It was expected that the City would suffer financially for a number of years after the COVID-19 health emergency waned, and few had high hopes for this year’s City Budget, but as it turned out things aren’t that bad and the City’s financial health has a steady heartbeat.
On Monday night, the Council voted 10-0 to approve the $196.5 million City Budget, with $107.4 million coming in School Department expenditures and $89.09 million being for City government. It was a budget increase over last year of 7.12 percent, with most of that increase coming through state school funding in the Student Opportunity Act. City expenditures increased by 4.7 percent over last year.
“I think the best thing about this budget is the change in our financial projections,” said Ambrosino in an interview. “Our revenues are stronger than we anticipated given the pandemic…We’re sort of back to our normal budget supports. This budget also has no reflection of any new money coming from the Rescue Act for any financial support.”
The City is expecting to have almost $39 million in addition Rescue Act monies in the coming week to begin to use for pandemic financial relief. However, the stability of the budget is underscored by the lessening need to use the Rainy Day Fund to supplement budget deficits. Traditionally, the City has run a $1 million deficit on its budgets that it funds through Free Cash reserves. Lasts year, with COVID-19 raging in all directions, the City had to use $5 million in reserves. This year, that number is only $892,092 – something Ambrosino said is good news for budget wonks to cheer.
“As it turns out, our revenues are down, but not as far down as we anticipated,” he said. “That’s very good news.”
The Budget doesn’t have a lot of fancy new tools to use, with most of the proposed new positions being a filling of vacancies left vacant last year. However, there are some new things.
Ambrosino has asked that a Payroll Clerk be hired to reorganize the payroll system the City uses – moving that responsibility from auditing to the Treasurer’s Office. In making that move, he has asked that another person be hired to focus just on payroll.
Another new position is the funding of the highly anticipated Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Candace Perez. She will begin work on July 1 as part of the new budget.
Finally, Ambrosino has asked that the Chelsea Police be able to hire a Mental Health Clinician. That hire will be embedded in the CPD who will work closely with the Police on difficult situations that require more nuance than merely making an arrest. He said he believes they may be able to get a grant in the future for the position, but it isn’t available in this coming budget cycle.
City Councillor Calvin Brown at Monday’s meeting noted that the City Council went through many hours of hearings last week over three days – questioning every Department Head about their budget and its uses. He said there were some tough conversations, but it came out to be a Budget all should be proud of.
“This budget reflects a much-improved financial situation than we had one year ago,” he said.
The Council also approved by a 10-0 vote the Water Enterprise Fund at $9.14 million and the Sewer Enterprise Fund at $13.4 million. This year, Water & Sewer Rates for the combined number are $15.30, and that results in a 2.5 percent increase for Tier 1 users. Water costs this year are up more than sewer, with Tier 3 users going up 8 percent. Still, this was below the MWRA average rate increases throughout the Authority’s footprint.
The Trash Fee this year for non-owner occupants is up 8 percent. It is $36.46 per month for residential, and $172 per month for commercial.