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Councilors debate, approve FY 2019 budget

With no power to veto line items, members say they have little choice

Saphia Suarez
Councilors debate, approve FY 2019 budget
District 1 City Councilor Lydia Edwards speaks during the budget hearing. photo: Saphia Suarez

The Boston City Council last week voted unanimously in support of Mayor Martin Walsh’s $3.29 billion budget, but some councilors raised concerns about the budget process that mandates an up-or-down vote.

“This idea of voting up or down on a $3.29 billion budget to me is unacceptable,” said City Council President Andrea Campbell, who noted that she and other councilors have little opportunity to view individual line items in the budget.

Councilor Lydia Edwards of District 1 said she had mixed feelings about the budget, citing her concerns about reports of sexual harassment in the Boston Fire Department.

“I’m extremely conflicted, because half of me comes from the world of advocacy,” she said. “So I didn’t sleep last night thinking about how my advocate me would be so disappointed in the political me if I voted yes for this budget.”

Following the vote, Edwards and the other five women on the body fired off a letter supporting an independent investigation into the low numbers of women serving as firefighters and the working conditions of the 16 women in the 1,500-member department and demanding a detailed accounting of how the $500,000 allocated to training firefighters would be spent. The letter also called on the department to satisfy the terms of a 1996 consent decree that mandated training classes on sexual harassment and special accommodations for women firefighters. The councilors also demanded a meeting with women firefighters, department brass and members of the Walsh administration.

Other councilors thanked Walsh administration officials and City Council Ways and Means Chairman Mark Ciommo for their handling of the budget.

School budget

Campbell stood out with the sole “no” vote on the Boston Public Schools budget, suggesting she believes there is enough money in the budget to do more in regard to public education. “I think BPS has adequate resources to provide our students and parents with an excellent education. I think the question is what are we doing with the resources we have,” she said.

She cited the $120 million transportation budget as an example, saying that the money allocated for city transportation is increasing, even though the student population that uses public transportation is declining.

At-Large Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, chair of the Committee on Education, lauded the education budget for increasing the number of school nurses and psychologists.

“I’m excited that we are adding student-facing nurses, psychologists and social workers to our classrooms, to our school buildings,” she said. “Every child in Boston should have access to school-based professionals that will account for their health, emotionally, mentally and physically.”

However, they won’t all have such access quite yet — at least not thanks to this budget, which does not implement these resources in every Boston public school.

“We’ve got work to do,” Essaibi George said. “But we’re taking steps in the right direction.”

Essaibi George added that processes like the BuildBPS capital spending plan continue to be a problem and need to be made more effective.

“There is a desire for a public and transparent conversation, and I hope after the approval of today’s budget that BPS will get to it,” she said.

Other budget items

The council also approved a $15,000 grant for the fiscal year 2019 National Violent Death Reporting System, which will “fund data collection by the bureau of investigative services and the drug control unit” and will be administered by the police department.

The budget also includes $2 million for the implementation of police body-worn cameras, an additional position at the Office for Immigrant Advancement, and the implementation of the Disaster Housing Assistance program for Hurricane Maria refugees who have resettled in Massachusetts.

The council also voted to oppose “concealed carry reciprocity,” which is a federal law being considered in Congress that would allow gun owners to abide by the gun laws of the state in which they bought their gun, thereby circumventing the gun laws of the state in which they reside.

Essaibi George authored an order for a hearing to discuss improving access to vacant affordable housing units in Boston. According to the councilor, there are currently 839 vacant units, associated with 37 projects, that are available for affordable rent or ownership.

The council also supported Councilor Ayanna Pressley’s resolution urging the Legislature to include the Safe Communities Act in the state budget bill.

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