By Mike Molloy
On Wednesday evening, the Board of Aldermen began hearing from city departments concerning Mayor Curtatone’s proposed FY14 budget.
They responded well to Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi’s initiatives and goals, which focus on language arts, math and science, and innovations to improve student performance. Although the proposed school budget has a 6.9% increase, Superintendent Pierantozzi stresses those funds will go primarily to student services rather than administrative costs.
Some things the increased budget allows for are an expanded pre-k Smile program in which waitlisting will no longer be an issue, a new expansion of foreign language education to 7th and 8th grade, new music and arts initiatives, a new, state of the art special education facility at the high school, continuation of the MassGrad initiative, and the opening of the East Somerville Community School.
“When we received this budget from the mayor last night and we saw that the emphasis was on education, I think it was a unanimous agreement around this horseshoe that this is a good direction to go in for the city,” Maryann Heuston, Ward 2 Alderman and Finance Committee Chair, told the Superintendent after his presentation.
In addition to schools, aldermen heard from Anna Doherty, Project Director of the more recently developed Somerville Promise Alliance (SomerPromise), who spoke of the program’s continued FY14 goals in education and family-school connection, with no increase to their budget. Despite no fiscal change, aldermen asked questions in order to obtain a better understanding of the program which is still in its infancy.
Library Director Maria Carpenter enthusiastically spoke of the thriving program’s continued goals to better facilities, promote literacy and reading, and improve technology, while Recreation Superintendent Jim Halloran presented a new football program costing $140,000, an all-inclusive alternative to Pop Warner for grades 1-8.
Aldermen also heard from the various Finance Department divisions including Auditing, Accessing, Grants Management, Purchasing, and the City Treasurer, the latter budgeting $25,000 for a new part-time advertising position that will, ideally, improve revenue.
On Thursday evening the Board heard from Omar Boukili, Aide to the Mayor, who spoke on behalf of the Executive Administration’s budget. The only significant difference from last year’s budget is an expansion of the summer youth program, which will add an additional 46 youth positions. The funding for these positions, approximately $50,000, went toward a special dispatch study in FY13.
Aldermen also heard from Betsy Allen, Commission Director of the newly created Office of Accessibility, who stressed the shortage of resources for Somerville’s disabled residents and the Mayor’s commitment to fixing that. She spoke of a “moral imperative” which Aldermen appreciated.
Next, the Board heard from SomerStat Director Daniel Hadley, who outlined its continued goals to save the city money and improve satisfaction of residents and city employees. Its budget includes $15,000 to partially fund a new CPA manager position, the rest of the money coming from the CPA fund.
Communications Director Denise Taylor spoke of the ResiStat program’s recent transference to her department from SomerStat. She discussed ResiStat’s place in the communications department, one that through social media tries “to serve everyone in an environment where it’s hard to hold attention.” Taylor also introduced three new positions: half-time, bilingual “Language Liaisons” who “will carry out ResiStat programs tailored to their language communities as well as citywide communications and service support for other departments and programs in the stated language.” Each position pays $25,000.
Aldermen also heard Constituent Services Director Steve Craig, who looks forward to improved department performance through upgrading technology and bettering customer service and operations training for 311 callers, making for a higher quality program.
Highlights from Monday evening’s meeting include a Department of Public Works request for $25,000 for new public safety equipment, the Highway division’s request for two new sidewalk sweepers, and Water and Sewer’s request for $250,000 to lease a building to accommodate a significant need for more space.
City Engineer Robert King also presented his division’s interest in budgeting for advanced GIS (Geographical Informational System) software, a significant investment that would ultimately save the city money in man-hours. A new GIS Analyst position has also been budgeted.
Recently hired Superintendent of Inspectional Services Goran Smiljic also talked about his division’s plan to implement advanced software in order to streamline services. Included in this budget are positions for two new Junior Clerks and a Code Enforcement Inspector who will address public sanitation issues, specifically the growing rodent problem, which Smiljic considers a priority.
Planning & Zoning seeks an increase of $165,000 to expand “Somerville by Design” in locations throughout the city, while Housing funding includes a previously grant-funded position now to be budgeted, the Housing Program Specialist for the Energy Efficiency Program.
Economic Development asks for $50,000 for marketing materials and services throughout the city, specifically in Union Square. Transportation & Infrastructure seeks an increase of $173,000 to fund the Hubway bicycle system. Director Hayes Morrison spoke of the division’s goals to grow the system and make it more cost efficient.
Overall, the FY14 budget of 195.6 million has a 5.7% increase over FY13. The increase occasionally drew concern from aldermen throughout the hearings. During a finance hearing, Ward 4 Aldermen Tony LaFuente said, “There are things we should be looking at and being a bit more fiscally responsible on.” Chairperson Maryann Heuston of Ward 2 stressed throughout the hearings that the Board of Alderman has the ability to suggest cuts at the final budget vote on June 20.