FRAMINGHAM, MA — The Framingham Finance Committee held a tense three-hour meeting Tuesday night to discuss how to fix a $2.5 million deficit in the city’s water and sewer fund, a problem that has ramifications for property tax bills.
But for the fourth consecutive meeting, the committee failed to reach a consensus on how to fix the deficit, deciding instead to kick the issue into a future meeting. The Finance Subcommittee needs to vote on a recommendation to fix the deficit before the issue can move to the full City Council for approval.
The deficit problem came into view on Dec. 4 when Mayor Yvonne Spicer asked Council to consider her plan to fix it: cutting $800,000 from Framingham Public Schools, reducing the water and sewer departments by $100,000 each, and using $1.5 million from the free cash balance.
The City Council then moved to “table” the issue until Jan. 15 to allow the Finance Subcommittee time to find a way to fix structural problems in the water and sewer departments.
On Tuesday, Spicer and other city officials were set to present financial information about the water and sewer funds, plus a proposal on what kind of rate increase would provide enough revenue for the funds to remain stable.
The presentation went off the rails, however, when At-Large Councilor George King grew frustrated that Spicer hadn’t provided Councilors with spreadsheets that were part of the presentation. The committee had previously asked to be provided with the materials before the meeting.
“I find this exceedingly frustrating and frankly a little insulting,” King said.
King then voted to table the presentation, which led to a combative two-hour back and forth between Councilors, Spicer and other administration officials — with District 2 Councilor Cesar Stewart-Morales at one point telling District 4 Councilor Michael Cannon to “shut up.”
Of the five-member Finance Committee, members Stewart-Morales and Chair Adam Steiner are open to using $2.5 million from the city’s estimated $9 million free cash fund to fix the deficit. After it’s fixed, the Council can move on to fixing structural problems in the water and sewer department, they say.
On the other side, King, Cannon and At-Large Councilor Janet Leombruno want long-term fixes for the structural problems before agreeing to a fix for the $2.5 million deficit.
“This is a long-term problem disguised in short-term clothing,” King said.
If the Council does not fix the deficit, the problem might be offloaded onto taxpayers. The city needs to pay off the $2.5 million deficit in this fiscal year, otherwise tax bills could go up — about $71 for the owner of a home of median value.
At the end of the discussion, Councilors did not vote on a recommendation after Stewart-Morales made a motion to use $2.5 million in free cash for the deficit.
“It seems like this subcommittee is at an impasse,” Steiner said.
Framingham Chief Financial Officer Mary Ellen Kelly told Councilors she would provide them with the materials from the presentation that had held up the meeting by Friday. The Finance Committee will meet again on Jan. 21 to discuss the issue further.