Passage of the first city budget under the Walsh Administration went about as smoothly as could be expected as common councilors Monday gave it their stamp of approval with no changes. Mayor Ben Walsh felt it was a good start of a productive working relationship with the council.
“We engaged with the councilors and we listened. Many of these councilors have been through the budget process before. This is our first go-around, so we listened and it was a collaborative process throughout and I think what you saw today in the adoption without any changes is a result of that collaborative process.”
But the final budget comes in $11 million in the red. Walsh says they tried to strike a balance between austerity and controlling costs.
“I’ve said from the beginning, as long as we’re operating at a deficit we’re operating unsustainably. So I don’t look favorably upon an $11 million operating deficit. I’ve noted it’s better than some of the early projections around 20 or 25 million, but again it’s unsustainable.”
Included in the budget was an application to apply for assistance under the state financial restructuring board, which is not the same as a control board. The FRB would provide the city with non-binding recommendations and five million dollars if the city chooses to follow them. Walsh says there seems to be no timeframe, as demonstrated by Albany and Rochester.
“In the case of Albany, they accepted and implemented the recommendations, as we understand it, fairly quickly whereas Rochester is a couple years out from that process and is just now beginning to implement some of those recommendations. So it sounds like there’s some flexibility with timing. We want to make sure we’re prepared to implement whatever recommendations come forward.”
On the school district side, officials had to cut about $5 million and borrow $2 million more than planned because state aid came in at about $7.3 million less. Both spending plans take effect July first.
PARKS COMMISSIONER RESIGNS
Some of yesterday’s budget news might have been overshadowed by the resignation of Parks Commissioner Lazarus Sims. He pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing $5,400 from the parks department over a two week period last October. Chair of the common council’s parks and recreation committee Susan Boyle says the system worked the way it should, including an audit that turned up the missing money.
“We do audits frequently and there’s no criminal investigation to follow. So this wasn’t necessarily something that anyone wanted to see happen. I think this was something we hoped to avoid.”
Boyle would like to see someone promoted from within the parks department to be the next commissioner. She says they’ll need someone who already knows the ropes to take over during the busy summer season, and who understands the changing structure of sports.
“Almost all the sports programming is year-round. I hope that we can use our parks programming to support athletic, academic and arts development for kids. Not just to entertain them for the summer, but also to provide for them that off-season training part of sports that exists today.”
As for Sims, he repaid the money he stole, and as part of his plea, the felony was reduced to a misdemeanor. Mayor Walsh in a statement says he’s saddened the way Sim’s tenure ended, and wished him the best.