City Manager George Proakis told the City Council that he believes that a key to getting the best bang for the buck in the City Budget is providing competitive salaries and benefits to employees. He also discussed some new initiatives planned to start in Fiscal Year 2024, including studies on Watertown Square, rodent control, and making the City’s buildings and vehicles more efficient.
The vast majority of Watertown’s budget comes from local real estate and personal property taxes. The City is forecast to collect $152 million in property taxes, which makes up about 80 percent of the $190 million Fiscal Year 2024 Budget.
The City budget includes $15.9 million in State Aid, up $1.5 million from FY23. Proakis based the number on the House Ways and Means budget proposal. The Governor’s budget has a slightly higher amount, but to be prudent City officials used the lower figure when making the budget.
The City will receive $534,000 more in rents after purchasing the former Parker School. The building will house some of the City’s departments, but it also has multiple tenants. Investment income has been budgeted $325,000 higher than last year.
Proakis said he wants to implement the recommendations of studies completed or started by the City in the current fiscal year. One he pointed to is the study of compensation and classification for municipal employees.
“I am most focused on making sure we have a competitive wage and benefit package. … That is key to making sure we can continue to recruit and retain the best staff,” he said. “There are still some circumstances where we are having challenges doing that, so we are focused on getting that done.”
To provide the services the community expects from the City, Proakis said some new positions have been created. There will be a focus on communication with the addition of a Communication Engagement Specialist. Also, a Constituent Services Director and Constituent Services Representative will be added to run the new 311 system, a one-stop place for people get get assistance and answer questions about municipal government.
“A combination of those things will help ensure we have a communications and a constituent service system that works,” Proakis said.
The budget includes funding in the Department of Public Works and the Health Department to implement a rodent control plan. A health officer focused on rodent control will be created in the FY24 budget.
The Comprehensive Plan update, which will be voted on by the City Council later this year, calls for improvements to Watertown Square to make the area more vibrant, and to support small businesses in town.
Two new positions will be added to the Planning Department to work on putting the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan into action. A Senior Planner for Economic Development to work on improvements to Watertown Square, and a Senior Planner for Open Space to work on the many park and field projects in the City. The budget also includes a heavy equipment operator for the Department of Public Works Parks Division to help with the Parks projects.
The Comprehensive Plan also calls for changes to Watertown’s zoning rules. The budget includes $50,000 for a zoning review to align the zoning with the plan, Proakis said.
Proakis proposed two new studies focused on making the City more energy efficient.
One will look at the heating and cooling of City Hall, the Watertown Library and the Parker Office Building. It will look at ways to move toward making the buildings net zero energy, so the buildings produce as much energy as is needed to run them.
The second study would look at electrifying the City’s fleet of vehicles, and creating vehicle charging stations.
See Watertown’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget proposal by clicking here.