Thursday, January 27, 2011
Despite Local Aid Cut, Braintree Likely to Avoid Severe Reductions

Braintree could see $350,000 less from the state for the fiscal year that starts in July, but for the most part local officials said they are optimistic that the town can weather the reductions despite a lack of further federal stimulus money.
Still, the cut proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick as part of an overall state trimming of unrestricted local aid by $65 million has some town councilors looking for solutions and help from the Massachusetts legislature.
District 6 councilor Paul "Dan" Clifford said he remains cautious, waiting for a discussion with Sen. Brian A. Joyce, D-Milton, Sen. John Kennan, D-Quincy, and Rep. Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, on Feb. 15. to sort out a more final plan. Mayor Sullivan will present his budget to the Town Council in April. At that point, the Massachusetts House and Senate will have most likely weighed in on the reduction amount.
"From what I see so far of the Governor's budget, his planned cuts are poorly targeted," Clifford said in an email. "It is my intention to contact our Senators and Representatives to see what they are looking at for cuts."
The Massachusetts Municipal Association says that over the past three years, local aid has been cut 32 percent, or some $416 million. This year, under Patrick's proposal, the state's 351 cities and towns would receive $834 million. Braintree's slice would dip from $4,840,026 to $4,490,072.
"This isn't the first time, unfortunately, Braintree has had to work through local aid cuts," councilor-at-large Sean Powers said in an email. "Were going to have to exam every line item and set priorities to maintain services for our residents."
In a previous interview, Sullivan said he had planned for this contingency and does not expect any serious reductions in service. His chief of staff, Peter Morin, said on Jan. 27 that no layoffs are planned and the town will try not to dip into its $6.9 million "rainy day" fund, as it has avoided doing the past two years.
"We are going to do everything we possibly can to keep that trend going," Morin said. "We shouldn't be relying on one-time sources or reserves."
Instead, the mayor's office will look for "efficiencies and opportunities to grow revenues," Morin said.
District 2 councilor John Mullaney said he is more worried about losing stimulus money than the possible $350,000 cut, and that a meals tax he has brought again before the council could raise $750,000.
Mullaney suggested starting with small cuts would be ideal, such as taking a look at health insurance costs. Town councilors, who work part-time in the position, are eligible for insurance, he said, costing the town about $30,000 annually. Gov. Patrick proposed that all cities and towns join the state's Group Insurance Commission or start a similar program on their own.
Braintree has already taken such steps, Morin told the Braintree Forum, and no further savings could be realized from that plan.
"The Mayor has been focused on [the budget] since the day he took office," District 3 councilor Tom Bowes said in an email. "Braintree is in better shape than some of our surrounding towns. Having said that, I'm sure we will have our work cut out for us this upcoming budget season, and seeing that all of the Town Departments have come to realize the times, I am sure they will once again do the best they can do knowing local aid will once again be cut."
The town may see some savings through its effort to transition employees from the Pond Street government offices to Town Hall, Morin said, but Braintree still has to pay for heating and other expenses as long is it owns the buildings, even if one becomes vacant. Sale or lease is not on the table right now, Morin said.
Local aid to cities and towns represents about 16 percent of the state's budget. Patrick said he is not seeking cuts in local school money and is actually hoping to increase educational spending by $140 million and bridges and roads spending by $45 million.