With $546 million budget, finance stability, Cambridge is envied throughout the state
From city councillor Marc McGovern, May 28: As the finance chairman for the City Council, I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who worked so hard to deliver yet another bold and responsible budget to our city. A special thanks goes out to Louis DePasquale, assistant city manager for finance, and Jeana Franconi, budget director, as well as all the hard-working employees of the Finance Department. I also wish to thank our city manager, Richard C. Rossi, and deputy city manager, Lisa Peterson, and all the department heads who once again managed to find ways to increase their services to the community while remaining fiscally responsible. The fiscal year 2016 budget requires a property tax levy increase of 4.5 percent, which is consistent with the city’s 10-year average increase of 4.4 percent. Property tax bills, which are certified in October, are anticipated to fall in line with the city’s nine-year average of 73.4 percent of taxpayers seeing a tax bill that is reduced, has no change or increases less than $100.
With a budget of approximately $546 million and a capital budget of another $85 million, Cambridge is the envy of every city and town in Massachusetts. Our financial stability allows us to do things that other municipalities can’t even contemplate. One example was during discussion on the public celebrations budget: The council spent almost an hour thinking of ways we can spend more money on public art and public events. Other communities are cutting these important cultural activities, if they fund them at all.
Some of the highlights from this budget include 12 new full-time positions, including a net zero planner, a housing planner, an organics recycling manager, a Public Works landscape administrator, a Department of Human Service Programs community engagement team leader, a Steam coordinator, a parking control officer, a licensed social worker for police and new information technology positions. These positions come from policy initiatives set by the City Council and the community and represent a commitment to expanding the incredible services the city already provides. In addition, the city will allocate another $10 million tax dollars under the Community Preservation Act to create and preserve affordable housing, bringing the total since 2005 to $115 million, which has led to the creation of more than 1,000 units of affordable housing and the preservation of 1,100 units, helping keep low- and moderate-income residents in our city.
The capital budget also represents a city committed to its residents. As the new Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and Putnam Avenue Upper School building prepares to open this September, the city will embark on construction of a campus for the King Open Elementary School and Cambridge Street Upper School, which will include renovations to the public library and public swimming pool. While other communities struggle with school buildings that are falling apart, Cambridge is able to move forward without Massachusetts School Building Authority funding on these projects because of our financial stability and AAA bond rating.
One of the most exciting projects in this budget process was the Participatory Budgeting Process. Thanks to its introduction from councillor Leland Cheung last term and the hard work of those in the Finance Department, we were able to initiate a citywide outreach campaign to involve the community in deciding directly how to spend just over $500,000. This process resulted in 380 ideas that were whittled to 20 and then to the six winners, which included a public toilet in Central Square; 100 new trees in certain areas of the city; 20 new computers for the Community Learning Center; six free, public Wi-Fi locations; eight bike repair stations; and 300 bilingual books for children learning English. This process was so successful that the city has committed to continuing it next year.
As I have often said, as great as Cambridge is, we must never become complacent. We have more work to do to ensure that our community provides a safe, secure and sustainable future for all of our residents. We must bring more affordable housing to our city, we must make early childhood education universal and affordable for all and we need to continue to be a leader on environmental issues and public safety. With that said, our ability to be bold and responsible in our fiscal decisions have placed us in a position where we can continue to serve our residents in incredible ways while building for the future. Again, my thanks to all of those who work for our great city and participated in this year’s budget process.