Is it Time for a Fiscal Control Board in Lawrence?

Lantigua Incompetence Shows State

Should Step in and Take Over

By: Bob O’Koniewski – February, 2010

Mayor Lantigua with City Attorney Charlie Boddy
Mayor Lantigua with City Attorney Charlie Boddy

Is it time for Lawrence to have a Finance Control Board? That is the current issue up for debate in our community and at the State House. Just before the clock struck the start of the New Year, Governor Patrick filed legislation that would re-chart Lawrence’s journey through its current fiscal mess.

In order to combat what was then calculated to be a $17 million deficit, the governor’s bill, House 4421, not only would allow the city to borrow $35 million through a bond issue but also would create a fiscal overseer who would work along side the Mayor and the City Council to balance the books by January 31, 2011.

The city would be limited to using $17.5 million in this current fiscal year that ends June 30, and the other half of the monies in FY2011. If the books are not balanced by that date, and the overseer reports to the state that the city is unable to achieve a balanced budget and fiscal stability, the state would have the option – but not be required – to abolish the overseer and establish in its place a finance control board.

The borrowing is predicated on the bonds getting sold. If no investors want to purchase a bond issue from the city, that has the lowest bond rating in the state, then Lawrence would have to go right to receivership.
At this point in time, many are asking whether the city should skip the overseer process and go right to the creation of the Finance Control Board. “Why should we delay what is inevitable?” they say.

The city has been under critical scrutiny by the state for quite some time. Two years ago this month, the state Department of Revenue issued a scathing report detailing the numerous shortcomings of the Sullivan administration in its fiscal (mis)management. As the city took no action on most of the thirty suggestions in the 2008 report, the city once again faced deficit ruin in mid-2009. And yet again, they city did virtually little to address that problem in time to balance the budget by December 31, 2009, thereby preventing the issuance of tax bills.

Here we sit. Deficit in hand and no way to solve it short of hefty borrowing, departmental restructurings, massive layoffs, union givebacks, and general chaos in the city that could threaten public safety and the protection of our citizens. But to date Mayor Lantigua has yet to submit a plan as to how he will handle the deficit. The Mayor needs to hire the most qualified budget director available, a task that has been neglected to date while extracurricular political vendettas have been pursued. He himself needs to step forward and pitch his vision for how he plans to solve this mess. He cannot rely on his hired guns, the legislative delegation, or the state bureaucrats to pitch the sale.

If Mayor Lantigua fails and a Finance Control Board is needed, the city would not cede total control as would be the case with a receiver. Instead, the board would consist of five members – the mayor, the city council president, and three designees of the state, one of whom would be a Lawrence resident. The state could control the board with its appointees yet the mayor and council would have some input in, but not control of, the management process.

Opponents say that this is a reasonable step to take, especially when all the other surrounding communities, which have balanced their books by making tough choices, are looking at the financial mess and the special treatment Lawrence will be receiving with no carrots or sticks to worry about.

Since the inception of the Lantigua administration four weeks ago, the deficit has reportedly grown to $24.5 million. The Mayor is asking the public to take a leap of faith to allow this administration a shot to balance the books on their own with the generous infusion of $35 million. But unless the Mayor has the trust and confidence of the people, it will be doubly difficult for him to succeed here or on Beacon Hill.

I would urge everyone to read the bill at:
Council Watch 2010

Heroes of the Month: Dan Rivera (Councilor At-Large), for holding the city clerk’s feet to the fire and insisting he do his job and get the minutes of the previous council meeting to the councilors prior to the next council meeting; despite the squealing objections of the clerk, it is nice to see a city councilor stick to his guns and insist that the clerk actually do his job, for a change. It’s a small step, but a good start.

Marc Laplante (District F), for insisting on proper procedures for council meetings, most prominently during the Sweeney lynching; if these Soviet-style trials are going to be de rigueur in this city, then at least the accused should have some say before execution is carried out.

Goat of the Month: Sandy Almonte-Rosado (District A). In keeping with the self-serving style of her predecessor, her first item filed for council action is a parking ban in front of her mother’s house on Woodland Street so that she shouldn’t be bothered with all the congestion. It’s good to be the King, or, in this instance, the Queen.

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