May: What’s in the budget?
In this issue:
Budget - the big picture
Council’s budget review is underway. The school budget cuts remain a concern, particularly with the social-emotional consequences of the pandemic. Another issue is sustainability: for several years, the schools’ financial needs have grown faster than Newton’s revenue, which is why the operating override would have helped.
To try to find more funding for the schools, City Council has designated a negotiating team to work with the retirement board on slowing the rate of growth in our pension contributions (currently 9.6%) to better match revenue (3.5%) and allow Newton more flexibility in future years.
But there’s a balancing act here: After Newton funds the pension fund in 2030 or 31, Newton still has a retiree health obligation of some $400 million.
That debt, plus Newton’s relatively low level of reserves (what we put aside for contingencies) worry Moody’s Investor Services, which sets the interest rates at which Newton can borrow. Slower payment of Newton’s retirement debts may increase our current interest rates--and Newton is about to borrow for school buildings (Countryside, Franklin, Lincoln-Eliot, Horace Mann) and more.
Budget - some of the line items
Most of the city-side budgets are growing--but at less than the rate of inflation, and less than the school budget’s rate. Those that are getting less than 3.5% include buildings, human resources, health and public works.
Keeping road maintenance at a flat dollar rate means fewer road and sidewalk miles finished. Flat building repair budgets can sometimes be justified when we move to newer buildings--but not for long.
I want to be careful not to return to the days when we deferred necessary maintenance, thus increasing overall costs in the long term.
The budget process gives us an annual review of each department and its goals. We have more department budgets ahead of us than behind us as I write, but here are a few details I thought were interesting:
Buildings: Newton pays less for gas (46%) and electricity ($3m) over the retail rates because of favorable contracts. And Newton generates 30% of its own electricity from its 18 solar installations.
Library: We remain the busiest library in the state with 303,000+ visitors and programs serving over 23,000 people. And fines are going away--you can return that overdue book without shame.
City Clerk’s Office: Newton is getting new vote tallying machines. The clerk is also working to make it easier to find Council information on the city website.
I also hope to visit the Seedling Sale May 20-21 at the Newton Community Farm, noon-3 pm.
May 24th I will attend the Community Breakfast, which is always inspirational.
DPW will present initial designs for the public space in Newton Highlands village Thursday, May 25, 6:30 pm, in the War Memorial (1000 Commonwealth Ave) and via Zoom. (passcode 506750)
Sunday, May 28 is the city’s Memorial Day parade and events for kids!
Saturday, June 3 is porchfest
Sunday, June 4 12-4 pm, talk with neighbors and experts about what EV charging, home solar, heat pumps and other sustainable tech requires of your home. Garland Road, off Homer St.
June 11 is Newton Highlands Village Day, always a good time!
Crystal Lake and Gath Pool open soon! Get your passes here.