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Malden budget a mixed bag of cuts, increases

By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / June 3, 2012
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In his first budget plan since taking the helm in Malden, Mayor Gary Christenson proposed Tuesday the consolidation of key city departments that would fold employees under fewer managers, eliminate or leave unfilled 20 city jobs, and raise water and sewer rates roughly 19 percent.

Speaking before the City Council, Christenson said he has balanced the trimming and reorganization with programs that he plans to create or prioritize. Those include annual funding for a teen center ($112,448 this year), cash to hire five more police officers and a cadet, the creation of a Recreation Department, and increased funding for public art and green spaces, according to Christenson’s comments and his proposal.

“The budget can best be described as being transparent, restructured, consolidated, priority-based, and most importantly, balanced,” he said.

For the first time in Malden, the fiscal plan was constructed electronically and will be Web-based and available to the public, a shift toward technology-driven transparency that has been a promise of the Christenson administration. The document will also include departmental mission statements and detailed name and salary data for all employees, information that was absent previously.

The proposed $152,805,300 bottom line is $7.3 million more than was spent last year. If state funding figures hold, aid to schools could increase by nearly $2.3 million, to $48.2 million, and unrestricted aid to city government could increase by about $827,911, to $11 million, according to state Department of Revenue estimates.

Perhaps the most direct effect on residents will be the nearly 19 percent increase in water and sewer rates. The increase was driven largely by a similar bump in the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s charge for water to the city, and by the cost of replacing aging underground pipes.

One slice of the city pie that Christenson said will see a sizable boost is the Veteran Services account. The mayor pledged to allocate $37,780 more this year, an increase of more than 10 percent over last year’s $279,228 budget, he said.

“It is a goal of mine to make sure the veterans’ services director has the resources he needs at the outset” of the fiscal year, Christenson said.

Police and fire departments will also get a boost. In addition to four new officers and a cadet, Christenson plans to hire a full-time, permanent Malden High School resource officer. His plan also calls for new radio equipment and bulletproof vests. The Fire Department will continue to be staffed at 117 firefighters, thanks to federal grant money, and will receive new dispatching software valued at $50,000.

Although the School Department is funded at $56,164,546, cuts will be necessary to close a gap left after the end of federal stimulus money, he said.

The mayor's budget funds a full-time executive director for the Senior Center, and boosts funds to the Council on Aging, giving the group more flexibility to provide services, the mayor said.

Some of the most dramatic organizational changes will come in the Department of Public Works and the Health Department.

To better maintain city roads and parks, Christenson’s budget calls for one Public Works director and three supervisors, eliminating the assistant director position and a supervisor.

The change would free up money to fill five vacancies — three in highway and two in parks — and move the city’s three parking enforcement officers under the public works umbrella.

He said he also plans to combine the Public Facilities Department with the Government Center Commission, and join the Inspectional Services Department, the city planner, compliance officers, and the hearing officer with the Board of Health. Some position salaries would also be shifted to the Water and Sewer Enterprise Fund, he said.

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.

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