Thursday, June 20, 2024

City councillor Marjorie Decker, seen with Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs Louis Depasquale, is chairwoman of the council’s Finance Committee. She introduced the fiscal 2013 budget Monday. (Photo: Rachel Offerdahl)

The next city budget was introduced Monday, with an official overview set for next week, and put at $488.2 million — a hike of $13.6 million, or 2.9 percent, from fiscal 2012 that is attributed mainly to salary increases, health insurance and pension costs.

There’s also good news coming for city property owners, said city councillor Marjorie Decker, who leads the council’s Finance Committee.

“While we’re looking at a property tax increase of 6.6 percent right now, people can expect that in September that percentage will move slightly down. We are expecting more revenues to come in through the city,” Decker said, explaining the next steps in the budget process. “I think it’s also just really great because I don’t think there are many communities in the commonwealth that can talk about keeping the tax levy at such a low rate, and in a few months, being even lower.”

It means holding the line on adding full-time workers and squeezing where possible, including at the citizens police oversight panel, the Police Review & Advisory Board.

In the current fiscal year, 64 percent of Cambridge homeowners got a tax bill lower then, equal to or higher by less than $100 from the previous year, according to the city’s Finance Department.

Educating the city’s young remains the largest chunk of the city budget and in the coming year is proposed at $145 million, or 29.7 percent of the total. The district’s proposed figures were accepted by the council Monday as a communication from the School Committee and sent to Decker’s committee.

The district also is due for some $73 million in school renovations in fiscal year 2014, but for the coming year the city is looking at a $38.7 million capital budget (including firetruck and City Hall roof replacement, Danehy Park soccer field renovations, water and sewer and sidewalk infrastructure work). Debt service to pay for the borrowing that paid for current or recent capital projects is to rise slightly, to $47.5 million from the current $44.6 million; Cambridge continues to manage its debt well, based on to the highest-possible scores given it by all three major credit rating agencies.

Looking ahead

About $1 million is also going into paying off future obligations for “other post-employment benefits” such as retiree medical costs, joining the $2 million put into the fund in 2009. While seemingly barely scratching the surface of the ultimate costs — estimated at up to $624 million — Decker was pleased by the commitment.

“This puts us so far ahead of communities throughout the state. It’s just something we should be really proud of as communities around the commonwealth are really struggling with how to do this, and we’re doing it. In fact, we’re ahead of schedule,” she said.

Budget hearings are scheduled for 9 a.m. May 2, May 9 and May 17 and at 6 p.m. May 16 with the School Committee to talk about the schools budget. Decker urged that other councillors’ questions for the hearings be submitted ahead of time through the city clerk’s office and that “while really, really tempting and interesting to get involved in policy discussions, because of course policy and budget discussions go hand in hand, we really should keep our comments focused on the budget at hand.”

Citizens can send questions as well, and Decker also asks that citizens send e-mail to her for the next budget process so the council can hear “what do you love about Cambridge or where do you think the money should go?”

Decker said the budget is online, but it is unclear where; as of Monday night, it wasn’t on the city manager’s Web page or alongside the current and previous adopted documents on the Budget Department page.

A budget seeing cuts

The bound edition available at the council meeting, though, shows the budget for the Police Review & Advisory Board dropping to $70,730 from the current year’s budget of $103,745, even as its sole performance measure — public outreach and information sessions — is projected to rise to a dozen from the current year’s two. Cases the panel deals with have been erratic, though, from 24 cases opened in 2006, 11 in 2007, 22 in 2008, 24 in 2009, 17 in 2010 and 11 last year. The drop in budget comes in salaries and wages, to $67,030 from $100,045.

Monday also saw the appointment of three people to the board, described by City Manager Robert W. Healy as:

Ann Coyne
Ms. Coyne is a university administrator and higher education consultant who was born and raised in Cambridge. She has worked in education for decades as a dean of students and a policy consultant, with a focus on the safety, rights and responsibilities of students within diverse learning communities and complex educational institutions. For more than 25 years, Ms. Coyne has worked to create and sustain communities built around respect for others, personal responsibility and accountability, and supporting both individual and communal rights.

Laurance Kimbrough
Mr. Kimbrough is a lifelong Cambridge resident who has spent his adult years advising and coaching youth in and outside the classroom. As a guidance counselor he has mentored and advised hundreds of students on academic requirements, resume writing, and issues affecting the educational experience. Mr. Kimbrough has a particular passion for ensuring that young people from all backgrounds receive the understanding, guidance and support they need to excel. He is also a past recipient of the Cambridge Public Schools Coach of the Year Award.

Lucy Murray-Brown
Ms. Murray-Brown spent her career in service of those who have been victims of crime and in holding accountable those who have abused their power. As a victim witness advocate, she assisted victims and witnesses of crime through the criminal justice system, as well as  supervising and training other staff in that work. Ms. Murray-Brown has also worked with the Board of Bar Overseers to investigate, adjudicate and discipline attorneys accused of unprofessional behavior or misconduct.  A resident of Cambridge for more than 30 years, Ms. Murray-Brown has also served on a number of boards of Cambridge-based organizations.

The council approved the three with minimal questions. Only councillor Minka vanBeuzekom asked Healy about his suggestions, including whether Coyne is a Cambridge resident (she is), and the process through which the three were chosen.

VanBeuzekom also asked how many total applications there had been of people seeking to join the board, and Healy said there had been 10 to a dozen.

This post was updated April 24, 2012, to give Healy’s answer on the number of PRAB applicants.