Watertown News reached out to candidates running for Councilor At-Large in the Watertown Election on Nov. 7, 2017 and asked them the same six questions. Here are the responses for Michael Dattoli:
1) Tell us about yourself, and why you are running for Councilor At-Large.
I am currently completing my first term a Town Councilor and am seeking re-election. I originally ran for office after having worked for Watertown Public Schools and observing the many challenges our buildings were faced with in terms of overcrowding and space capacity issues. I am eager to continue the work we started on the Building for the Future initiative, as we have now hired both an Owner’s Project Manager and a Design Services firm, and have confirmed funding for all three elementary schools within the town’s capital budget. Overall during the past two years, I have demonstrated that I provide an independent, objective, and thoughtful voice on town issues and am willing to advocate on behalf of the community. I would like to continue being involved on the Council to provide that voice for residents as we continue to face more challenges and opportunities in Watertown, such as improving our recreational fields and open spaces.
2) A common thing to hear around Watertown is that it is getting more expensive, and more difficult for people who already live here to stay in town. What would you do to try to help people remain in Watertown?
Watertown continues to become a more desirable location to live, and the real estate market has demonstrated that there is rising demand for property here. The overall cost of living in the area continues to rise, and this is apparent when you look at increased costs associated with groceries, gas, or health insurance premiums. The Council and Manager must continue to balance the needs of our community when budgeting annual expenditures. Each year, the Council considers new growth, assessment values, and the tax rate to determine our Residential Exemption, which was recently raised to provide tax relief to eligible homeowners. Also, the Council creates guidelines for our Town Manager to follow when creating the next Fiscal Year budget. It is essential that Councilors prioritize both cost savings and new expenditures that fit the current climate of our community, such as development promoting a diversified tax base and creative streams of revenue through Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements or grants. The town is also pursuing a program to purchase electricity in bulk, which will offer lower costs for electricity to residents and small businesses, along with new options for renewable energy.
3) Development has been a big issue the past few years. How would you like to see the Town handle new proposals for major building projects?
Many new development proposals fall within existing zoning guidelines, therefor these projects do not come before the Town Council; instead they are approved through either the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Appeals. It is no secret that this new growth has contributed greatly to our community’s financial well-being, however residents continue to voice concerns regarding the rate and size of development occurring throughout Watertown. The community finalized a Comprehensive Plan in 2015, which describes our aspirations for land use, housing, transportation, and economic development. We have begun working to address many of the recommendations from that process, mainly in terms of our infrastructure, in order to sustain further growth. As a Councilor, I have demonstrated that I will vote against zoning amendments that are not consistent with our community vision for development. I voted against the new development at the Arsenal Mall as many felt the region from School Street, both sides of Arsenal Street, and beyond Coolidge Avenue was too large. We all must be mindful of the principals and ideas from the Comprehensive Plan, to ensure they are adhered to and considered with each new development proposal. A first step must be completing a comprehensive transportation study and hiring the Transportation Planner that we have allocated funding towards.
4) As a Councilor, how would you communicate with residents to find out their needs and concerns?
As a Councilor, I frequently hold office hours within different neighborhoods, and promote these opportunities via print media, online, email, and social media. I also make it a point to visit with groups in the community when possible. For example, I often visit recreational fields and events to speak with families that may not have time in their schedules to connect with their town officials. I have also utilized online channels, live video streams, newsletters, email distribution lists, and other new mediums to connect with our residents. At the end of the day, most individuals are far too busy with their daily lives to attend meetings of importance, however I do make a concerted effort to promote these within the community and also provide relevant information to residents. One item my Education Committee began looking at is improving overall government transparency and engagement. Working collaboratively with Watertown Cable Access Television, we are seeking to provide town updates from staff and officials to residents during their regular cable broadcasting. WCATV has also improved their overall web presence, allowing viewers to watch specific content based on a Town Council agenda item. We are continuing to work with WCATV on new ways to utilize their technologies for community engagement. The library and other venues now have live broadcasting capabilities that we did not have two years ago, which is another step in the right direction.
5) Do you support making changes to the Town Home Rule Charter that spells out how Watertown’s government operates? If so what changes would you make?
In 2020, Watertown will once again have the opportunity to review the Home Rule Charter, and we have already collected feedback and recommendations made by various Councilors and community members in terms of improving the way our government operates. Ultimately, residents want accountability and transparency in their government. Many feel that our strong Town Manager form of government benefits our financial stability, while others feel there is not enough accountability for the implementation of day-to-day operations in Watertown. I am eager to participate in the discussions that evolve during the Charter review, and will advocate strongly for the will of the residents to ensure we have the form of government that best serves all citizens
6) What will be the next big issue in Watertown that is not yet on the front burner?
One of the issues we will be dealing with in the near future is appointing a new Town Manager, as we anticipate that Mr. Driscoll will retire from his position in the next few years. I also have many concerns around the rising costs of health insurance we are experiencing each year. Watertown employees participate in the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) and rates have increased 6% year-over-year. It is anticipated that we will see similar cost increases in FY19 and beyond. During a time when health insurance has never been more crucial for individuals, it has also become far too costly for both individuals and for Watertown, as we contribute a large percentage towards employee premiums. Watertown was able to benefit from cost savings when we moved towards the GIC ten years ago, however it is no longer a sustainable model and I foresee the need for long-term, outside the box solutions to address these rising costs, while maintaining quality options and access for all eligible employees.