July 1, 2016

Partly cloudy

Brunswick budget keeps road project at bay

BRUNSWICK — Finance Director Todd Fischer keeps a list of the city’s top budget priorities on a dry-erase board in his office.

One by one, he removes them from the list as they are completed.

Todd Fischer

But since he took office in 2010, the major reconstruction project for deteriorated Boston and North Carpenter roads has remained on top of the board.

“We told the federal government back in the 1980s we were committed to do this project,” Fischer said. “In the last three or four years, we started a plan to pay for it.”

The problem is coming up with the city’s share of the project — $4.6 million.

So far, the city has managed to save $1.3 million. But Fischer said coming up with the rest of the money could take a long time.

“If it’s taken us four years to save up $1.3 million, imagine how much longer we have to go before we get to $4.6 million,” he said.

The savings has not been without sacrifice. The city’s Finance Department has been cut in half and the Parks and Recreation Department has been cut by 60 percent over the last 10 years.

“That’s what we’ve been doing to try and fix the budget,” Fischer said.

Fischer also has worked to get the city out of a cycle of deficit spending he said started in 2000 when the city increased police and fire services without financing the extra costs.

“We were providing services for 10 years with money we had not yet received,” he said.

Fischer said that between 2002 and 2009, city expenditures topped revenue by $33.4 million.

“The city was clearly delivering services well beyond its financial means,” he said in a report to Council.

As with most cities, Police and Fire Department expenditures comprise the majority of the spending — 58.5 percent in the 2013 proposed budget.

Maintaining police and fire services while putting money aside for other projects like Boston and North Carpenter roads meant other areas of the government had to shrink.

Fischer said the Development and Building departments also have seen budget cuts.

After police and fire, the Streets Department’s budget went up the most. But the increase was only $200,000 since 2004.

“The fact that it’s our third-highest expenditure increase, and it’s only $200,000 shows how modest the growth is,” Fischer said.

Finance Committee member and Councilman Vince Carl, Ward 2, said the city also has tightened its belt on capital projects in next year’s proposed budget.

The Fire Department requested $40,000 to refurbish Engine 2 and $35,000 for a new staff car.

The Streets Department has requested $260,000 for a new dump truck with a plow and salt spreader to replace an 11-year-old vehicle.

In the Parks and Recreation Department, the only request was $35,000 for a new truck with a plow to replace a vehicle from 1987.

“These are the trucks that fix the streets and plow the roads and serve our community, and they’re about to become unusable,” Carl said.

Carl praised the city’s administrators, including City Manager Jim Lukas, who drafted the budget with Fischer.

“The employees need to be commended for doing multiple jobs, and the administration has to be commended for finding a way to make the money go further,” he said.

But so far, the money isn’t stretched enough to cover the North Carpenter-Boston project.

Fischer said the city is seeking approval from state and federal agencies to modify the project’s plans.

“We can alter it and make it cheaper, but we need approval to do it,” he said.

Fischer called the roadway reconstruction the city’s “last past” unfunded project.

City Council is expected to meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday to hear a first reading of the 2013 budget.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.