The Fiscal Year 2024 budget approved by the City Council Tuesday night includes an additional $3.6 million to cover the amount owed to a police officer who won a sexual discrimination suit by the City.
Watertown’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget includes several new positions in the Planning Department, Health Department and to create a new Constituent Services program. It also includes funds for the Watertown High School project, and to make the City’s buildings and vehicles more energy efficient.
The total FY 2024 operating budget will be $194,013,029 after the Council approved an amendment to put an additional $3,699,029 into the budget, moving it from the Free Cash fund into the Settlement Account, said City Manager George Proakis.
In November 2022, a Middlesex Superior Court jury sided with Kathleen Donohue, the first female detective in the WPD, in her civil suit against the Watertown Police Department. The City filed post-verdict motions, on which the judge ruled in May. In total the City owes $4.6 million in damages, back and future pay, and attorney fees and costs.
Part of the costs will be covered by the City’s insurance, Proakis said, with the remainder coming from the Settlement Account.
“We believe the number that would allow us to move forward from this position is $3.6 million,” Proakis said. “I’m not going to use this budget meeting as a moment to dwell on the merits of the case, the situations that occurred. We will have moments to do that as we discuss the future of our departments and our City. What I want to focus on today is making sure in the effort to close this page in the City’s history.”
While there are multiple ways the money could have been approved by the Council and distributed by the City, Proakis said he believes the most efficient way to meet the schedule of payments is to put the entire amount in the Settlement Account. The first payments will begin in July.
The City still has an opportunity to appeal the ruling, which Proakis commented on during Tuesday’s meeting.
“We are in a window of time where the City could file an appeal, but reviewing our options the conclusion we have come to — and we are still in the final nuts and bolts of getting documents signed — but we do hope to reach a point where we can resolve this and move forward,” Proakis said.
Proakis also noted that attorneys for both sides have other items to work out, most notably Donohue’s employment situation.
“There are some nuts and bolts details attached to this. One of the details related to the fact that Detective Donohue is still an employee of the City and our expectation is, since we are paying back and future pay in this judgment, that we would amicably reach a point where we would move forward from that and our attorneys and theirs have been having a healthy conversations about that,” he said.
The Fiscal Year 2024 budget includes a focus on economic development, including the addition of a Senior Planner for Economic Development to work on improvements to Watertown Square, and a Senior Planner for Open Space to work on multiple planned park and field projects. They will be part of the Community Development and Planning Department.
Money has also been set aside for a study of how to revitalize Watertown Square, and to look at redesigning the intersection in the Square. Additional funds will be set aside to implement zoning changes to meet the goals of the Comprehensive Plan update, which will soon be coming to the Council.
The new economic development positions, as well as the Watertown Square study funds were endorsed by both the Watertown Business Coalition and the Charles River Regional Chamber.
The Health Department will hire a new inspector focused on rodent control as part of an effort for a citywide rodent control plan.
A new initiative will be the creation of a one-stop resident services program, known as 311. The FY24 budget includes funds for a Constituent Services Director, as well as a Constituent Services Representative to run the new 311 system. The City will also hire a Communications Engagement Specialist.
When Proakis presented the budget in May, he committed to building the new Watertown High School. Even with the construction costs coming in millions over the original estimates due to inflation and the rising cost of supplies, Proakis vowed not to make any changes that would negatively impact students’ education, and said the school would be a net zero energy school where the school produces as much energy as it uses.
See the budget documents by clicking here.
First Budget, Last Budget
City Council President Mark Sideris thanked Proakis and his staff. He also said that the budget captured Proakis’ vision for the City.
“I will say that though there are a lot of new things going on here, I think that the Manager is trying to get the City where he thinks we need to be at this stage in time,” Sideris said. “It is costly, it is something that we should be looking at closely in coming years. The manager has done a wonderful job putting together his first budget.”
Proakis also got a hand from a recently retired employee who stuck around for the FY24 budget.
“I want to take an extra minute to thank Tom Tracy who retired, but who had a hand in putting this budget together,” Proakis said. “The effort he has put in for someone who has been retired for a while has really been appreciated by the City Council and I’m sure the City Manager and other people involved in the budget.”
The new City Auditor, Megan Langan, started work on Monday, and was sworn in by City Clerk Janet Murphy on Wednesday.