The 2022 $ 733 million budget finances reforms, sustainability efforts, parks

WORCESTER – An aggressive city budget of $ 733 million for fiscal 2022 is presented to city council this week.

The proposal funds several aspects of City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.’s plan to address equity and structural racism in the city, and it creates new structures within city government to guide the Green Worcester plan to make the city more sustainable.

The budget also expands efforts to clean up the city and beautify its parks.

Auguste will present the budget to the council on Wednesday; from there it will be referred to the council’s finance committee for public hearings.

Timothy J. McGourthy, the city’s chief financial officer, gave a budget overview Monday at city hall.

• The budget for fiscal year 2022 represents an increase of $ 28.6 million over fiscal year 2021, or approximately 4.1%. Of this increase, the majority is spent on education ($ 17.1 million), equity initiatives ($ 2 million) and fixed costs ($ 4 million).

• The budget provides $ 294 million in public aid, according to the governor’s latest budget – $ 294 million for schools and $ 47.6 million for public administrations.

• It projects local property tax revenues of $ 340.8 million, an increase of $ 14.5 million – approximately $ 8.3 million authorized under the 2 1/2 proposal and $ 6.2 million. dollars in new growth – or 4.4%, McGourthy said.

McGourthy said the budget assumes overall local revenues to be equal due to a mix of declines in some areas and increases or continued stabilization in other areas. For example, interest rates close to zero are impacting the city’s ability to collect interest on the cash it controls, while corporate funds such as the Green Hill Golf Course have exceeded. expectations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Equity actions funded

The budget provides financial support for a series of reforms introduced by Augustus earlier this year with the aim of dismantling structural racism and creating fairness.

Funding for an expanded staff at the Executive Office of Diversity and Inclusion is included in fiscal 2022. A new Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will support the work of the department, which includes Director of Diversity, Stephanie Williams.

The $ 2 million for equity efforts includes $ 1 million to the Department of Health and Social Services for mental health support services that will be deployed alongside police to respond to 911 calls involving crises. mental health or trauma.

The budget also uses $ 750,000 to raise all salaries for permanent employees to $ 15 an hour, ahead of the state‘s transition to a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour in 2023.

About $ 250,000 will be allocated for fairness audits in the health and social services, the Worcester Police Department and the city’s human resources department. An additional $ 50,000 is earmarked for training associated with the results of these audits.

In addition, contributions from other individual departments will fund the creation of a contract compliance post in the area of ​​economic development and a new investigation unit within the city’s human resources to investigate and deal with complaints. against employees.

Parks, cleanup efforts see a boost

New positions and initiatives for the Department of Public Works and Parks are included in a proposed increase of $ 832,000. Augustus recommends an increase of six positions to serve as part of the city’s quality of life and clean teams, and will provide coverage in every district of the council.

To offset the increased costs, Augustus is proposing a fee increase of 25 cents per trash bag to take effect Jan. 1. McGourthy noted that the charges for trash bags have not been increased in 14 years and would provide up to $ 350,000 in new resources. for fiscal year 2022.

Four more parking enforcement officers are proposed to complement the new parking enforcement initiative and are expected to pay for themselves through stronger enforcement and higher penalties, Augustus noted in a communication to council accompanying the budget.

Two new work foreman positions – one focused on green infrastructure and the other focused on forestry – and a senior security officer will be recruited with an increased focus on beautification and safety in city parks. Augustus said in the communication.

Reorg aboard the Green Worcester Plan

The other major operational change is the split of the Energy and Asset Management Division into two separate departments to allow the development of specific programs to support Green Worcester’s strategic sustainability and resilience plan.

Augustus wrote that he will elevate sustainability and resilience to become his own department; it will include members of energy and asset management and the DPW blue spaces team.

Public facilities will also be elevated to the rank of independent department. It will initially absorb EAM’s current responsibilities – Town Hall, Meade Street Office Building, Worcester Public Library, DCU Center, Senior Center and Union Station – but will eventually expand its reach to include the police department, the fire department and more, Augustus wrote.

The budget also includes a new communications role within the Ministry of Public Health and a post of deputy clerk to support city council hybrid operations.

Additional positions are also offered in Economic Development to support housing and planning efforts, at the Center for the Elderly Center to help the elderly with technology, and an adolescent support post at the library.

Funded Public Safety Cadet Programs

McGourthy said the proposed budget maintains full staffing compliments for both the police department and the fire department. It forecasts a firefighter recruit class of 30 – there was no recruit class in 2021 – and forecasts a police recruit class of 10.

The police budget proposed for fiscal year 2022 only increases by a few hundred dollars, to $ 52,767,291 from fiscal year 2021, and the fire department’s budget is up by about 500,000 $. McGourthy said the increase is due in part to the implementation of recommendations that should emerge from an independent review of the department commissioned by the city last year.

The public safety budget also includes funding for police cadet / explorer programs to introduce more and more diverse youth to careers in public safety.

Salary increase included

The FY2022 budget also includes a 2% cost-of-living adjustment for all staff, Augustus wrote, subject to the completion of collective bargaining.

“It has been an uncertain and difficult time and city workers have risen to and beyond the opportunity without the traditional cost-of-living adjustments,” Augustus wrote to the board. “They were working hard, risking their health, so that the townspeople could take shelter safely in their homes.”

Federal funds could act as a cushion

The major piece of the budget puzzle that has yet to be factored in is the flow of federal aid to the city from the American Recovery Act. McGourthy said the city is expected to receive about $ 150 million for the municipal side alone, with about $ 80 million more for the city’s schools.

But he said the city is still waiting for concrete advice on how that money can be spent, so McGourthy said the planned aid is not counted in the operating budget.

He said based on early federal aid programs like the CARES Act, the city was comfortable making certain assumptions in its capital budget, which is also presented to council this week.

For example, the capital budget for technical services includes money for expanded wireless Internet access and expanded and improved municipal online services.

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