By Seth Daniel
Rising 4.2 percent over last year, City Manager Tom Ambrosino submitted his first budget from the City’s corner office on Monday to the City Council – and highlighted more expenditures for walking police patrols, two new firefighters and a newly established Recreation Division.
The Budget is up by $6.2 million (4.2 percent) and sits at a total of $155.3 million. The Budget is in structural deficit at the moment to the tune of about $500,000, but that is much less than is typical.
Spending for the City side of government is at $71.8 million and for the schools it is at $83.5 million.
City Councilor Leo Robinson, who has scheduled hearings on the Budget this month, said they will be considering all possibilities – especially related to public safety overtime.
“I think we really need to go through this budget and look at all the increases that are going to affect our community,” he said. “We need to look at overtime issues. We need to make sure we’re able to bargain fairly in negotiating contracts with the unions. And, hopefully, we’ll all have a better relationship and end up on the same team.”
A highlight for Ambrosino in the budget was the creation of a new Cultural and Recreation Division within the Health Department – a division to be headed up by Bea Cravatta of the Community Schools. That division will have four new employees and will look to fill the gap with programs for young people who might otherwise be enticed by street violence.
“We’re going to beef it up and have more programming,” he said. “It will be run by Bea Cravatta and will include four new positions, two full-time positions and two part-time positions. This will be something we’ll ramp up over the year and won’t be in effect on July 1. More than likely, people would see this making a difference next summer. It’s probably going to take a year to get that program running a full efficiency.”
He said that after the violence of the past winter and spring, it was time to provide some alternatives to young people.
“I’m happy we can offer more an by doing that attract more children and young adults,” he said.
In the same vein, he said his budget calls for doubling the amount of money spent on the Chelsea Collaborative’s Summer Youth Jobs Program.
Another call in the budget comes for more overtime money for police officers to walk beats in Bellingham Square and in the Broadway business district.
“I think walking beats give people a level of comfort,” he said. “How much of a crime deterrent it is could be debated. But there’s a comfort level gained from walking patrols and part of the goal is to make people feel better.”
School spending is also up this year and Ambrosino said the City is spending above its required amount for the first time in a long time.
“It’s time to support the school system,” he said. “If you want to attract good families to a city, you have to have a good school system. I am a strong supporter of the public schools.”
According to the most recent projections, the City will spend $2.8 million over the required amount.
Another highlight of the budget is the addition of two new positions to the Fire Department, something that also hasn’t been done in some time.
“I am certain they could use additional personnel and I want to slowly build that department up,” he said.
However, he said a fourth engine company – as has been called for routinely by the Fire Union – is not in the plans.
“I’m going to rely on the new chief for an assessment of that,” he said. “I’m not convinced of it at this point, but I’ll keep an open mind.”
Council hearings on the budget will be May 16 (6-9 p.m.); May 17 (6-9:30 p.m.) and May 18 (6-9 p.m.) in the Council Chambers.