Councilor At-Large Candidate Q&A: Michael Dattoli

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Michael Dattoli, candidate for Town Councilor At-Large, with his family.

Michael Dattoli, candidate for Town Councilor At-Large, with his family.

Michael Dattoli is running for Town Councilor At-Large in the Nov. 3 election.

Watertown News asked the candidates a series of questions.

1) If elected, what will you make your top priority for the first six months of your term?

My immediate priority as a Town Councilor At-Large will be to continue reaching out to residents throughout each neighborhood to keep gaining new perspectives and understandings about the issues that are impacting the community. During the current election cycle, I have connected with many residents at their doorsteps and at different events throughout town, as well as members of local civic organizations and community groups. I feel that these connections and relationships are instrumental in allowing me to remain informed, so that I may act in the best interests of our diverse population throughout my term as a Town Councilor.

2) Despite having information on the website, and email blasts available from Notify Me, residents complain about not being informed about what’s going on in Watertown. How can the town connect more with residents and get out information about key projects, votes and more?

Watertown residents are as engaged as they choose to be, however there is more we can all do to ensure that residents have relevant information in a timely manner so that they will bring their viewpoints and insights to hearings and scheduled meetings. Overall, strong engagement between the public and local government benefits communities as it fosters trust and creates better long-term solutions.

While many communicate through email distribution lists and social media, this typically represents one-way communication that can lack context or go unread. I believe wholeheartedly that we must engage and motivate our community members by being active in their neighborhoods at times that are convenient for their schedules. It may involve attending events hosted by community groups, speaking with residents at local coffee shops and parks, or reaching out to residents attending programs through channels such as the Council on Aging or Watertown Family Network. There are many opportunities for local government to provide outreach to ensure awareness and involvement from all who may be impacted. Our government depends on active participation from residents to help shape and guide decision-making. Some cities and towns are now organizing participatory budgeting exercises to bring resident-driven initiatives forward. Also, holding Town Council, School Committee, sub-committee, and board meetings in different locations throughout the town such as the Coolidge Apartments Community Room, Public Library, Middle or High Schools, would promote new resident connections.

3) Would you support a tax override or debt exclusion to raise taxes beyond the Prop. 2 1/2 limit? If so, what projects or areas would you want the override or exclusion to fund?

Municipalities must be extremely cautious in raising the tax levy limit, as an override can take away from funding new opportunities that may arise down the road. For example, our neighbors in Belmont desperately need a new Public Works facility, however will be unable to secure funding for a new building due to previous overrides and debt exclusions for other projects.

Watertown is budgeted for increased revenues this fiscal year, including an $850,000 increase in building fees from new developments. Furthermore, Watertown will soon have additional revenues from the fire department’s Advanced Life Support program. Other revenues to consider; the town currently has just under $700,000 in a tax title account, with 16 percent interest being accrued on the tax taking. Additionally, the new hotel on Arsenal Street will provide a hotel tax, along with many new restaurants on Arsenal and Pleasant Streets contributing to new revenue. The completed apartment developments, such as Elan, will provide many new revenues to the town each year. With each new development, the community will see new growth contributing to the top line.

There is, however, a growing concern regarding the need for a new school building. The Watertown School Committee recently submitted a Statement of Interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority regarding a new High School building. If determined eligible for grant funding, Watertown will need to seriously consider the potential of a debt exclusion to fund the new construction. I would support this step, with the voters making the final approval on the temporary increase.

4) What would you do to help seniors and others struggling to afford to live in Watertown?

In 2002, Watertown’s Council on Aging conducted a survey of seniors living in the community. Not surprisingly, the results showed that, more than anything, seniors in our community value independence. Real estate values in our community continue to increase year over year, which makes Watertown very rewarding for property owners. However, more and more seniors are being priced out of Watertown, with many recognizing that they can no longer afford housing from social security income alone, or at a minimum maintain their homes with costly upgrades associated with older housing inventory. Recently, Watertown increased the set-aside percentage from 10 percent to 12.5 percent, however the town is still roughly six years from achieving the state goal for 10 percent of the total housing units being affordable. Further complicating the issue is the fact that Watertown is projecting the 65 and older demographic to account for the largest increase in housing growth.

One way to assist seniors and others that are struggling to afford the cost of living in Watertown would be to work with developers on increasing the housing inventory and availability of smaller-sized units. Affordable housing for seniors are typically smaller than what is currently being developed in Watertown. The town can also work towards providing assistance to seniors that are seeking to age in their family home. There are various programs that contribute to maintenance and repair costs that are such a burden for seniors on a fixed income.

5) The Residential Design Guideline process to change the zoning for Watertown’s residential neighborhoods recently began. What kinds of rules would you like to see include and which would you not want to see in the guidelines?

Ultimately, design guidelines for residential neighborhoods aim to preserve character and prevent intrusive developments that create objection from abutters and homeowners in close proximity. However, guidelines must not deter property owners from developing new construction projects that add value to neighborhoods by replacing decaying structures. Guidelines could minimally add language that supports new constructions that are comparable in size and character. In speaking with residents that are concerned with some of the newer projects, the height of adjacent buildings may be a helpful reference for guideline language. Also, building setbacks may contribute to the character of a neighborhood and can be considered as part of the discussions.

6) What do you think will be the next big issue that is not yet on the town’s front burners?

Our current Town Manager has been serving Watertown since 1981. Along with the years of public service he obtained working as the town’s skating rink manager, I would predict and calculate that retirement is not too far off. Watertown will ultimately be faced with having to hire a new Town Manager at some point in the next few years. I would advocate with my fellow councilors to recruit a Town Manager with strong business experience, a vision for our community, transparency, and a collaborative leadership style.

7) Tell us about yourself, your family, your life and what qualities would make you a good Town Councilor.

My wife, Megan, and I met in high school. After college, we moved to Watertown because we recognized the value of its diversity and history. I was baptized here in the Saint James Armenian Church and five generations of my family have called Watertown home. My extended family owned the Dexter Spa for many years, and my grandmother (Stepanian-Kouyoumjian) worked for Eastern Coat during the industrial boom of the previous century. We are now raising two children here, ages 7 and 5, which means that a total of six generations of my family have lived in Watertown.

I began getting involved in our community here immediately; first working at Watertown Middle School in 2001. I later gained valuable experience in government as a federal grant administrator for Mayor Tom Menino. During that time, Public Health funding was decreasing each year, however we found ways to ensure consistent delivery of services to the 60 health agencies we funded by utilizing creative thinking and innovative collaborations among our funded programs.

I have also lived abroad, working as an independent consultant to small businesses in the New Zealand tourism and hospitality industry. I later brought those skills and experiences back to the US as a director for an international sales organization, which brought me opportunities working with organizations in the People’s Republic of China, among other cities and countries across the world.

I became involved in various local civic organizations, including leadership roles with the Watertown Youth Coalition steering committee and the Watertown Community Gardens board of directors. Ultimately, I recognized my passion for giving back to our youth could no longer be ignored, and I worked towards a Masters in Education while teaching in the Watertown Public Schools at the Lowell Elementary.

My wife and I are both running small businesses in the area, and I am currently teaching second grade in Bedford Public Schools. I strongly feel that my varied background experiences in both the private and public sectors, coupled with my passion for community involvement, have prepared me for the role of a Town Councilor At-Large. Please learn more about my campaign at

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