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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Finance Committee Meeting Recap

Finance Committee Chair, Maryanne
Heuston oversees last night's meeting.
Photo by Courtney O'Keefe
The Finance Committee put the breaks on some very expensive requests last night in its continued effort to pull the reigns in on the city's budget before discussions and approval time rolls around in June. Item numbers 190831, 190649, and 190591 were all kept in committee due to member concerns and lackluster preparation on the part of administration representatives.

Item #190831 states, "a transfer in the amount of $1,712.00 from the Salary Contingency Account to the Personnel Department Salaries Account to establish the position of Human Resources Coordinator/Civil Service Manager at an annualized salary of $43,000.00. The transfer funds the position for the period February 28, 2011-June 30, 2011. The amount is the differential between the salary of the Human Resource Coordinator and the new position." This amount was calculated as a 10% increase in pay (the increase above is on top of another increase) for an employee currently doing the work, but without the title. The significant pay raise and awkward title raised red flags with Committee Chair, Ward 2 Alderman Maryanne Heuston, who was concerned about a title that included both "coordinator" and "manager." She also noted numerous "secretarial" duties within the job desription provided by acting Director, Sarah Kloos. Duties, Heuston noted, as not enough to justify such a siginificant increase in pay. Kloos was sent back to the drawing board with several requests from committee members including defining what jobs are no longer done by HRD and now are in the hands of the city, an explanation on how someone can be both a manager and coordinator, a breakdown of duties within the entire department including salaries, a comparative to similar pay in other cities, and a justification of the pay raise. The item was kept in committee.

After shooting down the previous item, it was obvious that item #190649 (Approval to use available funds in the Personnel and Recreation Departments for the purpose of establishing the position of Youth and Volunteer Services Coordinator at the rate of $49,972 per annum) was going to receive the same intense scrutiny. Once again, concerns from committee members and a lack of prepared answers from the acting personnell director forced Heuston to keep this item in committee, as well. Requestors of this position will have to convince the Finance Committee that a position, now vacant for 8 months, is needed. Alderman-At-Large Jack Connolly requested research into why an intern could not be hired to assist the acting director during times where volunteer requests are the most active.

Holding true to the "three strikes-you're out" rule, item #190591 brought the most reaction out of committee member and Ward 6 Alderman, Rebekah Gewirtz. The item, requesting an appropriation in the amount of twenty six thousand, seventy four dollars ($26,074.00) from the Capital Projects Stabilization Fund to purchase a 2011 Ford Taurus Sedan for the Police Department" is to provide the new police chief with a vehicle. Gewirtz noted that a vehicle was purchased two years ago, after long discussions, for then acting chief Anthony Halloway. There was no verification as to what happened to Halloway's hybrid vehicle, but there was a suspicion it may have been involved in the great flood of July 2010. Why it wasn't included or noted at the time the Board of Alderman approved a large amount of money to buy replacement police vehicles soon thereafter could not be answered. This item is also remaining in committee.

Until questions of power over the proposed SomerPromise Trust Fund can be outlined clearly, this request - item #190348- will also remain in committee for further discussion. Committee members noted concerns that both the mayor and superintendant of schools had veto power over the board of trustees for the fund, but could not solely delegate where money goes. A question of how a director of the trust would be funded was also raised.

Item #190892: The Somerville Public Library has received a generous donation in the amount of $15,000 from Karl and Hannah Voskuil. In accordance with M.G.L. Chapter 44, Section 53A, which requires a vote of the Board of Aldermen for the expenditure of grants or gifts from the federal government and from a charitable foundation, private corporation, or an individual, or from the Commonwealth, a county or municipality or agency thereof, I request approval to expend this grant" was approved. This grant will be used for renovations to the West Somerville Library Branch on College Avenue. Alderman Gewirtz also asked for details on the renovations as she would like to be involved in the process.

For a full reading of the Finance Committee Report from February 22, 2011, be sure to watch the Board of Alderman meeting on Thursday or view it online.

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