Vice Mayor column: Cambridge pulls off difficult balance with budget

By Marc McGovern

Posted May. 5, 2016 at 12:13 PM

CAMBRIDGE

On April 25, the city manager and Louis DePasquale and Jeana Franconi of the Finance Department presented the City Council and the public with the fiscal 2017 budget. In what is an annual tradition, next year’s budget continues to do something few municipalities are able to do. Once again, the city has managed the difficult balance of adding additional city services and programs while simultaneously keeping property taxes low.

Here are a few highlights. While other cities are trying to close tens-of-millions-of-dollar deficits in their school department budgets, laying off teachers and closing schools, Cambridge once again invested in our children’s education in multiple ways. With an increase of 5.4 percent, the School Department budget will be $172,793,980 for nearly 7,000 students, with additional funds going to social-emotional learning, additional social workers in the schools and continuing high levels of professional development.

In addition, the city will be bonding $146.6 million in new construction costs to build an educational campus on Cambridge Street that will include a new King Open Elementary School, Cambridge Street Upper School, Valente Public Library and public pool, as well as a new central administration building.

Combined with funding through the Human Services Department that provides pre-school programs, out-of-school time programs and summer camp opportunities, you will be hard pressed to find a city anywhere that invests as much as we do in the children of our community.

One of the highlights that I personally am excited to see is the $1.3 million that will go toward moving Cambridge closer to affordable, universal, high-quality early childhood education for all children. Cambridge has always been a leader with strong early childhood services, such as the Agenda for Children and Baby University, but we know that far too many parents struggle to afford high-quality day care and preschool, and without a strong foundation, many of our children enter public school far behind their peers. We are determined to ensure every child has access to a great start, and we are putting our money behind those values.

In addition to public education, the city budget also includes additional funding for 21 new positions, including six in Public Works, five in Public Safety, two in Finance, two in Information Technology, four in Community Development, and two in General Government. These positions will further support the wide range of city services designed to improve the daily lives of our residents.

The budget also continues our commitment to affordable housing. Since 2005, Cambridge has invested $124.4 million in funds for affordable housing, which has led to the creation of 1,176 affordable units and the preservation of 1,130 additional affordable units. There isn’t a person in our city administration who doesn’t understand and isn’t committed to finding ways to maintain affordable housing in Cambridge, and we will continue to direct funds to try and stabilize an ever-increasing housing market that is leading to higher rent and home ownership prices, not just in Cambridge but in the entire Metro Boston area.

The city has also allocated funds toward our Envision Cambridge process that will develop a citywide plan that will set the course of our city for the next generation. Funds were also allocated to continue improving our city’s infrastructure. As frustrating as the street construction has been, very few cities are investing funds in repairing crumbling infrastructure for the future that will not only be better for our residents but will be better for our environment. Funding will also continue to support the Fuel Assistance Program that supports 1,600 low-income families, as well as continued funding to address our homelessness and opioid crisis.

I am a firm believer that we must be willing to address our shortcomings while also celebrating our accomplishments. Despite a budget that is the envy of every other community in our state, we know that we have more work to do in order to be the socially just community we want to be.

Despite our financial stability there are far too many residents who are struggling. They are struggling to pay their bills, to put food on the table and to keep a roof over their head. With any budget there will be things we can point to that we like and things that we wish we could do but haven’t. What makes Cambridge different, is that our financial stability, combined with our commitment as a community to support one another, puts us in a position to address these complicated issues and to put resources behind them to move our city forward for all of our residents.

As the Finance Chair for the Cambridge City Council, I want to offer my thanks and appreciation to the City Manager Rich Rossi, Deputy City Manager Lisa Peterson, Assistant City Manager for Finance Louis DePasquale, Budget Director Jeana Franconi, all the department heads and all the support staff who work tirelessly serving the residents of Cambridge.

As always, I’m proud of our city and to play a small part in moving us forward.

Marc McGovern is the vice mayor of Cambridge and the chair of the Finance Committee.

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