Mayor Mitchell Presents Fiscal Year 2025 Budget

NEW BEDFORD – Mayor Jon Mitchell presented his Fiscal Year 2025 City Budget to the New Bedford City Council on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. The Fiscal Year 2025 City Budget totals $536.3 million, of which the General Fund is the largest component at $478.7 million.

A Careful, Conservative Spending Blueprint

Mayor Mitchell said in his address and in an accompanying letter to City Councilors that this year’s budget proposal is “a spending plan that sustains services at levels our residents expect, without unduly burdening taxpayers.”

He expressed optimism regarding the City’s continued economic growth, citing New Bedford’s “resilience” coming out of the pandemic, while also acknowledging the uncertainty at the global and national levels, and the need to follow the “careful, conservative approach to budgeting that has served us well in the past.”

“There is a reason that the City has been able to maintain the highest bond rating in its history despite all the curveballs hurled our way in recent years, and that reason is a joint commitment of my Administration and the City Council to fiscal discipline and strong financial management,” he said.

The Mayor also pointed to the positive impact of the emerging offshore wind industry, and the role of federal ARPA funding, noting:

“After more than a decade of work to establish New Bedford as a leader in offshore wind energy, turbine components are regularly arriving in our port from Europe. Vineyard Wind, the first major offshore wind project in America, has begun producing power. In the years ahead, we can expect the economic impact of offshore wind to become increasingly manifest, as New Bedford continues to be a focus of both public and industry investment.

“Additionally, the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funding from the federal government has allowed us to direct critical resources toward a range of needs from housing to small business assistance, and helped the City pay for one-time costs and other budgetary expenses that would have otherwise gone unfunded.”

Concern About Erosion in Key Services Without New Spending Reforms

Mayor Mitchell encouraged the City Council to focus its attention on reforms that could have a big impact on the City’s finances, saying:

“It has become clear that there are limits to our strategy of lean budgeting. After a decade of modernization and reform, city government today is indeed more efficient in many service areas than it has ever been. But it is also true that city government is now at risk of an erosion in its basic capacity to deliver effective services when the overwhelming share of the operating budget remains comprised of fast-growing, legally mandated spending – while aid and revenue growth fail to keep up.

“In sum, the notion that we can successfully restrain overall spending by trimming elsewhere in the budget, but doing nothing on major budget drivers, is simply ignoring the elephant in the room.

“Pension contributions, health insurance, debt service and assessments total $73 million in a $470 million General Fund spending plan. Even shaving a fraction of these expenses through modest reforms could make a major difference.”

The Mayor said that, with so much of the budget beyond the City’s ability to control, the path forward must include strategic action in the areas that remain within its capacity to change, even if that capacity is limited or indirect.

“As the Council well appreciates, containing operating expenses, either by achieving efficiencies or eliminating services, is not as easy as many might think,” he said. “Unrelenting growth in non-discretionary items like pension obligations, other post-employment benefits and health insurance costs continue to crowd out the available revenues for municipal operations which provide the services that residents, see, need, and experience.”

For example, he cited the water and wastewater infrastructure being subject to compliance with extremely costly federal mandates and consent orders. Additionally, he described escalating pension costs as “another major budget item contributing to the burden on taxpayers” with New Bedford the fifth worst funded out of 105 government retirement systems in Massachusetts.

“New Bedford is near the very bottom of that list because we have been chronically unrealistic about the affordability of pension benefit expansions in the past, and that needs to change,” he said. “The Retirement Board and the City Council both possess a measure of local control that could be exercised to reduce the impact of rising pension costs on taxpayers – and, equally important, help ensure the future solvency of the pension system for today’s active employees who are counting on it to be there for them when they retire.”

He said the cost of health insurance, pension payments, and other insurance programs is increasing this year by more than $2.4 million. Mandatory assessments make the burden even larger, he said, citing the mandatory contribution toward charter school tuition rising another $1.4 million (from $29.9 million to $31.3 million).

Making the City Budget More Transparent

Mayor Mitchell called attention to a key format change in the budget that increases transparency and makes the budget document easier to read.

“The line items formerly aggregated into the category of General Government Unclassified (GGU) have either been assigned to the relevant department or given their own stand-alone appropriation,” he said. “This is intended to help clarify the mandatory, contractual nature of these spending items and their relationship to the operations of individual departments.”

Positive Budget Elements

Mayor Mitchell pointed to continuing investments in the school system and police department as positive budget developments.

Funding for the School Department is projected to increase by $8.5 million, or 3.6%, to comply with the Commonwealth’s minimum Net School Spending requirements.

The Police Department is projected to see a 10.5% increase, or an additional $2.8 million, with Mayor Mitchell saying the rise will “help us keep our officer salaries competitive in a challenging labor market.”

Concluding Remarks

Mayor Mitchell summarized the FY 2025 budget exercise, saying:

“The preparation of any budget proposal is always a complex undertaking, and the current proposal has presented its fair share of challenges. Mandated expenses, recovering local receipts, cost pressures from inflation, and an uncertain economic environment are all significant considerations again this year. But we will meet these challenges by relying on the same cautious, deliberative approach and the effective partnership between the Administration and the City Council that has served us well in the past.”

Note: A complete copy of the Mayor’s budget proposal and budget address can be found on the City’s homepage,