Today, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone will submit a $195.6 million budget for fiscal year 2014 that makes a down payment on the City of Somerville’s future by investing in expanded education, inspectional services that protect quality of life, and preventive maintenance that cares for investments already made by the City’s taxpayers, as well as new multi-lingual outreach efforts and expanded Veterans Services.
The budget proposal submitted to the Board of Aldermen reflects a 5.7 percent increase over the fiscal 2013 budget, and also demonstrates the importance of “budgeting today with an eye on tomorrow” through investments in the next generation, long-term efficiencies, and strategic planning that will build the commercial tax base. Each and every investment proactively targets the City’s orienting values: to make Somerville an exceptional place to live, work, play, and raise a family.
Education is a cornerstone of the proposed budget. Mayor Curtatone advocates for Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi’s recommended Somerville Public Schools budget that begins phasing in universal preschool and represents the City’s highest ever investment in education with a 6.95 percent increase in funding over fiscal year 2013. That proposal also provides more students than ever before with opportunities to have hands-on experiences with cutting-edge science and technology, learn a foreign language, take music classes and participate in intramural sports.
“This investment in our children’s education is a declaration of Somerville’s values: that all students get a robust and well-founded education, ensuring every student achieves his or her greatest potential and is equipped with the tools to compete in a 21st century global economy,” Mayor Curtatone said. “It all starts with education. Every aspect of the community, from our local economy to our crime rate, stems from how highly we value education. It’s one of the pillars–the first pillar–of our comprehensive plans to continue making Somerville an exceptional place to live, work, play, and raise family. The solid foundation is laid. Now we build.”
In other new appropriations are investments for strategic long-term development through funding for the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development. These investments include funding for the neighborhood planning process Somerville by Design, Green Line corridor planning, Union Square, Brickbottom and InnerBelt planning, and the closure of the Waste Transfer station on June 30. These investments will be offset in future years as areas such as Union Square, Inner Belt, and Brickbottom evolve into regional employment centers with new offices, housing, and businesses that expand the City’s tax base. The closing of the Waste Transfer facility marks the spread of these new opportunities to the McGrath corridor.
“No more ash and pollution spewed into surrounding neighborhoods,” Mayor Curtatone said. “No more trash-fueled rodent problem. No more neglect. I have stridently advocated healing that neighborhood’s scar—McGrath Highway’s McCarthy Overpass—and the state has agreed to bring down that relic of the 1950s. Now the City will continue do its part to remove the barriers to redevelopment in Brickbottom and unlock the economic potential that will be fully realized with the Green Line extension by the end of this decade.”
The good news in the budget from Assembly Row shows this model is working. Tax revenues from the $25 million Assembly Square District Improvement Financing (DIF) bond outperformed, yielding $1 million in new tax property tax revenue in FY13 (a net of $500,000 after debt service). Overall, at least $2 million in new growth revenue in this budget comes directly from Assembly Row, including $900,000 in new building permit fees, and the City has seen $3.1 million in new growth overall as residents and businesses invest in their own properties as well.
“We have aggressively invested in our city and are seeing a return on that investment, as seen in the revenues gained from progress at Assembly Row,” Mayor Curtatone said. “This budget proposal emulates our previous success through infusing targeted areas with additional funding now that will pay dividends in the coming years. It will unlock economic opportunities, broaden our tax base and solidify Somerville’s already strong foundation. We will not bow to timidity, to sitting back and letting forces around us dictate our future. We will own our city’s future by proactively building upon the achievements we have already made.”
Mayor Curtatone’s budget recommendation also emphasizes that Somerville must protect the investments already made on the behalf of taxpayers. The mayor’s proposal would add to the Inspectional Services Division an additional inspector, two clerks, and a new permitting process. This would protect the quality of life in neighborhoods, addressing issues in a timely and efficient manner, while also improving on the City’s nationally recognized customer service and making it easier for residents to improve upon their biggest investment: their home.
The budget would also fund a preventive preventative maintenance manager and a fleet manager for the Department of Public Works. These positions would shield taxpayers from incurring steep costs caused by deferred maintenance or for new equipment purchased too soon. It will ensure that roads, sidewalks, City vehicles and equipment and the City’s 2.9 million square feet of municipal buildings are maintained at the highest standards early in their life cycle to prevent larger repair costs later.
Beyond protecting financial investments, Somerville is also protecting one of the city’s most valuable assets: its veterans. Thanks to the tireless outreach of SomervilleVeterans Services Officer Jay Weaver, more veterans than ever before are seeking services, especially younger veterans who have served in recent conflicts. The City will increase funding for Veterans Services, which are reimbursed by the state for 75 percent of the cost of benefits paid out to its veterans.
Addressing the City’s commitment to engage and serve every resident, additional Language Liaison outreach positions in the Communications Department will be added. Liaisons who are native speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole will reach underserved immigrant populations throughout Somerville that are a vital part of the City’s schools, neighborhoods and local business community.
While continuing to invest, the City of Somerville has also acted diligently to rein in costs, such as moving all City employees’ health insurance to the state Group Insurance Commission, which has allowed the City to avoid $19.7 million in insurance costs in FY13 and FY14 combined, based on a conservative estimate of 6 percent increases. After joining the GIC in January 2012, this year’s budget has a health insurance increase of only 3.5 percent, and Somerville will benefit in future years from controlled health insurance increases.
The City of Somerville’s aggressive approach to investment balanced with prudent fiscal practices has been recognized by rating agencies. On May 30, Moody’s reaffirmed the City’s long-term rating of Aa2—the highest rating Somerville has ever received—based upon theCity’s sound fiscal management.
Somerville’s economic vitality is not only seen on the rating sheet, but in business tax revenues. Local meals excise tax revenues are up 10.2 percent and local room excise tax revenues are up 12.3 percent, as the City’s already vibrant business community continues to flourish.
See the Mayors FY14 Somerville Budget Overview here
See the City of Somerville FY2014 Municipal Budget here