Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn City Council frustrated with communication over budget

LYNN — City Council President Darren Cyr’s frustration boiled over last week over what he believed was a lack of communication from Chief Financial Officer Michael Bertino over unpaid bills and the city’s continuing budget bind.

A heated four-minute exchange between the two during last week’s Ways and Means Committee meeting over approximately $3 million in proposed financial transfers from the city’s reserve account culminated with Cyr pounding his fist on the table and asking the CFO to show “respect” to the council by keeping them more informed.

Bertino said the exchange was “not professional,” but declined further comment on Monday. Cyr did not respond to a request for comment.

The committee tabled the proposed financial transfers in a meeting that took place after initial budget hearings held earlier that evening, where department heads reported on their respective budget constraints.

Bertino had told the council during the evening’s hearings about how the city was able to close its projected $5 million budget gap. He said the $367.93 million fiscal year 2020 budget was balanced, but doesn’t account for potential raises from about a dozen unions that are still in contract negotiations with the city.

If there were a 1 percent raise for those contracts, that would be a $550,000 increase to the budget, Bertino said. That would be half of the city’s remaining reserve account if the $3 million in transfers were approved, Cyr said.

“So, if they got a 2 percent raise, would that be retroactive?” Cyr asked. “Until our budget is settled, it doesn’t make sense. It’s not fiscally smart to be transferring $3 million out of a $4 million reserve account.”

Bertino told Cyr he disagreed because the transfers were recommended by the city’s state fiscal stability officer, Sean Cronin, senior deputy commissioner of local services for the Department of Revenue. But he said it was the council’s prerogative to wait to decide on the transfers until after the budget is settled.

“We’ve got to make an effort to pay our bills on time,” Cyr said. “I’m telling you — this goes all the way back to 2017. Somebody somewhere was not doing their job.”

Cyr also took issue with receiving the budget five days before budget hearings began.

“This came out on Friday. There was not one phone call to me or anybody in my office, Mike,” Cyr said, pounding his fist on the table.

To which Bertino responded, “Are you yelling at me?”

“Yes, I am,” Cyr said.

“For what reason?” Bertino said.

“Because I’m sick and tired of getting things last minute,” Cyr said. “This goes on all the time. Why?”

City Comptroller Stephen Spencer then weighed in by saying the proposed free cash transfers were not last minute.

Cyr responded by asking council Vice President Buzzy Barton if he had been involved in any discussions for free cash, with Barton shaking his head “no.”

Bertino said the process is that he would present proposed financial transfers to the committee, which would be discussed and then voted on. A vote wasn’t expected last week, but “that’s how it works,” he said.

“All I’m asking for is for you to show the respect to the council and reach out to us,” Cyr said. “That’s all. (Reach out) and explain something. That’s all I’m asking.”

Budget hearings continue on Tuesday night.


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