Increases for Police, Fire, Schools Library & DPW Included in Watertown’s FY2020 Budget

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Charlie Breitrose

Watertown Town Manager Michael Driscoll revealed the Fiscal Year 2020 budget on Tuesday.

Next year’s Watertown Budget includes money for an additional police office, a new leadership role in the Fire Department, and at the Library.

Tuesday night, Town Manager Michael Driscoll presented the Fiscal Year 2020 budget to the Town Council. The total operating budget is $147.76 million, which is an increase of 3.89 percent or $5.53 million.

When Driscoll presented the budget projection in October, there was a shortfall of about $800,000, but Tuesday he said the Town’s revenues came in close to $1.5 million above the projections. Driscoll added that the expenditures also rose about $600,000.

New Positions for First Responders, Library

The Watertown Police will receive funding for an additional police officer in FY2020, Driscoll said. Police Chief Michael Driscoll had requested two additional officers, in an effort to restore the eight officer positions cut during the economic downturn (FY2009 and FY2010).

Four officers were added between FY2015 and FY2019, bringing the total number of officers to 69. The additional officer added in FY2020 brings the number of uniformed officers to 70, which includes 52 patrol officers.

“The additional patrol officer will enable the department to to assign a detective full-time to the Southern Middlesex County Drug Task Force, which will be beneficial to the department and our community,” Driscoll said.

During the downturn, the Fire Department also had its numbers cut, with nine firefighter positions eliminated from FY2009 to FY2011. Fire Chief Bob Quinn asked for funding for the minimum staffing to be increased from 17 to 19 per shift (the WFD has four, 24-hour shifts).

This will be accomplished by using overtime to have more firefighters on duty. This will allow the WFD to run two ambulances: one Advanced Life Support (ALS) and one Basic Life Support (BLS).

The move will also bring in $300,000 more in ambulance fees.

“The ambulance load is quite hefty, and (today) a lot of calls are assigned to private ambulance companies,” Quinn said.

The Fire Department will have the same number of firefighters (87), but will add an assistant chief position and one firefighter position will be turned into lieutenant (for a total of 16), while one of the eight captain positions will be eliminated, Driscoll said.

The Watertown Free Public Library’s Hatch makerspace has been a success, and the FY2020 budget includes funding for a part-time assistant. The library will also get additional money for the second year of the preservation project in its local historical collection, and for the first time the library will receive money from the budget for programming.

Schools and Paying Off Unfunded Benefits

In addition to the new positions announced by the Town Manager, the Watertown Public Schools recently announced the addition of three teachers in its $50.4 million budget, which was 5 percent, or $2.4 million more than FY2019.

The budget also includes funding for Building for the Future, the school renovation and expansion project at Watertown’s three elementary schools. Over the next five years, the Town will borrow $170 million, including $35 million in FY2020, Driscoll said. The money to be paid back from the operating budget, he added, with money freed up after the Town finished paying off its unfunded Retirement Benefit liability. Most of the debt was paid off in FY2019, and the remainder will be paid off in FY 2020.

This problem was faced by communities around Massachusetts, but Driscoll noted that Watertown’s payback schedule is ahead of surrounding towns by many years. Cambridge is scheduled to pay its liability off by 2026, Belmont 2029, Newton in 2030, and Waltham in 2032.

The Town also faces a liability in other post employment benefits, or OPEB. Driscoll said his budget projections include $87.1 million to be spent over the next 10 fiscal years to pay down the liability.

Public Works Additions

The FY2020 budget includes increases for the Department of Public Works to meet two goals set out by the Town Council.

An additional $106,000 has been given to the DPW to care for the existing “urban forest,” and seek potential locations for street trees.

Also, in an effort to fund repairs of longer streets in town, the Council requested additional money be spent on street and sidewalk repairs. In FY2020, the town will borrow $7.3 million to spend on these projects, and from FY2020 to 2023 the plan is to borrow $23.9 million. In comparison, from FY2013 to 20017 the town borrowed $13.1 million for such repairs.

The budget will be discussed in depth by each department head at four upcoming meetings. Town Council President Mark Sideris said three meetings have been confirmed: Monday, May 13 at 6 p.m.; Saturday, May 19 at 9 a.m.; and Tuesday, May 28 after the Town Council meeting. Another meeting is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, May 21 at 6 p.m.

The final vote on the budget is scheduled to take place on June 4, 2019 at 6 p.m.

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