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Christenson budget has new programs, water rate hike for 2013

Posted by Matt Byrne  May 30, 2012 12:00 PM

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A budget message from Mayor Gary Christenson, posted Wednesday to the city's website. The Malden City Council finance committee will likely begin public consideration of the $152 million plan next week.

In his first budget proposal since taking the helm in Malden, Mayor Gary Christenson proposed Tuesday the consolidation of key city departments that would fold employees under fewer managers, eliminate or leave unfilled 20 city jobs, and hike water and sewer rates roughly 19 percent.

Speaking before the city council, Christenson said he has balanced the trimming and reorganization with a host of programs that would he would create or prioritize. Those include annualized funding for a teen center, cash to hire four more police officers and a cadet, the creation of a city Recreation Department, and increased funding for public art and green spaces, according to Christenson's comments and a budget summary released Tuesday.

"The budget can best be described as being transparent, restructured, consolidated, priority-based, and most importantly, balanced," Christenson said.

To view the city budget, click here.

For the first time in Malden's history, the fiscal plan was constructed electronically and will be web-based, a shift toward technology-driven transparency that has been a promise of the Christenson administration. The document will also include departmental mission statements and detailed name and salary information for all employees, which were previously absent.

The proposed $152,805,300 bottom line is $7.3 million more than what was spent last year. If state funding figures hold true, aid to schools could increase by  nearly $2.3 million, to $48.2 million, and unrestricted aid to city government could increase by about $827,911, to $11 million, according to state Department of Revenue estimates.

Perhaps the most direct impact to residents will be the nearly 19 percent hike in water and sewer rates. The increase was driven largely by a similar increase in the charge for water to the city by the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, and the cost of replacing aging underground piping.

Christenson said nearly $1 million worth of water goes unaccounted for each year, prompting a reorganization of responsibilities that were previously spread over a handful of disparate departments, to a single new entity, the Water Utilities Department.

One slice of the city pie that Christenson said will see a sizable boost is the Veteran Services account. The mayor pledged a more than 10 percent increase on last year's $279,228 allocation, he said.

"It is a goal of mine to make sure the veteran's services director has the resources he needs at the outset" of the fiscal year, Christenson said.

Although the school department is funded at $56,164,546, cuts will be necessary to close a gap left by the end of federal stimulus money, he said.

Some of the most dramatic organizational changes will come in the Department of Public Works and the Health Department. To better maintain city roads and parks, Christenson envisions one Public Works director and three supervisors, eliminating the assistant director position and a supervisor. The shift would make room to fill five vacancies -- three in highway and two in parks -- and move the city's three parking enforcement officers under the public works umbrella.

He also plans to combine the Public Facilities Department with the Government Center Commission, and amalgamate Inspectional Services, the city planner, compliance officers, the hearing officer, and the Board of Health. Some position salaries would also be shifted to the Water and Sewer Enterprise Fund, he said.

Christenson also seeks to set aside $50,000 more for youth summer jobs, $25,000 to improve Fellsmere Pond, and $5,000 to continue the popular switch box painting program.

Now the proposal goes to the city council finance committee, and then the wider council, for eventual passage before the start of the budget year on July 1.

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