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By Edward M. Augustus Jr.
Every year, my administration takes seriously the task of putting together a thoughtful, prudent city budget. We do this for a very simple reason: It’s your money.
As budget season approaches, I want to share the core, unshakeable principles upon which our city budget will be based. We will never submit a budget that fails to protect the fiscal health of the city. We will never jeopardize the city’s strong bond rating. And we will never spend money without being absolutely sure it is in the best interest of our residents.
That being said, the budget is an annual opportunity to advance our shared priorities.
Building a budget is not just about making the numbers add up, it is about making wise investments that broaden the burden of paying for municipal services across a larger base. By supporting economic development, we can make Worcester a destination for art and culture, restaurants and bars, sporting events, trade shows and business conferences. Public investments in infrastructure and public safety will beget private investment and make downtown Worcester a safe, clean, interesting place to live, work, learn, and play.
Seeds are already sprouting across downtown, from CitySquare and its new parking garage, AC by Marriott hotel and 350 market rate apartments; to The Hanover Theater for the Performing Arts’ soon-to-be-complete expansion on Main Street; to the $70 million in private investment and 500 UMass Memorial Health Care jobs coming to the brand new Mercantile Center on Front Street. Three new hotels will be built in the next 18 months. Hundreds of additional housing units will be added at the Osgood Bradley Building, behind Union Station, and the former Worcester County Courthouse on Main Street. These are just a few examples of the momentum we are seeing downtown.
As a city, we will work to accelerate that momentum. In the past five years, we’ve invested more than $10 million into the Worcester Common and surrounding streets and sidewalks, and have worked tirelessly to program the space with outdoor concerts, ice skating, festivals, art exhibits and more.
Every great city has both a vibrant business district and strong, safe neighborhoods. In the past decade, Worcester has spent $60 million on our parks, and we will continue to improve these key centers of neighborhood activity. As we did this year, we will prioritize public safety by bringing on new police and fire classes, and give them the key technology and equipment to do their job. We will maintain our commitment to support our schools, which not only act as centers of learning but centers of safety, activity, and community in our neighborhoods.
In fact, I believe that every dollar we spend on education is a wise investment. I understand the relationship between property values and the quality of our schools. Young people are 20 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future; so every dollar we spend on them is an investment in ourselves and our community.
That’s why, for the past two years, the City has given $2 million more to the Worcester Public Schools than the state requires. I plan to maintain our commitment to education by again funding above our required amount, even though the state formula would allow Worcester to shrink its contribution.
But our commitment to our youth doesn’t end at the final bell. This January, we expanded Recreation Worcester, our popular summer recreation program, to after-school programs at six neighborhood schools across the city. Hundreds of kids have already taken part, and we’re looking to grow even further.
We funded this expansion without a single dollar of taxpayer money. This is a great example of how we have grown city services through partnerships – in this case, with the Jenny Trust Fund, the Worcester Educational Development Foundation and the Office of District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr. – without adding to the local tax burden. We will continue to look for these opportunities to provide more services, without adding to the cost of city government.
By being responsible to our taxpayers and staying on the cutting edge of technology we will strive to always look for the most efficient and cost effective ways to do business. As an example, the Worcester Energy program, by making 92 municipal sites more energy efficient, is already generating $1.4 million per year in guaranteed savings, and is expected to drop the city’s energy use by 18 percent. New solar energy installations and the replacement of 14,000 city’s streetlights with energy-saving LED bulbs will save the city an additional $1.7 million each and every year, and bring an additional $3 million in revenue from state solar incentives. We will also build the largest municipal solar farm in the state on the capped Greenwood Street landfill.
As Dr. Martin Luther King said, a budget is a moral document. It is not only an accounting of how much paper the treasurer’s office will need to buy, or how many lifeguards we will hire for the summer swimming season. It is a statement of principles, a framing document that sets out the path for the future of our community.
It is my hope and belief that, by working together with the City Council and our community, we can put together a city budget that reflects all of our shared priorities, and moves Worcester into a future of which we can all be proud.
Edward M. Augustus Jr. is Worcester’s city manager.