Somerville’s Budget Problem

Our Budget Process

  • The Mayor proposes a budget in early June. It comes out as a glossy 200+ page PDF filled with flowery language and slick graphics. Our budget PDFs regularly win awards from something called the “Government Finance Officers Association.”
  • The budget package also includes a spreadsheet with organization codes, line items, and dollar amounts. That spreadsheet is the only thing that matters.
  • The city council spends 40+ hours in public meetings talking to department heads, trying to understand how the numbers in the spreadsheet match up to the stories in the PDF. Sometimes a bit of dirty laundry gets aired, but mostly it’s just excruciating.
  • The council can only cut funds from the spreadsheet. They cannot shift or allocate funds. They certainly cannot cause projects or initiatives to happen — they can only defund particular line items.
  • When they make a significant cut, the councilors hold forth at length about what they are trying to achieve by cutting and where the money might be better spent.
  • At this point, the Mayor has the option to respond to these pleas by issuing a revised budget increasing other line items. Usually, he does not. The money is simply lost, and property taxes increase a tiny, tiny bit less.
  • If the council fails to approve a budget by July 1, then we don’t have a budget. We don’t have funds to pay for stuff. Trash stops being collected. Librarians stop getting paid. At that point, the Mayor blames all of it on the city council for failing to get their job done.
  • After the budget is passed, the Mayor does whatever he wants in terms of projects and moves money around to make it happen. No matter how specifically we say that these cuts are supposed to apply to police overtime— the crossing guards wind up getting the axe.

2020 is even worse

Transparency

This is a pattern

Blow it up

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Hyper local in Somerville, MA. I show up to public meetings, make FOIA requests, and write about it. Focused on transparency and accountability. (he/him)

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Chris Dwan

Chris Dwan

Hyper local in Somerville, MA. I show up to public meetings, make FOIA requests, and write about it. Focused on transparency and accountability. (he/him)

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