Mayor Unveils $150 Million Operating Budget
FITCHBURG — The city’s 2020 operating budget of over $150 million includes additonal funding for its schools, adds two public works laborers, and maintains city services.
“We take a conservative approach but a fiscally responsible one,” said Mayor Stephen DiNatale.
The budget is broken down into the general fund and enterprise funds for water, wastewater, and the Fitchburg Municipal Airport.
Fitchburg’s general fund — which includes budgets for most city departments — was nearly $130 million, $2.6 million more than the previous year’s budget.
The three enterprise funds totaled $20.7 million, which is a $2.4 million increase.
Overall the budget shows the importance of continuing to grow the city’s commercial sector by attracting businesses to expand Fitchburg’s tax base, DiNatale said.
One way the city looks to do that is through the marijuana business. He said free cash appropriations to the police, legal, and community development departments will help the city as the industry establishes itself.
Here is a closer look at department funding in the general fund:
The mayor recommended a $60.2 million budget for the Fitchburg Public Schools, which is the amount the district requested.
That amount is a $3.6 million increase over the previous year and meets net school spending, DiNatale said.
Most of the increase for the school’s budget comes from more state funding, he said. Fitchburg is expecting over $55 million in Chapter 70 aid.
“The more noise there is the more tension there is at Beacon Hill,” DiNatale said, referring to how communities like Fitchburg have advocated for changes to the state’s public education funding formula.
The city’s assessment for Monty Tech is $1.9 million, about $80,000 more than for Fiscal 2019.
The Department of Public Works had a recommended budget of $4.2 million.
Work to comply with state and federal stormwater discharge laws has been a funding challenge for the city, which has mostly appropriated money from free cash, said AJ Tourigny, the mayor’s chief of staff.
To help the city stay compliant, the DPW budget includes money to hire two laborers to focus on stormwater work.
Although the city has increased its snow and ice removal budget since DiNatale took office, in reality service and equipment can top $1 million, he said.
In preparation for the next season, DiNatale proposed putting free cash from the current year into a reserve account for snow and ice removal.
That money — about $1 million — could be used with the $500,000 the city budgeted for snow and ice through the department.
Projects that the city previously paid debt for like the high school and fire station are now complete, which resulted in total debt service that is $1.3 million less than last year, said City Solicitor Calvin Brooks.
The debt service for Fiscal 2020 includes a second payment for the Longsjo Middle School roof repair project.
The mayor’s budget also includes an expansion for debt service that can create room to pay for projects like the City Hall restoration.
“We’re creating the space to do that when we have to borrow for City Hall and there won’t be a budget crunch,” DiNatale said.
The budget is expected to appear on the City Council’s meeting agenda for next Tuesday and be referred to the Council as a Whole Committee.
DiNatale and the finance team will present the budget and hold a public forum May 28 during the Council as a Whole Committee meeting.
The committee will meet again June 5 to debate and vote on a recommendation for the budget.
Following that meeting, there will be a special council meeting and a final vote on the budget.
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