Janey rolls out new City Council committees
PILOT reform, education funding discussed
Council President Kim Janey finalized this year’s council committee assignments during last week’s meeting. The assignments put women in charge of some of the body’s most powerful committees, including Government Operations, chaired by Lydia Edwards; Education, chaired by Annissa Essaibi-George; Ways and Means, chaired by Kenzie Bok; and a newly recreated Post Audit committee, chaired by Michelle Wu.
Along with the new Post Audit committee, the Public Health and PILOT Reform committees were also added, chaired by Ricardo Arroyo and Bok, respectively.
Janey said that the new Post Audit committee gives the council an opportunity to reflect on money spent in years past.
“This is one of the most important things we do as a council,” she told the Banner. “We’re responsible for the finances of this city and making sure we’re being good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars.”
An earlier version of the committee, the Post Audit & Oversight committee, was formed by former Councilor Charles Yancey in 1984, but in 2016 its functions were folded into other committees.
Nonprofit institutions in Massachusetts are not required to pay property taxes. Under the voluntary Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, or PILOT, many of Boston’s universities, hospitals and other large nonprofit institutions make annual contributions to the city to make up for the lost property tax revenue. Most of these institutions, however, have paid far less than the city has requested. Janey said that the committee was established to address several concerns — including her own — on “the number of non-profit partners in our city who are not paying their fair share toward PILOT.”
Some committees, on the other hand, have been dissolved. Councilor Essaibi-George expressed disappointment regarding the dissolution of the committee on Homelessness, Mental Health and Recovery. She noted that all three issues were intertwined.
“This committee was contended to lift up the issues impacting communities who are always left behind: the poor, disenfranchised communities that continue to be disproportionately impacted by this epidemic,” she said.
The areas under the purview of the dissolved committee have been assigned to the public health and housing committees, but Essaibi-George noted the consequences of division.
“By separating these issues, we lose our effectiveness to develop holistic and comprehensive solutions for this crisis,” she said.
Janey, however, said that she was confident that these matters would be prioritized by the council committees.
Essaibi-George, as Education chair, announced 10 hearing orders to examine issues confronting the Boston Public Schools. The orders addressed inclusion, safety and development.
Students across the city deal with high levels of depression, anxiety and bullying, said Essaibi-George. The department’s 2020 budget increased funding for nurses in each school. Essaibi-George noted the equal importance of mental-health professionals.
“Given the fact that so many of our youth have childhoods rocked by gun violence, homelessness or family instability, it’s clear that a full time mental-health professional in every single school is equally necessary,” she said. School staff are not equipped to handle the trauma that many students deal with, she said.
Essaibi-George also addressed student safety. “As a former high school teacher in Boston and as a BPS parent, it is important to me that our kids feel safe when they’re in our schools, but that they also feel safe coming and going to school,” she told the Banner.
Essaibi-George pushed for protections against bullying, improperly discarded needles and student homelessness. She told the Banner that about 5,000 students in BPS experience homelessness, amounting to about 10% of the student population. She recently filed an ordinance for a special commission to end family homelessness.
“The fix to homelessness, in particular for families experiencing homelessness, is certainly about creating more affordable family housing,” she told the Banner. “But it’s also about creating the right support for families. It’s about access to mental health services, it’s about access to economic opportunity, it’s about access to stable communities.”
Essaibi-George also spoke to the “chaos-inducing transportation issues” of BPS and noted the stress that many parents experience when buses arrive late. She proposed a hearing regarding the 2020 BPS transportation budget. Although BPS continues to enroll and transport fewer students, transportation costs continue to rise.
Along with Councilor Matt O’Malley, Essaibi-George also proposed a hearing regarding BuildBPS. The 10-year master plan reflects a $1 billion commitment from Mayor Martin Walsh. Both councilors noted the importance of sustainable, environmentally-friendly buildings.
“Our schools, through the BuildBPS plan, are under, or will be under, some significant renovations or rebuilds in the coming years,” Essaibi-George told the Banner. “So it’s an excellent and incredible opportunity for us as a city to make some of those impacts in a very direct way with our own property.”
Essaibi-George noted that 70% of Boston’s carbon emissions come from its buildings. BuildBPS gives schools an opportunity to advance climate goals, especially the aim to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
Councilor O’Malley further addressed environmental goals by acknowledging the cost of city-wide recycling. Recycling costs have drastically increased: from $200,000 in 2017 to almost $6 million this year.
“There are a lot of municipalities in 2020, when we know that climate justice is a public health emergency, (that) are no longer recycling,” he said.
Another proposed order involved a discussion around the 2020 Census. Councilor Flynn said that the census is one of the most important issues the city council will face.
“The census not only dictates how many elected congressional members we have,” he said, “but even more importantly than that, it determines the federal resources that come into a city or a state, such as SNAP, the food assistance program, that is now being cut by the federal government.”
The federal government considered asking a citizenship question on the census, but later decided against it. This proposal induced fear in Boston’s immigrants.
“There are a lot of people who are undocumented in the city of Boston, who feel afraid.” said Councilor Julia Mejia. She said that people need to be mindful of this when discussing an accurate census count. The city needs to build trust with these undocumented citizens.
Councilor Wu said that out of the top 100 U.S. cities, Boston is among the top 10 hardest to count. It has one of the lowest rates of return for the census form.
Over the next year, Boston’s most diverse city council in history will address these citywide issues. Janey expressed pride and gratitude for her council, which is majority women and people of color.
“For young people who are looking to this body, it’s important for them to know that they have leadership that looks like them,” she told the Banner. “And that they too can aspire to serve in public office should they want to.”