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Dr. Ravi Perry: Worcester City Manager’s Budget Priorities

Friday, May 18, 2012

 

Dr. Ravi Perry, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

It’s budget time! This week Worcester, MA City Manager O’Brien submitted his recommended 2013 budget to the Worcester City Council for consideration. Having reviewed it, I have a few comments.

Of course, as with any city manager, the budget is presented in a way that attempts to offer a realistic picture but that also highlights the perceived fiscal achievements that – had they not happened under O’Brien’s watch – we’d all be in much worse shape.

This, of course, is typical municipal governance and budgetary politics.

In City Manager O’Brien’s report, he emphasized that “we have downsized City government drastically and we are at the bone.” With meticulous detail, O’Brien describes the city’s fiscal context and the city’s municipal investments.

For example, he underscores that: “All revenue sources combined, the annual budget increases from $525.5 million in Fiscal Year 2012 to $542.8 million in Fiscal Year 2013, an increase of $16.3 million in revenues, of which $13.6 million is dedicated to fund public education.”

Seemingly, O’Brien is particularly praising the city’s new “expenditure increase” over the current fiscal year’s budget primarily due to education expenditures, namely the city’s increased support of Worcester Public Schools.

While the budget maintains 406 uniformed firefighter positions, funds 31 firefighter positions for the current recruit class, and funds the opening of the pool, beaches and spray parks, O’Brien does recommend areas in need of elimination due to fiscal constraints, including the State educational formula driven $750,000 to the Worcester Public Schools and the WPD Summer Impact Overtime.

However, no rationale is given for why those programs should be cut.

Meanwhile, O’Brien’s budget only maintains current hours and levels of services at the Main Branch Library and two other branches. Citing limited financial reserves to simply maintain these levels, there is no plan to increase the number of libraries or devote additional resources – with the exception of some $80,000 devoted to the new book mobile.

Again, the costs associated with line items, such as the book mobile, while listed, are not explained.

Of significance given the many examples of irregularities respective to Community Development Block Grant funding, O’Brien’s budget reflects “significant cuts to the Federal Community Development Block Grant Program and the HOME Affordable Housing Program.” Noting the need to restructure staffing, O’Brien’s budget also adds a Grant Compliance Position for improved oversight and management of grant funding.

While important, this position also seems unnecessary as the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee has the same responsibility and had it been functioning properly a new paid position would not be necessary. Instead, most already know the committee is simply a rubber stamp for O’Brien’s pre-conceived priorities. Despite complaints of process from several members of the committee, the process, nonetheless, remains.

The aforementioned is of concern; however what is most interesting about the proposed budget is the recommended allocation of raises for many city employees already making a lot of money. I don’t mean to criticize the work of these professionals or the need for their positions. However, if the city is so hindered by fiscal constraints, it’s curious to me why raises for employees making well into the six figures, is merited.

For example, the City Clerk’s salary is projected to increase to $138,477.

The City Auditor’s salary is projected to increase to $130,281.

The Chief Development Officer’s salary is projected to increase to $119,218.

The City Manager’s own salary is projected to increase to $186,712.

These are only a few examples. And the increases are in most cases a few thousand dollars that are reflective, most likely, of inflation. However, a continued salary freeze for certain income earners (as opposed to a 2% across the board increase for everyone) may be a better solution. That way, the budget has more resources to devote to other “priorities.”

Also, of note, are the additional funds for several new administrative positions. Given that such positions under O’Brien’s control are already nearly exclusively Caucasian and male, I found this of particular interest to gauge if the stated priorities of “need” for the City Manager match with those of thousands of Worcester residents.

What is interesting about each position is that the budget itself includes no documentation as to why the city needs these new positions now and why the positions are being funded at the salary so indicated.

The positions include a new Assistant City Manager of Operations at a salary of $145,000. At the library, a new Youth Services Coordinator funded with a salary of $77,925; a new Reference Services Coordinator funded at the salary of $77,925. And a new Branch Services Coordinator funded at the salary of $60, 537.

I’m assuming the department heads provided rationales to the City Manager for the new positions and their salary ranges, however that information is not included in O’Brien’s budget as presented to City Council. However, a firm, defensible rationale for new positions is very important and that information should be available to the public in the budget.

The budget also calls for a new position of Assistant Director of Human Resources funded at the salary of $90,232 and a Principal Animal Control Officer funded at the salary of $121,988.

To reiterate, I’m not saying the positions are not important, but the reason to request funding for them now is worth knowing. For example, it is clear that the Director of Human Rights position is not funded adequately at all. As compared to other department heads, that position, while now projected to be full time, pays $56,000, much less than many other department heads.

If that says anything, it says that protecting the quality of life of all Worcester’s residents is not a priority at all.

The positions I referenced are but a few of the new ones requested. As the budget is public record, I highly recommend all citizens go to the city’s website and read it for yourself. That one document tells you of priorities. Ignore the rhetoric. Read the budget.

After having read it myself, and given the types of new positions requested for next year’s budget – I can only guess how many of those positions will eventually be filled by persons representing a broader spectrum of diversity than which currently exists under O’Brien’s direction.

You guessed right! – given stated “priorities” and salary ranges, my guess is zero.

Dr. Ravi Perry is currently an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of Ethnic Studies at Clark University where he specializations in Black politics, minority representation, and urban politics. He concentrates his research, oratory, and activism in areas such as the new generation of civil rights debates, public policy, and urban politics public service delivery to persons of color. His activism, commentary and oratory have been featured in media outlets nation-wide. 

 

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