A showdown is shaping up between the city’s Board of Finance and Mayor Art Ward.
The powerful nine-member panel that oversees city spending asked last month for Bristol’s department heads to detail what they’d do if ordered to slice spending by 5 or 10 percent.
But Ward told the supervisors to hold off on the scenarios because he wanted to “avoid a chaotic and panic situation” within city government if it isn’t necessary.
That didn’t sit well with at least some finance commissioners.
“It’s our budget process,” said Ron Messier, a veteran finance board member.
“The mayor doesn’t own the budget process. The Board of Finance owns the budget process,” Messier said.
Janet Moylan, another finance commissioner, said the finance board needs “to look at the city as a whole” as it works out this year’s city spending plan instead of simply issuing an edict that everyone has to freeze spending, including the Board of Education.
“We need to look at some of the other departments as well as education,” Moylan said, because it may make more sense to slice purchases or programs elsewhere rather than hammering the schools to save money.
Holding the line on school spending would likely mean layoffs of some untenured teachers and staff and perhaps pare programs such as music, officials have said.
“I don’t think that we can cut the Board of Education’s budget that much,” Moylan said.
Cheryl Thibault, another finance board member, said that the impact statements about cuts in other departments would allow decision-makers to know their options.
Without them, she said, “We don’t have the tools in front of us” to make choices.
“We need to do away with the word ‘chaos,’” Messier said. “There might be trauma,” but not chaos.
But given the hard times facing most taxpayers, he said, there’s no reason city employees should be spared the worry that everyone else shares.
Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said the fiscal overseers can push the issue with the mayor.
“Obviously, you people are in favor of this. We can do this,” Miecznikowki told the board Tuesday night.
Ward is said to be ready to defend his position, but the finance board is increasingly angry that its edict was simply tossed aside by the mayor.
A budget hearing at 6 p.m. at the library tonight will be the first chance for a showdown to take place.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org