Strong local tax base, long-game fiscal management & strategic cuts enable City to avoid austerity measures;
$1.6 million allocated for new Racial and Social Justice investments funded in part via $750,000 in funds diverted from Somerville Police budget
SOMERVILLE, MA – On Friday, June 19, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone submitted a proposed $262.7 million fiscal year 2021 budget to Somerville’s City Council that avoids the austerity measures being seen in cities and towns throughout the region. The FY21 budget preserves all City services and contains no layoffs or furloughs to City or School employees, while also making new racial and social justice investments.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the City is projecting a sharp drop in certain revenue streams — notably a $6.7 million reduction in state aid and a $2.3 million drop in excise taxes — but a strong, diversified local tax base and years of careful fiscal planning allow Somerville to put forward a 12-month budget that maintains City and School services. Spending cuts were, however, necessary.
Non-personnel-related spending in nearly every department has been reduced, new hiring for vacant positions has been frozen except in rare cases, and salary increases for non-union employees were eliminated. The resulting $8.5 million budget increase over the previous fiscal year is driven primarily by rising fixed costs and contractual obligations including salary increases for union employees, as well as a few new targeted investments including for racial and social justice initiatives, stormwater management, and cybersecurity protection.
The new fiscal year begins Wednesday, July 1. If a new budget or continuing appropriation for the month of July is not approved by the City Council by that time, the City will not be able to pay staff or vendors, which would cause significant disruption to current services. The City and Council are working together to avoid this outcome.
The pandemic has delayed this year’s budget process, with neither the federal nor state governments offering non-COVID monetary support for municipalities, leaving local officials to fend for themselves. On June 18, the Somerville School Committee finalized its $77.9 million budget for the upcoming year, marking a $1.7 million increase over its FY20 budget.
“We have been through this sort of massive economic slowdown before during the Great Recession of 2008-9, and what we learned then is austerity is a fool’s game that will ultimately hurt our community,” said Mayor Curtatone. “It takes years to build up good schools and dependable services for our residents, and once you start slashing those services it can render them inadequate. During the Great Recession, we avoided drastic cuts and emerged more quickly and in stronger shape from that economic downturn. It positioned us for a decade of steady progress in our schools and a stronger business community in our city squares. So many in our city have experienced hardship in recent months; it is imperative that City government be a rock they can depend on and turn to if they are in need.”
$1.6 Million for New Racial and Social Justice Initiatives
In response to calls for an increased focus on racial and social justice in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, and many others, we recognized the need to increase investments. The Schools are proposing roughly $600,000 in new equity-focused investments, and the City is proposing a new $1 million investment, funded in part by reducing its Police Department budget by $750,000 dollars, a 4.3% overall decrease compared to the budget originally proposed by the Department to the Mayor.
The $600,000 in proposed School funding would support increasing Family and Community Liaisons to full-time benefited positions, replacing security guards at Somerville High School with Deans of Students focused on student wellbeing, increasing funding for external counseling for students, adding stipends for Equity Liaisons at each school, implementing the Becoming a Man mentoring program at SHS and the Healey School, adding a second Bilingual Adjustment Counselor at SHS, increasing funding for Enroot services for new immigrant students at SHS, and investment in staff professional development related to cultural proficiency, trauma-sensitive practices, and identity and anti-bias training.
The proposed $1M in City funding would support the City’s new Racial and Social Justice (RSJ) Project, which will work with the community to establish civilian oversight of police, fundamentally reimagine policing in the city, and work to dismantle and address systemic racism. A total of $750,000 is proposed to be dedicated to a Racial and Social Justice Fund that will be designated via community process for investments that will advance this work.
The City’s intention is that work will commence and move forward swiftly. To that end, the Mayor’s budget proposes a new Director of Racial and Social Justice to coordinate these processes as well as develop a plan to expand the effort to a full City Office of Racial and Social Justice. This would follow the successful model of how the City built the Office of Housing Stability by first hiring a director to gather community input to establish the mission and structure of the office and then bring in needed staff.
“We’ve seen that other communities are proposing new investments around policing and anti-racism that are pre-determined. Based on community input, we’ve proposed some specific investments in our schools. But our intent with the RSJ Project and Fund is for our efforts and investments to be driven by the people who are closest to the pain, and to then have the work owned by all of us. As Councilor Will Mbah recently said, ‘Racism isn’t an event, it’s a structure,’ and we have a lot of work before us to dismantle it. These strategic investments are designed to move that work forward with the urgency it deserves,” said Mayor Curtatone.
Learn More, Attend Public Hearing:
The proposed FY21 budget can be viewed at http://www.somervillema.gov/FY21Budget.
The Mayor’s budget presentation can be viewed at http://www.somervillema.gov/FY21BudgetPresentation.
The City Council’s budget Public Hearing will take place on Wednesday, June 24, starting at 6 p.m. Full information can be viewed here: somervillema.gov/FY21BudgetHearing.
For more on the City’s efforts around Policing, visit http://www.somervillema.gov/policereform.