The Malden City Council voted to approve a budget for 2011 that calls for the demotion of two captains, two lieutenants, and two sergeants to patrolmen if city unions don’t vote to accept health insurance concessions.
By Alix Roy Town Correspondent
Smiles were scarce at Wednesday night’s final budget meeting as the Malden City Council voted to approve a budget that hinges on future union votes to maintain already depleted public safety personnel.
The $131,255,482 budget was approved by a vote of 6-2 with four amendments approved by the Finance Committee. The amendments include the restoration of $330,000 in cuts to the Department of Public Works following the union’s acceptance of Mayor Richard Howard’s health insurance plan; a $600,000 transfer from the School Department budget to a reserve account to be accessed by the district if necessary; rejecting the .75 local option meals tax and the subsequent removal of $332,000 in projected new revenue; and an additional $750,000 in cuts to the Police Department.
The final amendment was presented to the Finance Committee by Malden Police Chief James Holland immediately before the council met as a whole to vote on the budget. According to Holland, Howard requested the additional cuts on Wednesday after neither unions representing patrolman or superior officers came forward to accept a proposed health insurance plan, which includes increased premium contributions, co-pays, and deductibles. The patrolman’s union is scheduled to vote on the matter on Thursday, July 1, while the union representing superior officers has not scheduled a vote, Holland said.
To implement the requested cut, Holland submitted a plan that would demote two captains, two lieutenants, and two sergeants to the rank of patrolman while laying off 10 existing officers. Four new recruits will be the first to go. An additional $10,020 would be cut from the maintenance account to reach the targeted amount.
“I’m hoping everybody comes to the table and resolves the issue so that we can preserve services,” Holland said, referring to Howard’s promise to restore cuts if unions agree to health insurance concessions. Ten vacant positions already have been eliminated in the initial proposed budget.
In addition to both police unions, unions representing the city’s firefighters and school custodians still need to vote to accept the new health insurance plan in order to avoid cuts currently included in the budget, Special Assistant to the Mayor Charlie Toomajian said on Wednesday. Collective bargaining units representing teachers, secretaries, librarians, and public works personnel already have accepted the plan, he added, and it will be required for all non-union employees.
Howard has requested a $750,000 reduction in the Fire Department – the equivalent of 15 positions – if concessions are not made.
Last week, Howard offered a “one-one-one” package to all employees who accept the insurance plan. The package consists of three 1 percent raises to be given over the next fiscal year. Teachers receiving longevity bonuses will not be eligible for the raises, which will otherwise be awarded across all departments.
As they have every day this week, the Finance Committee met for several hours to discuss discrepancies in the School Department budget, receiving explanations for several line items from Superintendent Sidney Smith. The final $49.2 budget incorporates a projected $2.3 million in holdover funds, the exact amount of which will not be known until next month, said City Controller Domenic Fermano. To ensure that the School Department budget receives a fully-funded budget, $600,000 will be place in a reserve account earmarked for the district.
No teachers will be laid off under the new school budget, although seven positions have been eliminated through retirements, attrition, and one performance evaluation. The district will lose 23 paraprofessionals to the cuts.
Councilor Deb Fallon was the lone Finance Committee member to vote against the budget during the final council vote. She was joined by Councilor Gary Christenson, who also voted against the budget in its amended form. In past deliberations, both councilors spoke out against cuts to public safety and education while advocating for furloughs and other alternate cost-saving methods.
“I’m just not comfortable with this, I think it’s terrible,” Fallon said of Wednesday’s cuts to the Police Department.
Many teachers and police officers attended Wednesday’s meeting, which did not include an opportunity for public participation. The fiscal 2011 budget will take effect July 1.