Menino sets priorities in $2.4b budget; trims 169 jobs

With the city battling perpetually increasing health care costs and getting less aid from the state, Mayor Thomas Menino yesterday unveiled a $2.4 billion spending plan for fiscal 2012 that pulls 30 staffers out of 5 community centers and cuts 169 full-time employees.

The proposed operating budget, which needs the approval of the City Council, is up by 2.5 percent, or $58.7 million. That comes as state aid is expected to decrease by $37 million from last year – totaling a $218 million decrease over the last decade – and as the city will see an end to the flow of federal stimulus funds.

City Hall continues to depend on the property tax as its largest revenue source.

“Even as revenues have grown with Boston’s economic growth, fixed costs have risen at a faster pace,” Menino wrote in a letter to city councillors. “Providing health benefits to all of our employees and retirees remains an expense that increases substantially year to year; the cost of those benefits is projected to increase by $17 million in FY12, bringing city of Boston health care costs to $320 million.”

City departments will also see increases totaling $11.6 million, with the Boston Public Schools, which is closing Fifield Elementary and merging the Lee Academy Pilot School with the elementary school of the same name in the same building, receiving an $8.1 million increase.

“We have some tough decisions; there’s some consolidations that people are going to scream about for a while,” Menino told councillors at a roll-out of his budget on Wednesday morning.

No Dorchester or Mattapan community centers will see staff withdrawals in fiscal year 2012. In last year’s budget, the Boston Centers for Youth and Families pulled staff from the Marshall community center and the Mattahunt community center, as well as from six other centers.

The staff withdrawals in the coming budget include the Mason Pool and Orchard Gardens community center in Roxbury, the Tynan in South Boston, the Kent in Charlestown, and the Harborside in East Boston. Madison Park Community Center in Roxbury will be re-purposed into a “recreation hub” for the city.

“We are currently working with non-profit partner organizations to ensure that the spaces we leave will remain open, programmed, and available to the communities in which they are housed,” the head of BCYF, Daphne Griffin, wrote in her own letter to councillors.

A Reporter investigation in March found the quality of the centers in the city varied widely, with some meeting the goal of providing a safe environment for children and programs for adults and others falling short.

Menino said the latest budget continues to pull back focus on buildings in order to focus on childrens’ programming. “It develops the young people and how we serve them,” he said.

But the budget drew a rebuke from District 4 Councillor Charles Yancey, a frequent administration critic. “I’m not impressed, to be honest with you,” he said after the councillors breakfasted with Menino. “I don’t think it’s fair to balance the books by burdening the schools and community centers. That weakens our ability to reach out to the young people the mayor was talking about.”

But others, while still reviewing the budget, said they were expecting a budget that painted a more difficult fiscal picture. “The first instinct was it’s better than I thought it was going to be,” said City Council President Stephen Murphy, calling the budget a “responsible first shot.”

The Council will schedule hearings on various aspects of the budget up until a vote in late June or early July.

“It’s really fluid,” said Councillor Felix Arroyo, who noted that in between the mayor presenting last year’s budget and the council’s vote on the plan, four library branches were saved from closure and several school custodians jobs were preserved.

No library branches are closed under the proposed budget, though Sunday hours will be eliminated at the Copley branch if additional state money doesn’t come through.