City Holds Budget Listening Session for Districts 1, 3, and 4

The City of Boston held a budget listening session for Districts 1, 3 and 4 on Feb. 19 as part of its Budget Listening Tour. Approximately 65 people tuned into the Zoom session to learn about the city’s budget process and provide feedback on things they’d like to see in the Fiscal Year 2023 city budget.

Jim Williamson, the city’s Budget Director, gave a brief presentation about the budget process and how it works.

He said that the city is “really excited to hear people’s thoughts,” especially since voters voted to change the role of the City Council in the budgeting process in last November’s election and a participatory budgeting model will be created.

Boston’s budget has two parts, the operating budget, which gets most of its funding from things like taxes and state aid and pays for general city services, and the capital budget, which receives funding from the operating budget to pay for municipal bonds for longer-term projects.

Williamson explained that the operating budget has two parts: expenses and revenue. The most amount of money is spent on public agencies, then on general government agencies, public safety, fixed costs such as pensions, and health insurance.

Williamson also said that 73 percent of the FY22 budget came from property taxes. The rest comes from state aid, departmental revenue, excise taxes, and non recurring revenue.

He also explained the budget timeline. FY22 started on July 1 of 2021, and the FY23 budget process began in the winter of 2021 and 2022. On April 13 of this year, Mayor Wu will submit her recommended budget, and in May and June, the City Council will hold hearings elated to budget matters. On June 8, the Council will vote on the budget, and on June 15, the Mayor will accept or reject the Council’s version. On July 1, FY23 begins.

There are also several charter changes that will affect how the City Council interacts with the budget. Prior to last November’s election, the Council was only permitted to “reject, reduce, or pass the budget,” but on top of that, they will also be allowed to “amend” individual line items in the budget.

According to a slide presented, “amending the budget means that the Council can reduce certain appropriations and increase others, as long as it stays within the overall total budget submitted by the Mayor.”

Additionally, an Office of Participatory Budgeting will be created by 2024 per the ballot measure.

“This listening tour is an opportunity to hear from you,” Williamson said, though he added that the city engages the public all year long to gain insight into what residents would like to see as part of the budget. He said people can reach out to their City Councilors, mayor’s liaisons, or call 311 with budget feedback as well.

During the public comment portion, several residents spoke about what they believe money should be allocated towards.

Frank O’Brien of the East Boston Climate Coalition said that “we’re recommending that the city identify a meaningful public process from the Feb.-April time period for measures in East Boston.” He said that East Boston and a few others “have very significant climate risk,” and that the Coalition “recommend that all stakeholders be fully involved.”

In the chat, he said that he’d like to see in the “final capital budget line items for priority flood risk pathways for East Boston, with a focus on natural systems.”

Phil Giffee of Neighborhood of Affordable Housing in East Boston wrote: “May I agree with Frank that East Boston, as a vulnerable, environmental justice community, needs significant capital investments in green/gray infrastructure. If we fail to address this necessity, small businesses, long-time as well as diverse new residents, public properties such as the tunnels/T, public schools will suffer losses which no insurance policies will ever cover. DPA’s need to be amended soon. Collaboration with private owners in order to create more affordable housing and climate protections are essential.”

A question was also asked about all Boston communities being given an equitable voice in the process. City Councilor Lydia Edwards said that as Williamson mentioned, “this process is already in response to that,” she said. She also spoke of a “democratic process for participating” in the budget process, adding that “those words need to be defined” and will be by the Office of Participatory Budgeting once it is created.

Several residents spoke on behalf of allocating money towards Crane’s Ledge Woods in Roslindale, and several also asked for more funding for parks.

Kathy Elliott said that more discussion should be had about “where the budget can be cut” rather than where it can be added to. “We have so many competing needs,” she said. “Let’s look where we can cut some waste….We have a lot of wealthy institutions in Boston who do not pay their fair share of taxes.”

Orient Heights resident Cindy Baxter spoke about climate resilience in East Boston, specifically about TREE Eastie and planting more street trees in the neighborhood. She said that with “extra staffing,” she hopes that these plantings can continue.

She also said that more “liaison support” from the Mayor’s Office would be beneficial to the neighborhood. She said that East Boston is a “neighborhood of 40,000-plus people” and “could really use that personal touch” of more representatives.

Lastly, Baxter said that “feet on the street is really important from a police perspective,” adding that she is “seeing the positive perception from even the police ice cream trucks.”

Two more listening sessions remain as part of this tour: Wed., Feb. 23 from 6-7pm for Districts 2, 7, and 9, and Fri., Feb. 25 from 10-11am with At-Large Councilors.

The city has also put out a survey as another way for residents to provide feedback during the budget process, which can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdaPlAKb8UygwdLkEUmjTnUM6dLrhIr8dVls2AN-bEqFKCmYg/viewform.

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