The Westfield City Council on Oct. 20 voted 6-1 to approve a 2022 budget reduced by $700,000 more than cuts previously proposed to cover legal expenses incurred this year.
Councilors were already considering cutting $5 million to balance the $64 million budget by delaying certain construction projects, reducing the crack seal street maintenance program and eliminating the purchase of three pickup trucks and five police vehicles.
City Council President Mike Johns said he was comfortable with the budget — with the $5 million in cuts — except for the fact that the council will soon be voting on appropriating $700,000, primarily to cover mounting legal expenses incurred because of ongoing litigation between Mayor Andy Cook and Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Gossard.
Johns said the city will need to use cash reserves to cover the additional appropriation, and he said the 2022 budget should refill them.
“I’m proposing that rather than just raiding the cookie jar, we need to put that $700,000 back into the cookie jar next year,” he said.
Johns proposed the following cuts:
- Reducing the budget for the city administration’s legal consultants from $652,200 to $352,200
- Reducing the city administration’s budget for other consultants from $240,000 to $140,000
- Reducing the number of hires for the community development department from five to four new employees, and spacing out the hiring throughout 2022, saving $125,000
- Eliminating a new hire proposed in the city’s communications department, saving $75,000
- Reducing the clerk-treasurer’s legal consulting budget from $50,000 to $10,000
- Cutting the $344,500 budget for Westfield Welcome by $60,000
Councilor Scott Willis cast the lone vote against the budget, saying he wanted more time to review the impact of the additional $700,000 in cuts, which he said he and other councilors had not seen before the meeting.
The council had tabled a vote on the budget at its Oct. 11 meeting to allow time for councilors to review the impact of the $5 million in cuts proposed by city administrators. Per state law, the council has until Nov. 1 to approve a budget.
“I find it inappropriate to hand (the new cuts) to me and say, ‘Vote on it,’” Willis said. “I can’t believe after our last meeting, after the action we took, we’re going to turn around and do this.”
Before the vote, Community Development Dept. Director Kevin Todd phoned into the meeting to request the matter be tabled so he could determine the impact of cutting his department’s budget by $125,000. He said the city would only save $72,000 by eliminating a new hire from his department.
“I’d like some time to figure out where that money comes from and what other impacts on my budget that would have,” said Todd, who noted he hadn’t heard of the proposed cuts to his department’s budget before the meeting.
Johns told Todd he could appear before the council at a future date and request an adjustment, if needed.