Metro, Newton

Newton’s 2020 Budget Focuses on Education, Infrastructure

Newton’s budget for 2020 will focus on public schools, public safety, transportation and home services for senior citizens, infrastructure, and climate change. It was released on Tuesday by Mayor Ruthanne Fuller in her Mayor’s Update email.

Newton was not doing well financially nine years ago, Fuller wrote. She had just begun her new position as Alderman when state aid was down, health care and pension costs were rising, and schools and other city facilities were underfunded. Now, the 2020 budget is $19 million more than the 2019 budget, with a $18 million expansion in the operating budget. Other budgets are for water, sewer, and stormwater enterprise funds and community preservation funds.

The education budget is set at $236.4 million, which is an $8.8 million increase from last year—$1 million of this will go toward funding Newton’s full-day kindergarten, which is beginning for the first time in September. Some will go toward improving the school buildings, which Fuller cited as being small, leaky, and awkward.

A clinical counselor who focuses on mental health and substance abuse prevention will be added at Newton high schools, using funds from a medical marijuana host community agreement. More police officers will be trained as drug recognition experts, and education on drug abuse and recovery will increase. The mayor cited suicide prevention, hoarding, and food insecurity as specific areas of concern.

As Newton plans to have its first recreational marijuana dispensary—Garden Remedies—open in the coming weeks, the city will begin to receive revenue from the shop. Some of it will go into Newton’s operating budget. Other revenue might come in as part of a “community impact fee,” which would be used for public health, safety, education, and infrastructure that is affected by the sale of marijuana.

“While it is our duty to provide academic excellence and educational equity, it is also our responsibility to keep Newton safe, to make Newton more ‘all age’ friendly with a particular focus on our seniors, to improve our streets, sidewalks, and mobility, to maintain our public buildings and infrastructure, to preserve our neighborhoods, to increase affordable housing and diversify housing options, and to promote vibrant, walkable and financially robust village centers and commercial corridors,” Fuller wrote.

Newton in Motion, a ride-share program also known as “NewMo,” will begin this year, allowing seniors to request rides using the phone, email, or an app. The budget also increases the Senior Tax Deferral Program, which helps seniors remain in their homes, by $242,000.

Newton’s potholes, which have been frequently mentioned in the Mayor’s Updates this winter, will be fixed using the $9.5 million investment in Newton’s roads. The budget also increased for crosswalk painting, traffic measures that improve safety, and “Complete Street” projects that will begin in 2019 and 2020 to improve roads, traffic signals, benches, bus stations, and greenery. The city will also look into renewable energy development, solar installations, waste diversion, LED lighting installations, and Newton’s Climate Action Plan.

The National Guard Armory building could be repurposed for 100 percent affordable housing, the mayor wrote.

“Please know that the Commonwealth is willing to sell the building to the City for $1 only if it is used for affordable housing,” she wrote, “a use in which I believe deeply, and which also allows the City to control what happens to this important building.”

There is still much more that needs to be invested in, Fuller wrote. Pensions, retiree health care, infrastructure, snow, and community projects need more funding. Newton needs to be mindful of how grand its plans are and be careful not spend too much, she wrote.

“This is an exciting time in Newton with significant decisions to make and important initiatives in which to invest,” Fuller wrote. “I look forward to working together with our residents and the Honorable City Council and School Committee as we forge a welcoming and inclusive city that is greater, better and more beautiful.”

Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / For the Heights

April 22, 2019