City of Fitchburg

Alders aim to add staffing, grants to budget

Most of the proposed amendments to the mayor’s 2020 Fitchburg operating budget would slash maintenance or data initiatives in favor of staff, grants or other initiatives.

All but one of the 12 amendments to Mayor Aaron Richardson’s budget were submitted by Alds. Julia Arata-Fratta (Dist. 2) and Tom Clauder (D-4), with the other an update on previously estimated numbers by finance director Misty Dodge.

Both alders proposed amendments that would cut funding for two maintenance projects at McKee Farms Park – replacing the fence surrounding the tennis courts and the enclosure for the park’s utilities.

Arata-Fratta’s cuts would fund an increase of $15,000 to the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative (to its previous level of $50,000) and a $4,800 study of the compensation given to elected officials, whose compensation hasn’t increased since 1997.

Clauder’s would free up funds to promote three firefighters to lieutenant status and add a part-time code enforcement inspector.

Another Clauder amendment would reallocate public works funds to prioritize road resurfacing in the Briarwood subdivision, delaying other, unspecified projects.

The public will be able to comment on the amendments during a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the Council Chambers in City Hall, 5520 Lacy Road. After the hearing, the council is scheduled to consider the amendments and take a vote on the budget.

Richardson’s initial budget proposal put a priority on restricting the city’s spending, listing five “commitments” in the introductory letter of his budget and funding less than one-tenth of the personnel requests put in by city department heads.

Staying within the state-mandated levy limit is the biggest restriction in the budget this year, Dodge told alders during an Oct. 23 Committee of the Whole meeting discussing the amendments. Richardson’s budget left a little under $4,o00 remaining until that limit is met, she added.

At that meeting, Ald. Dan Bahr (D-2) argued delaying the one-time maintenance of the tennis courts for what in some cases would be ongoing costs would not be responsible. With Clauder absent, Bahr spoke directly to Arata-Fratta.

“Some of the other amendments that you and Tom have are ongoing expenditures,” he said. “And so if you take the maintenance for this and delay it to next year, and then add additional money for staffing or whatever else that’s ongoing, you have compounded cost because next year … you’re paying to replace the fence and you’re also adding a staff person.”

Postponing park work

Both Arata-Fratta and Clauder argued replacing the tennis court fences and delaying the utility enclosure repair shouldn’t be the highest priority. But they didn’t collaborate on the amendments, Arata-Fratta told alders with a laugh.

Even though it’s in her district, she said, the McKee Farms Park projects are two that can wait, while other initiatives take precedent.

“It’s a park I really care about,” she said. “I live three blocks away from the park, so I know these tennis courts very well. The complaints I receive about the tennis courts is not about the fence, but it’s about the cracks on the floors.”

The replacement for the tennis court fence came as a recommendation from the city’s insurance company because of the potential for tripping or lacerations from the fence. Wooden boards line the bottom of the fence to prevent balls from going underneath, city parks and recreation director Scott Endl said.

“If (the fence is) turning up, or those kind of things, that it could, in theory, people could get snagged on it,” he told the council. “With the boards there, I think that concern is mitigated.”

Bahr argued meeting the insurance company’s recommendation would be smart.

Investing in neighborhoods

Arata-Fratta wants to see more city funds used to bolster neighborhood initiatives.

Her amendment would make fund the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative grant program $5,000 higher than the year before, but still $10,000 short of the requested amount by the committee, of which Arata-Fratta sits on.

The HNI funding began three years ago, replacing a $50,000 grant formerly given to the Boys and Girls Club from the city.

HNI is working in three different communities in Fitchburg that have residents with lower socioeconomic statuses, Arata-Fratta said, and the committee hopes to add a fourth.

“This is a great initiative; they really need it,” she said.

Ald. Dorothy Krause (D-1) agreed with Arata-Fratta’s suggestion saying she dislikes seeing the program’s funding decrease each year.

“It’s getting more important,” she said. “It’s an incredibly valuable program for communities that need it more than anyone else in the city, who needs a little extra boost.”

Meeting staffing demands

Clauder’s amendments attempted to fund some of the personnel requests Richardson’s budget does not include.

A full-time code enforcement inspector was requested by the building inspection department, but Clauder acknowledged in his amendment documents that finding the money for that would be a challenge.

Clauder wrote in his amendment that the increase in building permits justifies the addition of the code enforcement position.

The fire department lieutenant promotions were approved in 2015 and scheduled for 2018 but never occurred because funding wasn’t included in the budget.

Clauder proposed paying for those additions through delaying park maintenance and the migration of the city’s data to OneNeck and using the remainder of the levy limit capacity, which together equals a little more than $46,000.

Richardson said if the city is going to add personnel, the addition of a code enforcement inspector isn’t the right way to go.

“This is one where I wish he would have talked to me,” he said. “What I would have recommended to Tom if he was looking to help staff somewhere, there’s a position that’s two-thirds funded by the water utility.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.