While these circumstances are dreadful, not everything about following the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America has been terrible. Many people have welcomed the slower pace of working and schooling from home. Some of us who typically would commute to work each day, are finding the blessing in having breakfast, lunch and dinner with our families and in acquainting ourselves with distant learning every day. Personally, I have taken up walking with Liberty through our neighborhoods for exercise. This activity has brought me the joy of making new friends with just a wave, a distant smile or some eye contact, assuring each other we are all in this together during these most extraordinary times.
By definition, extraordinary goes beyond what is ordinary, yet would not exist without eclipsing the ordinary condition. Sadly, the ordinary condition of this year’s budget for the Town of Westfield is, putting it politely, in poor condition. Since announcing her Bold Action Plan for a Bright New Future, tax-payers following the money will not need to sift through the context or excuses Mayor Brindle has been making, which “understandably has resulted in a revenue shortfall.” Those paying attention already know there will “be a tax adjustment for residents” and that department budgets will need to be reduced.
On January 30, 2020, “the Westfield Town Council Finance Policy Committee reviewed the performance of the 2019 budget, provided an overview of the 2020 budget process, and solicited input from residents prior to this year's budget formation.” On page 14 of the accompanying document, figures for the historical surplus from the previous decade has been published. This page clearly shows the annual bottom-line result for an administration’s effort to manage the Town’s budget.
Examining each column of page 14, one could plainly see the Town’s finances were mightily challenged through the years of the Great Recession. After gaining a foothold in 2012, then managing the headwinds from Superstorm Sandy, the Skibitsky Administration began following a policy of surplus building. This “very conservative approach to budgeting yielded a positive AAA bond rating and sizeable surplus, ensuring there was adequate funding to support the basic needs” of the town for the years when our economy would again be mightily challenged.
At the beginning of 2018, outgoing Mayor Andrew Skibitsky left incoming Mayor Shelley Brindle and her new administration with $14,510,517 in the Town’s surplus account. Behind the context and excuses put forward by the Brindle Administration are economic policies that have resulted in less revenue to meet higher expenses. Fairly estimating the ordinary condition for this year’s budget, and two-year record of this administration’s approach to budgeting; using only page 14 as reference, pen & paper, and BEFORE dealing with the short-fall in revenue created by the extraordinary economics of the current crises, anyone could see the Brindle Administration would be leaving Westfield with $7.5 to $7.75 million remaining in the surplus account.
In full context, after two years, while benefiting from extraordinarily positive national economic performance, the Brindle Administration has wasted these good times promoting their policies of ceremony and celebration which has suffocated our revenue opportunities, and “will force Westfield to make some hard budget decisions this year.” Our decisions become only more-costly now, as the latest extraordinary challenge to our economy is considered.
Third Ward Councilman Mark LoGrippo began to address some of these hard decisions at this past week’s historic virtual meeting of the Westfield Town Council, while responding to an inquiry put forward by Mayor Brindle’s strong advocate and supporter Liz Mullholland. I have written before that it is a fair statement to say that Mrs. Mullholland is perceived by many people as a “public figure” in Westfield. In fact, Mrs. Mullholland was seated in the front row at the debate for town council candidates at town hall this past October, with both Mayor Brindle and Rupa Motwani, chairwoman for the Westfield Democratic Committee, sitting directly next to her. To see Mrs. Mullholland once again injecting her un-elected authority (44:05)(48:03) into the situation, and then Councilman LoGrippo spoken over by fellow councilpersons Linda Habgood and David Contract during the exchange (45:50-49:30), was disappointing and left some people walking away from this meeting feeling the budget issue is “not being properly vetted with the public.” (50:35)
The public may never know the true intentions of the inquiry put forward by Mayor Brindle’s good friend. However, the public is smart enough to determine for ourselves those who were responsible for “intentionally stirring the pot of dissension” (51:15) at this historic meeting. Additionally, the public does not want to hear more excuses or spin about whether budget information is being “distributed to the public with the proper context.” (51:28)
Councilman LoGrippo has given more years of public service to the Town of Westfield than the mayor and the rest of our current council combined, and is quite capable of discussing the budget with the public, offering the transparency and perspective his constituents demand from him.
The public does not need Mayor Brindle to decide what is and what is not proper context, particularly when tax-payer money and the Town’s budget is the topic of discussion. We only need the latest bottom-line item on page 14 to decide for ourselves.
In the spirit of gratitude, and because not all money is the concern of the tax-payer, I would like to finish by thanking Shelley Brindle for her contribution (and those contributions from many) in her recently helping raise several hundred thousand dollars for some of those in Westfield struggling through this crisis.
That is big money and will go a long way in helping our downtown community. Many people have been suffering through these days of social distance. Mrs. Brindle’s philanthropic efforts are admirable, inspiring and demonstrate as citizens, we are all in this together during these most extraordinary times.