Watertown’s budget for Fiscal 2017 is more than $2 million in deficit right now, but Town Manager Michael Driscoll said the town faced similar projects last year and the town’s current budget should wind up with an excess.
Tuesday night, Driscoll presented the preliminary budget to the Town Council – the first step in the budget process that ends in the spring.
The budget for Fiscal 2017 (July 1, 2016 to June 30 2017) is projected to cost $126.26 million, or $2.23 million more than the projected revenues. He noted when he presented the preliminary Fiscal 2016 budget last fall, the town was $2.06 million in deficit, but additional revenue was found to fund the budget.
“The budget submitted in the spring will be a balanced budget,” Driscoll said. “Either revenues will go up or expenditures will go down, or a combination of both.”
Driscoll said he has been conservative in his revenues – projecting level state funding.
The town’s largest funding source is local taxes (real estate and personal) which is projected to be $94.8 million. State Aid is projected at the same level as last year, $10.8 million.
Some revenue sources went up considerably in Fiscal 2016 (the current fiscal year), or are expected to go up in Fiscal 2017, Driscoll said.
Inspection fees from the new developments in town rose $850,000 in Fiscal 2016 and are expected to remain high. Hotel excise taxes from the new Residence Inn by Marriott are expected to go up $300,000 in FY2017. Also, the Watertown Fire Department will start having its own Advanced Life Support (ALS) service and the town will receive the insurance and patient payments. This should result in $150,000 more in the FY 2017 budget.
The preliminary budget calls for increasing school spending by 5 percent ($2.o7 million). Meanwhile, all the budget for other town departments will decrease. This is misleading, Driscoll said, because the town made a $3.1 million payment in Fiscal 2016 to make up the back payments to the Watertown Firefighters after the contract was settled. Without that the budgets would be up 2.5 percent.
Other major increased costs include health insurance, which will rise 6 percent; street and sidewalk improvements will rise 5 percent; and waste disposal, which will increase 3 percent.
Some unknowns in the budget include contract negotiations. Seven unions, including the schools, will be up for contract renewals.
“We need contact agreements that are fair to the taxpayers, the town and unions and their members,” Driscoll said.
The town must figure out if it will continue supporting the social services resource specialist program – of which it pays half the cost – and the town energy manager to oversee energy efficiency improvement projects.
Also, the town must fund four firefighters that were hired using the federal SAFER grant.
Some potential projects include improvements to the Victory Field track area and tennis courts, renovating the Grove Street entrance of Filippello Park and improvement to the Moxley Courts and adding lights. Town officials may also look at upgrades to the three fire stations, the library and Town Hall.
To see the entire budget presentation, click here.
The next step in the budget process is for the Town Council Budget and Fiscal Oversight Subcommittee to meet three times in November to develop the Town Council’s Budget Priority Guidelines. These guidelines will be presented at the Dec. 8 Town Council meeting.