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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Final Budget Deliberations Don't Live Up to the Hype...

Mayor Joe Curtatone addresses the Aldermen on the FY2015
budget deliberations held on June 23rd.
After weeks of rumors and one high-tension public hearing on Thursday June 19th, the Somerville budget deliberations ended on Monday night with very little controversy and with only cuts to departments-mostly for unfilled positions. The Finance Committee meeting for Tuesday June 24th was subsequently cancelled.

Somerville Rallies for Recreation (1:18:36 Timestamp)

On the minds of most attendees at the June 19th public hearing, was the threat of cutting the Recreation Department from the City's budget. A previous meeting, held on June 18th, kept the department before the Board of Aldermen for over two hours. The power of the people, however, seem to have swayed votes and even prompted Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang to issue a public statement via his Facebook page that he was changing his stance on the issue. He wrote on June 20th, "I’ve decided not to support any cuts to the proposed $800,000 FY2015 Recreation Department budget. I came to this decision after listening to a dozen passionate speeches at the public hearing last night, reading scores of emails, talking with Somerville youth sports leaders, & sharing my own concerns with them. The Recreation budget was approved with no discussion during Monday June 23rd's budget deliberations.

The Recreation Department wasn't the only topic of concern for public hearing speakers. The City's Communications Department was also the recipient of big compliments as one speaker, who purchased her Somerville home in 1978 and is a small business owner/artist, pointed out that family members were impressed as to how informed she was courtesy of the City of Somerville. Yes, I also spoke and you can see my full statement at the 1:26:14 Timestamp.

Budget Cuts...but, not for former Ward 1 Alderman

Among the many rumors that were swirling around this year's budget talks, was the most prominent that former aldermen hired by the City would be on the chopping block. This was only the case for former Ward 1 Alderman Maureen Bastardi whose part-time position as an Outreach Coordinator for the Council on Aging was proposed to be cut by Ward 4 Alderman Tony LaFuente (Timestamp 0:14:17). Beginning with, "I would actually propose to cut a position on the Outreach Coordinator," He would go on to explain that he was not really convinced based on the quality of the job description he was given.

First to speak was Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston who reminded LaFuente that, although he can cut the money, a department head can "deem the position vital" and that "the deck can be shuffled differently," meaning that Bastardi may have been able to keep her job while the services offered by the Council on Aging would have to be done with over $30,000 less to work with. She also mentioned that she received unsolicited compliments by Fire Fighters who were appreciative of the work being done by the Outreach Coordinator that included providing Somerville seniors with free smoke detectors.

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang admitted he was also looking to cut the position, but changed his mind after listening to sources who said that the work was going very well.

Aldermen at Large Mary Jo Rossetti, Bill White, Dennis Sullivan and Jack Connolly would all advocate for the keeping of the position with Alderman Sullivan even expressing his desire to see the job become full-time in the future, specifically citing how the Council on Aging was actively reaching out to the LGBT Community through new programming.

Ward 3 Alderman Bob McWatters also supported the position, as well as, his opposition to seeing any money cut from the Council on Aging.

After confusion in what they were voting for, a clarification was made and Alderman Tony Lafuente's motion to cut the position failed.

No other former aldermen were targeted and the budget, aside from a few departments being tabled and discussed later in the evening, would move along with only cuts being made due to unfilled positions.

Resolutions Made by Alderman for Consideration by the Administration (my apologies if I missed any)

Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston

  • Health Department be renamed to Health & Human Services
  • Recreation Department be renamed Parks & Recreation
  • Administration add half-time Social Work to Health & Human Services
  • Add full-time incident command technician position to Fire Department
    • Fill within the department and back-fill as necessary

Alderman At Large Mary Jo Rossetti

  • Recreation Department be renamed Parks & Recreation (Co-Sponsor)
  • Youth Services Committee be included in appointing of new Recreation Commissioner
  • Formation of Municipal Athletic Fields Commission
  • Formation of  Committee to report on safety of Assembly Square
    • Fire and Police
  • Investigate ways to reduce postage budget in FY2015

Ward 1 Alderman Matt McLaughlin

  • Add two new Youth Coordinator positions to Recreation Department, one being female (Co-Sponsored by all members of Board of Aldermen)
  • Youth Arts Coordinator work with Recreation Department
  • SomerViva part-time positions be made full-time (Co-sponsored by all members of the Board of Aldermen)

Ward 3 Alderman Bob McWatters

  • Hire 2 electrical inspectors
  • Hire 1 plumbing/gas inspector
  • Hire another garage mechanic for DPW

Alderman At Large Jack Connolly

  • Implement free WiFi
  • Report on Veterans Benefits Services on a quarterly basis
  • MBTA increase bicycle storage capabilities at Davis and Sullivan Stations.

Points of Interest

The Collins Center has been reviewing the Boards of Commissions of the City and a report will be presented to the Board of Aldermen at the end of summer, early Fall as some of them are dated in the Code of Ordinances. This was announced by Mayor Joe Curtatone.

A request by Alderman At Large Dennis Sullivan to increase the COLA base from $12,000 to $13,000 was tabled to give the City Solicitor an opportunity to research the legality of the vote as Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz pointed out that the Board is prohibited to direct the City's Pension Department on any matter. She, specifically, cited the Department's recommendation that the Board not comment on the recent request to divest out of fossil fuels as members of the BOA are financially impacted by such a decision.

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