SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Mayor Domenic Sarno and city leaders reveal new tax break opportunities for residents.

Mayor Sarno and Chief Administrative and Financial officer TJ Plante announced their multi-faceted tax relief plan at City Hall. The Fiscal Year 2023 budget plan totals $819 million, an increase of $63 million or 8.4% over the 2022 budget. The increase is due to the 9.7% increase in Chapter 70 State Aid to support Springfield Public Schools, the school department budget increased 10.8% overall, leaving the City side growth at 3.8%.

Tax breaks for Springfield residents

In the news release sent to 22News from Mayor Sarno’s office, the tax breaks for residents include the following three special measures:

  • An additional $1 million on top of the $2.5 million already committed to reduce the tax levy. Total tax levy relief for FY 23 will be $3.5 million.
    • In FY 21 and FY 22, Mayor Sarno has offset the tax levy by using free cash to reduce the burden on taxpayers by $1 million and $2.5 million respectively 
  • Seek additional monetary relief by modifying the limits on the state Clause 41C statute for tax abatement for seniors
    • Double the abatement amount from $500 to $1,000
    • Reduce the eligibility age from 70 to 65 years of age
  • Sponsor special home rule legislation that would allow the City of Springfield to offer the $1,000 property tax abatement to property owners that meet the maximum income and asset limits but are under the age of 65
    • Would be the first of its kind in the Commonwealth.
    • Funding for this program will be earmarked in the MGM Springfield’s Community Development Fund, as outlined in their Community Host Agreement

Additional Budget Items

Mayor Sarno states, “My administration is dedicated to providing this additional multi-faceted tax relief package for our residents while maintaining a respectful balance of being fiscal responsible.  We do not want to provide short-term benefits at the expense of long term investment where we would be forced to reduce services down the road.  This is a delicate balancing act and I want to commend my CAFO TJ Plante and his award winning finance team for their fiscal stewardship and creative initiatives in keeping our city’s finances healthy while providing tax relief for our residents.”

Additional funds in the budget include notable investments such as the following:

Capital Asset Construction

  • The City continues to collaborate with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to the tune of over $700 million of new state-of-the-art and renovated schools (DeBerry/Swan and Brightwood/Lincoln)
  • Through the MSBA’s Accelerated Repair Program, the City has been able to undertake numerous school renovation projects around the City over the past several years 

Code Enforcement

  • Funding for a full complement of administrative and inspectional personnel positions in both the Building and Housing Code Enforcement Divisions, with an additional part-time Clerk position added under Housing Code to assist with increased administrative duties. This helps to ensure healthy neighborhoods and safe buildings throughout Springfield. Funding is also included for the continuation of the Mayor’s “Clean City” program

Department of Public Works

  • Continued funding of the Sidewalk Crew: A great addition to DPW – now in its fifth (5th) year of operation.  The crew completes routine sidewalk repairs in all neighborhoods throughout the City
  • Allocating $1.5 million to address the backlog of converting private ways
  • Core Services: Single-stream recycling and yard waste pick-up will continue. Street Sweepers will also continue to keep the neighborhoods clean and clear

Economic Development

  • Since the devastating tornado hit Springfield a decade ago, significant economic development efforts have helped strengthen the community through the creation of many new jobs, the development of more market rate housing, and the nearly $1 billion MGM Springfield casino that offers entertainment and dining, all offering residents and visitors countless entertainment and recreation options to enjoy for years to come.
  • Continue efforts to create the “Main Street and Convention Center Overlay District”. Designed to enhance development surrounding the MGM casino and MassMutual Center, the district will bring exciting new prospects to the area including housing, restaurants & bars, entertainment venues and ground-floor retail
  • Following the success of the “Prime the Pump” emergency business grant program during the initial height of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we have continued to make efforts to support the business community in recovery and growth. These efforts include the reinstitution of the CDBG funded Neighborhood Storefront Improvement Program and bringing the lnterise/Rise-Up small business curriculum back to in-person sessions at Valley Venture Mentors
  • Lastly, the City will continue to use funding received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to further boost economic development efforts. Similar to the funding received after the tornado.  We have an opportunity to continue the incredible transformation that makes Springfield an attractive place to live, work, and visit. We hope to announce more details in the very near future

Healthy Neighborhoods

  • Springfield continues to place emphasis on ensuring healthy neighborhoods across the city, with the goal of providing residents the highest possible quality of life. This year, as a way of investing directly in each neighborhood, $100,000 of ARPA funding has been earmarked for each neighborhood council

Education

  • Springfield Public Schools (SPS), under the leadership of Superintendent Dan Warwick, worked tirelessly with teachers and administrators to ensure a quality learning experience for all our students with a return to full-time in-class learning.  
  • Improved the district’s dropout rate to 1.9% in 2021, was 12% in 2008
  • Improved the district’s graduation rate to 86% in 2021, was 53% in 2008
  • SPS is offering the first and only full-day Pre-K program of its kind in the Commonwealth

Elder Affairs

  • Continued funding for the operation of a minibus, purchased in FY20, which is currently being used to deliver meals to elderly citizens throughout the city who do not have available transportation.  Transportation of Springfield seniors to our centers is expected to be fully up and running for FY23
  • In FY23, all sites and programs for our seniors reopened, including Riverview, Hungry Hill, Clodo Concepcion Community Center, the Fitness Center and the Raymond A. Jordan Senior Center with activities such as bingo, trivia, exercise programs, concerts and wellness checks, will continue to run

Fiscal Responsibility

  • We are pleased to announce that Springfield received the “Distinguished Budget Award” from the Government Finance Officers Association for the 14th year in a row. The City also received the “Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting” for issuance of the City’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the 10th consecutive year
  • Maintained the highest bond rating in the city’s history
  • Continues to aggressively fund our Pension liability: Appropriating $56.4 million contribution towards pension liability; a 9.1% increase over the FY22 Adopted Budget.
  • Honors all contractual obligations including collective bargaining agreements, and all agreements as necessary for the School Department, including the SPS food service contract
  • Our newly formed Department of Technical Assistance and Compliance (DTAC) continues to support the City’s Responsible Employer Ordinance, to ensure diversity in hiring practices and consistent compliance with all Federal and State rules & regulations for the City’s construction projects.  In addition, DTAC.supports our ARPA team by providing technical assistance to award applicants citywide
  • The FY23 budget was balanced funding all core services and personnel while continuously building up reserves to support the City’s financial health to guard against future unknowns

Health and Human Services (HHS)

  • This department has been fully funded, and continues to serve a critical role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the “front line defense” against the virus, HHS has managed the monumental task of evaluating the current situation surrounding the health crisis while continuing to educate the public on updated CDC guidelines, along with other best practices that will ensure the health and safety of all
  • As the pandemic begins to turn a corner, HHS continues its steadfast efforts to not only test, but more importantly vaccinate, as many of the City’s residents as possible. This has been done through the strategic use of Federal and State funding provided as part of the nationwide response
  • Opioid settlement funds totaling $7.2 million over the next 17 years will go towards a wide variety of initiatives and programs that will enhance and expand the City’s opioid response, and create systems in partnership with Springfield’s Police, Fire and Health Departments, local nonprofits, health organizations and community stakeholders.
  • Funding will continue for one nurse supervisor and one gambling outreach coordinator to provide assistance to those at risk for gambling addictions. Forty percent of the Nurse Practitioner’s salary is now paid through grant funding
  • Funding has been added for a newly-created office of Racial Equity, along with a Cannabis Compliance Program Coordinator

Libraries

  • In an effort to continue providing services during the pandemic, our libraries have offered curbside pickup to residents so that they can continue to rent books and other library materials
  • In collaboration with the Davis Foundation, the Springfield Public Libraries continues to manage the award-winning Read! Reading Success by 4th Grade program
  • The City will continue to fund the Read/Write/Now adult literacy program
  • Continued support and funding for all Springfield neighborhood branches
  • In FY22, a 1-year grant-funded hotspot lending initiative was launched, allowing residents to borrow portable hotspots from Springfield libraries allowing free internet and Wi-Fi access from a personal computer, tablet or smartphone for up to 14 days per use. Due to the success of this initiative, these hotspots will continue to be funded in FY23 through the City’s general fund

Parks & Recreation

  • Beginning in FY22 and continuing through FY23, in an effort to brighten the City’s neighborhoods, the Parks Department will work aggressively to remove tree stumps throughout Springfield. Removing these stumps is not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it will also create more space for residents to use after the areas are reseeded and grass is grown
  • The Terrace Maintenance Program will be fully funded in FY23
  • Funding will also continue for the Downtown Crew, which maintains the downtown metro area parks including DaVinci Park, Emerson Wright, Riverfront Park, Court Square, Stearns Square, and Pynchon Plaza
  • Camp STAR Angelina, which was cancelled last year due to COVID-19, will be reopening for FY23.  Additionally, all pools and splash pads will be open for families to enjoy during the summer
  • All recreational programs and activities will be up and running in FY23, after being shut down due to the pandemic. This includes the After School & Evening Gym programs, the Summer Concert Series, and “Movies in the Park.” These programs play a significant role in bringing the Springfield community and residents together
  • In FY23, Springfield Police Department and Hampden County Sheriff’s Crews will continue with the unique and innovative partnership to enhance public safety within our beloved Forest Park. Dedicated patrols will be led by the SPD’s motorized Trikke Defenders and the HCSC Mounted Patrol Unit of horses and will also include the Emotional Support Division of therapy dogs. Together, we look forward to another great season for residents and visitors in Forest Park

TJO

  • The Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center will continue to maintain funding for essential operations, while also servicing our neighboring cities, Chicopee and Holyoke

Veteran’s Services

  • This department will continue to fully fund services to our veterans. The addition of newer staff in recent years has allowed this department to serve our veterans more efficiently, through proper case management efforts

Public Safety

  Police

  • The Springfield Police Department continues to utilize the body-worn camera program that was launched in FY20.  With the introduction of body worn cameras, Springfield has become the first city in the Commonwealth to employ this new technology across its police force. Body worn cameras have increased transparency and accountability.  This investment in technology will improve residents’ safety, and highlight Springfield as a city on the cutting edge of law enforcement strategies.  Funding will be maintained for a staff of five (5) FTEs, led by a Police Lieutenant, to administer the program and ensure that the department is able to review and respond to requests for footage in an efficient manner. Furthermore, these cameras are used as a powerful training tool that helps officers respond to calls for service in the most professional way possible.
  • Over the course of the next fiscal year, the Springfield Police Department (SPD) anticipates welcoming approximately 34 new Police Officers to the force. With these recruits anticipated to begin the academy sometime in the fall of 2023, the Police Department will have a total of 429 officers; bringing the total complement to 512 sworn personnel, and an overall staff of 603 FTEs. This level of staffing will help address departmental attrition brought on by upcoming mandatory retirements, and help the department focus on quality of life issues by supporting and enhancing neighborhood initiatives, such as the C3 policing units and the Ordinance Flex Squad
  • Maintain investments for other innovative technology and critical equipment necessary for modern day policing. This includes funding for the replacement of ballistic vests, portable radios to allow for quick and efficient communication amongst officers, eight (8) square miles of the ShotSpotter Gunfire Detection System (one square mile is being added to the Indian Orchard neighborhood), and the latest software available
  • The Springfield Police Department will also continue to maintain and fund other ongoing initiatives. This includes the Gaming Enforcement Unit at MGM Springfield comprised of six (6) officers and one (1) supervisor, the E-3 metro unit, which increases police presence along Main St. and other neighborhoods, the Ordinance Flex Squad, Quebec Unit for the School Department, and the City’s expanded Real Time Crime Analysis program.
  • SPD will also continue our strong and successful partnership with Behavioral Health Network (BHN) that helps aid those in mental health crisis and ease the strain on emergency services.
  • In FY23, any sworn position holding a leadership role will have access to the highly successful B-AGILE training presented by Babson College, which continues to enhance the professional development training for SPD supervisors that is in line with the highest professional standards. This program is designed to help drive a culture of creativity and innovation in decision-making and leadership skills as well as build better relationships with the community

  Fire

  • For FY23, the Springfield Fire Department will also be hiring new recruits in order to stay ahead of attrition. The Department, while currently at full staffing, will proactively look to manage attrition with plans to run at least one (1) academy this year.  Recruits will also continually be sent to the state-run academy program
  • Funding to proactively replace equipment such as firefighter turnout gear and SCBA air bottles – this gear ensures the safety of our first responders
  • The department will continue to deploy its health and wellness program, which aims at promoting the physical and mental health of responders while reducing instances of on-the-job injuries.
  • The FY23 budget funds all contractual lease payments for fire apparatus’, which the SFD has been replacing each year since FY16 to retire units at their end of their useful life and drive down the need for costly repairs
  • Funding for Emergency Communications/Dispatch
    • The Springfield Emergency Communications (Dispatch) Department, which closely collaborates with the Police and Fire departments, has also been provided with funding for several ongoing initiatives.
      • The Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Records Management Systems (RMS) is in the process of being replaced to improve working systems for all public safety employees, while also helping to ensure the safety of our community. While the new system is not expected to come online in FY23, the department seeks to make significant progress in reviewing and ultimately selecting the best option
    • The consolidation of Police and Fire dispatch services at a single location on Roosevelt Avenue, which was finalized in January 2021, has been a tremendous help in maximizing operational efficiency and marks the first time in the department’s history that everyone is under the same roof. This has significantly enhance cross-training efforts, while also ensuring ample supervisory coverage to address issues and provide feedback to call takers in real time.  The FY23 budget also maintains funding for all maintenance, equipment and software needed to manage daily operations in a highly efficient way

Mayor Sarno said, “These are unprecedented and surreal times.  However, thanks to our strong fiscal management and proactive planning, and our collective response to the pandemic the City of Springfield is well prepared to adopt a balanced budget for approval without any layoffs, furloughs or cuts to essential city services.  The FY23 budget will also not have to dip into our healthy reserves or ‘rainy day’ funds.  The recommended budget places a continued emphasis on education, public safety, health and human services, economic development opportunities and healthy neighborhoods and community services.” 

CAFO TJ Plante stated, “Our goal under Mayor Sarno’s leadership is to maintain core city services with an eye on fiscal sustainability, while also providing an additional multi-faceted tax relief program for our residents.  This FY23 budget is strong and we are excited about the many great investments made to keep our city moving forward while not mortgaging our future.  As a testament to Springfield’s commitment to strong fiscal discipline and sustainability, the FY23 Budget was balanced for the eighth consecutive year, without the use of stabilization reserve funds. Saving our reserves for future years will allow the City to weather a protracted recession, and sends a strong message that the City is committed to fiscal sustainability.”

“I am proud of our CAFO TJ Plante and his finance team for doing their due diligence and being prepared to deal with ‘the ebb and flow’ of our local, state and national economic landscape.  Our fiscal leadership and model has been recognized and acknowledged time and time again, and I strongly believe that this budget reflects the outstanding fiscal management during these challenging times.  Our municipal bond rating has remained strong, is the highest rating in our city’s history and we continue to maintain a strong and healthy reserve,” Mayor Sarno added.  “My Administration will continue to provide leadership for an efficient, effective, strategic and compassionate way to assure that city services continue to be provided for our residents and business community while balancing the needs for economic development opportunities to boost our local economy.”