June 11 2020 Newsletter – BUDGET and WATER/SEWER RATES

Hello Ward 2,

I hope everyone is staying healthy and adjusting as best as we can to a COVID world. I know it’s been hard for my family, and the last few weeks of watching our nation coming to terms once again with the horrific impacts of racism, especially in our policing, has also been wrenching. Black Lives Matter, and across the country people are demanding change to reflect that.

Here in Somerville that demand is coming in a lot of forms. “Just Us Somerville” is a newly-formed POC organization that hosted a powerful vigil in East Somerville last Sunday. I really encourage you to watch this video of all of the speakers – it’s only one hour – but even if you can only spend 8 minutes, I ask you to watch the section starting at 33:30 in, where Kenia lays out the simple and clear demands coming from POC here in Somerville about what needs to be addressed.

I’ll be perfectly clear: I think this is time for us to listen and follow the lead of our Black and Brown neighbors. While the inequities of our system impact all of us, this moment of uprising demands that we lift up their voices instead of pushing them aside or talking over them. That’s why I’ve spent the last week and then some working with Black and Brown elected and community leaders here in Somerville to understand some of those needs, and begin the work with them to translate those needs into legislation that addresses them. This resolution Clr Will Mbah is putting forward with myself and Clr Lance Davis is a good first step, with more to come.

We don’t need a consultant to tell us the problems, and the solutions are rooted in the work that those communities have been doing for a long time. We just have to listen, and then put our money where our mouth is when we say Black Lives Matter.

Especially as we approach budget season and set the priorities for our COVID-19 impacted budget, it will be critically important for my colleagues and I on the City Council to ensure that Somerville’s spending reflects the demands of its residents.

As Chair of Finance Committee, I’ve been pressing the administration to release more details sooner – but the uncertainty of this situation has left us a situation in which we will not be receiving the budget to review until June 19th – just 11 days before the end of the fiscal year.

I will be holding a public hearing on June 24th, the very first available day allowed by state law after we receive the budget. I will want to hear from many of you in person, just as the City Council has been getting your emails in the last week, about how you want your money spent.

I’ll try to do everything I can to get you a summary of the changes we see this year, and I encourage you all to watch the special meeting of the City Council scheduled for June 19th to see the mayor’s presentation and get your first look at the full budget, including the budget for Somerville’s schools.

At the Finance Committee meeting tonight, June 10, we did get a tool that lets us preview this year’s budget projections. You can see it at somervillema.opengov.com/transparency – and I can tell you that I’m personally disappointed in what I see.

  • Housing Stability: DOWN $82k from $688k to 606k – a 12% drop
  • Arts Council: DOWN $56k from $573k to 517k – a 9.8% drop
  • Veterans Services: $30k, from $770k to $740k – a 3.9% drop
  • Libraries: DOWN $50k from $2.176M to $2.126M – a 2.3% drop

    …and of course, the question many of you are asking by now:

  • POLICE: down a total of $45k, from $16.824 Million to $16.779 Million – just a 0.3% drop.

Just 3/10ths of a percent.

I welcome all of you to take a look at the data there, and to tune in on the 19th of June when we receive the budget, and to come tell us what you think on June 24th at the public hearing. I can assure you that the City Council will be deliberate and careful in its consideration, and I will not hesitate to reject an unacceptable proposal that does not present substantive change.

In the meantime, the Mayor has also proposed a significant rate increase on water and sewer charges: 7.5% and 2.5% respectively. As recently as one month ago, I had been told that there would be no rate increase at all, so this has come as somewhat of a shock. YOU as a resident have a right to have your voice heard, and the sewer department has scheduled a public hearing on the Water and Sewer Rates for THURSDAY JUNE 11 at 6pm. You can watch the presentation and provide your feedback by going to https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/5546959603551196943 on Jun 11 – which by the time I send this email out is probably today!

There is much more to talk about, and even more important listening to do. As always, I host office hours every Friday morning from 8-10am, and I welcome you to join me by going to https://gotomeet.me/jtscott any Friday.

I hope to get out another email before long to tell you all about the Neighborhood Meeting we held for a commercial development in Boynton Yards and updates about reopening schedules and protocols. For now I felt it was important to keep you informed about the important and time-sensitive conversations happening right now around the city’s budget, but stay tuned for more information.

In the meantime, I appreciate all of your passion and love for this city and your neighbors. Stay safe, stay connected, and I’ll see you soon.