By Barbara Taormina
The City Council signed off on next year’s budget, which included a last-minute change geared toward diversifying the city’s workforce.
Councillors unanimously approved the $177.9 million budget with amendments that will allow the city to spend $24,000 to hire a part-time public health nurse, and $50,000 to install a snow catcher at Forestdale School. The city will also channel $5,000 to the Human Resources Department to help Director Anthony Chiccuarelli advertise and recruit more talent to fill city jobs.
“I’m hoping we will be working harder as a community to diversify our workforce,” said Councillor-at-Large Steve Winslow.
Finance Committee Chairman Paul Condon said the money to cover the cost of the three budget amendments will be taken from reserve accounts so there are no changes to the budget totals.
The council offered a chorus of praise for Condon, the Finance Committee and this year’s budget process, which several members said was the smoothest review of city spending in recent memory.
“This is one of the best budgets we’ve seen in the past nine years,” said Ward 5 Councillor Barbara Murphy.
Ward 6 Councillor David Camell highlighted the fact that next year’s budget uses $2.6 million in city reserves, a significant improvement over this year’s budget, which was balanced with $6.5 million in reserve funds. “If the trends hold, we’ll probably have a $3 million budget surplus, which brings us close to a balanced budget,” he said.
Ward 3 Councillor John Matheson said this year’s budget isn’t as bumpy as years past because Malden’s financial prospects have improved. “That’s partially because of our drop in debt,” he said, cautioning fellow councillors from incurring more debt.
Interestingly, several minutes after approving the budget, councillors voted unanimously to allow the city treasurer to borrow $8.8 million for energy-efficiency improvements and upgrades in schools, public buildings and parks throughout the city. The work will be done by Honeywell, which has guaranteed the city will save $11 million in energy costs over the next 15 years, or the company will make up the difference.
“It’s ironic that we talked about reduction of debt, and now we’re talking about more debt,” said Councillor-at-Large Craig Spadafora.
Still, Spadafora who has been involved in reviewing proposals to upgrade public buildings and facilities, said the deal with Honeywell is a solid investment. Heating and cooling systems in schools and other buildings are approaching the end of their life cycles, and Spadafora said, one way or another, the city will spend the money. Spadafora said the contract with Honeywell is a proactive step that’s good for the city, and good for the environment.