Last night, the Council approved the Mayor’s FY24 budget submission. The budget we voted on included additional funding for the Schools sufficient to close their FY24 funding gap, an additional $87K for the Library, and reestablished $51K of zoning support funding for the City Council. We also voted with the knowledge that Council leadership had come to an agreement with the Administration on commitments for more meaningful involvement of the Council in the City’s budgeting process going forward, the details of which were published this morning.
During our meeting last night, I was candid about how this vote was a difficult one for me. For the benefit of residents who didn't happen to stay up past midnight to watch our full debate, I want to take this opportunity to explain the reasoning for my yes vote and restate where we must go from here.
I went to the Administration in May and voiced my priorities directly: increased funding for the Schools and the Library; reestablishing funding for the Council’s zoning re-codification (which is where much of our climate planning can be implemented); and guarantees that starting next year, the budget process would more meaningfully involve the Council.
I was clear with the Administration that my vote on the FY24 budget would hinge on expanding the Council’s role in the City budgeting process. I needed to see structural improvements that would make the Council’s role in budgeting more meaningful – because frankly, I have found this role to be unmeaningful. I find it unacceptable that, under our current Charter, one-half of all of your elected officials do not have a role in crafting our City budget. We hear, but cannot act on, your priorities.
This is why my drumbeat over the past three months has been advocating for the proposed Charter Amendments that would – if passed by the voters – create a real role for the City Council in the budgeting process. These changes would create news checks and balances; require collaboration between the Mayor and the City Council; and require that the City Council share the burden of making those difficult decisions of how to best address our community’s short- and long-term needs with limited resources.
I was holding out hope that, before our vote, I would get word that the Administration had gone ahead and advanced the Charter Amendments, meaning that we could trust and empower the voters to decide whether to approve or reject these proposed changes on the November ballot.
I am truly disappointed that I did not get that call.
But by the time of our vote yesterday, our Council leadership had secured a compromise with the Administration, including commitments for the budget process going forward that were not there before. The Administration has publicly committed to:
Collaborating with Council leadership on changes to the budget process starting next year, including preliminary, early-year meetings with Department Heads
A process for City Council to make budget recommendations to the Mayor before the budget has been drafted
Regular comprehensive assessments of operating and capital needs
Those are all principles of the draft Budget Ordinance, a component of the Better Future Budget Plan, which I have had the opportunity to work on with Vice President Bears as a member of the Rules & Ordinances Subcommittee.
The agreement also includes:
A Financial Task Force which will be made up of City Councilors, School Committee Members and City staff
Commitment to have the Charter Study Committee review the proposed Charter Amendments, alongside a commitment to consider all other options for pursuing the goals of these Charter Amendments (i.e. ballot question)
Exploring using one-time funds for long-term budget planning and capital needs assessment, to jumpstart our long-term planning process.
Anyone I have talked to or who has watched City Council meetings over the past few months will know that this is not all I wanted. I want to see a more structured and protected role for the City Council in the budgeting process. I want to see more robust investment in long-term planning so that we can adequately meet Medford's current and future financial, infrastructural, climate and social challenges.
I do not believe this budget paints a picture of the Medford that our residents deserve. I’m not "happy" about this budget. That would require funding robust steps towards: schools that all families that can send their kids to with happiness and confidence; roads and sidewalks that are safe and accessible for all users; proactive climate resiliency planning; bringing social and housing resources in-house; funding our Library commensurate with the value it brings to our community; and compensating every City position, union and non-union, at a rate that means everyone who works in our community can afford to live here.
But it’s not my job to be happy with the budget. My job is to put my frustration aside and prioritize outcomes. My job is to try and bring about the best possible results for our residents, even under deeply unsatisfying circumstances.
I am relieved that we secured increases in this budget that will make FY24 workable for the Schools and the Library, even though “workable” and “what we deserve” are two different things.
I am relieved that the budget passed and we will avoid the disruption of a 1/12th budget scenario which would hobble essential Schools and City functions.
I am confident that these budget process commitments will move us closer to a meaningful role in the budget process, so that we can work with the Administration to improve our long-term planning and more confidently meet our community’s challenges the way our residents deserve.
I will continue to fight to let the voters decide on the Better Budget Charter Amendments.
I will continue to hold the Administration accountable both to its stated commitments, and to the spirit of a more meaningful and participatory short- and long-term budget strategy. I commit to being a full participant and good-faith collaborator in this process.
We must work urgently to bring our City budget into alignment with our values, into alignment with what residents deserve. This will never happen as quickly as it should, as quickly as I want it to.
But that doesn’t mean dropping out of the process. It means doing the best we can with whatever tools we can win. I was able to approve the budget because of the commitments for a better process starting next year – and I will make sure those commitments are just the foundation.