The COVID-19 pandemic will have a major impact on Watertown’s budget, Town Manager Michel Driscoll told the Town Council Tuesday night. He also gave details about how the Police and Fire departments use their funding.
Driscoll’s presentation (see the documents here) gave more details about Watertown’s Fiscal 2021 Budget the day before the Town Council will have the chance to ask questions about each Town department’s budget.
Two weeks ago, Driscoll presented the $152.4 million budget proposal which included no lay offs, despite the loss of about $4 million related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Aid is forecast to be down $2.6 million as a result of the impact of the pandemic on the Massachusetts economy, Driscoll said. The Town will also lose approximately $1.3 million in local revenues. This includes $747,500 in COVID-19 related reductions in motor vehicle excise taxes (down 10 percent), local hotel and motel taxes (down 10 percent), and local meals taxes (down 25 percent).
The Town will lose and estimated $95,000 in fees and fines from a combination in changes of policies at the Library and the Police Department.
Beginning July 1, the Watertown Library will not longer be fining for late books and materials, which will reduce that revenue source by $45,000.
“After discussions with the Library Director (Leone Cole) show that there is mounting evidence that late fees pose a barrier to utilizing resources for some of the community and is not a deterrent,” Driscoll said.
If people do have materials out for an extended period of time, Driscoll said, a block will be put on their library cards.
The Police Department will cut down the amount of fines handed out by about $50,000, Driscoll said, which is part of “the Police Department’s approach of being a guardian rather than a warrior.”
Driscoll spoke about what the Public Safety budget is spent on, which includes the Police and Fire departments. Combined, they make up 14.2 percent of the budget, which is the second highest behind education.
The Watertown Police Department uses the Community Policing philosophy, where they try to build relationships in the community. Some of the programs that are part of the, Driscoll said, are the Citizen’s Police Academy, the bicycle police patrols, and the Cops and Recreation programs that work with youth.
They have four patrol officers and a supervisor on the street at all times, Driscoll said. Since 2011, the WPD has employed a mental health clinician.
“Watertown was the second department in the state to have this program,” Driscoll said.
The clinician tries to work with people with mental health and other issues to prevent them from going to jail. Through the clinician’s work, Watertown had 304 mental health diversions in 2018, and another 331 in 2019, Driscoll said.
The WPD also uses the recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, created by the Obama Administration, and in Fiscal Year 2021 will join in a partnership with Communities for Restorative Justice program. The program works with cities and towns in Middlesex and Suffolk counties, and according to the program’s website, “We listen to victims, hold offenders accountable, and restore trust in communities.”
The Fire Department responded to 6,107 calls in 2019, of which about 55 percent were for medical incidents. They also have administered 128 doses of Narcan, an overdose preventative, since they began carrying it in 2014.
The Fire Department has one Advanced Life Saving (ALS) ambulance, and when the staffing level is at 19 firefighters or above, the WFD runs a second ambulance that provides Basic Life Safety (BLS) service.
On Wednesday, June 24, the Town Council will have the opportunity to ask questions to the heads of each department about he budget. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and can be viewed on Watertown Cable or the public can join by Zoom. (See details below).
In past years, the Town Council has held multiple budget hearings to hear from each department head, but with the condensed budget process, they will not hear presentations from each department, Council President Mark Sideris said.
The Town Manager will likely speak about the differences in each department budget, and then Councilors will be able to ask questions about that part of the budget. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Monday, June 29 at 6 p.m. Details of how to participate have not been announced.
There are a number of ways to watch and participate Wednesday’s meeting:
- The meetings will be televised on Watertown Cable ( online atwcatv.org/government-channel/or on Comcast Channel 99 or RCN Channel 13).
- The public can join the virtual meetings online via Zoom at:https://watertown-ma.zoom.us/j/92991331344. By Telephone audio only at (877) 853-5257 or (888) 475-4499 (Toll Free) and enter Meeting ID: 929 9133 1344 #.
- Comments can be sent by email prior to or during the meeting by sending a message firstname.lastname@example.org