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Left In Lowell » Blog Archive » Budget, Smudgit

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January 18, 2014

Budget, Smudgit

by at 12:31 pm.

So Jack put forth the notion that elements of the City Council could act like a strong mayor, and they could eyeball the provision that allows the mayor, and if not the mayor, the city council, to submit a budget to the state if the city manager cannot or will not. (Given that hiring a city manager is the damn job of the City Council in the first place, if they use this provision they should take 100% blame for getting into that situation.)

Reportedly, Warren Shaw took up the notion on his radio show today, stating that the council could do this budget because they have people like Rodney Elliot there, or something to that effect.

Let’s examine the clusterf**k that would be, shall we?

First, I’d love to hear from Groton on Elliott’s tenure there. I hear it was short. A couple of years is the timeframe I’ve heard. The job is in his official bio:

Prior to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he served as the Administrative Assistant for the Town of Groton, Massachusetts, serving a three-member Board of Selectman. He was responsible for the operation and management of the Town’s $12 million budget.

Wonder if Elliott would be all right with us going to the folks in Groton and finding out just how he did there? The lowdown I hear generally is, not great. But, notwithstanding the somewhat speculative view on Groton, we have some track record here in Lowell to examine. Does anyone remember “across the board” Rodney? (Bold is mine.)

“If you voted for the budget, then you are responsible for the tax increase,” Elliott said, adding that he thinks further budget cuts should have been made.

He said, however, he did not have any suggestions for cuts.

Councilor Kevin Broderick said that simply saying that you didn’t vote for the budget and are therefore “off the hook,” is “not an option.”

During budget deliberations, Elliott suggested an across-the-board cut of 2.5 percent to every line item, which Broderick said is not feasible.

“We cannot just not pay 2.5 percent of our utility bills,” he said. “It doesn’t work. What are we going to do, not plow the streets?”

I can’t stress how much it disturbs me to think someone who has such a lack of fundamental knowledge of budgeting might come within 5 miles of the process. Before you even get to whether or not to cut, let’s review how local muni budgets actually work: a large portion of a city budget’s line items are not within the control of the city. How much we spend on schools has a minimum, for instance. Or our debt service for capital investments. So once you leave out all the non-discretionary items in the budget, a 2.5 reduction in total city funding turns into a much larger percent of the parts of the budget you can legally cut. Maybe police? Or fire? Plowing? I don’t know, because Elliott had no suggestions on where to cut.

And remember…Elliott made a lot of political hay over public safety issue last campaign season. So, which officer slots would he cut, I wonder? Does he think that’ll help public safety?

I don’t think it takes a genius to see the disaster Elliott and his ilk would make of our city budget. Think of how few City Councilors this term actually have the ability needed to make those huge line-by-line budget decisions! Nor should they have to. Which is not only an argument against Warren’s Shaw’s ridiculous assertion today on the radio, but also, against a strong mayor/Plan A charter in general.

16 Responses to “Budget, Smudgit”

  1. Gail Says:

    Elliott is the type of person who will “save” money, by not repairing a roof, only to later have the expenses be much greater. Or more likely, he’d eliminate a grant writer to “balance” the budget. He doesn’t think long-term about what is best for the city. He’s a real short-term thinker.

  2. warren shaw Says:

    This stuff may be over your head Lynne… and pay attention, I also included other talented people that serve on the council.

  3. Lynne Says:

    In case you have not read the provision, Warren, the order in which things happen is, if no City Manager gives a budget, the Mayor can. If the Mayor doesn’t do it, the Council can.

    Secondarily, there are VERY few people on that Council with the knowhow in question, and even that is dicey, because muni budgets and requirements from the state are VERY different from regular budgets. Now, Samaras had the management of the high school. But remember, his income for that budget was fixed by others, the state and the city, and he wasn’t 100% in charge, as there is a Superintendent involved as well. Milinazzo has some financial experience, but again, very very different from putting together a muni budget.

    The fact remains that every other single person on that Council would make a total mess of the thing, including Mr. I’m The Fiscal Guy Elliott, who has zero understanding of anything, if his past comments are any indication.

  4. warren shaw Says:

    Its always the council’s budget… always. You cherry picked Rodney from the group of people who I said had budgetary background. In fact the first name we mentioned was Jim Millinazzo , but you of course chose to go off on Rodney for obvious reasons. There are many reasons Lowell has a massive political divide, one of them lives here.
    I think more of these elected officials than to say they would make a mess of the budget when there is evidence that the reverse is true

  5. Lynne Says:

    Warren, I didn’t cherry pick ANYthing. Elliott is the mayor, no? He has statutory claim to be the first line of budgetary submission in the absence of such from a City Manager, does he not? Or do you want to debate the statute in MA state law which governs this? And I am pointing out that despite supposed budgetary experience, Elliott has shown an understanding of municipal budgets that would destroy this city’s momentum.

    If you want to take back what you said, please by all means.

  6. Lynne Says:

    And my friend, Lowell has had this political divide since way before “here” existed. Cox wasn’t ousted because this blog sprang into being in May 2005.

  7. Lynne Says:

    And if it’s always the Council’s budget, then how come they approved budgets under Cox that ate into free cash so bad we were in a $2.5M deficit and about to get audited by the Dept of Revenue?

    How quickly we forget…

  8. Lynne Says:

    Remember, very smart people were approving those budgets…and those Councils included self-appointed fiscal watchdog Elliott.

  9. Mr. Lynne Says:

    Warren, I think you’re confusing owning the budget with designing the budget. By way of comparison, there’s a relatively new building in Boston that Liberty Mutual had built. In a way it’s Liberty Mutual’s building. In a different way, it’s CBT Architect’s building. The two parties are at different levels of responsibility with regard to detecting flaws (or misdirection) in the design of the structure because the particular ways in which the building is ‘thiers’ differs substantially.

  10. warren shaw Says:

    So remember guys , you started this. I don’t make ridiculous assertions about important matters. I know exactly how this stuff works because I’ve done it.
    My comments were related to having Bernie stay to do the budget, a question that can be debated in either direction and with merit. First you must understand that the political divide in Lowell has resulted in a very good manager leaving before the end of his contract. If I were a Lowell resident I wouldn’t be happy about that.
    As someone who has done a municipal budget and overseen a municipality I also see potential problems with Bernie taking on this budget before leaving. I think the manager does as well and that may be the reason they will talk about it in executive session this week.
    And although I don’t blame this site for the divide in the city, you certainly go out of your way to unnecessarily attack some very good people that you don’t agree with. Not productive and certainly contributes to the divide

  11. Lynne Says:

    “So remember guys , you started this.”

    That’s really rich! We ran on ousting the city manager (and you can’t pretend they didn’t, because they did)? We got the Bernie-hating union members to work so hard on their campaigns so that they could win the election? That was us?

    “My comments were related to having Bernie stay to do the budget, a question that can be debated in either direction and with merit.”

    No, it can’t. You can make the argument that hiring another professional city manager on time to do the budget (but that poor person has got to get up to speed with no CFO, no Auditor, and no assistant CM on board any more, good luck with that) MIGHT be able to do as good a job as we’ve come to expect from Lynch for the last 7 years. You cannot make an argument on merit that these people on the Council could do any sort of good job that could come close to the sort of professional budgets we’ve been getting.

    First of all, have you ever done a job for a committee or with one? I have. I know first hand that too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the pie. Getting ANYthing like this done in that manner is really hard, and it’s especially hard to do a GOOD job. Second, you name Milinazzo as someone with budget experience. But given the divisions in this Council, do you really think he’s going to be heading that up? Have you seen the committee assignments/chairs from this Mayor?

    “First you must understand that the political divide in Lowell has resulted in a very good manager leaving before the end of his contract.”

    Whose divide? Not mine. I’m only pointing out the divide, it already exists and has existed for years. There are those who want to govern this city for themselves first, and their friends and family second. This is not in dispute - we have evidence that this is so. There are lots of other people fed up with this methodology. One side has good honest desire on their side, the other, while it sees itself as honest, is not really.

    Sorry, but I’m going to continue to stand up against GOBism as long as I am able. I want honest, professional government. Go ahead and say the “other side of the divide” is offering something just as good or better. I dare you to make that argument.

    “you certainly go out of your way to unnecessarily attack some very good people that you don’t agree with”

    Right, because using people’s own words and actions to point out a serious pitfall we could face is totally a jerk move. Gotcha.

  12. Lynne Says:

    “And although I don’t blame this site for the divide in the city”

    Except you kinda did.

    “So remember guys , you started this.”
    “There are many reasons Lowell has a massive political divide, one of them lives here.”

    You were also kinda condescending… “This stuff may be over your head Lynne… and pay attention”

    Your words, not mine.

  13. warren shaw Says:

    Well. kids its been fun but I can see you are struggling with this. I’m happy to set aside a 1/2 hour and debate it live if you dare? let me know
    And Mr Lynne, I do think your arguments speak to a lack of understanding of this subject, But I didn’t call YOUR thoughts ridiculous assertions. Your/her words not mine

  14. Lynne Says:

    *snort* OK, then, pat me on the head and be on your way then, Warren!

    And sure I dare. My arguments have facts and logic behind them. Pick a day and time I’m not doing other stuff on a Saturday though, good luck with that. We’re running two role playing games on weekends now.

  15. Gerry Nutter Says:

    In all likelihood there would never be a situation where the Mayor / Council would HAVE TO create a budget.

    The City should be very concerned if that had to occur and the State I’m sure would assist the City in providing or recommending people to assist in this process and would be watching over it very closely.

    This Manager has already stated if he should stay we would hire someone to assist him in preparing the budget. The Mayor / City Council could do the same.

    There are currently 3 City Councilors who have the same degree (not experience) has this Manager, two of who have been candidate for the City Manager position and one who served for 3 years in Groton in a similar role.

    Ed Kennedy - He is a graduate of Boston University and holds a masters degree in public administration from Framingham State University

    Jim Milinazzo – Jim received his Bachelor degree of Arts in Political Science at Merrimack College and his Masters in Public Administration at Suffolk University.

    Rodney Elliott - Rodney’s education includes a Bachelor of Science degree from Plymouth State University, a Master of Public Administration degree from Suffolk University and a Master of Art degree in Political Science from Catholic University in Washington, DC.

    Mr. Lynch earned his undergraduate degree in political science at the University of Lowell and earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Massachusetts in 1980.

    Ideally no City Councilor would ever have to create a budget for a fiscal year and I would not want to see a Council do that but facts are facts and with these 3 men plus an outsider recommended by the State, one could be crafted that would not bring down Lowell.

    This was the point we were talking about when the original comment by Warren was made.

  16. molly Says:

    Having a degree means nothing. It is about experience. Relevant experience . . . which does not include holding a nearly powerless position in Groton 20 years ago.

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