By Dan Murphy
Mayor Michelle Wu unveiled her administration’s first proposed operating budget for the city – a recommended $3.99 billion for Fiscal ‘23 – last Wednesday, April 13.
This represents new growth of $216 million or 5.7 percent over Fiscal ‘22, according to the city, while the Fiscal ‘23-‘27 Capital Plan, which Mayor Wu describes as a “moving target,” totals $3.6 billion of neighborhood infrastructure investments.
Mayor Wu told a small group of reporters from neighborhood newspapers on hand for a Media Roundtable on Thursday, April 14, in the Eagle Room at City Hall that the goal is to connect this money with the nearly $350 in one-time federal funds received through the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, which still remain unallocated, to help Bos-ton reach its goal of becoming a Green New Deal City.
“This is an unheard of amount of money for the city to have avail-able, and there are many needs, but we’re going to try to focus on a sig-nificant scale in a few key areas,” said Mayor Wu. “We have a chance to truly accelerate and go big.”
An unprecedented commitment of $380 million is being made to housing affordability via the city’s operating budget while around $206 million of the $350 million in unallocated AARP funds will be focused on creating affordable housing and assistance for first-generation home-buyers, as well as updating public housing units. (The AARP funds that the city is receiving must be accounted for by 2024 and spent by 2026.)
This comes in response to what was heard during listening sessions held in neighborhoods across the city, said Mayor Wu, as well from re-spondents who participated in the city’s online survey.
Also, about $34 million is earmarked for economic opportunity and inclusion: to grow BIPOC-owned businesses, to further invest in Main Street business districts, to expand tuition-free community college and workforce training programs, and to create a commercial rental rebate program to support small business recovery and build wealth in Boston neighborhoods.
Another around $31.5 million is earmarked for climate-focused in-vestments, including expanding the Green Youth Jobs program, creating walking and biking infrastructure, growing and preserving the city’s ur-ban tree canopy, strengthening local food systems, and supporting elec-trification of the city’s vehicle and school bus fleet.
Climate-resiliency measures will be also incorporated into many city projects, said Mayor Wu, such as the $10 million allocated for Ryan Playground in Charlestown, which will incorporate design elements to combat sea-level rise.
Despite proposing an approximately 1 percent cut to the Boston Police Department’s budget from just under $400 million in Fiscal ‘22 to about $396 million in Fiscal ’23, Mayor Wu said there would be more officers on the street in the coming year, with two recruit classes of about 130 each, as well as the cadet program, together expected to ex-ceed officer who are retiring or otherwise are expected to be lost to attri-tion.
According to a statement from the city, “Mayor Wu is committed to ensuring the City workforce reflects Boston’s neighborhoods and the residents we serve, including our public safety agencies. Our administra-tion is working to break down barriers to expand opportunities for wom-en and people of color to join our Police Department and every depart-ment in city government. The budget proposed by Mayor Wu includes an expansion of the cadet program to 90 cadets from 60 in order to pro-mote diversity within the force. It also includes two police recruit classes that will help maintain appropriate staffing levels and diversify the City’s police force as well as $500,000 for a public safety staffing study to en-sure public safety resources are allocated appropriately throughout the City’s neighborhoods.”
Meanwhile, Boston received AAA bond ratings from both rating agencies for the eighth year in a row last month.
“Boston is in such sound fiscal shape, and we weathered the pandemic very well,” said Mayor Wu, as opposed to some other cities that are using the federal funds they receive to “fill holes” in their budget, or to hire back their furloughed employees.
With the passage of Ballot Question 1 in last Nov. 2’s election, the city’s operating budget now goes to the City Council, where it must garner support from two-thirds of the councilors before it can go into effect July 1.