"With cuts ahead, Menino talks of ‘transformation’" by Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff | March 5, 2010
Mayor Thomas M. Menino proposed yesterday to close branch libraries and community centers to cut costs and reshape how Boston serves its citizens in the neighborhoods.
In a speech to 500 business and civic leaders, Menino urged people to look beyond physical buildings and the current budget crunch and think about transforming the nation’s oldest municipally funded library for the digital age, saying the “days of the old encyclopedia are long gone.’’ The library is facing a $3.6 million budget shortfall, and administrators have proposed closing eight to 10 branches and laying off nearly a quarter of its staff.
You elected him to a fifth term, folks.
“It’s clear the system as currently constructed is stretched too thin,’’ Menino told the annual luncheon of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. “We need to close some buildings that are not offering the highest quality service to the residents of Boston.’’
The city’s 46 community centers and pools face a similar fate, Menino said, telling the packed ballroom that “we may have to consolidate some underutilized facilities so we can deploy more people in direct service positions and mentoring roles to our children.’’
Despite his talk of facility closings, Menino’s speech was largely upbeat and optimistic. It also departed from tradition....
Tell it to the teachers.
So what did he put out?
"Cuts, but fewer of them, in next Hub budget plan" by Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff | April 14, 2010
Mayor Thomas M. Menino today will unveil a $2.5 billion budget for next fiscal year that requires 250 layoffs, consolidates some city services, and pulls staff out of eight community centers. But the news isn’t all bad.
The proposed spending plan, according to a preview yesterday by administration officials, reflects a slowly improving financial picture for the city.
Layoffs would be down from 280 this year, and no public safety worker would lose a job. Boston anticipates $27 million in revenue from its new taxes on hotel rooms and meals. And, for the first time in a few years, the city will field classes of police and fire recruits....
But no teachers or librarians.
The budget also includes deep cuts at the Boston Public Library, closing four branches and laying off roughly 77; library trustees voted last week to cut up to 94 positions. Other layoffs would cut 128 positions from the schools — mostly support staff and custodians — along with four from the Parks Department, and 19 from the city’s graphic arts center, which will close when the fiscal year ends June 30....
The budget, which Menino will present to the City Council today, increases spending by almost $60 million, of which $20 million can be attributed to a jump in health care costs for employees and retirees, Signori said. The city also plans to squirrel away $153 million for future pension and health care liabilities....
AS YOUR CITY CRUMBLES AROUND YOU!
The City Council budget would increase by $138,000, or 3 percent, because it would restore past wage cuts for staff and make good on a promise to give them raises they deferred during the fiscal crisis....
They keep ONE PROMISE and THIS IS IT?
"Council expected to require retirees to use Medicare" by Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff | March 23, 2010
The Boston City Council is expected tomorrow to take up and probably to pass a measure requiring future city retirees to enroll in Medicare at age 65, a step toward reining in municipal health care costs.
Too bad they can't give you that plan, 'eh, taxpayers?
I mean, YOU are PAYING FOR IT!
“This is a victory of taxpayers; it will save millions of dollars over the next five years,’’ said Meredith Weenick, the city’s associate director of administration and finance.
Well, for Massachusetts taxpayers.
It will cost the rest of the country.
But (clink) though the change would save Boston money down the road, it is not retroactive and thus does not force any current retirees onto Medicare, allowing hundreds of former city workers to remain in municipal health plans more costly to Boston taxpayers. That means the city is missing an opportunity to save upward of $5 million a year, according to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a watchdog group....
Under state law, cities and towns can force retirees onto Medicare, which means the federal government picks up a portion of the costs. But many communities have not adopted the measure, because of political resistance from retirees and unions....
Council President Michael P. Ross said he expected the Medicare measure to be taken up tomorrow and passed. Ross said he will support the change, but wishes the city had gone further.
“It’s better than nothing, but it’s not as good as moving all present retirees to Medicare,’’ he said. “I’m all right with it, but I think we missed an opportunity. It’s a form of reform.’’
Among other large cities that have not adopted any measure mandating enrollment in Medicare are Lowell and Lawrence.
"Council puts new retirees on Medicare
The City Council approved a measure yesterday to help curb municipal health care costs by forcing future retirees to enroll in Medicare at age 65. The Boston Municipal Research Bureau had urged the council to reject the measure because it does not require current retirees to join the federal program. The business-sponsored financial watchdog group estimates that the city will miss the opportunity to save roughly $5 million a year because the measure is not retroactive. State law allows cities and towns to force retirees onto Medicare, but many communities have not taken advantage of the program because of resistance from retirees and unions.
In the meantime:
"Budget has $20m hike for health care; City seeks flexibility in negotiating changes" by Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff | April 13, 2010
Boston will spend almost $20 million more in next year’s budget on health care coverage for employees and retirees than it did this year, a hefty increase that city officials say swallows up tax dollars that could be better spent.
Like saving schools, libraries, etc.
That $20 million increase, reflected in the budget Mayor Thomas M. Menino will present to the City Council tomorrow, is more than half the proposed budget of the Boston Public Library after closing four neighborhood branches. The figure also eclipses what the city appropriated this year for snow removal ($15.9 million), and for the entire budget of the Parks Department ($15 million).
Thanks for pitching in, guys.
“This is a huge concern,’’ Lisa Calise Signori, Boston’s director of administration and finance, said yesterday. “It crowds out our ability to spend money on other services. Something’s got to give.’’
By releasing a sneak peek at the budget figures yesterday, the Menino administration, is trying to increase political pressure on state lawmakers to give cities and towns more control in designing their health care plans and on local labor unions to help Boston curb a fast-rising expense.
The mayor has pushed state legislation to make it easier for communities to join the state insurance system and to remove the design of insurance plans from collective bargaining. The issue will come up again later this spring as the city begins contract negotiations with nearly all of its 44 unions.
Labor leaders argue that workers have done their part to control costs. Unions recently agreed to a measure that requires future city retirees to enroll in Medicare at age 65, shifting some costs to the federal government.
I'm sure the nation's taxpayers love that.
Bargaining units such as the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association have absorbed a 5 percent boost in the share of premiums they pay in the last few years. That move cost the average member an additional $1,200 a year, said Thomas J. Nee, president of the 2,000-member patrolmen’s association. “Certainly we know what the city needs to do,’’ Nee said. “We look forward to working with them to protect employee benefits and save the city money like we did the last time.’’
Under state law, cities and towns are limited in what changes they can impose outside collective bargaining. Menino has led a coalition of Massachusetts mayors pushing a ballot initiative for 2012 that would give municipalities more flexibility in reducing health benefits without union negotiations.
Municipal leaders have also pushed legislators to make it easier for cities and towns to join the state’s Group Insurance Commission. Joining the commission requires the approval of local unions, which have largely opposed the move. A recent study by the Boston Foundation found that the city could save $45 million this fiscal year by joining the Group Insurance Commission.
Instead, city budget writers foresee a future with exponential increases in municipal health care costs....
Time to head down to the community center.
"Community center cuts criticized; Partnership plan draws skepticism" by Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff | April 15, 2010
The decision by the City of Boston to pull staff out of eight community centers elicited skepticism and disappointment yesterday on the City Council and among some community leaders, who said the cuts could leave a major void in the neighborhoods.
The plan, included in the budget Mayor Thomas M. Menino formally unveiled yesterday, seeks to continue activities at each location by expanding partnerships with private organizations at the community centers, many of which are housed in schools.
“That’s just a nice way of saying we are abandoning some programs. They can dress it up any way they want,’’ said Marvin Martin, executive director of Greater Four Corners Action Coalition near the Marshall Community Center in Dorchester, which would lose staff. “I’m very disappointed, especially with the recent wave of violence.’’
Police commissioner says he's happy.
Operation of the tennis bubble in Charlestown will be put out to bid to a private firm....
City was running tennis courts?
Tax money for tennis?
Students hoisting handwritten signs declaring “The Walsh Center is Our House’’ and “Keep me off the streets!’’ lined both sides of East Broadway in South Boston yesterday to protest the city’s decision to remove the Walsh Community Center’s staff after the city announced the Walsh Community Center’s staff would be removed because of budget cuts.
Nearly a hundred people gathered in front of the South Boston Court House in the afternoon drizzle, drawing honks of support from drivers. The city announced Wednesday it plans to pull funding from the Walsh Center and seven other centers across the city, turning over the facilities to private groups that will run programs at the centers....
If it were an antiwar protest the Globe would not have bothered.
Time to go a-begging, Boston!
"City asks exempt sector for help; Task force readies payment formula; Some nonprofits balk at proposals" by Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff | April 6, 2010
Boston’s hospitals, universities, and other tax-exempt nonprofits may be asked to contribute tens of millions of dollars more to city coffers to help pay for basic municipal services such as police and public works.
They do not seem to have a problem throwing them on you, citizen.
After 14 months, a mayoral task force has nearly completed its work examining the city’s uneven system of individual agreements with such institutions, under which they voluntarily pay cash and provide services in lieu of property taxes. Some pay millions; others pay significantly less.
The city is pushing institutions to gradually increase contributions to 25 percent of what they would owe in taxes if they were not exempt, a change that would more than triple the current amounts paid by some of the city’s biggest landowners.
And stingy as hell, huh?
Hospitals and universities say that higher payments in lieu of property taxes would force them to lay off workers and pass on to students and patients higher tuition and medical costs....
Thanks for the help.
Because each agreement is negotiated individually, payments vary widely and the ill-defined system has long been the target of criticism.... Critics suggest that any higher payments would have unintended consequences, killing scholarships and forcing layoffs and other cutbacks for charitable organizations feeling the same budget pinch as the city....
Pressure to change the system and increase the amount of cash paid by nonprofits has increased significantly because of the city’s growing reliance on property taxes and the recession-battered budget....
Except we have been growing for two quarters, sigh. Or not.
The new system would remain voluntary, but (clink) ....
Historically, the city has used authorization of new building projects, which require permits and other approvals, as leverage....
Some would call it extortion.
No one has seriously broached the topic of religious institutions, which are also exempt from property taxes....
Well, that would mean....
Not going to happen.
Cities around the country are grappling with how to squeeze more money from the colleges and other tax-exempt institutions, as recession and lower property tax revenues prompt municipalities to seek alternate ways to pay their bills.
Efforts to impose greater obligations on nonprofits have increased tension and strained town-gown relations in some college-rich cities.
Great, just what the nation needs: more division.
City officials argue that colleges rely on municipal services and should pay their fair share, especially in difficult financial times. Colleges defend their tax-exempt status by citing the social and economic benefits they bring to their communities....
And I'm sick of both of them.
The drunk kids a benefit?
“If it looks like a tax and sounds like a tax, it’s a tax.’’
Truer words have never been uttered.
With its large number of tax-exempt universities and hospitals, Boston appears to be ahead of most cities in seeking to toughen its voluntary payment program for nonprofits....
The proposal, which many colleges and universities oppose....
While cities have to make do with whatever voluntary payments they manage to get out of local colleges, some mayors have resorted to more drastic measures to help close budget gaps.
So when do my taxes become voluntary?
The issue has spurred debate and tension in Providence....
Mayor David Cicilline proposed last spring that the colleges also pay a $300-a-year tax on each out-of-state student. He said it would generate about $8 million a year.
But (clink; a few more and I will be able to afford the tax) the plan failed amid opposition from students angered by the additional burden at already pricey schools. Universities worried that the tax would hurt recruiting.
“I thought it was important that our large tax-exempt institutions that own a lot of real estate contribute more to the health and well-being of the city,’’ Cicilline said in an interview yesterday.
Pittsburgh put together a plan last year to establish the nation’s first tax on college tuition to raise revenue for city retirees’ pensions.
What, TUITION not HIGH ENOUGH?
But (my cup overfloweth) the mayor withdrew the proposal for the 1 percent tax in December after Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh agreed to step up voluntary payments to the city....
Higher-education representatives hope that the unsuccessful tax proposals in Pittsburgh and Providence send a signal to mayors in other cities....
And LOOK at what a GREAT JOB YOUR CITY GOVERNMENT is DOING!
They will TELL YOU ALL ABOUT (on taxpayer dime?)!!!
"City wants to ring in new era of satisfaction" by Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff | April 27, 2010
Boston’s top transportation official donned a telemarketer’s headset yesterday and set to work, delivering his pitch in an upbeat, bulletproof voice.
“My name is Tom Tinlin, and I’m the transportation commissioner of the City of Boston Transportation Department,’’ he said from a cubicle on the eighth floor of City Hall. “How are you today?’’
Tinlin was not selling anything, though.
Except how great is this crappy government.
It was his turn at the city switchboard, one of many Boston leaders following up with residents who report problems to the mayor’s 24-hour constituent hotline.
Tinlin worked from a list of several dozen people who had placed calls earlier this month to report potholes, scattered trash, burned-out street lights, a fence that needed mending in a city park, and a faulty push button at the intersection of Chestnut Hill and Commonwealth avenues.
“We just want to make sure it got fixed and that all is well with you,’’ Tinlin said in a voice-mail message he left for resident Anna Nikolaevsky, who had called about the broken walk signal near her home in Brighton....
If they were DOING THEIR JOBS then there would BE NO NEED for TAXPAYER-FUNDED CALL CENTERS to FOLLOW UP!!
The city call center has existed in some version since at least 1986. It never closes, with at least one person working the graveyard shift 365 days a year. The staff of 13 fields 500 to 600 calls a day, of which roughly 70 percent are requests for information about street closings, parking restrictions, permits, or even driving directions, according to Janine L. Coppola, director of constituent services.
The other 30 percent of callers report things that need attention: potholes, abandoned vehicles, unplowed streets, missed trash pickups, and more potholes. The call center logs each case — the word “complaint’’ is consciously avoided — and routes the information to the proper department....
For the most part, the callers Tinlin reached yesterday said their issues had been resolved. The abandoned vehicle blocking the fire hydrant on Spencer Street was gone. The “no parking’’ signs had been put back up on Ernst Street. The trash had been cleaned off the stairs in East Boston, though this came from a repeat caller who had another issue....
The library was closed and the school shuttered.
So the commissioner took note of dogs running off the leash at a local park and forwarded the information to animal control....
FREEEEE-DOOOOO.... oh, I stepped in something!
Gee, I got tied up in Boston for the whole damn day.
I'll be moving somewhere else for the next series of posts.