"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

March 17, 2008

From The Mayor's Office

Mayor's Email Newsletter March 14, 2008
City Hall Closed 3/21
FY2009 Budget Overview
Earth Hour 2008
Children's Art Shows
Divine Chocolate in Northampton
NEF Spelling Bee
City Hall Closed 3/21
First, a logistical note: City offices will be closed from Noon to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 21st so that all city staff may attend an annual customer service training. Please plan to conduct your city business accordingly.

FY2009 Budget Overview
Local media outlets have been running stories about the difficult choices we will be facing in creating and approving next year's municipal budget. There are still some moving pieces, and we are a long way from a final budget proposal yet, but I hold out no great hopes for significant improvements to our outlook. Both the House and the Senate in Boston have concurred with the Governor's local aid figures, so we know now that the projections we have been using locally have been confirmed. The reality we are facing is another year of cuts to the services that we all need, value and depend upon.

As the local newspapers have reported, the City is facing a significant budget gap that will affect both city and school services. The gap in the school budget has been reported in all local news outlets recently. In order for our schools to continue to provide the same level of services next year as they are providing this year, the school department budget would have to grow to $28,045,358. In anticipation of this, I pledged to provide the schools with an additional $454,656 from the city this year. Even with this additional money from the city, the schools only had a projected revenue of $26,844,112, leaving a gap of about $1.2 million. The School Committee was able to work that down a bit, using funds from School Choice and Circuit Breaker funds to reduce the gap to about $801,246, where it stands today. (This is a slightly smaller gap than was reported earlier in the week, thanks to the school's transportation bids coming in below expectations yesterday.) Our state aid for education remains $600,000 less than it was in 2003, and the state is grappling with structural budget problems as well.

On the City side, we are faces with a gap of about $2 million dollars, which includes the additional $454,656 school spending. Every department across the city will be affected as we try to build a balanced budget. I plan to use about half of our remaining Stabilization Fund, or $400,000, to help close the gap this year. These are enormous gaps to fill with either cuts or additional revenues.

I had been hopeful at this time last year that the State might authorize a local option Meals Tax, which would have helped us significantly, but unfortunately this did not come to pass, although both State Representative Peter Kocot and State Senator Stan Rosenberg were both very supportive and the Governor himself introduced the bill. The Bill remains in the Legislature, though it has not been debated or voted on. I continue to encourage folks to address the House leadership and urge Speaker DiMasi to allow the bill to move forward.

Given that we are extremely limited in the kinds of revenue we can raise, we must turn, once again, to the kinds of cuts we can make, and still try to maintain the excellent quality of life we enjoy in Northampton.

To that end, I have asked all city departments to present me with budget proposals that cuts 2 ½ % from the amount they would need to provide the same services next year. It is clear that this alone will not be enough to bridge the gap, but it is our starting line. On the school side, there has been a lot of public conversation about the possibility of closing one of our city's elementary schools. I have reviewed the proposals that the School Superintendent and the School Business Manager have presented. None of the options is particularly palatable. All of the options will have significant repercussions and will create new challenges which we, as a community, will have to come together to address.

There are three main forces driving up municipal budgets across the Commonwealth: The rising cost of health insurance; the rate of increase of utilities; and contracted pay increases for city employees. Here in Northampton, our costs to provide health insurance next year is increasing by about $1 million. This is a large increase, but I am grateful it is only about a 10% increase. We have managed to hold our rate of growth in health insurance to well below the state average. Utility costs, also, have just about doubled in the last three years, as anyone who pays to heat their homes and drive their cars knows. These fixed costs have grown at a faster rate than our local revenues have been able to grow.

At this point, a number of options remain on the proverbial table. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and professionalism that our city and school department staff are bringing to these discussion, and I am grateful for the many Northampton residents who are involved and educating themselves and their neighbors about these serious issues. I will be holding budget briefings again this year in every ward in the city. Those meetings will be posted on the city website's calendar (www.northamptonma.gov ) and I hope to see many of you there.

For the moment, it is important that everyone is aware that more budget cuts are on the way this year, and they will fall across every city department. All of us involved in this process are aware that these cuts will have real impacts on virtually every one of us. I will do my best to minimize those impacts to the extent possible. As always, feel free to contact my office with questions or ideas to share as we move forward. (Mayor@northamptonma.gov )

For those who are interested in lobbying at the state level for additional sources of revenues for our communities, I would bring your attention to the following three proposals which would benefit Northampton:
- the Local Option Meals Tax
- Transportation Reimbursement for Special Education Transportation
- Closing the Telecommunications Tax Loophole, which would bring an anticipated $149,000 into Northampton.

Earth Hour 2008

On a lighter note (no pun intended), I am pleased to share that Northampton will participate in Earth Hour 2008 on March 29. Earth Hour began in Sydney, Australia in 2007 with a call for residents of that city to turn off all unnecessary lights for one hour at 8:00 p.m. This is a simple and effective way to show the power of small actions taken on a large scale. Last year's effort in Sydney involved 2.2 million people and 2,100 Sydney businesses turning off their lights for one hour - Earth Hour. This massive collective effort reduced Sydney's energy consumption by about 10 % for one hour, which is the equivalent of taking 48,000 cars off the road for a year, according to the Earth Hour website. This year, Earth Hour has gone global, and I am proud to add Northampton to the list of communities asking its residents to participate. Local organizers have asked us to go one step further, and to consider replacing our conventional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs when we turn them back on. This will help keep the benefits and energy savings going beyond the single hour.

Local organizers are planning for a community event at 8:00 p.m. on March 29th at Pulaski Park, and I invite you to join us there, or to huddle around the home with family and friends to connect and reflect and to help effect change, in a small way on a large scale.

Children's Art Shows
I am very delighted to host two children's art shows in the coming weeks in my office. The first will feature children's animal-themed artwork. A young resident wrote to my office suggesting that there should be an art contest for children in Northampton. It is always gratifying to be able to say 'yes' to good ideas! I am inviting children to submit artwork about animals, which will hang on my office walls for the first two weeks of April. This timeframe corresponds with National ASPCA Awareness Day. I am eager to see the artwork and invite you to come by the office from April 1- 14 to see for yourself the great talent in our community. If you know a child who would like to participate, please ask them to send their artwork to the Mayor's Office, 210 Main Street, Room 12, Northampton, MA 01060, or drop it off in person anytime from 8:30 - 4:30, Monday through Friday.

Following that, I will once again proudly display artwork in honor of the Week of the Young Child for the last two weeks in April.

Divine Chocolate in Northampton

I was honored recently to meet with Cecilia Appianim of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union in Ghana, Africa and Niki Lagos of Divine Chocolates about Northampton's progress toward becoming a Fair Trade community. I was truly inspired by the meeting and so grateful for the opportunity to meet these women entrepreneurs. Cecilia and Niki have blogged about their visit, and if you want to know more, please visit

NEF Spelling Bee
Every spring, fun is spelled with a capital 'NEF'.... It's time again for the Northampton Education Foundation's annual Spelling Bee, March 26 at the JFK Middle School. The event begins at 5:00 with silent auction browsing and delicious food at The Beestro, and the spelling fun begins at 6:00. This is a great family friendly event, and a great fundraiser for NEF, which presents thousands of dollars worth of small grants to teachers in the Northampton School District for innovative and enrichment programming that benefits hundreds of our students. Good Fun. Good Cause. Good Grief! Put your I before E and bee there!

LABELS: mayor higgins, city finance, community notes