Thursday, June 30, 2016

Boston City Council Passes Budget & Looks at Helipads, South Station Expansion, Cultural Council & More

City Council President Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered these items and more during their June meetings:

Appointments: 
Mayor Walsh appointed David Leonard as President of the Boston Public Library  
Mayor Walsh appointed Liam Curran to the Licensing Board for a term ending June 2022

FY17 Budget: After 24 budget hearings over the last few weeks, the Council voted to pass Mayor Walsh’s revised budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1st. Each Councilor spoke on her or his reasoning for supporting or opposing various pieces of the budget. Overall summary:  

--General Operating Budget ($1.28B): Passed 12-1 (Councilor Jackson voting against). Most Councilors spoke very positively about the resubmitted operating budget, with recurring praise for the additional investment in Boston Public Health Commission staff to provide triage services for residents experiencing homelessness, funding for additional ambulances and EMS staff to meet increasing emergency response need and keep response times low, support for parks, funding for language and communications access, support to help implement the City’s small business plan, and creating an Office of Returning Citizens to provide reentry services. Several Councilors expressed disappointment that this budget did not include funding for Housing First City-funded rental housing vouchers—as Councilor Zakim said, “the solution to homelessness is a home.” Councilor Pressley expressed disappointment that the Boston Public Health Commission wasn’t receiving more funding, particularly for trauma supports. Councilor Jackson stated that he was voting against this budget, because he believes more funding should have been allocated from the General Fund to Boston Public Schools instead.  

--$15M appropriation for Northern Avenue Bridge design and engineering, interim measures: Passed 10-3 (Councilors Essaibi-George, Jackson, Pressley voting against). The Northern Avenue Bridge spans Fort Point Channel, built in 1908, closed to vehicular traffic starting 1999 and recently closed to pedestrian traffic as well in 2014 for structural safety issues. The City convened an Ideas Competition to solicit designs and has not yet finalized a design. The $15M appropriation comes from the Parking Meter Fund would go to dealing with the existing structure and completing a design. The Parking Meter Fund takes in revenue from parking meters, and must be used on costs associated with transportation. Although there has been about $16M of recurring annual revenue from parking meters in recent years, there was also a large surplus fund built up that should not be considered recurring revenue. The $15M comes from the surplus, and the Administration stated that they would be using this restricted operating funding to pay for a capital expenditurebecause we need to reserve capital budget capacity for BPS Facilities costs (after the report will be finalized later this year) and be more creative about how to fund infrastructure. Some of the Councilors opposing stated that they believed the funding should have been used for at least some other transportation costs that could have freed up additional funding for BPS.

--BPS Operating Budget ($1.032B): Passed 9-4 (Councilors Campbell, Essaibi-George, Jackson, Pressley voting against). This year’s Boston Public Schools budget saw cuts in some areas and investments in others. Many Councilors opposed the cuts to Early Learning Centers and the reduced weight for students with autism in the weight student funding formula, and several Councilors described the budget as underfunded and unfairly forcing school leaders to choose between important priorities. Other Councilors pointed to the fact that BPS is spending about $20,000 per student (with city funding and grant funding) and should be able to provide a quality education. A few Councilors noted that Superintendent Tommy Chang has only been on the job for 11 months, and needs to have time to implement changes. The revised budget added almost $5M to the BPS Operating Budget, increasing access to Advanced Work Classes and partially restoring cuts to Early Learning Centers. The budget also expands K1 programming by 200 seats and invests in operational efficiency, performance accountability, and long-term planning. My personal view is that this is a fiscally responsible budget that represents the Administration’s priorities, and we will be looking to BPS to deliver the efficiencies promised in the budget. It is the largest-ever investment in Boston Public Schools, but there are deep structural issues that prevent dollars from reaching the classroom, and we must continue to work on reforms that will allow more resources to go directly to teaching and learning.  

--$8M appropriation for Franklin Park Pathways, Smith Playground & Paul Revere Mall: Passed 13-0. This amount was the surplus funding from this past winter’s snow budget, which went unused because of relatively mild weather. According to good budgeting principles, because it is a one-time revenue source, it should not be used to fund recurring costs (as that would create a shortfall for next year’s costs in that category). These three parks projects are one-time capital projects.  

--Capital Budget ($1.91B): Passed 13-0. This was the 2nd reading for the capital budget, which are one-time infrastructure and improvement projects paid for by municipal bonds. Each capital appropriation requires two Council votes at least two weeks apart, of at least 9 affirmative votes. The first reading on June 8th was also unanimous. See a map of all the City’s capital projects at: http://budget.data.cityofboston.gov/....    

Commercial Helipad: Councilor Flaherty called for a hearing to discuss the possibility of a commercial helipad in Boston, following reports of GE’s interest in locating one in the Seaport neighborhood. He mentioned that Boston used to see corporate helicopter usage until the helipad was demolished to make way for the Boston Convention & Exchibition Center, and nearby residents had to deal with noise, air pollution, and safety impacts. He emphasized that it’s important for the Council to be ahead of the planning, and bring residents into the process before any decisions have been made. The order was sent to the Parks, Recreation & Transportation Committee.

Boston Cultural Council: Mayor Walsh filed an amendment to the city code to allow the Boston Cultural Council to accept and act on grant applications more than once annually. The order notes that giving the Cultural Council more flexibility to accept grant applications throughout the year will further its ability to promote the arts, culture and the humanities in the City of Boston. The matter was referred to the Government Operations Committee.

Parking: Councilor Baker filed a hearing order to discuss the current city resident and visitor parking programs as well as the potential to develop new revenue generating parking permit programs. The order further discusses the possibility for new parking structures within the city. We will also make sure the conversation includes discussion of how to reduce the need for parking by supporting public transportation, walking, and cycling infrastructure. The matter was sent to the Parks, Recreation and Transportation Committee for a hearing.

Office of Economic Development: Councilors McCarthy and Essaibi-George filed a hearing to discuss the restructuring of the Office of Economic Development, with a specific focus on the Main Streets program, Mayor Walsh’s Small Business Plan, and the creation of the Office of Small Business Development. There are over 40,000 small businesses in the City of Boston, of which 35% are women-owned, 32% owned by people of color, and 27% owned by immigrant residents. Several Councilors spoke about the importance of local businesses to our city’s economic development. The matter was sent to the Jobs, Wages and Workforce Development Committee for a hearing.

South Station Expansion: Councilors Flaherty & Linehan called for a hearing on MassDOT’s plans to build rail layover facilities at Widett Circle, Readville Yard, and potentially Beacon Park Yard in Allston. Councilor Flaherty noted that the New Boston Food Market has 21 food processing and distribution businesses that employ over 900 workers, and Widett Circle’s future should include public feedback and City oversight. The matter was sent to the Planning & Development Committee for a hearing.

For complete notes on this meeting and prior Boston City Council meeting notes, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email. 

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