I’m Back!

I am going to bring back the blog as a means of communication with consittuents. 

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Boston Globe endorses Mayor’s efforts to reduce sick time

Boston Globe endorsed Mayor Fiorentini’s efforts to cut overtime and sick time

Calling it “a model for other cities and towns”, the Boston Globne today endorsed Mayor Fiorentini’s proposals to reduce overtime and sick leave by monitoring the use of sick time.

The Globe said said:

The Boston Globe, July 16, 2009

Haverhill: An eye for sick-leave abuses

Taxpayers in Haverhill got more than their money’s worth from the $13,000 spent on a private investigator who videotaped four of the city’s firefighters performing tasks such as lugging furniture, shoveling snow, and attending a hockey game after calling in sick. It appears that some Haverhill firefighters have caught the “dupe-the-public bug’’ common in other fire departments where overtime costs and sick time spike way above comparable costs in other city departments. The Haverhill firefighters union is calling it an unfair labor practice. But Mayor James Fiorentini is more concerned with fairness to the taxpayers and the overall fiscal health of his city. His efforts to sanitize Haverhill’s firehouses should be a model for other cities and towns with similar problems.

We Need Stimulus Pacakage

Last week, we had the greatest increase in unemployment since 1974.  Roughly 3 million have now lost their jobs since the start of this recession. 

President Obama has proposed a stimulus package that, while not prefect by any means, would add jobs and help get the country moving again.    The President’s critics say it is a spending bill.  As the President said, yes, that is what a stimulus bill is, spend and get the economy moving. 

Part of the stimulus package is school construction.  The Senate for reasons I can not understand, has stripped school construction from the package.

But fixing our broken schools throughout the country is stimuls, and is exactly what we need to get people working again.  Local cities and States can not afford to spend millions of dollars fixing school buildings.  Only the intervention of the Federal government will assist us.

Please join me in writing our Congresswoman, Nikki Tsongas, and our Senators, Kerry and Kennedy, and urging them to support keeping school construction money as part of the stimulus package.

Mayor Menino Warns of Drastic Cuts

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is expected to warn of drastic budget cuts in his State of the city speech this evening.

Menino is expected to reveal that Boston faces a whopping 4140 million budget deficit.  The deficit, according to Boston officials, is far to large to meet without layoffs, probably including layoffs in the public safety sector.

Every city in the State, and most cities throughout the country, face very difficult financial times as the economy continues to sour.

Later this week, I’ll be traveling to Washington to meet with teh United States Conference of Mayors and with our Congressional delegation concerning Haverhill’s plight.  I will argue to them that we have already made drastic cuts, and that Federal assistance to cities is needed if we are going to continue to provide basis services to our citizens.

Read more, Boston Herald story

Governor warns of possible cuts in local aid

Recently, Governor Patrick warned cities and towns that the economic downturn was having a dramatic effect on State tax revenues.  The Governor, who cut $1 billion from his budget in October, announced that he would be forced to cut another $1 billion in January or February.

The Governor has asked the legislature for permission to cut local aid in January.  Midyear cuts are devastating to cities and towns, since half of our budget is already spent. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Salvatore Dimasi said that cities and towns should brace themselves for an additional 10% cut in local aid this coming June. 

In light of these pronouncement, I am meeting with department heads and asking for impact statements if the budget were cut.  We are looking at every budget, giving them target numbers, and asking what the impact of cutting to those target numbers would be.

With the cuts, the legislature is also considering giving the cities and towns the power to raise some additional revenues.  One item being proposed is a local meals tax.  A local meals tax would mean that 1 or 2% of the cost of a local restaurant meal would go to the local city or town.  A meals tax could raise us as much as $1-2 million.

New fees and taxes are never popular, particularly in a recession.  However, in light of the devastating budget cuts being proposed, it is an option we have to consider.

City finances

I can see from the posts on this blog that I have evidently not done a good job of explaining our city’s finances to our fine employees.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking some time to better explain our finances, and why we can not always give people what they want and what I would like to pay.

Here are some basic outlines:

Expenses

Every year our expenses rise faster than our revenues.  I know that for our employees, their health care costs, costs of fuel, electricity, gas and gasoline are rising faster than their income.  We understand that.  As a city, we have the very same problem.  Our expenses are rising just like yours. 

Revenues

Unlike a private business, we are very limited in what revenues we can raise.  Our health care and electricity costs can go up by any amount, but we can raise taxes by only 2.5%.  In private business, they would go out and look for new markets, and new products.  We are very limited in what we can raise. 

Bottom line…

Revenues can go up by 2.5% plus new growth.  Expenses very often go up by more than that.  We are forced to make cut-backs year after year.

Despite our challenges, and they are great, we have every single year offered cost of living increases to our employees.  (The two zero increases that our employees took where while Mayor Guerin was Mayor.) 

I understand that for many of our employees the modest cost of living increases we offer has not kept up with inflation.  The employees on this board have done a good job of reminding me that they pay taxes, and pay fuel bills and pay health care costs just like everyone else.  Thank you.  i do appreciate the problem and wish we were in a position to do more. 

I’ll be back in a week or two onto this board and put on more information about our finances. 

Jim Fiorentini

The High Cost of Union Time Off

Our contracts with our unions provide that if an employee needs time off for union business, then they can do that on city time and we will pay them for the time. If we have to fill the spot with another employee, we pay that other employee time and half. All of this is standard in employer/employee relationships.

These agreements require a certain amount of trust, and a certain amount of work by the unions to make certain that their members never misuse the privilege. 
Over the past several months, we have been tracking the use of union leave by various departments to see if there is misuse. Here are some numbers, you tell me if you think that anyone is misusing the system:

In the first six months of 2007, the highway had no time for union time, the clty clerk’s office, zero, the police department had $1,272 in time, to attend some conferences or meetings.  The teacher’s union, which does not get overtime, did not use any on the job time for negotiating.

The Fire Department, in that same period, cost us $8,500 in union time. 

That was 2007. In the first six months of 2008, the highway department and clerk’s office again had zero, the police department had $1,272, and this time, the fire department union time cost us $26,500.  Previous fire department unions in the city have averaged around $4,000 to $5,000 a year in union time. 

Use of union time in the fire department more than tripled from one year to the next and is 20 times more than in the police department. (Both groups, by the way, are in the process of contract negotiations.)

We have instituted a new policy in the fire department– a very simple one. If you are out on union time, you tell us why you are out and fill out a form justifying the reason. 

That new policy has spawned a number of complaints and grievances from the union. 

We are not going to tolerate anyone abusing the system. 

That’s my view. What’s yours?

 

 

 

Jim Fiorentini