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Menino’s budget proposes far fewer job cuts than in past

Tax changes expected to boost revenue

The initial proposal would trim 169 jobs. In 2009, it called for 565. The initial proposal would trim 169 jobs. In 2009, it called for 565.
By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / April 13, 2011

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Mayor Thomas M. Menino will unveil a budget today that may be most notable for what it does not include: the threat of big layoffs.

The “recovery budget,’’ as some aides have described the spending plan, would trim far fewer positions, 169, than in years past. And many of those jobs would be cut through attrition and when several schools are closed and merged.

In 2009, Menino’s initial budget proposed 565 layoffs. In 2010, his first budget would have eliminated 250 jobs. The tone this year is markedly different.

“The initial briefing we got felt a lot different than last year, especially when it came to layoffs,’’ said City Councilor Mark Ciommo, who chairs the Ways and Means committee and will hold roughly 30 budget hearings over the next few months. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but I think we’ve positioned ourselves well.’’

In an overview yesterday with the Globe, city budget writers declined to specify how many of the job reductions, if any, would come through layoffs. But the $2.4 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 showed a city that appeared to be emerging from the tumult of a national recession.

But there are still cuts on the table. City workers would be pulled out of five more community centers. The Boston Public Library would lose $230,000, reducing its book budget and ending Sunday hours at the main branch. However, the budget would keep all libraries open, including the four that had been slated to close last year. Menino abandoned that plan in the face of opposition in the community and on the City Council, which must approve the budget.

Menino’s proposal limits cutbacks, his aides said yesterday, despite less federal funding and another anticipated $37 million drop in net state aid — a major funding source that has been cut in half over the last decade.

The mayor also took a swipe at the partisan bickering on Capitol Hill, highlighting in a letter to the City Council the “deep division at the federal level over government spending.’’ Boston’s budget will succeed, Menino wrote, because the city forged two dozen new partnerships to make government work better.

The proposed budget anticipates an increase in revenue from taxes on property, hotels, and meals that have already been approved.

Property taxes are expected to bring in 4.4 percent more because of higher rates and new growth. The hotel tax is expected to net the city an additional $17.5 million. And the first full year of a local meals tax will bring in another $1.6 million.

Pressure on large nonprofits is also expected to help elicit almost $7 million more voluntary payments from hospitals, universities, and other large institutions exempt from property taxes.

“The city continues to stabilize as we recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression,’’ said Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce. “The mayor and the management team have worked hard to continue to deliver quality services though innovative approaches and collaboration with all our partners.’’

As an example of the new partnerships, budget writers pointed to their proposal for the Boston Centers for Youth and Families. Thirty workers would be pulled out of five community centers — Harborside in East Boston, Kent in Charlestown, Orchard Gardens in Roxbury, Tynan in South Boston, and the Mason Pool in Roxbury. Another site — the Madison Park Community Center — would be transformed into a citywide focal point for sports and activities that would be named “Rec-Hub.’’

In the five facilities without staff, the city would seek private institutions or nonprofits to run programs. The city did the same thing last year at eight community centers that have been taken over by local entities. For example in Mattapan, programs at the former Mattahunt community center are now run by Wheelock College and the Boys and Girls Club, city official said yesterday. In South Boston, the Gavin Foundation has taken over at the Walsh Gym.

The budget proposed yesterday would increase spending by roughly 2.5 percent or $58.7 million, almost a third of which can be attributed to a surge in health insurance costs. The city would also take $35 million from reserves and squirrel it away in an account for future retirees’ medical costs. That would leave roughly $82 million in Boston’s rainy day fund.

Most city departments would see an increase of just under 1 percent, but individual budgets varied. The expenditure for the Fire Department would go up by $5.1 million because of two raises in the contract approved last summer. The snow removal budget would increase by $1.1 million to $17 million. Last winter the city spent roughly $25 million.

There are also new programs, such as a one-stop permitting center for business. New classes are planned for the police academies. Capital funding will begin a significant overhaul of the Ferdinand Building in Dudley Square, a new library in East Boston, road repairs in Andrews Square, and a new $14.5 million heating and cooling system at Charlestown High School.

“It’s tight, but we’re not seeing layoffs of personnel other than a few that have come out of the school budget process,’’ said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog funded by business and nonprofits. “The administration has taken steps over the last two years, which [is why] this budget is not as onerous.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at aryan@globe.com.