COVID-19 Impacted Town’s Budget, Details of the Police, Fire Budgets Presented

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Watertown Town Hall

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:

5 thoughts on “COVID-19 Impacted Town’s Budget, Details of the Police, Fire Budgets Presented

  1. From: Mary Russo
    Date: June 24, 2020 at 9:12:18 PM EDT
    To: vpiccirilli@watertown-ma.gov
    Subject: School budget ????????Broken down for Public Building by Building. 2016- to current. Honest communication for the record. Let’s do this right!

    *Thank You for reading my first two e-mail. I hope this will be mentioned at your next meeting Town Council meeting at Public Forum on June 29,2020.I was trying to keep up as topics were mentioned. I expect a response to this last e-mail. It can be forwarded to school committee John Portz And Mark Sideris, Superintendent Galdston and Town Manager Driscoll. Please let me know open communication. I am putting it in for the record since it did not get read this evening at Town Council Meeting.

    *Open Communication with all do respect why was W.H.S. not built first, question never answered for almost 4years. M.S.B.A. would have supported if we could have prepared in advance proper planning for building and not being backed into a corner of not having options, including options for all students especially attending Minuteman.
    As a former teacher of over 30 years, we do not have Vocational option for our students they are a dream for W.H.S. It is another coverup-on behalf of Superintendent Galdston including past administrators .These schools should have been planned out over years not all in the same years. First W.H.S. Is over 95 years old Mold, Mildew And Asbestos continues to be in the building and staff,students,guardians, people renting the building and ESL. are still in harms way currently.Wait until we re-open with the Covid-19 poor ventilation just pointing out one harmful issue, new air conditioners in windows has been proven to spread the virus.
    *. I just filed a complaint to the board of health last week. An e-mail sent out on February 13,2020 from Lori Kabel Watertown Building L.E.A. And Joe Sexton it was sent out to all principal, custodians It did not include The Director of food or Health department, teachers, parents/guardians or staff. All of our school are infested with rodents and droppings so much that they can not keep up with the cleaning, especially the kitchens where the community food is being prepared. Watertown just received a grant to continue serving food to families over the summer but yet they were not informed of the infestation of rodents where there food is being prepared. Just another cover up. I sent that e-mail to the Board of health along with my complaint. EXTERMINATION especially since for the most part buildings are empty. This is the only way of controlling this health hazard in our schools. Honest Communication is not happening,we were promised by Superintendent Galston, Administration,Town Manager Driscoll and Town Council President Sideiris.
    *All of the covering up, the administrators admitting to not being in compliance for decades with laws and A.H.E.R.A to the M.T.A. and W.E.A. union Lawyer. I had to enforce our W.E.A. President Debra King to bring Union Lawyer and District Rep. into the picture to have administrators admit of being out of compliance for decades.
    *If the former principal Shirley Lundberg did not hide an A.H.E.R.A. Report for 18 months during accreditation period 2015-2016 year she never mentioned the January 2016 report in the accreditation. We would have had a New High school approved because they would not have passed accreditation in 2015- 2016 year, instead the former principal hid that report for 18 months until I found it (Mary Russo) and blew the whistle in Spring 2017.
    *This should have been the first school to have been built. I am well over the covering up and lack of communication to our citizens and public. As we know our petition group has met numerous times and have been disrespected,ignored and the lack of responses in keeping our students,staff, anyone entering in these sick buildings safe is a disgrace.
    *Our Town Officials are not following the laws and are not keeping WATERTOWN staff,students,parents/guardians,contractors, rentals safe to this date. You are representing the citizens that elect you do what is right!
    *We the petitioners should not have to continue to ask for freedom of information act for honest communication regarding safety and cost broken down by each school buildings and cost for facelifts from 2016- current it should be public knowledge Under The Freedom of information act.
    *The public should also have access to this information broken down by each school and the lease for St. Jude’s cost and repairs, furnishing and technology to date. Also, Phillips school cost and safety for our pre- schoolers to safely stay there. Finally, the leasing of 309 Main Street for repairs and leasing for maintenance facilities over the next few years. Let’s be an open book in regards to the citizens of Watertown.

    Respectfully,
    Mary Russo

    Sent from my iPad

  2. I’m really curious about everything that Mary Russo is talking about. If this is all true, which I am leaning towards believing, then some of our town officials have been part of a major cover up for years and have put the health of many at risk.

    I tend to believe what she says. If she went forward with information then got fired or retaliated against then that is very concerning. I’m also curious as to why no public official with first hand knowledge, i.e Building Inspector, Town Manager, Etc has not come forward to explain any of this. I don’t know this person but from what I read it sounds like she has lots of first hand knowledge, is very passionate about this, and is going to fight on.

    The fact that no town official has come forward to explain this makes her even more credible. Again, an official statement from someone with direct first hand knowledge would help the rest of us understand this better.

    • There has been discussion of the asbestos in Watertown Schools by School officials, and they complied with the state’s AHERA report. http://www.watertownmanews.com/2019/02/07/school-officials-confident-asbestos-hazards-have-been-dealt-with-schools-are-safe/

      There is asbestos in the schools, and it has been removed in some places, but it has also encapsulated (which means covering over, painting, etc.), which is allowed by the state. Some of the problems have been when a pipe bursts at a school, which happens because they are old buildings, then they have to clean up that area.

      I think Mary asked why the high school was not done first. Watertown tried numerous times to get the high school accepted into the state building program, MSBA, and did on the fourth try. That will get the town more than 40 percent reimbursement of the cost.

  3. New schools are being built because of Mary Russo, not because of forward thinking Town Councilors. Over 20+years non-compliance with AHERA/asbestos laws. Students and staff have been sick for years. The Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards (DLS) found that WPS was in violation of over a dozen safety standards, but was let off with a warning from the State. Since 2016, WPS and Town Councilors have tried their best to not disclose the hazards at their facilities and schools. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured into asbestos abatements to remove friable (broken & airborne) asbestos. Only when Mary and a few others pushed the issue of WPS non-compliance, has Watertown decided to act. Why? Because Watertown Schools have been unsafe for years. Any student, staff member, or individual who frequented any of the WPS buildings should fill out a MIAA form to document their exposure. Ask Administrators for any building safety records prior to 2016- you will not receive them because records do not exist. Watertown officials have told Mary Russo and myself (directly) to file MIAA forms, and only if we ever get sick (usually 20+ years for mesothelioma to appear) that the Town could be found liable. Here’s a link that reveals WPS ignorance. Please demand accountability for decades of asbestos exposure to our children, educators, and townsfolk. https://www.change.org/p/mark-sideris-asbestos-and-other-dangers-in-the-watertown-public-schools

    Sincerely,
    Steve Casella

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