Aldermen Approve $172 Million Fiscal Year 2013 Budget
Members had debates about a plan for hiring outside custodians and about the Group Insurance Commission health care plan.
The Somerville Board of Aldermen approved Thursday night a $171,620,447 operating budget for fiscal year 2013.
In passing the budget, Board of Aldermen President Thomas Taylor, from Ward 6, said, "This budget process was quite enjoyable, really, because we didn't have to cut anything."
Ward 4 Alderman Tony Lafuente, who's new to the Board of Aldermen, thanked his colleagues. "You've taken a lot of difficult votes and the administration has done a lot of difficult work over the past ten years to get where we are," he said.
The Board conducted a series of meetings throughout the month of June in order to approve the city's budget before July 1, when fiscal year 2013 begins.
In doing so, they made $180,883 in reductions from the proposed budget presented by Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone earlier in the month, Ward 2 Aldermen Maryann Heuston, chair of the finance committee, told the Board.
Thursday's budget approval proceedings went relatively smoothly, though there was some differences of opinion expressed about custodial services in city buildings.
Under the approved budget, Somerville plans to supplement the work conducted by city-employed custodians with outside workers.
Ward 1 Alderman William Roche wanted to know if that meant city employees would lose their jobs or overtime opportunities.
Curtatone told the Board there's now more space to clean throughout the city at places like libraries and police stations. He said the outside custodial staff would "supplement," not "supplant" existing city custodians in this added work. He said this model, of using outside custodians, would be the most efficient way to spend taxpayer dollars.
"Nobody loses their job. You've still got overtime opportunities," the mayor said, responding to Roche's question.
However, he said collective bargaining with the custodian's union could lead to a different overtime and work structure in the future. "How that looks will be played out in the bargaining process," he said.
Some aldermen challenged the mayor on this issue. At-Large Alderman William White said the mayoral administration did not present the board with hard figures about how much money the city would save by using outside custodians as opposed to city-employed custodians. "We have no costing estimates as to how much that would cost," he said, adding later, "Are we taking away from one hand … without knowing what it would cost?"
Ward 6 Aldermen Rebekah Gewirtz said, "I've expressed concern in the past with outsourcing of our services."
Group Insurance Commission
Before passing the budget, Taylor submitted a resolution to establish a health care assistance fund with $175,000 of seed money.
He said the city's switch to the Group Insurance Commission health care program, a state-run program known as GIC—a move that is projected to save the city about $9 million in health care costs in fiscal year 2013—has hit city retirees hard.
The GIC program means people pay more out-of-pocket for health care costs, co-payments and prescriptions, he said, adding that for older retirees on tight fixed incomes, the switch to GIC has been difficult. Taylor, who recently underwent surgery himself, said his own out-of-pocket payments have been much higher under GIC.
The health care assistance fund will "help those retirees that are struggling right now," he said.
He gained an applause from people in attendance Thursday by saying, "I think the GIC stinks, to be honest with you. I'm talking from a personal position."