The newly inaugurated Town Council has several challenges coming down the road over the next two years, including school building projects, the Town Charter review and the development in town that just keeps going.
Town Council President Mark Sideris discussed the issues that will face Watertown in the upcoming Town Council term at Thursday night’s Inauguration Ceremony at the Mosesian Center for the Arts.
Town Clerk John Flynn administered the oath of office to Town Council President Mark Sideris; Town Councilors Anthony Donato, Tony Palomba, Caroline Bays, John Gannon, Angeline Kounelis, Lisa Feltner, Vincent Piccirilli and Kenneth Woodland; School Committee members Kendra Foley, Lindsay Mosca and David Stokes; and Library Trustees Sheppard Ferguson and Teddy Kokoros.
Development continues to be a top issue brought up by residents, Sideris said, and developers keep coming to town looking to build projects.
“I, like many, didn’t ever anticipate development to continue at this pace,” Sideris said. “We need to consider the impact on the residents in the project areas, as they are the ones most affected.”
The School Building Committee is deep into the process of designing the three town’s elementary schools, including brand new school buildings at Hosmer and Cunniff, and a completely renovated Lowell. Meanwhile, the planning process for a new high school has also started. Sideris noted that the project will be discussed at a forum on Jan. 21 at Watertown High School.
Every 10 years, the Town takes a look at the document that shapes its government, and 2020 is that year.
“One of the most important things the Town Council does is the Town Charter Review,” Sideris said.
A Charter Review Committee will be created to look at the charter which will include nine Town Councilors, as well as, six members of the public appointed by Sideris. He will take applications from those interested through the end of January.
“The review will take some time,” Sideris said. “It will be thorough. I will make sure we go through every single section of the Charter.”
The Town Council has already made its budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2021, Sideris said, and the top one is to provide help to the Town Manager by hiring a full-time deputy Town Manager. The person would help reduce the Town Manager’s work load by taking on areas such as public engagement and communication. Sideris noted that this was recommended in a study of organization of Watertown’s municipal government.
Other areas Sideris sees as priorities for the town include:
- Getting the Transportation Management Association, including the shuttle, up and running
- Implementing the town’s informational technology (IT) plan
- Finding a staging area for the Department of Public Works
- Finding a permanent home for the Watertown Library’s Hatch makerspace (now located in space provided by the Residence at Watertown Square)
- Protecting and expanding the town’s shade tree canopy
- Planning to meet the state’s 2030 requirements for solid waste disposal
- Looking for ways for the town to obtain open space
- Continue to repair Watertown’s streets and sidewalks
- Filling the vacancy on the Board of Library Trustees
Looking back at what the Council and other town boards have accomplished in recent years, Sideris pointed to several items.
Watertown will pay off the deficit in retirement benefits as of July 1, 2020, years ahead of other communities in the state.
The town has provided 5 percent increases annually for the past several years to the education budget.
“That’s unheard of in Massachusetts, let alone across the United States,” Sideris said. “That’s a strong statement.”
By paying off the retirement debt, money in the budget will be freed up to pay for the $170 million cost of building and renovating the three elementary schools without a tax increase, Sideris said. The project also received funds from the $1.2 million sale of the former East Branch Library to St. James Armenian School, Sideris added.
One thing he has heard many comments about is the new lights on the trees on the Watertown Square Delta.
“I went to a wake and heard about the lights. I went to to a restaurant and heard about the lights. I was walking on the street and heard about the lights. The comments were mostly positive,” Sideris said. “Thank you DPW!”