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Newton aldermen pass $351.2 million budget

Posted by Sarah Thomas  May 24, 2011 05:37 PM

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The Newton Board of Aldermen passed a budget of $351,225,056 million for the 2012 fiscal year at Monday's meeting.

"I'm very pleased with the collaborative effort," said Newton mayor Setti Warren. "We passed the budget in a timely manner and protected critical services by working closely with department heads."

The final vote was 20 in favor and 4 against, according to committee clerk Danielle Delaney. The budget includes layoffs for four municipal employees and as many as 33 members of the Newton Public Schools faculty and staff.

"There was a strong sentiment that the school budget in particular got hit hard this year," said Lenny Gentile, chair of the Newton Finance Committee, who supported the budget. "That's what most people were concerned about. Things are extremely tight."

The mayor's original budget, which he presented to the Board of Aldermen on April 20, came out at $301.9 million. It did not include water and sewer funds, Gentile said.

The Newton Public Schools passed a $171.6 million budget earlier this spring that contains cuts to as many as 33 faculty and staff members, along with the reduction of programs like middle school Latin and the implementation or raising of numerous athletic and activities fees.

"The budget process doesn't end as of last night," Gentile said. "The state is yet to pass their budget, and the hope is that we'll end up with additional money. The mayor has pledged that any extra money will go to the schools."

But cuts to the schools were behind alderman Ted Hess-Mahan's decision not to support the budget - a decision he said he took for the first time.

"I think the expectation was that hard choices would be made [in this budget], but that pain would be shared across the city and the schools," Hess-Mahan said. "I don't wish there were more layoffs, but the whole thing felt unbalanced."

Hess-Mahan said that tying less money up in rainy day funds and instituting pay-as-you-throw trash fees could have helped make more money available to dedicate to the schools.

Gentile said he hoped that additional money dedicated to the schools would allow the school department to lower the activity fee supercap, which has been set at $1,800 for families.

Gentile said changes made to the originally proposed budget were minor, such as fully funding line items for public lighting while waiting for receipts from parking meters to come in. The difference will be made up with cuts to the city's snow and ice reserve accounts.

"The bottom line isn't changing," Gentile said. "One thing I liked in the budget was the addition of a project manager to oversee capital projects. With all the infrastructure improvements we have planned, such as installing modular classrooms and renovating Day Middle school, having a project manager oversee projects will be helpful."

Before the mayor presented his budget, he announced that 18 city positions were being reduced or eliminated. In total, four people on the municipal side were laid off.

"I don't know anyone who isn't uncomfortable when you realize people are going to be laid off," Gentile said. "In Newton, the majority of positions that are cut we are able to do through attrition, so that a real person doesn't end up being hurt. But that's been going on for a while, and now it's become more difficult."

Neither the city nor the schools budgeted for any cost of living increases for teachers or staff. The city is currently in talks with some of its workers' unions, talks which Warren described as productive.

On the schools side, the Newton Teachers Association blanketed the city with leaflets last weekend, saying the School Committee's delays in negotiating could hinder efforts to get a contract in place by June. The School Committee and Teachers Association are bargaining again this week.

Warren said that he hoped the state legislature would increase aid to schools.

"I'm very hopeful the legislature will take the governor's lead on this," Warren said. "I will call on the legislature to do that."

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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