Correction: Councilor Kinnon said the school budget, not the total city budget, increased by 11%. We regret the error.
The city council adopted Mayor Gary Christenson's proposed , though a vocal minority on the council raised questions about the city's long-term financial standing.
The two-hour long budget discussion was driven by conservative councilors Neil Kinnon and David D'Arcangelo, who proposed a total of ten amendments to the budget, including a reduction of the proposed recreation director's salary, teen center budget, the mayor's office and to cut 5% of all new spending out of the budget.
Both expressed concern that city government had historically grown year after year, a trend they encouraged their colleagues to reverse.
Kinnon called the growth of the school district budget this year the “city's largest” at 11.6 percent, though Christenson – with city controller Charles Ranaghan at his side - later countered that the figure was closer to about 5 percent.
Both agreed the vast majority of the growth was related to school spending, around 80 percent.
Kinnon said a recent management report audit of the city's finances revealed Malden's cash reserves were “probably somewhere around 60 percent of the state average,” and said the report “implored (the council) to put money aside each and every year” for long-term financial stability.
“We've really set nothing aside, but we need to start some year,” he said. “We can't be like the federal government and just keep kicking it down the street.”
Christenson, speaking from the floor podium, emphasized that the budget presented imposed no new taxes on residents and did not dip into the city's reserve funds.
“Yet, it accomplishes a lot of goals that will move our city forward,” he said. “...Keep your eyes on the prize...keep your eyes on the big picture and (whether) this is what is going to lead our city into the future.”
The discussions turned tense at certain points, with Christenson at one point commenting he had not seen Kinnon at any of the city's teen nights, where he said he worked closely with kids in desperate need for a teen center.
“When the mayor was in elementary school, I was teaching kids in the YMCA. When the mayor was entering high school, and through high school, I as the coach of the swim team.” Kinnon said, continuing to list a number of ties to Malden's teenage community.
“I'm not questioning (Christenson's) integrity or his commitment to the community – I am saying he has a different vision. And mine is a fiscally prudent vision.”
“This wasn't a growth year for the school department,” Christenson said. “When you add up everything they needed to keep them functioning from where they were in fiscal year 2012, they cut $1.5, $1.6 million dollars. I know the cuts and I've heard from the people impacted by the cuts – they're not easy but they did them."
Around 37 people were laid off from the school district this year, with most being rehired into other positions in the district
Six staff members in the district were completely laid off employment with the district.
Kinnon called Christenson's suggestion that the school district endured budget cuts this year “simply irresponsible.”
“This is a common problem with people in government,” he said. “When the school department has a $50 million budget and (goes to a) $56 million budget – but wanted $57, $58 milion – (that's) not a cut. Their budget increased by 11.2 percent.
“If I went to my boss and asked for a 10 percent raise but got a 5 percent raise...I didn't get a cut in pay. I got a pretty darn good increase.”
Other councilors disagreed.
“I just want to remind us we just had an election in November, with a new administration that came in with an overwhelming amount of support from Malden residents that promised to move our city forward,” councilor Neal Anderson said.
“We have all witnessed in the last six months the tireless effort our mayor has put out...I believe this, his first budget, has attempted to live up to the promises of his campaign.
“We should not be looking to scale things, but improve our city,” he concluded. “And the budget speaks to that.”
Councilors Jim Nestor, Kinnon and D'Arcangelo voted against the budget, with the rest of the council voting in approval.
To review the 2013 budget, visit the city's budget site.