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Amid coronavirus, Newton mayor proposes budget that defers investments and initiatives

Newton City Hall.
Newton City Hall.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller Monday proposed a budget for the coming fiscal year that she said defers many projects and programs and continues furloughs for about 100 part-time workers, but avoids layoffs for permanent full-time city and school employees.

The proposed $439.5 million operating budget for fiscal 2021, which begins July 1 and includes the city’s schools, is a $9.3 million increase over the current year’s budget, Fuller said.

The budget protects essential services for the coming years, Fuller said, and calls for reductions in spending in city and school budgets due to changing economic conditions. It also does not draw upon the city’s stabilization reserve fund.

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“My highest priorities during this challenging time are to protect our core municipal and educational services, assist vulnerable residents and businesspeople, and safeguard the health and safety of our employees,” Fuller said in a statement Monday night.

The proposed budget also includes support for COVID-19 relief efforts, including $2.5 million earmarked for an emergency rental assistance fund using a mix of Community Preservation Act and Community Development Block Grant money.

The city also is drawing on federal and state grants, along with city free cash, to fund food programs, small business assistance, and public health efforts during the pandemic.

State lawmakers continue to work on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, leaving Massachusetts cities and towns uncertain about levels of state aid. And in Newton, the economic fallout from the public health crisis has caused an estimated $9.6 million drop-off in local revenues, Fuller said, including meals and hotel taxes, vehicle excise taxes, and interest income.

To make up the difference in lost local revenue, the city has paused many capital projects, such as a proposed addition at the Horace Mann Elementary School, plus projects for the Newton Early Childhood Program and the Lincoln-Eliot Elementary School, Fuller said.

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Fuller said the city is not in a position to commit to significant capital investments given the financial risks Newton currently faces.

“I have made the disappointing but necessary decision to delay or put ‘on hold’ most capital improvement projects and investments for now,” Fuller said in the statement. “Only those with funding in place or those that are the most critical will move forward at this time.”

It also means postponing $2.5 million worth of work on local roads, according to the mayor. Fuller decided on $4 million in budget adjustments in city municipal departments, including continuing the furlough for nearly 100 part-time workers.

The city also will not fill 22 full-time open positions. Not filling the open jobs will save roughly $1.3 million, with the furloughs contributing a small amount to those savings, according to the city.

The city also trimmed a contribution increase for Newton’s retired employees’ pension fund, Fuller said, which still remains on track to be fully funded by 2030.

Newton’s public schools, which have been shuttered since March 13 due to the crisis, have trimmed $1.5 million from next year’s budget, she said. They’ll reduce the scope of summer facility maintenance projects to save $500,000, Fuller said, and use about $1 million saved when in-person teaching ended March 13.

The schools’ proposed $243.1 million budget for fiscal 2021 is a $6.8 million increase over the current year’s budget.

The school department will honor the contract signed with the Newton Teachers Association in December, Fuller said. The union represents about 2,100 teachers and other school staff.

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In her statement, Fuller called on residents to pull together in the wake of the pandemic.

“We may grow tired as the impact of COVID-19 on our lives and livelihoods may last for years. Reopening and recovering will be difficult. Waiting to rebuild schools and repave streets will be frustrating,” Fuller said. “But we Newtonians will bring our sense of purpose, determination, compassion and togetherness to our work in the years ahead.”

Clarification: An earlier version of the story included an incomplete description of the source of $1.3 million in savings in the proposed budget.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.