On cut night, the Somerville City Council cuts police, public works, and other budgets

After a long cut night, the Somerville City Council may be close to approving an FY21 budget.

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Cut night – the culmination of weeks of Finance Committee meetings where City Councilors officially propose budget cuts and discuss where they want to see the money reinvested.

On July 9, the City Council Finance Committee of the Whole deliberated until just past midnight, proposing various cuts to a number of departments, notably police and public works. On July 14, the city will present an amended budget to the City Council for approval (which is still subject to cuts and further discussion).

Public Works

Public Works includes eight departments, and two received cuts on July 9. However, discussion revealed some councilors’ frustration with a lack of information from city staff.

Ward 2 Councilor J.T. Scott had proposed two cuts during department reviews on July 8 – $900,000 to a line in the Buildings and Grounds department and $60,000 from a line in the Highways department – but wanted some more information about where and when money was spent. In the end, he amended the $900,000 cut and proposed a $50,000 cut – which passed unanimously – and withdrew the motion to cut $60,000.

This is where it gets interesting.

In the proposed Fleet Management budget, the city budgeted $250,000 in the “motor parts and accessories” line item even though only $88,884 was spent from the budget in FY20. On July 8, when councilors asked city staff to explain where the money had gone, city staff responded that they had been advised by legal not to comment on personnel matters. After expressing frustration with that response, Councilor-at-Large Mary Jo Rossetti proposed a $100,000 cut to that line, which passed unanimously on July 9.

“Every once and a while I hear about legal advice being given, and this is outrageous,” said White. “I’m going to vote for the cut – if the administration basically says that we can’t inquire about how much money is left in a line item and how the current commissioner intends to have that department spend it next year, that’s ludicrous.”

Ward 1 Councilor Matt McLaughlin proposed a $109,000 cut to the salaries line of the Highway budget, with the intention of cutting the Fleet Manager position, which also passed unanimously.

“I can only tell you what I know, because no one…will even speak to us about this,” he said. “This position was created a few years ago. I did not support it; I did not understand why it needed to exist at all. The position is well over six figures, makes double what the staff people who do the work in the department actually [make], and the position never existed before… It’s questionable that this position is even filled right now; apparently there are two supervisors who are not the fleet manager managing the fleet. It does not make sense to me.”


As of July 9, the total amount cut from the police budget by the Council was $742,000, which, including the city’s proposed budget decrease, is a total 7.9% decrease from FY20.

Though the police budget was heavily discussed on June 29 and July 2, the council continued discussion on Thursday after a further $500,000 cut was proposed by Ward 5 Councilor Mark Niedergang, which failed to pass.

Niedergang said he decided to propose this new cut after seeing the difference reinvesting the previously cut funds makes. The council requested that the city reinvest this money into the Office of Housing Stability and the new Racial and Social Justice initiative, and city staff have outlined their intention to do so.

“[More] case managers [in OHS] could help meet the overwhelming need for help among our residents who are at serious risk of displacement and homelessness,” he said. “As the administration wrote in their memo, in the last three months alone OHS has had approximately 670 new referrals, as many as the office received and handled during the previous 19 months. The one additional case manager added due to our previous cuts will not be nearly enough.”

Councilor-At-Large Mary Jo Rossetti, who did not support this cut (she had already proposed two cuts which were approved), said that she’s hearing from constituents of color that now is not the time to completely defund the police because the wrong people are at the table.


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