewhere, could we try to work next year without a superintendent?
Yes and no. We could certainly operate with an Interim Superintendent, which would bring some salary savings, and we have in fact similarly gone without settled school principals for a year. However, a Superintendent of Schools is one of those positions that the City is required by law to have, and so we could not completely eliminate the position.
Every contract is being scrutinized very closely and outside consultants are included in this scrutiny. This is something that could cut both ways, however, which merits looking at it on a case by case basis. While we do have plenty of opinions and expertise in our community, we don't always have the specialized experience that some outside consultants bring which ends up saving the city in time and resources over the long run. With each contract that is coming into the Mayor's office, we are looking at whether it is an appropriate use of resources or whether we can do the work in-house just as well. As we have fewer staff to do such tasks in-house, we may need to ask the question whether the work in question can be done at all. In some cases, we will be required by law to do so, whether we can staff it in-house or not.
The Board of Public Works has already begun the conversation about how we can improve our snow and ice maintenance and budget. One idea is to move to a 24-hour a day parking ban in Northampton, which would allow the DPW to do more street clearing, and snow picking during the day time and cut down on some overtime expenses. We cannot, however, completely do away with snow plowing and ice treatments overnight. If an ambulance or fire truck is needed at a residence at 3:00 a.m., we need to be sure it can safely arrive there and back to do the important public safety job it must do. We do expect that some change to the way we plow and clear streets will be part of the DPW's budget request for FY2010
We could also eliminate the snow removal (except perhaps for downtown). This might help with ‘traffic calming’ issues!
See the answer above for more detail, but to reiterate, the city's priority will be that public safety vehicles - including fire trucks - need to be able to pass every city street in case of emergency. Many of our residential streets are narrow enough to warrant snow collection/removal to ensure this public safety imperative. But again, some changes in snow removal policy are likely coming down the road.
I think we should eliminate most of the city ‘personal’ vehicles. I see the Fire Dept cars everywhere, including parked outside of restaurants.
There are not many city owned vehicles that go home with employees. Those we do have are only in those public safety and public works positions where the employee is on 24 hour call and would need to return to work at a moment's notice and it is with the understanding that the vehicle is for that purpose and not personal use. The cars contain the specialized equipment each staff person would need to respond to an emergency. The reason you frequently see civilian looking Fire Department vehicles outside of restaurants is that part of the job of the Fire Department is to inspect restaurants and bars on a regular schedule for sprinkler compliance, enforcing laws enacted after that tragic fire in Rhode Island several years ago. These vehicles also serve a second purpose as they are equipped to be First Responders to an emergency, so if the car is on inspection at a restaurant and an emergency call comes in, they can hop in and respond right away. Also, as it turns out, it is not less expensive to purchase and insure a vehicle than to reimburse staff for mileage and wear and tear on their personal cars. The reimbursement rate from the IRS is 48.5 cents per mile, which adds up surprisingly quickly. We purchase vehicles through the Capital Improvements budget and from a state list, getting very good prices on the vehicles, and the students at Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School's Auto Shop provide most of our vehicle maintenance. We purchase our vehicle insurance through MIIA, the Mass. Interlocal Insurance Association, which pools municipalities, ensuring that we get competitive rates.
Could we sign over the maintenance of the fire hydrants to the NFD instead of the DPW? I especially hate to see DPW shoveling out hydrants instead of plowing roads after snowstorms.
The Fire Department does not have the equipment required to do this work. The NFD has one pick up truck with a plow which is assigned to one firefighter who plows the NFD and NPD parking lots and the Senior Center parking lot as he is able (ie, if there is no fire emergency at the time). Staffing patterns at the Fire Department require that a response team of 6 personnel be available at all times to respond immediately to a structure fire, car accident, or other public safety emergency. To ask the FD to take on routine maintenance of fire hydrants after snowfalls would be to ask essentially that a 6 person team of Firefighters who are not trained in snow & ice removal travel together to do this work so they would be available to respond immediately to a Fire emergency. As it stands, the DPW employees who have both training and equipment in snow & ice removal are more efficient at this task, and it is a significant cost savings over asking Firefighters to take it on.
When I was growing up, all of the firemen had a ‘specialty’ within the department. I don’t think that this is true anymore and we have to outsource those services at a cost
Fire services has changed over time, certainly, but it is still true that many of our Firefighters do still have specific areas of responsibility, including an on-site mechanic. Another significant difference is that many of our Firefighters are now also trained as Emergency Medical Technicians, and they serve on the City's Ambulance as well. Our Fire Department is now also more involved with inspections than ever before and with Fire Prevention and other public safety initiatives.
In the School Department, two custodians will be retiring. Not replacing those positions could save $90,000.
Mayor Higgins has already instituted a hiring freeze on the City side and is reviewing each vacancy on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the job will be filled. On the School side, the Superintendent and School Committee will make the same case-by-case determinations about whether to replace staff who retire. Certainly, leaving positions vacant due to a move or retirement is much preferable to laying off active employees in this economic market.
Cut all city employee wages by 2.5-5% depending on position. This would be a 1 time deal with wage freezes for FY2010
Mayor Higgins has frozen wages/salaries and cola's for all non-represented employees for FY2010, and has asked each of the city's labor unions to reopen negotiations to ask them to consider a wage freeze for FY2010. Asking for a temporary cut in wages which would have to be restored the following year would only push the same financial problem back a few months, and at this point, the outlook for FY2011 is not expected to be much better than FY2010.
As a public entity, the city does not offer 401(k) benefits to its employees, but pays into the Massachusetts state retirement system. We are required by law to do so and cannot suspend retirement contributions.
In the last three years, we have reduced office supply expenditures citywide by a greater percentage than that. In FY2006, the city expended $180,379. In FY2007 it was 178,333, a drop of 1.1%. In FY2008 the figure was $157,732, a drop of 11.5%. In the current year, FY2009, we have so far spent $79,216 citywide, and the Mayor has asked Departments to freeze all spending possible, and to submit for approval any spending over $100. We have set up a sharing page on the city website where departments in need of or in possession of office supplies may easily trade them between departments. If the spending continues at the same pace for the remainder of the fiscal year, we are on target to spend around $105,216 on office supplies city wide, a drop of 33% from last year. We also hope by instituting a centralized purchasing office next year we may capture additional savings, and we will also be in a better position to freeze supply purchases as that becomes necessary.
Mayor Higgins has already asked all the city's labor unions to reopen negotiations this year to consider a change in employee contributions to health insurance.
The Mayor reviews each contract that comes through the city. Part of the process is an analysis of whether it would be more cost-effective to do the work in-house.
Department heads do approve all bill warrants that their clerks prepare. The Auditor's office provides a second level of review on all bills paid by the city.
Eliminate or defer all capital expenditures that are not a public safety risk or an absolute operational necessity
The Capital Budget is separate from the General Fund Budget, and it is true that every year we are already deferring some capital repairs and maintenance. We ask Department Heads to rank their Capital requests in terms of how critical the need is and how long the repair or purchase will be expected to last. In the current year, the CIP Committee was only able to fund a small percentage ($1,822,994) of the projects requested. ($9,999,497). And none of the cash or borrowing came from the city's General Fund.
Mayor Higgins has already imposed a hiring freeze and is reviewing all requests to replace personnel on a case-by-case basis.
If the Business Improvement District passes, the city's contribution ($35,000) would come from the Parking Reserve Fund, which is funded by parking meter revenues. It would have no impact on the General Fund at all.
We are on a three car per year replacement schedule for the Police Department, whose cars are very heavily used and require regular replacement. Vehicle purchases across the city are not extravagent or arbitrary, and they are not funded by the General Fund. In the current Capital Improvement Plan, three vehicles were purchased as replacements for vehicles which would no longer pass inspection or meet state standards. We also replaced a 1981 dump truck.