June 2021 Ward 2 Newsletter – Budget Hearing Tonight

Hello Ward 2! It’s been a while since my last newsletter in September, and I’ll admit that the pandemic has been challenging for me and my family. (We haven’t had a babysitter in 15 months!) Still, we’re all healthy and my oldest child is coming into the final weeks of Virtual Argenziano Kindergarten having learned an incredible amount thanks to the amazing staff at SPS – what more could I ask for? I hope you and yours are well and fully vaccinated.

The business of the city marches on, and today is the Public Hearing on the FY22 Budget for the city. This is an important inflection point, so if you have spending priorities that you want the Council to press for this year it’s incredibly important to send public comment to the City Clerk or attend virtually at 6pm to have your say!

As the Chair of the Finance Committee, I’ll be spending every night in June on the $270 Million annual budget review with Councilors White, Rossetti, Mbah, and Ballantyne. There’s also a few meetings and neighborhood events coming up to let you know about as well as updates on the Washington St Bus/Bike Lanes pilot project and the future of virtual meetings. Finally, I’ve got an important update about this year’s election, which will be one of the most important in decades in Somerville. Read on for more!

Fiscal Year 2022 Budget

Every June we approve the budget (and tax rates) for the coming year. So far we’ve spent 9 hours in the last two nights beginning the budget review, covering Immigrant Affairs, Finance, Communications, Inspectional Services, Infrastructure, and Engineering and over a dozen more departments. We’ve been hearing stories of hardworking city employees doing their best during a very difficult time, and looking to what resources they need to serve the city better in the coming year.

If you’d like to see the entire budget for yourself and look through individual departments, you can see all the information here at somervillema.gov/fy22budget.

While I’m glad that the School Department is getting an 8% increase in their funding for this year, that decision comes from the School Committee’s recommendation to the Mayor. The City Council is responsible for the review of how the other $202M is allocated this year.

What we’re hearing about our city’s infrastructure won’t be surprising to you: our sewers, water lines, city buildings, and roads are in terrible disrepair and require significant investment. We all notice the roads and sidewalks especially: over half are in need of full reconstruction and repaving, and another 30% need maintenance now to prevent them from deteriorating to that point. Repairing all of this adds up to a $2 Billion price tag:

Water: $500M in repairs needed

Sewers: $1B in needed repairs and stormwater drainage separation, $100M of it critical to address currently collapsing sewerlines

Roads and Sidewalks: $220M

City Buildings: $100M in critical upgrades for ADA accessibility and building code compliance, another $200M in needed maintenance.

Unfortunately, the city spent only $5,000 on paving in the past year, and currently is budgeting only $90,000 for next year. A request from Engineering for $500,000 for emergency road and sidewalk repairs has been denied by the Mayor, but I’m working to get it back into the budget now; we need to start addressing this situation instead of kicking the can down the (potholed) road for another year.

If you’d like a taste of the (sometimes dry) process of discovering and reviewing our infrastructure needs, you can use this link to check out the last 45 minutes of this meeting where we discussed these budget items.

“Re-imagining Policing”

Despite bold promises from the mayor last year and a mandate from the city to re-allocate funding to other city services, the mayor has proposed to increase the police department budget by $1.5M this year. Even though the process of “re-imagining policing” that was promised a year ago has not even been started, the mayor is proposing to build a new police HQ building at a cost of $60M this year.

The City Council has been advancing legislative reforms in the past year, including passing a facial recognition surveillance ban, passing a law limiting surveillance technology use within the city and providing Council review of new technologies, and beginning the process of establishing a Civilian Police Commission and Review Agency to receive resident complaints and review discipline cases. Now that the Director of Racial and Social Justice has been hired (in April 2021), the City Council will be working with her and the community to bring that Commission into law.

However, we have a long way to go and to date the only demands of the BIPOC community to have been partially met has been a temporary suspension of the School Resource Officer and STEPS programs (both of which are “police in schools” programs) and the beginning of mobile vaccination clinics and focused multilingual outreach in East Somerville.

PUBLIC HEARING TONIGHT @ 6PM

Tonight the City Council is hosting an online public hearing at 6pm to hear your input on the city’s spending priorities for this year. You can register online at this link, and as the Chair I will work to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

In addition, every one of our meetings is livestream broadcast and recorded for future viewing. You can find them all at this link and I’m grateful for the dozens of residents that regularly keep an eye on the city’s business.

As always, you can also follow me on twitter for more timely updates, or some of the local residents that frequently tweet recaps of City meetings like @DerrickAndADog or Ward 2’s own @Somershade1.

Virtual Meetings and Office Hours Update

In the past 52 weeks alone, I’ve hosted 56 online city meetings with 2,290 active participants in total. That’s in addition to my weekly office hours which I’ve been hosting virtually during the pandemic every Friday from 8-10am, which usually average about 10 people stopping in per day to ask questions and chat about neighborhood and city issues.

We’ve seen many more people be able to participate in local govt processes thanks to not having to hire a babysitter or come down to the police station (or up to City Hall) for a meeting. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen a decline in the number of seniors who participate and the digital divide is real in Somerville, since we lack municipal broadband access. (I’m working on that.)

My hope for the end of 2021 is that I’ll be able to host all neighborhood meetings in a hybrid format, allowing both in-person and online participation. I’m pressing the city right now for funding for both the hardware as well as live simultaneous translation services so that our meetings are more accessible and get the broadest possible engagement. 

For now I’m using my Office Hours to try to work on what a successful hybrid meeting looks like and started the in-person aspect again last week! Feel free to stop by my front porch at 269 Washington Street or login online any Friday morning to have a chat about our city and the issues you care about.

Washington St Bus/Bike Lane Update

It’s been about a year since the city put down the bus/bike lanes and removed some parking spaces on Washington Street. I’ve been out the last few weeks canvassing neighbors who live on Washington and within a block on either side to get your feedback on the new street layout.

The city has recently done updated traffic and parking counts to gather data on how the changes are impacting residents, but I find nothing replaces talking to people who live here in person to get a real sense of how these changes are working out. What works? What doesn’t? What needs to change?

So far the feedback is mostly about problems with pickup/dropoff at Argenziano, a desire to continue the bicycle lanes between Dane and Prospect, and a general impression that parking is still available within a block or so, even if it takes an extra few minutes or a block or so longer walk than it did previously. I also hear a lot of folks want all the overhead utility/electrical lines buried; that’s going to be a big lift for us to organize for, at roughly $1M per mile of buried utilities, but I’m ready to fight alongside you to get it! I want to hear from as many of you as possible to get more of your feedback.

The final street layout and repaving – including sidewalks, crosswalks, and curb changes – won’t happen for another year or two, so this is our chance to get our input in and get it done right. If you haven’t seen me at your door, feel free to email me or drop in to my office hours to tell me about how you’ve experienced the new Washington St layout and what you’d like to see next!

Neighborhood Events and Meetings

There’s a bit of a lull in neighborhood meetings as I will be occupied every weeknight this month with budget review, but we do have some upcoming events:

Big Gay Dance Party

The city’s Big Gay Dance Party returns this Friday from 6:30-9 in Union Square Plaza. DJs, dancing, and the strange experience of being social with other people.

Somerville Firefighters Memorial Service

This Sunday at 9am at the 651 Somerville Ave Fire Station (formerly the W2P3 polling location) will be the annual Somerville Firefighters Memorial Service. Click the link for more information.

Union United’s Union Square Developments Walking Tour

At 1pm Sunday June 13 starting in the Union Square Plaza, Union United (the group that introduced and organized for five years to get a Community Benefits Agreement in Union Square) is hosting this Walking Tour to inform neighbors of the four large commercial developments that are already in the city review process. Check out the link for more details.

July 1: Neighborhood Meeting regarding 1 McGrath Hwy Hotel Development

There will be a meeting on July 1 at 6pm to view an updated proposal for a hotel development on the site of Sav-Mor Liquors. The project had previously had approval several years prior, but this new revision apparently includes a pedestrian access to the Community Path and a shared driveway with the proposed lab building at 15 McGrath Hwy next door. I look forward to seeing the plans with the rest of you, and hearing your input; you can register for the meeting at https://tinyurl.com/1McGrathNM1 or click here for the full link.

Municipal Elections this year: SEPT 14 and NOV 2

This year we are seeing Mayor Joe Curtatone stepping down, as well as long-serving Councilors Bill White, Mary Jo Rossetti, and Mark Niedergang. With these vacancies, and the declaration of mayoral candidacies by Councilor Katjana Ballantyne and Councilor Will Mbah, that means that there are 5 vacancies on the City Council: 3 at-large, and 2 wards. 

This citywide election will have a critical Primary Election on September 14, and the final Municipal Election on November 2. This will be the first time in almost two decades that we’ll have a new Mayor here in Somerville, and it’s an amazing opportunity to shape the City Council moving forward towards a more equitable and stable future, including pushing for public housing, community-owned housing, and expanded local hiring for much needed infrastructure work – Somerville’s own Green New Deal. I’ve already endorsed candidates for the 3 At-Large vacancies and the two open Ward seats, as well as for Mayor – but I’ll send another email about that later in the summer.

A challenger has also declared their intention to run for the Ward 2 City Council seat. I’m happy to see folks get engaged in this process – before I ran in 2017, nobody had challenged the seated Alderman in 14 years. That said, I’m proud of the work I’ve done to increase affordability, transparency, accountability, tenant’s rights, green space creation, housing stability, constituent services, financial oversight, and above all working to ensure that development benefits the community instead of just enriching developers in the city over the past 4 years, and I’m asking again for your support to continue representing Ward 2 in the next term.

If you like what I’ve been doing and want to get involved with a yard sign, canvassing, or in any other way, please do get in touch and consider making a donation to our re-election campaign. After budget season concludes, I look forward to another beautiful summer knocking on your doors and chatting with you about the future of our city!

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