Budget reflects residents’ demands and values

On June 14, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times


By Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

Budget season is upon us and in local papers across the state, we read about cities and towns touting spending plans that avoid layoffs or that maintain current services, as if the status quo should be a source of pride.

In Somerville, we are not satisfied with the status quo. The moment we are complacent is the moment when we will find ourselves falling behind. The budget I have recommended to the Board of Aldermen for the coming fiscal year does not contentedly rest upon our city’s great achievements. It strives for more. It is a plan to own our future by making a down payment today.

The $195.7 million operating budget recommendation is built around one purpose: listening to our residents and responding. The budget’s foundation is the values espoused by our community. Residents have told us they want more education funding. They want more efficient city services that reach every person in Somerville, residential property tax relief and a long-term sustainable fiscal strategy for this city. This is what they demand and this budget delivers what they deserve, both now and in the future.

It includes a $3.7 million increase for our schools. Last year we had one of the largest increases in funding for Somerville Public Schools in city history. We will surpass that increase in this year’s budget, but it is not blindly throwing money at the schools and hoping for the best. These are targeted investments based on analysis of hard data that tells us we need to phase in universal preschool and provide students with more hands-on experience with cutting-edge technology. We need to expand foreign language to the 6th grade, increase outreach and continue to support the arts, all while rejecting the premise too readily accepted by so many other communities that enrichment programs should cost parents extra.

Our Inspectional Services Division needs reorganization and reinvestment. The 2010 report requested by my office said as much, pointing to a streamlined permitting process and additional staff to handle the huge workload as solutions to the department’s problems. That is why this budget includes a new Superintendent of Inspectional Services who has a background in streamlining the permitting process for contractors and residents. It includes a new online permitting process that’s easier and more efficient. Two additional ISD clerks will make the process faster, organize administrative tasks and improve customer service. We will work harder and smarter in responding to the community, protecting our quality of life in every neighborhood in square and tackling issues around trash, overgrowth, rodents and dumpsters.

We will also realize cost savings in the future by investing now in preventive maintenance, protecting taxpayers from heftier bills down the line by maintaining the assets we have already invested millions of dollars in. The budget includes a new Department of Public Works fleet maintenance manager who will ensure upkeep of vehicles to prevent larger repair costs later. A buildings preventive maintenance manager will similarly shield taxpayers from incurring steep costs, while a GIS specialist will support the city’s pavement and sidewalk preventive maintenance work with high-level mapping. For every dollar spent on preventive maintenance and pavement preservation on roads, we save $6 to $8 dollars on later reconstructions and rehabilitations. We need to maintain these assets as we maintain our own homes.

Although the city has made great strides in reaching out to all residents, 95 percent of city communications are either not translated or translated only rarely or occasionally. Our residents want to access the huge amount of information coming out of City Hall, and the more people we reach and can bring to serve on boards, seek employment, ask for services and work with us to solve issues, the better the quality of life across the city. A pilot program with two language liaisons run since March will turn into three part-time liaisons reaching our residents who speak Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole – the three most common international languages in our diverse community. These are not mere translators, but true liaisons who will be out in the city, engaging and bringing in people who want to be part of the community.

Every one of these initiatives is a response to what the community has told us they want to see, while firmly rooted in the strategy that we must invest today with an eye on tomorrow. Playing the long-game has already yielded tangible positive outcomes for the city. The budget includes $3.1 million in new growth, one of the highest new growth numbers in years. Any debate over whether the city made the right decision in Assembly Square can see that we are reaping the benefits right now. The District Improvement Financing bond for Assembly Square brings back $1 million in new property tax revenue in this budget, easily ahead of schedule and paying down the $500,000 in debt owed on the bond this coming year, resulting in a net revenue of $500,000 for the city.

This is how Somerville will realize sustainable property tax relief, not through short-term gimmicks or cuts, but through investments that will fuel the urban renaissance throughout our city, unlocking more economic opportunities and broadening our tax base. We will rid ourselves of the Brickbottom waste transfer station, one part of a multi-prong approach to transform the front door of our city into a thriving neighborhood that further expands our commercial tax base. We must continue to play the long game and make sure we unlock other districts like those along the Green Line corridor, ridding ourselves of blight and knitting together vibrant, walkable and bikeable communities.

We still have the second lowest average residential property tax bill in the area, even with all the services we provide, with only Cambridge and its extensive commercial tax base lower than ours. Our per capita spending is fourth lowest in the state, another indication of our smart, strategic spending based on our community’s values. And we’ve done all this despite losing more than $23 million in state aid since the high water mark of 2000.

This budget invests in the next generation, continues our ongoing demand to deliver community services more efficiently and expands our commercial tax base in a smart, forward-looking way. This is a solid foundation for a sustainable fiscal future.


10 Responses to “Budget reflects residents’ demands and values”

  1. mememe says:

    “$3.7 million increase for our schools” on a school spending of $76 million in 2013. Only 8 percent over the legal requirement, the lowest percent since FY04 (oldest year the state has available) and down from 22% over in 2007. This is where people want the city to spend money. How much was spent last year on your music festival? Policing for all your shutdown roads? Your Puppet shows?

    Yet you found $2 million to throw at a quarter mile of bike path, that has already been cleared and graded.

    This budget is following your own demands and values. Granting yourself the ability to cozy up with obama.

  2. Harry says:

    If it was obvious, he would not have to say it. He needs to frame this into his narrative so that people don’t realize what is going on. But there are a lot of smart people around here, Mr. Mayor…

  3. freedomofthepeople says:

    I hope you understand the mayor has taught the progressives how to steal, they like the power also.The so called progressives just care about themselves,they could care less about the working man unless you happen to be an illegal alien.These are the people that they pretend to care about, but when you really look at it ,when the mayor privitizes jobs the companies that he deals with are scewing these people over,the same ones you progressives say you want to help, who are you kidding ,for so called intellectuals,you are no better than the man behind the curtain,stealing the tax payers money,just ask the women down at CAAS,28K no charges, progressives my gluteus maximus.The money in the city will still end up in corrupt hands and you the progressives hands are as dirty as the mayors

  4. Darnell says:

    Phony Baloney Curtatone is full of himself. His whole agenda from day one has been self-promotion, but the chickens are coming home to roost. I’m with Harry and MeMeMe.

    The house of cards Joe built is about to come down.

  5. ritepride says:

    Our already dangerously downsized city workforce, DPW, Police, Fire, Libraries, Recreation, etc., cannot take anymore cuts. So if cuts need to be made the mayor better plan on downsizing his hackorama and outside contractors/consultants. Planning/Development needs to be looked at as the citizens cannot afford increases on city services that result from “Lego Joe” & his developer Buddies greedy goals. Our existing city services cannot take on this unnecessary burden, especially where the city in nearing 60% Tax Exempt properties with the GLX, B&M, Tufts, Half way Houses, etc.

  6. freedomofthepeople says:

    I would hope freedom of the press is not dead, you seem to be holding off putting up a post is it because you are good friends with certain people and do not want the public to know a lot of facts.Do not be like the soviet union and only print your side, this is called Propaganda ,do the right thing if you truely are a news paper.

  7. Beppe Molle says:

    Freedom, in case you don’t know, each message goes through the censorship committee before it is published! The fact your comments were published means that the censorship committee is pretty open to criticism, don’t you think?

  8. mememe says:

    “Our already dangerously downsized city workforce, DPW, Police, Fire, Libraries, Recreation, etc., cannot take anymore cuts.”
    Source? because none of those are smaller then they were 4/5 years ago. There were not mass killings in the streets, or fires left unchecked.

    Your hyperboil does nothing for your case. The city workforce is nowhere near dangerous.

  9. Harry says:

    Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,
    Nothing don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free, now now.

  10. Bostom says:

    The paragraph about inspectional services alone is a joke: if you call to ask ISD to look at a crumbling (literally – holes in the roof, beams caving in, feral animals crawling in and out) building they’ll say either, “Nothing we can do about it” or “We’ll take a look.” If they do take a look, on followup you’re told, “Nothing we can do about it.” Why, God, why?

    Or rather, “Why not?” We already pay some of the highest permit fees in the state. A couple of months ago the fee to replace the trim around the windows of my house – the trim, not the windows – was $190. Nothing new, nothing different: board-for-board replacements, not improvements and not new construction and it’s $190 more than the cost of the lumber to keep my house up? Want to replace a dishwasher? Have any idea how easy that is? You pull out the old one, unplug it from the wall socket, loosen the hose clamps from the inlet and drain tubes, and take it away. Installation is the same process in reverse – tighten up those hose clamps, plug it back in, push it back in, and presto! clean dishes again. Cost of permit? $140. For what? No one has ever come to look at my dishwasher, or to see if I tightened those hose clamps right. Besides, it wouldn’t light up and make noise if it weren’t plugged in, so can someone explain to me what my $140 bought?

    This move is just one more that’s so typical of the contemptuous Curtatone administration: reward a department that’s not doing the job they’re paid to do now (handsomely, if the fees charged are any indication) by adding more people to not do what they’re supposed to be doing already.

    Meanwhile, the school system is still the 21st from the worst in the state. The DPW is stretched thin, the libraries are rundown, the Green Line’s “long game” to Union Square looks closer to a decade away now, not 2016-17, parking meter and parking permit revenue is through the roof, and the bill for Joe blowing off handicapped access requirements for years is coming due with a vengeance because it all costs more now. But still there’s money for festival upon festival, for more Kennedy School MPA consultants drawing Kennedy School MPA salaries, for the million-dollar-a-mile bike path extension and millions more for the Beacon Street bicycle boondoggle. Nothing to make it easier for folks in wheelchairs to use the sidewalks for a decade but millions for a bike lane even the bicyclists question the need for. Your tax dollars at work.

    Remember the “temporary experiment” on Bow Street with the back-in parking? The only thing that’s temporary about it is the length of time the traffic is backed up to the lights on Washington Street IF and ONLY IF someone driving is kind enough to stop long enough to let you park. Otherwise it’s a nightmare for the person parking and for the merchants being passed by. How much did that cost the taxpayers and maybe more importantly, how much business income is being lost because people just won’t subject themselves to the hassle of parking there?

    I hope the Board of Aldermen realize that by going along with some of these half-baked ideas in order to get along, not only are they complicit in all this, but that people are starting to see they’ve abdicated the only power they have: to act as a check on the mayor’s ever more expensive ambitions. Sadly they seem to have become Joe’s “Hallelujah Chorus” instead of singing their own song. If the long-rumored indictments come down, I wonder what (and who) they’ll be singing about then, and to whom.

    Add the increased budget to your newly-inflated assessment and subtract the once-taxpaying properties that are now off the rolls and look for a greatly increased property tax bill coming to a mailbox near you – the one next to your front door – soon.

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