When the City Council approved the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, they also approved a reorganization of Watertown’s municipal government. Some changes impact who directly reports to the City Manager or the Deputy Manager. Other positions have been moved into new departments, and some departments have been split into divisions. One department with new divisions is Community Development and Planning, which will have Planning and Building Divisions and a third for community events and the Commander’s Mansion. The Planning Division includes a Current Planning Group and a Planning Director to oversee long-range planning.
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 Planning Board will discuss two citizens petitions to change Watertown’s zoning on Wednesday night, and the City Council will vote on the City budget on Tuesday night. Also, a City Council committee will discuss the role of the Election Commission, and the Library Trustees will meet about the screening committee for the Library Director search. A pair of citizens petitions will be discussed by the Planning Board. One calls for reducing the maximum Floor Area Ratio (the square footage allowed in relation to the size of the property) in the Central Business District. This area includes part of Watertown Square and an area along Main Street.
The following announcement was provided by the City of Watertown:
In accordance with the Watertown City Charter and the Council Rules, the Honorable City Council will meet, as the Committee of the Whole, for the purpose of holding public hearings on the City Manager’s Proposed Budget for the Fiscal Year 2024. The public hearings on the City Manager’s Proposed Budget for the Fiscal Year 2024 will be held as follows:
Tuesday, May 23, 2023 – 6 PM
City CouncilCity ManagerCity AuditorProcurementCity AssessorTreasurer / CollectorCity Attorney
Thursday, May 25, 2023 – 6 PM
Human ResourcesInformation TechnologyCity Clerk / ElectionsCommunity Development & PlanningConstituent ServicesParking Lots & MetersPublic BuildingsLibraryRecreation Departments Non-Department Appropriations, (Debt, Capital Projects, Etc.)
Tuesday, June 6, 2023 – 6 PM
Health and Human Services DepartmentsSchool DepartmentPublic Safety DepartmentsDepartment of Public Works Water & Sewer Enterprise Budgets
Department Heads will be available for questions at the above scheduled hearings. Under this schedule, it is anticipated that the Honorable City Council will take formal action on the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget at its regular meeting on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. The hearing will begin at approximately 8 PM. The Fiscal Year 2024 General Fund Budget, as proposed, totals $190,325,000.
Ai3 ArchitectsA rendering of the designs for the new Watertown High School viewed from Columbia Street. Soaring construction prices have pushed the cost of the new Watertown High School millions above the original estimate, but City Manager George Proakis committed to getting the school built without sacrificing the educational program or the net zero energy design. During his Fiscal Year 2024 Watertown budget presentation on May 9, Proakis gave the City Council an update on the WHS project, and some of the imperfect options for paying for the cost increase. When the Council approved the WHS project in June 2021, the price tag was $198 million. That figure includes building a temporary high school site at Moxley Field and making the school net zero (producing enough energy to cover the amount used by the building).
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. Revenues
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.
Watertown’s budget will be healthy enough to add several positions in Fiscal Year 2024, but City Manager George Proakis told the City Council Tuesday night to expect some challenging budgets in the years to follow. The FY24 budget, which will be approved by the Council in June and begins July 1, will be $190 million. This is 5.9 percent below the FY23 budget, but Proakis said if you take out the money used to purchase Walkers Pond and the former Parker School, it would be 6.99 percent higher than FY23. The stormy seas ahead are due to five converging forces, Proakis said, and they could impact the budgets from FY25-28. The first factor is the cost of construction, which comes at a time when Watertown is taking on the biggest in its history: a new high school which will cost more than $200 million.
The City Council gave City Manager George Proakis its priorities for the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which includes funds for a study of the future of Watertown Square, rodent control, and launching a 311 system. Each year, the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Oversight Committee meets in the fall to discuss the priorities for the next fiscal year’s budget. The results were presented on Nov. 22, and adopted by the full Council. Other items added include staffing to make sure the changes to the Comprehensive Plan are implemented, focusing on snow and ice removal as a possible residential requirement is considered, and implementation of recommendations coming out of plans and studies, including the Personnel Department assessment, the salary study, the Energy and Climate Plan, and the Health and Human Services Study.