Multiple Town Councilors were disappointed to see that their top budget priority, hiring a Deputy Town Manager responsible for managing communication with the public and enhancing public engagement.
On Monday, June 29 at 6 p.m., the Town Council will hold a public hearing and vote on the entire Fiscal Year 2021 Town Budget. See below for more information about how to watch and participate.
On June 24, the Town Council had the opportunity to ask questions about the budget presented by Town Manager Michael Driscoll on June 8.
Town Manager Michael Driscoll said on June 24 that the Deputy Town Manager position was not funded due to the loss of nearly $4 million in revenue due to the COVID-19 outbreak (mostly in State Aid and lost local meal, hotel and motor vehicle excise taxes).
Rather than hiring someone to serve as a public communication and engagement manger, Driscoll said, for now, some of those tasks will fall under another new position, the website and social media leader. That position is being added to the Information Technology (IT) Department to meet one of the recommendations of the recently completed study of IT needs, Driscoll said.
“Have I drawn up a map how we’re are going to do it, no,” Driscoll said. “What we are trying to do is to maximize the resources. Some of the tasks we have social media leader helping with is communication.”
Councilor Tony Palomba said he was “very disappointed” to see that the Deputy Town Manager position was not included in the budget.
“The Committee on Media and Public Outreach did an enormous amount work toward increasing communication with the public, increasing engagement,” Palomba said. “I’ve been on Council for a while, and you don’t often see the (Council’s) number one guideline not being funded.”
He added that he did not think that the person doing social media for the Information Technology (IT) Department would do the same work as a deputy town manager in charge of public communication and engagement.
Councilor Lisa Feltner said she thought having someone focusing on communicating with the public would have been useful during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“What we needed more than ever was someone specializing in communication,” Feltner said. “Yes, a lot of us [Councilors] were trying to communicate things to residents, but residents were still not hearing all the information that they were needing to hear from us. There was a lot of confusion and a lot of misconceptions, especially at the beginning.”
Councilor Ken Woodland said that he had not supported the budget priority when the Council discussed the budget guidelines because it did not come through the normal channels. Most budget priority guidelines are the result of a request approved by the Council, which is then studied by a subcommittee, and then a specific request is written up for the Town Manager and his staff to follow, Woodland said.
“There is nothing on the books from the Council saying that we endorse it,” Woodland said. “How it became a budget priority guideline, I am not sure how. Then got ranked the highest.”
Councilor Caroline Bays said that the Council’s Committee on Media and Public Outreach held public meetings and surveyed residents and groups about how the Town could improve communication and engagement with residents.
“It did not come from Town Councilors alone. This budget priority came from the people of Watertown,” said Bays, who added that she thought the Town could find the $140,000 for the Deputy Town Manager position somewhere in the $152 million budget.
Councilor Angeline Kounelis commended Driscoll for his fiscal prudence during a tough budget year. She added that when a new position is created, the person who is hired not only gets the salary for the time worked in Watertown but also earns a pension and other benefits that continue after retirement.
“We need to make do with what we have and work prudently when we hire people into the community,” Kounelis said. “Staff will be here for the remainder of their lives in some way or another.”
Driscoll said if more revenues come in the Deputy Town Manager position is one item that will be considered for funding. He noted there were other things that were not funded, too.
The Council will hold a public hearing and vote on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget on Monday, June 29 at 6 p.m. Here is information about how to watch and participate:
The meeting will be televised through WCATV (Watertown Cable Access
Television): https://wcatv.org/government-channel/ (Comcast Channel 99 and RCN Channel 13)
The public may join the virtual meeting online: https://watertown-ma.zoom.us/j/92991331344#success
The public may join the virtual meeting audio only by phone: (877) 853-5257 or (888) 475-4499 (Toll Free) and enter Webinar ID: 929 9133 1344 #
Members of the public may also comment through email: firstname.lastname@example.org