By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, JUNE 5, 2014) — When the question of the school bus fleet came up, We The People were strongly against. Being used to tightening the belt and getting the extra year out of the clunker, most citizens wanted to see the current fleet retained — even though many believe as THE PLANET does that city should privatize buses and get the schools the heck out of the transportation business.
They especially felt this way after learning of the measly trade-in value, which was not so much an indication of the condition of the buses but of the lousy job of negotiating done by Kristen “Tex” Behnke, business manager of the Pittsfield Public Schools (annual compensation: $97,500+bennies). The schools wanted to buy 42 new buses to replace the fleet of 53. We The People wanted the city to keep the 42 best buses, sell the rest, and make do. When THE PLANET asked if 11 school bus drivers would be dismissed to match the smaller fleet, we got no answer.
In the end, The People’s wishes were for naught. The city council, squeaking by on a 7-2 supermajority (Mordandi, Simonelli), ignored taxpayers. It was if there was no protest whatsoever.
As if to scrub the fresh wound out with a Brillo pad just to make it sting more, Supt. Jake “JIV” McCandless told taxpayers, after the vote, that the schools would hire a consultant to “do a second look.” Bet you didn’t know about that, eh? Here is JIV, who was so great in the Lee schools that they’re still trying to figure out how to make ends meet (and which explains the glowing nature of JIV’s references from South County), saying after the nasty deed was done that the schools will be spending more big bucks on yet another consultant who will be paid to confirm the bus action ex post facto.
If Dale Carnegie himself found his unfortunate lot to be a citizen of this backward city, he would find no reason for hope or optimism. The Suits have shut you out of your own government, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski.
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That is the state of affairs as the city council gets ready for its review of The Empty Suit’s exorbitant FY15 budget proposal. What are the odds, ladies and gentlemen, that this inflated document comes though untouched?
As we shared with you earlier this week, THE PLANET contacted every city councilor to get their thoughts prior to the review. We print the responses today. Keep in mind that two factors mitigated against an intelligent pre-review review by our Right Honorable Good Friends: (a) The mayor, borrowing a page from Machiavelli, submitted the budget on super short notice at a special meeting conducted at noon last Friday, and (b) to help ensure that the review will be perfunctory, the budget review is set for a marathon session this coming Saturday at city hall chambers. Just the thing and “normal” set of people will want to do with an early-June Saturday morning.
That’s how badly TES wishes to stack the deck against taxpayers.
In any case, here are the councilor’s responses to my request for comment and these specific questions:
* At initial glance, does this seem to be a responsible budget or not?
* Do you anticipate raising any hard questions about areas of the budget that concern you?
* Will you expect additional cuts from what was presented to you Friday? If so, where might they be?
* Would you be in favor of readjusting the 85-15% split on health insurance for public employees so that the lower number is boosted more in the taxpayers favor?
* Add anything else you wish.
LISA TULLY, WARD 1 — I am not yet ready to answer your questions for Tuesday. Your questions are very thoughtful and I will answer them completely once I have done all my homework. This Thursday, I will be in City Hall to ask questions on the budget and I may pose the same questions you have to us. Then, the City Council meets Saturday at 9am – 2:30 to begin the budget review. The following Wednesday evening, I have a meeting at my house to review the budget with some residents in Ward 1 and hear their concerns.
I appreciate you asking these important questions and I will not leave them unanswered.
KEVIN MORANDI, WARD 2 — I think the budget needs to be looked at a lot closer since it is up roughly 4.1 million dollars more than the FY 14 budget. Just off the top of my head the school dept. and some capital budget items. I think we always should be looking to cut something if it is warrented and always keep the taxpayers in mind. I can’t give you any additional cut areas at this time. I am in the process of going through this budget with a fine tooth comb. I think looking at the 85-15 % split for health insurance for city employees is something that definately should be looked at. Thank You.
NICK CACCAMO, WARD 3 — At first glance, this looks like a very responsible budget with a minimal increase to the overall operational budget of the city. My primary concern is the $1,000,000 borrowing for street improvements. I think this is too low. Road repair is a highly visible improvement that will benefit all the residents of the city. I would have liked to see a larger investment in this line item.
CHRIS CONNELL, WARD 4 — I need more time to review the budget. I have been spending most of the last few days reviewing the proposed pay increases that are coming up tonight at O and R . By Thursday I should be ready to discuss the budget. Thanks.
JONATHAN LOTHROP, WARD 5 — Did not respond.
JOHN KROL, WARD 6 —
PLANET: At initial glance, does this seem to be a responsible budget or not?
It is responsible as far as I can see. There are areas where I have questions, which I will ask Saturday.
PLANET: Do you anticipate raising any hard questions about areas of the budget that concern you?
I am not sure how hard they will be – but, yes, I will have questions.
PLANET: Will you expect additional cuts from what was presented to you Friday? If so, where might they be?
There may be motions to make cuts, but generally, I wouldn’t anticipate a majority supporting any cuts.
PLANET: Would you be in favor of readjusting the 85-15% split on health insurance for public employees so that the lower number is boosted more in the taxpayers favor?
This is not within the hands of the council, this is negotiated between the administration and the unions. As you recall this was a hotly contested negotiation sticking point between the teachers and Mayor Ruberto in 2005/6. With the sky-rocketing cost of health insurance, considering the possibility of everyone sharing a little more in this significant cost is very reasonable.
PLANET: Add anything else you wish.
Not at this time.
TONY SIMONELLI, WARD 7 —
*Responsible budget? I really need to look at it closer.
*Hard questions? I do expect to ask questions and will be looking for areas to trim.
*Additional cuts? Without viewing the budget yet I can’t exactly tell you where, but yes, I hope there are areas to cut.
Sorry not to be more “informational” but without looking through the budget I hate to speculate.
MELISSA MAZZEO, AT LARGE — I am working on the budget as best as I can and do not have enough to say yet.
KATHY AMUSO, AT LARGE — I am going to be reviewing the budget this week. I cannot make any comments at this time.
CHURCHILL COTTON, AT LARGE — Did not respond.
BARRY CLAIRMONT, AT LARGE — I’m starting my work on the budget today [June 1], and have no opinion at this time. I’ll give it a fair shake and see if I think there are places we can save the taxpayers some money.
I really don’t like the idea of only having seven days to review a $140+ million budget. I also don’t like the idea of the marathon Saturday session. What taxpayer is going to watch on a Saturday for six or more hours. It feels like this is being done in hopes that the taxpayer’s won’t get to see what is going on. Maybe it’s just me, but that is how it feels.
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There they are, the comments from which you can read the tealeaves for yourself. For THE PLANET, there are several observations to note:
THE PLANET loves:
— Tully’s agreement that we have asked “important questions” and especially her promise to get answers
— Morandi’s use the phrase “a fine toothed comb.” We also love that he has not backed away from looking at the 85-15 health insurance split.
— Krol’s frankness in saying he doesn’t see a majority “supporting any cuts.” Yet as much as we love the honesty, we deplore the implications of what he’s saying.
— Simonelli’s openness to looking for cuts.
— Same with Clairmont, expressing a willingness to look for budget reductions.
Finally, we hope the council can pin down the mayor on how much is being proposed. Is it $141 million or is it $148+ million? TES’ arbitrary numeral yo-yo-ing can only bring out the suspicions in even the most innocent and trusting soul.
“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. O Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.” — The Animals, (1966).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.