Walsh proposes 4.5% budget increase

Includes shifting of offices, layoffs

Mayor Martin J. Walsh is proposing a $2.7 billion budget that would boost city spending by 4.5 percent, an increase designed to keep pace with rising costs and pay for a handful of initiatives.

It represents the first fiscal plan for the new administration and includes $1 million for 100 more kindergarten slots for 4-year-olds, money for weekend hours at libraries, and resources to treat the lingering impact of urban violence at new trauma recovery units in neighborhood health centers.

The proposal also calls for eliminating at least 69 full-time positions in the School Department, largely from administrative offices. At least 23 positions would be cut at the Boston Public Health Commission, which is poised to close its methadone clinic. City budget writers said Tuesday that it was impossible to determine how many layoffs would be required but added that staff cuts were not expected in other departments.


In an interview, Walsh said that because the proposal had begun to take shape in the waning tenure of former mayor Thomas M. Menino, it was a “transition budget from the Menino administration to the Walsh administration.”

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The hardest choice, Walsh said, was proposing layoffs in the School Department. Walsh said he was proudest of his effort to restructure city government, which included creation of Cabinet-level posts for arts and culture and economic development.

“We had to make some decisions in the budget,” Walsh said. “We certainly had to make some cuts, but not as many as I feared. And we were able to incorporate some of the campaign promises we spoke about.”

In a breakfast meeting Wednesday at City Hall, Walsh is scheduled to present his spending proposal to the City Council. Over the next several months, the council will hold hearings before voting on the budget, which would go into effect July 1. In a letter to the council, Walsh described the plan as a “budget that reflects my personal priorities” and “also reflects the beginning of a new era in Boston.”

The plan represents a $118 million increase from the current budget. The additional money will come largely from the annual 2.5 percent increase in property taxes allowed under state law and from revenue related to construction, which is expected to generate an additional $35 million.


Property taxes will continue to account for two-thirds of revenue. Budget writers anticipate that money from building permits and licenses will increase by almost 17 percent, or $7 million. Collections from hotel taxes are expected to rise almost 13 percent, or nearly $8 million. And the tax on restaurant meals should reap $1.5 million more, an increase of 7 percent.

“This is modest growth,” said chief financial officer Meredith Weenick, a Menino holdover who is leaving April 25 after almost 12 years. “It’s what we would expect to see primarily driven by property taxes and other excise revenues that are tied to the economy.”

Like past budgets, Walsh’s proposal would direct 75 percent of spending to employee salaries and benefits. The plan includes one class of recruits for both the police and fire departments to fill vacancies from retirements and other departures. Officials said they also plan to hire a small number of employees scattered across other city departments, such as the new chief of arts and culture.

The budget proposal would increase School Department spending by almost 4 percent and all other departments would see increases of just over 1 percent.

Walsh is hamstrung in launching initiatives because much of the $118 million increase in revenue is absorbed by rising costs, said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog funded by businesses and nonprofits. The increases include costs for pensions, debt, and labor contracts after a significant arbitration ruling for patrolmen.


“He doesn’t have much to work with; that’s the problem,” said Tyler, who served on Walsh’s transition committee. “There are features in the budget that are clearly the result of what the mayor talked about on the campaign. Some of it is small; some of it is bigger.”

Andrew Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.