With this year’s municipal budget finished, city officials are already looking to next year’s spending plan with dread.
“There’s two or three more tough years down the pike,” said Ron Messier, a Board of Finance member.
Officials this year dipped into the rainy day fund for $2.5 million that won’t be there the next time around, emptied out equipment and other accounts and otherwise left the cupboard bare in their quest to deliver a property tax freeze this year without slashing city services.
Next year, said Janet Moylan, a finance commissioner, “we’re going to have to cut.”
Three-term city Councilor Craig Minor said, “This is not a rainy day, folks. This is climate change.”
John Smith, another finance board member, said that cuts alone are not going to do it next year.
Smith said leaders need to reorganize the way the city does business to find ways to deliver services better and more efficiently, just as private industry has had to do.
Smith said the city may have to reduce the services it offers in order to hold spending in check.
“That is just reality,” said Smith “and if we don’t pay attention to it, we have our heads in the sand.”
Even if the city were to need $170.8 million again next year, it would need to raise taxes more than half a mill simply to get the revenue next time around that it secured by snitching from existing accounts this year.
That assumes, of course, that costs don’t rise. If employees demand the raises they’ve already negotiated, it would take even more money, at a time when state aid is widely considered to be on the chopping block.
This year’s budget is “easy compared to next year’s,” city Councilor Ken Cockayne said, particularly since the city may lose some of its state assistance in 2010 as it tries to cope with a multi-billion dollar deficit.
Mayor Art Ward said that Bristol “has the potential to feel even more pain” in the coming year as finances grow ever tighter.
This year, he said, the city relied on one-time sources that won’t be available again.
The only alternative is “to be frugal, be conservative and be conscious of every single penny of spending.”
City Councilor Frank Nicastro, who is also the 79th District’s state representative, said the financial position “is not all doom and gloom.”
“We will get out of this,” Nicastro said, “though it will hurt.”
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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