WESTFIELD — Mayor Michael McCabe proposed his fiscal year 2025 budget to the City Council at its May 16 meeting. It was referred to the council’s Finance Committee for review.

Councilor Dan Allie said at the meeting that because the budget document is 900 pages, he had only read a portion of it so far. Referring to a letter from the mayor accompanying the budget, he said McCabe says the proposed city budget is $179.3 million, which represents a 4.8% increase from the adjusted fiscal 2024 budget. He said the increases are primarily due to increases in the costs of petroleum-based products, utilities, labor and infrastructure.

Allie said the mayor should hold the line on salaries to avoid passing tax hikes along to property owners. He said he had voted against the last two budgets because of the cost of labor contracts, which he called “budget busters.”

“Couldn’t city employees making $80,000 or over $100,000 muddle through rather than raising taxes to the max every year, on seniors, single moms, working families and small businesses — and maybe give more consideration for city employees making less than $50,000?” Allie asked.

“The economy is not good — many businesses are still struggling to recover from lockdown, supply train issues, and record high inflation caused by a devalued currency funding trillions of dollars in COVID relief funds,” Allie continued.

He said the housing shortage is due in part to people being unable to sell their homes due to high interest rates or the cost to buy another house, and a large percentage of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, even though the stock market has grown at twice the rate of GDP since the 1960s.

“No nation or country or people has ever taxed their way into prosperity or printed their way out,” Allie said, adding, “We’re looking at some pretty rough footing. Those are my comments on the budget.”

Councilor Nicholas Morganelli also read from McCabe’s letter. He added that the city’s goals remain roadways, transportation, “our schools and our people.”

Morganelli said the city finds itself in a strong position, with a record-high $16.3 million in certified free cash — unspent money left over from previous budget years, which can be applied to current expenses to reduce the amount that has to be raised in taxes — as well as healthy numbers in stabilization, the city’s savings account. He said by the end of the fiscal year, according to the mayor, the free cash number should be reduced by half, because the city has been able to divert $10 million of free cash to capital projects identified by individual departments.

Morganelli said there is a zero net increase of employees in city departments — excluding schools — in the FY25 budget. He said the mayor has continued to focus on roads, one of the reasons behind bolstering the Engineering Department with one-time use of free cash, which has also been used to pay down city obligations, such as post-retirement benefits.

Morganelli said the mayor also cited spending of federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act, which he said will continue to “make our city a better place to live.”

Following a discussion, councilors agreed that some of the budget review meetings — the ones covering small departments, or categories of spending where little debate was expected — would be conducted by the Finance Committee, which is made up of three city councilors, chaired by Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane.

For larger and more controversial sections of the budget, the council is meeting as a committee of the whole, so that all councilors will be able to participate in the discussion on an equal footing.