City Council passes Menino budget by 11-2 vote

The City Council on Wednesday voted 11-2 to pass Mayor Thomas Menino’s $2.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2011. Councillors also voted unanimously to pass a home rule petition – which requires approval from the mayor, the governor and the state Legislature – to hand library trustees the power to fundraise for the cash-strapped library system.

One by one, the city councillors voted as as several hundred members of the AFSCME union, which represents library workers, chanted outside of City Hall.

The City Council recessed its Wednesday meeting several times as councillors and Menino administration officials went back and forth on the budget behind the scenes. In the end, the two votes against the budget came from City Councillors Charles Yancey and Chuck Turner.

The down-to-the-wire talks were rare for the 13-member City Council, City Hall observers noted, since the breakdown of the vote is usually clearer ahead of time. And the talks come as the City Council has become a more assertive body over the last year and fell under intense scrutiny during the debate over the controversial firefighters arbitration award.

But as a result, an additional 15 Boston Public Schools custodians’ jobs appear to be safe, on top of the 42 that the Menino administration had sought to save after they submitted a revised budget last month. Ten librarian jobs are also saved, according to the chair of the council’s budget committee, Councillor Mark Ciommo.

In his speech to colleagues and directed to several union members in the audience, City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo said he had pressed for more jobs to be saved, but said he would vote for the budget. "I made the decision today to use my vote as a way to get more jobs and to make sure we passed the home rule petition," he told the Reporter after the vote.

"Our fighting, our advocating doesn’t end when this vote is taken," said City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley. "The fight to save our libraries and library workers will continue, in many different forms, whether it’s ramping up fundraising efforts by the Board of Trustees and the BPL Foundation, a process begun today by the unanimous passage of the home rule petition sponsored by myself and Councilor Ross and Arroyo, or coordinating with our partners in the State House to include funding in the next supplemental budget."

“We hope we’ve come to a better place,” said City Councillor Maureen Feeney, who represents Dorchester. Feeney urged her fellow councillors to lobby Beacon Hill lawmakers for more funds.

Menino last month had resubmitted the fiscal 2011 budget with $300,000 saved through “administrative efficiencies” within the Boston Youth Fund that allowed for 200 additional summer jobs for teens, a top priority for the administration.

"I think that's something we should be proud of," Arroyo said.

The budget, a 2.2 percent increase from the fiscal 2010 budget, also includes $650,000 for branch library operations, delaying the closure of four libraries for roughly nine months. The Lower Mills branch is among them and was originally scheduled to be closed down later this summer. State lawmakers and some City Council members are still pressing to keep the libraries open.

The budget also includes the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, a city agency, pulling out of eight community centers, out of the forty-six across the city and handing control of them to nonprofits and Boston Public Schools. Two of the community centers set for the pull-out include Marshall community center in Dorchester and the Mattahunt community center in Mattapan.

City Councillor Yancey, who represents Dorchester and Mattapan, criticized the budget as placing an “unfair burden” on schools, community centers and libraries.

“The most egregious thing we’re doing is telling the people who live around the Marshall community center that we are going to pull out the city staff… and pretend we responded to the young people there,” he said.

Personnel was cut from the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, but increased at the mayor’s office, he charged, urging councillors to reject the budget and send it back to the “drawing board.”

Along with the city operating budget, the mayor also submitted and the city council approved a capital budget that includes funds for renovating several school libraries and media labs, playgrounds, courts in nine parks, a new branch library in East Boston, and resurfacing 21 miles of roadways. The revamping of four Dorchester Ave. intersections is ongoing and included the capital budget.