Up until now, the only budget-related public hearing in Somerville has been the annual June public hearing on the Mayor's proposed budget that is required by ordinance. Last summer, the City Council included language into our proposed charter text requiring an annual public hearing on budget priorities in the winter ahead of the process of building the budget. Rather than waiting for charter reform, I decided to start doing this now. So there will be a public hearing on the community's budget priorities for the Fiscal Year 2025 budget on Tuesday, March 19, at 7 PM.

Technically a Committee of the Whole (all 11 councilors present) meeting of the Finance Committee, this meeting will be conducted via remote participation on Zoom. There will be Spanish and Portuguese interpretation services offered, with the option of testifying in the City Council Committee Room at City Hall (93 Highland Ave) for anyone who wishes to do so. (Note that City Councilors will be attending the meeting virtually, so unless any councilors opt to do so from City Hall, there won't be any councilors present in the Committee Room.)

Given the (extremely) strong mayor system that we have in Somerville and the City Council's inability to (re)allocate funds in a budget, there's really not much that can be done with the mayor's proposed budget in June. I liken it to a cake that's already baked, with frosting the cake being all that's remaining. Some have argued that it's just applying sprinkles at that point. Regardless, there's not really much input to be made at that stage, so public comments have tended to skew toward calls to reject the budget entirely. While I'd never take that option off the table, I think of that as a nuclear option for an utterly unacceptable proposed budget.

But if we're using the cake analogy, by holding a public hearing on the budget now before the cake is baked, we're at least giving folks the community the opportunity to comment on the ingredients, recipe, and baking techniques that will produce the cake. So I'm hopeful of a productive meeting with good suggestions from the community that actually stand a puncher's chance of being taken into account by the Budget folks and the Mayor this spring.

I do want to sound a note of caution that the City is looking at a dramatic slowing of revenue growth right now, following years of robust revenue increases. the development slowdown has seen a major drop in building permit revenues and our new growth figures to be substantially lower next year than in recent years. A budget that has jumped from $195.6 million in FY14 to $337.4 million in FY24 -- an eye-popping 72.5-percent increase over a decade -- is likely to see a much smaller increase for FY25.

This means there will be much less funding to be spent on new things, particularly when you take into account inflation and the need to move some fairly major spending off of ARPA and ESSER COVID relief funds and onto the General Fund, with the end date for those funds looming. As someone who submitted a mere 39 FY25 budget priorities last month, I'm prepared mentally for very few of my budget priorities to be funded due to the reality of the situation.

So I hope to see you, virtually, on Tuesday night. Everyone will get up to two minutes to talk about what they want to see in our City's next budget, so please take advantage of the opportunity to tell the Administration about your FY25 budget priorities.

Jake Wilson


Somerville City Councilor-At-Large (he/him/él)