Town Council Sets Budget Priorities for Fiscal 2021

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Charlie Breitrose

A lot of money was raised and spent on the 2015 Watertown Election.

A lot of money was raised and spent on the 2015 Watertown Election.

The Town Council’s list of priorities for next year’s budget includes funding the school building projects, funding streets and sidewalks. Also, two new ones were added: funding a climate & energy master plan and hiring a consultant to help with the review of the Town Charter.

The list of 15 priorities was approved by the Town Council at the Nov. 26 Council meeting. The list was created by the Budget & Fiscal Oversight subcommittee over three meetings in November. During these meetings, budget priorities from the current fiscal year, 2020, were considered along with requests for new budget priorities.

The list will be used by Town Manager Michael Driscoll when he creates the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, said Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli, who chairs the Budget & Fiscal Oversight subcommittee.

Piccirilli noted the process of the Council creating budget priorities does not take place in a government with the mayor as the chief executive.

“In this form of government, with a town manager instead of an elected mayor … it is the consensus of nine of us (councilors) collected and sent to the manager,” he said.

The Priorities

Among the priorities that carry over from last year are: moving forward with improvement of parking meter technologies, supporting the school building projects (both at the three elementary schools and the high school), give the schools a five percent budget increase, add to and maintain Watertown’s street shade trees, and create a shuttle in town.

Two new priorities have been added. One would fund the development of the Watertown Climate and Energy Master Plan, and the second would hire a consultant to assist with the Town Charter Review.

Some of the Councilor’s requests did not make the list. Some include funding a pilot organic waste composting program, creating a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, implement a Town-wide Bicycle and
Pedestrian Plan, and enhance the capabilities of the Senior Center.

Many did not make the list because they are included in, or are similar to other guidelines. Piccirilli said there are several reason why for a request not to be included in the guidelines submitted to the Town Manager:

a) requires policy direction from the Council before the Manager can include it in the operating budget; b) is substantially complete; c) is too ambiguous to be included in the operating budget; d) is part of the Capital Improvement Program and not the operating budget; e) is within the authority of another body who has not weighed in it; f) overlaps with other existing goals or requests.

See the complete list of budget priorities below.

The entire Budget & Fiscal Oversight Committee’s report can be seen by clicking here.

Making the List

Councilors Ken Woodland and Angeline Kounelis, who sit on the Budget subcommittee, applauded Piccirilli for for his work gathering and boiling down the budget priority requests into a usable document. Woodland noted that the document is the product of about six hours of meetings.

Piccirilli told Councilors at the subcommittee’s task is not to decide whether each request is a good idea or not; rather to synthesize the input from the nine Councilors into a concise, actionable document for the Manager.

Other councilors had questions and concerns about the process.

District B Councilor Lisa Feltner said that while the priorities are supposed to be from the whole council, the three members of the Budget subcommittee decide what makes the list. She is also frustrated by the requirement that issues be considered and weighed in on by subcommittees or other town boards before they can be included.

“It is also a chance to offer any new policy direction for budget guidelines, but it is difficult with the time fo year, because some referrals (to subcommittee) have not been finished,” Feltner said. “Are we cutting out 6 months of second year of the term in order to get all the business out of committee and voted by the Budget Committee, to give them adequate time?”

Councilor Tony Palomba said, as in past years, he is frustrated about what makes the list and what does not.

“I recognize there is a significant amount of conversation before the committee dispatches them,” Palomba said. “I would like to see the committee give the criteria to determine what gets synthesized and what gets put out. I’d like to see that put next to the items.”

Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Priorities

(The items are listed in the order of priority from Fiscal Year 2020, with the new ones listed in order of the item being submitted to the Budget Committee, Piccirilli said.)

Cost Savings/Revenues

A. Continue to proceed with the guidelines of the Strategic Framework for Economic Development, with the long-term goal to promote a diversified and growing tax base.

B. Continue pursuing mitigation monies and/or other measures for larger scale projects.

C. Consider filing additional applications to all applicable federal and Commonwealth programs and grants, including, but not limited to, the Commonwealth’s Community Compact program, the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, the Green Communities program, the Housing Choice program and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant.

D. Actively seek Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreements with each non-profit organization owning or purchasing property in Watertown.

E. Upgrade the Town’s parking payment technology and adjust parking meter rates as outlined in the Watertown Parking Management Plan to offset costs.

Program Enhancements/Expenditures

A. Continue support for Building for the Future Initiative funding in collaboration with the School Building Committee, for the Three Elementary Schools project, and for the MSBA High School project with proposed debt exclusion funding in conjunction with outreach efforts to the community by the School Committee.

B. Update the five year plan and funding schedule for the integrated improvements of the Town’s streets and sidewalks, water-sewer-stormwater infrastructure, and underground utilities. The plan should show status of ongoing projects, identify future projects including those with no funding source, and include upgrade of all water meters, identify sources of stormwater and sewage outflow to the Charles River, and coordination with water-sewer-stormwater projects and underground utility projects.

C. Continue to work collaboratively with the Watertown Public Schools to develop a comprehensive multi-year educational budget that assures sustainable funding for our schools and the successful education of our children. Seek to accommodate the Manager’s forecast 5% school operating budget increase for FY21, subject to preparation of budget requests by the School Committee, and subject to the validation of revenue and expenditure assumptions in the October 8, 2019 Preliminary Budget Overview. Conduct further review to examine the sustainability of 5% increases in FY22 and beyond.

D. Continue to enhance the capabilities of the Department of Public Works Forestry Department by adding resources and/or redeploying additional resources for improving Watertown’s public shade trees and increasing the Town’s overall tree canopy by: (1) Developing a robust data collection process for public shade trees in Watertown, and (2) Analyzing the data to determine an action plan and to seek collaboration and partnership opportunities with community groups such as Trees for Watertown.

E. Continue to work with the Watertown Transportation Management Association to identify sustainable sources of funding, including tax revenue if needed, for the pilot shuttle bus program.

F. Based on final Town Council policy direction, develop a budgetary plan to meet the identified need for DPW staging space.

G. Consider the recommendations of the Town-wide Information Technology Assessment to review the acquisition, distribution, and management of IT resources, including staffing levels and positions required to support the Town’s IT environment, improve the functionality of the Town’s website, and improve communications with residents.

H. Improve the operational efficiency, flexibility, and capacity of the Public Works Department to meet the Town’s growing needs to manage contractors, respond to work order requests, oversee development projects, plan and implement infrastructure improvements, improve communications to residents about road construction, comply with the MassDEP 2030 Solid Waste Management Plan, and maintain complete streets infrastructure. Consider what technology platforms are needed to support the Department.

I. Based on final policy direction to be developed by the Town Council, and input from the Community Preservation Committee, develop a budgetary plan to meet the identified need for acquisition of land for open space and /or recreational use.

J. Enhance the capabilities of the Town Manager’s office with consideration given to creating a Deputy Town Manager position as previously recommended in the Division of Local Services’ Financial Management Review, with responsibilities to include managing communication content and enhancing public engagement, and other duties as assigned.

K. Enhance the capabilities of the Department of Community Development and Planning by adding resources and/or redeploying additional resources.

L. Finalize re-use of the former north branch library, and the former police station contingent upon discussion with the school department.

M. Implement the anticipated Public Art plan and identify funding sources.

N. Move forward with funding to develop the Watertown Climate and Energy Master Plan.

O. Identify funding to hire a consultant to assist with the Town Charter Review.

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