(This story was updated on June 15 at 9:06 am and corrected the number of ALS ambulances funded in the FY21 budget.)
No layoffs — that was the first highlight given by Town Manager Michael Driscoll when he presented the Fiscal Year 2021 budget on Tuesday night. This comes despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — projected to cause a drop of more than $4 million in revenues for the Town government.
The total budget would be $152.44 million, which is $2.5 million (1.69 percent) more than the FY2020 revised budget. The increase from FY2019 to 2020 was $5 million. The Town will not need a Prop. 2-1/2 override to fund the proposed budget.
Town Council Mark Sideris said that he thinks Watertown is in better position than other nearby communities.
“The goal with this upcoming budget is laudable, where we are not laying off any school employees and not laying off any town employees,” Sideris said. “I think that is important given that other cities and towns around us have already sent out layoff notices. Hopefully out local aid and things from that level don’t get any worse.”
The budget also includes funding for the construction and renovation of Watertown’s three elementary schools, paying down the Town’s retirement benefit shortfall and to implement an informational technology (IT) and website improvement plan.
The Town’s budget includes the School budget approved by the School Committee on June 1. The amount in the approved budget, $51.93 million, including a 2.9 percent increase, was a reduction from the initial increase of 5 percent projected in the fall. The budget will maintain the current staffing at the Watertown Public Schools.
Funding was approved for the Fire Department to fully man one Advanced Life Saving (ALS) ambulances by increasing minimum staffing per shift from 17 to 19, create a new lieutenant position and create an assistant fire chief. This will be done with the same number of firefighters, 87.
The Watertown Free Public Library got approval to hire a part-time local history librarian, but did not get approval for two requests: a community outreach librarian and money for additional electronic materials.
While Watertown will not be making any layoffs in the proposed budget, some positions recommended to be added have not been funded, including someone to manage communication and engagement with the public.
“Given the impact of COVID-19 on the Commonwealth and Town budgets, funding of this guideline along with many of the Town Council’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget guidelines have not been included in the budget,” Dricoll said.
Other positions and programs not included in the budget include, an additional planner and public art planning for the Department of Community Development and Planning.
Two positions will be added to the general government budget in the Information Technology Department to help implement the IT and web improvements.
When making the first budget, Watertown officials projected State aid was to be the same as FY2020, which is $13.2 million. In the budget submitted Tuesday, that amount would be down $2.64 million, Driscoll said. The town is also projected to lose $1.36 million in local receipts, Driscoll said, due the economic impact on COVID-19. The Town will be using an additional $1.25 in Free Cash in the budget.
The Town qualifies for $3.17 million in Federal CARES Act funds, Driscoll said, but the money has a number of limitations, including that it cannot be used to make up for lost revenue or supplant state or local spending. Driscoll said he has in touch with State Sen. Will Brownsberger and State Reps. John Lawn and Jonathan Hecht about having them advocate to the state’s federal delegation to change the rules on how the CARES act funds can be used by towns.
“The $3.1 million would be helpful for the Town of Watertown, but it is not avail to make up lost revenue,” Driscoll said.
Local real estate and personal property taxes will raise $122.2 million of the revenues, and will account for about 80 percent of the Town’s revenues in FY2021, compared to 77 percent in the budget projection made in April 2019
“You’ll see there is more reliance on the real estate and personal property taxes given the state aid and local receipts going down,” Driscoll said.
He noted that Watertown’s average tax bill is less than those in Arlington, Newton and Belmont, but more than those in Cambridge, Boston and Waltham.