In quiet session, council OK’s $2.4b budget
With notably little rancor, the Boston City Council voted 12 to 1 yesterday to pass a budget that will close schools and trim jobs, but require fewer cuts overall than in recent years.
The $2.4 billion spending plan will merge or close 18 schools, pull city staff out of a handful of community centers, and require layoffs. But the city will also add classes of police and firefighter recruits. A one-time infusion of $847,000 will help overhaul special education, and, under pressure from the council, Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration agreed to keep all community centers staffed at least through the end of summer.
“We are faced with difficult times and tough decisions,’’ said Councilor Mark Ciommo of Brighton, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “I believe this budget is responsible, it’s accurate, and it makes the most of the limited financial resources we have.’’
The budget does call for an estimated 280 layoffs, including 262 in the School Department. But that number could drop significantly because of several factors, including attrition, city officials said. Last July, the budget cut an estimated 142 jobs in the School Department, but by October the number of actual layoffs had dropped to 67, according to data provided by the city.
The gallery in the City Council chamber yesterday was little more than half full for the vote, a stark difference from the protests and last-minute wrangling of recent years. Menino, who has in the past spent the hours leading up to a budget vote hashing out deals with councilors and labor leaders, instead spent the day in Washington, D.C.
The lone voice of dissent on the council came from Charles C. Yancey, who said Menino’s heart was in right place, but his cuts to schools and community centers took Boston in the wrong direction.
“It will be a surprise to no one, [that I] am not happy with this budget,’’ said Yancey, a frequent critic of the mayor who represents a district that includes parts of Mattapan and Dorchester. “We’re reducing our investment in schools and increasing other areas of the budget.’’
Some councilors acknowledged the painful cuts, but they also highlighted budget victories, many of which were included in a separate capital budget that passed 13 to 0. The city will spend $50 million to start rebuilding Roxbury’s Dudley Square. Plans will be drawn up for a library in East Boston. And improvements will be made to the Brewer Burroughs tot lot in Jamaica Plain and the Flaherty Pool in Roslindale.
“Today is great news for the residents of the city,’’ said Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Menino. “The budget process is behind us, and we look forward to building upon our strong foundation to continue to bring quality services to residents.’’
That was little comfort yesterday to David J. Jelley, president of Local 1952, which represents about 380 school janitors in Boston. Last year 27 janitors were laid off. This year 13 more are expected to lose their jobs.
“We’ve done a wage freeze,’’ Jelley said. “We’ve done everything we can to fiscally help the city, but it seems like they just keep slashing us.’’