Budget Season this month has featured a lot of long nights for the Finance Committee, as well as our city's Finance Department and our clerks, as we go about the hugely important task of determining the City's $308 million budget for the next fiscal year. We're into the home stretch this week, with one final night of departmental budget hearings on Tuesday night, Cut Night on Wednesday night, then the expected approval of the final FY 2023 budget at the regular meeting of the City Council on Thursday night.
In recent years, a huge amount of attention has been focused on one department in particular: the Somerville Police Department. Our abolitionist community members want to decrease investments in policing and increase investments in other forms of public safety. Meanwhile non-abolitionist Somervillians are concerned that SPD's progressive reforms are being ignored and want to increase funding for the department, citing recent incidents of violence in the city.
I take the view that the proper number of patrol officers in SPD is the number required to handle the volume of work without requiring forced holdovers. These mandatory overtime shifts result in low morale, retention and recruitment issues, and potentially fatigued patrol officers on the job -- as well as high overtime expenses for the City. Without the forthcoming report from the SPD staffing and operations study and the consequential community engagement process to determine the path forward for our city. So it feels very much like we're stuck in a holding pattern in FY 2023 in terms of the SPD budget, and I'm looking at how to make the best of a suboptimal situation.
This past week we did the departmental budget hearing for the Police Department. There was near-unanimous agreement by councilors on cutting the funding for police body-worn cameras to allow time to figure out the implementation of good policies around body-worn cameras, as well as the need to update our surveillance ordinance in advance of implementation. I'll support a mid-year appropriation for body-worn cameras once I'm satisfied that we've put good policies in place, that oversight is being done properly, and that body-worn cameras will improve public safety in Somerville.
The other cut we made was to the six patrol officer positions funded for one month. You might recall these positions were conditional upon the police staffing and operations study in the FY 2022 budget and caused a stir when appointments were made early this year for three of these positions, despite the conditions not being met for that funding. Given that confusion, I felt the best way forward was to leave those out of the FY 2023 budget and do a mid-year appropriation if it turns out our police staffing and operations study and community process determine that we need to increase the number of patrol officers from the current 88.
I was disappointed that the council ended up deadlocked 5-5 on a resolution calling for an additional $200,000 in funding for our Community Outreach, Help and Recovery (COHR) program. I support the trauma-informed follow-up work that Director Contente and her colleagues in COHR are doing and would like to see them given more resources. I understand colleagues' concerns about the potential for a bait-and-switch, given that COHR is housed within the SPD budget. However, I'm inclined to give the Administration a chance to prove themselves as trustworthy here.
Finally, I was elated to see unanimous support for a resolution for $200,000 of additional funding for Health and Human Services to create an alternative emergency response program. This was one of the council's shared FY 2023 budget priorities from back in March, and I badly want to see us follow the lead of the other cities in the country successfully implementing this approach to public safety. I'm looking forward to meeting with our city's new HHS Director to talk about the pathway forward for alternative emergency response in Somerville.
I expect we'll see additional motions for cuts and resolutions for additional funding on Cut Night on Wednesday -- for SPD and other departments. I'm looking forward to see where we end up on the FY 2023 budget, as well as how the Administration reallocates the funds from those cuts and the degree to which they take into account the City Council's approved resolutions for additional funding.
Here are some other things happening in Somerville:
Big victory for Massachusetts workers
Tuesday brought fantastic news as our commonwealth's Supreme Judicial Court blocked a ballot measure sponsored by ride-share and delivery companies that sought to classify employees as independent contractors and limit these corporations' liability. This welcome development should allow us to focus our efforts on getting the Fair Share Amendment passed this November to end decades of austerity and resume investing in public education, our crumbling infrastructure, and vital public transit.
New Water & Sewer rates
This past week the Finance Committee voted to recommend for approval on Thursday night the proposed water and sewer rates for FY 2023. Unveiled at the information session and public hearing back on June 7, next year will see an 11% increase in water volumetric charges, a 12.5% increase in sewer volumetric charges, and no change to existing base charges for both water and sewer.
I admit I went into this presentation very skeptical of what seemed like unreasonably-large increases. However, the Water & Sewer presentation made clear the long-term cost of kicking the can down the road by not approving these rate increases now. The members of the Finance Committee did urge that everything possible be done to cushion the finance blow to low-income households in our city, as this sort of increase can be a major problem for those with low and fixed incomes.
Draft of bike network
The work to develop comprehensive, connected bike infrastructure in Somerville has produced a draft of a bicycle network map! Come to the virtual meeting on Thursday, June 23, at 6 PM via Zoom to see the fruits of that labor and provide your feedback. A bike route is only as strong as its weakest link, so developing a comprehensive bicycle network is key to encouraging mode shift to biking.
A conversation about community centers
There's a lot of talk these days about the need for a community center -- or two! -- in our city. As someone who has been calling for these for a while now, this is music to my ears. Somerville badly needs spaces like this for our residents of all ages to gather and to house indoor programming.
A community center can mean different things to different people, so that's why it's important to drill down into what exactly we want Somerville's community center(s) to be be. The Union Square Neighborhood Council and Somerville Community Corporation are sponsoring a virtual forum on Wednesday, June 22, at 7 PM via Zoom to hear from the community about what we want to see in a community center.
Apply for CPA Funds in FY 2023!
The application window is open for Community Preservation Act funds for next fiscal year. Having personally (successfully!) presented to the CPC for these funds in the past and seen the impact they have have firsthand, I'd urge anyone considering applying to do so. Application intent forms are due Friday, June 24, so the clock is ticking!
Summer Meals Program returns July 6
Once again this summer, Food and Nutrition Services Department's Summer Meals Program will be providing free breakfast and lunch to youth under age 19 in locations around the city.
This program runs on weekdays from July 6 to August 12. Breakfast and lunch menus will be available soon.
Raise funds for SNAP match this week
The Union Square Main Streets Good Food for All campaign supports the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly "food stamps") match for the Union Square Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. This year marks the fifth annual campaign, where from June 18 to 25 you can help raise funds for this cause by shopping at participating local businesses or donating directly.
Art unveiling in the Mystics
Mudflat Studio and the Mystic Learning Center have collaborated on the Amplify Your Voice Mural Project. Join me for the unveiling of a new bench at the SHA Community Garden on Wednesday, June 22, at 4:45 PM.
Thank you to everyone involved in what promises to be a popular and frequently-used fixture in the neighborhood!
Nepali festival on June 25
Somerville is home to a large and growing Nepali immigrant community. On Saturday, June 25, Nepal Fest will celebrate Nepali culture from 4 to 9 PM in Union Square. Presented by the Somerville Arts Council's ArtsUnion and the Greater Boston Nepali Community (GBNC), the event will feature food, craft vendors, dancing, and fun for the entire family!
More youth sports summer & fall options
Adding to last week's list of summer and fall sports activities for youth in Somerville, here are some more programs.
- Boston Vigor Summer Soccer Camps
- BUDA Youth Ultimate Summer Programs
- Coach Drew Tennis & Language Arts (weekly sessions starting 7/5 to 8/15)
- SHS Highlander Soccer Clinic (7/5 to 7/8)
- Parks & Rec Baseball/Softball Clinic (6/27 to 7/1)
- Parks & Rec Golf Clinic (7/18 to 7/22)
- Parks & Rec Lacrosse Clinics (8/22 to 8/26)
- Parks & Rec Lawn Games (Tuesdays 7/5 to 8/9)
- Parks & Rec Soccer Clinic (8/1 to 8/5)
- Parks & Rec Group Swimming Lessons (weekly sessions starting 6/27 to 8/8)
- Parks & Rec Track & Field Clinic (7/25 to 7/29)
- Parks & Rec Ultimate Frisbee Clinic (7/11 to 7/15)
- Parks & Rec Volleyball Clinic (8/22 to 8/26)
- Somerville Youth Soccer
- Little League of Somerville
- Somerville Youth Hockey Association
- Somerville Pop Warner
- BUDA Youth Ultimate
- Moe Fencing Club
- Parkour Generations
Did You Know...
The City of Somerville has partnered with AquaHawk for a free program that allows customers to view and track their water consumption and receive alerts when potential leaks and overwatering might be occurring.
Thank you to those who stopped by today's group office hours to talk about the FY 2023 budget. I continue to offer on-demand office hours to fit your schedule, or for those who prefer to meet separately. I really enjoy these, so please don't hesitate to claim a time in my Calendly to meet in person or virtually.
The Week Ahead
It's a short week due to the observance of the Juneteenth federal holiday on Monday, but we'll be looking to finish up our work on the FY 2023 budget:
- Tuesday, June 21: Departmental Hearings (Health & Human Services/Parks & Recreation)
- Wednesday, June 22: Cut Night
- Thursday, June 23: City Council regular meeting (budget approval & end-of-year transfers)
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