‘Personal priorities’ drive mayor’s $2.7b budget

The city of Boston’s budget for fiscal year 2015 would rise to $2.7 billion, a $118.2 million increase over this year’s under the first spending plan proposed by Mayor Marty Walsh. “I’m not raising taxes, I’m not raising fees,” Walsh said on Tuesday before he rolled out the details the next morning at a gathering of the City Council. “We’re going to have a fiscally responsible budget.”

The proposal, which will be vetted by the 13-member Council over the next few months, projects a heavy focus on promises Walsh made on the campaign trail last year. In a letter to the council, Walsh said the budget “reflects my personal priorities.”

The mayor wants to invest $300,000 in an Office of Recovery Services that would fight drug addiction; set up the position of an arts and culture chief, with a salary of up to $125,000; and increase to $355,000 the overall funding for the 20 districts in the Main Streets program, which provides technical assistance to local businesses. Each district would receive $75,000, an increase from the $57,250 they’ve received in past years.

The budget allows for increased hours at the Boston Public Library’s Copley branch and at the branches in the neighborhoods; adds $2.3 million to the Department of Innovation and Technology, a 9.7 percent increase; and sets up the Office of Economic Development, which will be headed by John Barros, the former nonprofit executive who ran for mayor last year and later endorsed Walsh.

The school system’s budget would rise to $975 million under the plan, an increase of $37 million from the current budget. The early education program will get a boost with 100 new K-1 seats, which Walsh called “modest.”

The administration package will be confronting yet another overall decline in state aid. The hit this year comes to $15.3 million; since fiscal year 2008, the height of the Great Recession, state aid to the capital city has fallen by $164 million.

After the presentation to the councillors, Council President Bill Linehan said Walsh’s budget proposal “demonstrates stability and includes investment not only in our infrastructure but our people and our programs.” Noting that Allston-Brighton Councillor Mark Ciommo is chairman of the council’s budget-vetting committee, Linehan added, “We look forward to diving in.”

Said City Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty, “What I like from the first blush is that the mayor recognizes the role of public health and job creation in the prevention of crime and violence,” said, But both Flaherty and District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson voiced concerns about the school budget. “Our school department budget is almost pushing a billion dollars,” Flaherty said. “The question is how are we going to get our children a billion dollar education.”

In his letter, Walsh addressed the impact of reduced funding from the state and federal governments on the city’s schools. “Rising costs and reductions in federal and state funding presented significant challenges for BPS in developing the FY15 budget,” Walsh wrote. “These challenges are also providing the opportunity for BPS to assess and realign its services to meet the needs of all of our students and strengthen the quality of teaching and learning in every classroom and every school.”

Walsh had requested each department to cut one percent out of its budget. “We made some difficult choices in crafting this plan, to address and eliminate a projected budget shortfall and keep Boston on a solid financial footing,” he wrote. “The result is a budget that is balanced in both the fiscal and policy senses, to ensure that Boston’s next chapter is its best chapter. I believe that within this budget, we communicate that we are open for business, responsive to neighborhoods, and committed to doing all we can to achieve equity for our citizens.”

In other areas, the mayor unveiled a $1.9 billion capital plan spanning five years, from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2019. That includes $27.5 million in Dorchester and $28.6 million for Mattapan. New projects in Dorchester include renovations to wheelchair ramps and bathrooms at the Harbor/Henderson School in Fields Corner ($3.3 million), renovations to Roberts Playground ($1.1 million), and installation of an elevator and fire protection improvements to the Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner ($1.5 million). The roadways in Uphams Corner – the revamping of the intersection of Columbia Road, Dudley Street, and Stoughton Street in particular – are also included in the capital plan at $3.8 million.

Improvements to Savin Hill Park are in the design phase, with drainage restoration, fence installation, and the creation of an overlook on the agenda. Upcoming projects include replacing the front doors, roof and flooring at the Adams Street branch library, totaling $1.4 million, and designing and finding a site for a new Uphams Corner branch library, which is pegged at $13 million.

In Mattapan, the Walsh administration plans to renovate an existing facility at 201 River Street in Mattapan to use as an emergency operations center, at a cost of $18.7 million. The design and reconstruction of the American Legion Bridge, refurbishment of Hunt/Almont playground, and the reconstruction of the sidewalks and street lighting at Woodbole Housing are also on tap in the budget plan.
To be scheduled: a Harambee Park master plan and a study to evaluate the possibility of an addition to the Mattapan Police Station.