fb-pixel Skip to main content

Walsh unveils first budget plan, emphasizing schools, police, fire

In his administration’s first fiscal plan, Mayor Martin J. Walsh proposed Monday a $2.86 billion operating budget that would increase spending for public school students, revive the police cadet program, and allow for the hiring of a diversity recruiter for the Fire Department.

Walsh and his new chief financial officer, David Sweeney, citing little financial wiggle room, proposed limited, targeted investments that aim to capture the mayor’s vision for Boston.

The mayor said his recommended budget includes a $120 million increase, or 4.4 percent, over fiscal 2015. Property taxes cover a sizable share of that increase, amounting to about $84 million, city budget officials said. Budget writers said much of the rest comes from excise taxes and permits and licenses. State aid remains stagnant.


In a letter to the City Council on Monday, Walsh highlighted increases in fixed costs, including pensions and debt service, salaries, and benefits, that he said forced his administration to make “tough choices” among competing priorities. Expensive collective bargaining agreements also played a role.

But the mayor hailed the strength of Boston’s economy, saying it gave him room to make recommendations while maintaining the city’s long-term fiscal health.

Walsh’s fiscal plan includes broad ideas and nuts and bolts of governance, such as boosting the snow-removal budget, inaugurating a 311 help line, providing more elderly housing, and underwriting the mayor’s signature education initiatives: a longer school day and expanded prekindergarten.

“I am proud to file this budget which makes critical investments in public safety, education, affordable housing, and economic development to create a healthier, thriving, and more innovative Boston,’’ Walsh said in a statement to the Globe.

A Boston fiscal watchdog said the mayor is taking a conservative approach while also seeking to improve city services. But Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said there is a limit to what the mayor and his fiscal team can do.


“He’s restricted by the increases required because of collective bargaining, pensions, health insurance, and debt services,’’ Tyler said. “It’s not like he has carte blanche on what he wants to spend. There are limits.”

Walsh will present his fiscal 2016 operating budget and five-year capital plan to the City Council at a breakfast Wednesday. Councilors will hold hearings over the next several months before voting on the budget, which would go into effect July 1.

The mayor’s budget targets the city’s three largest departments — schools, fire, and police. He is recommending an extra $39 million for the School Department’s $1 billion budget. The additional money includes $21 million in student funding; $1 million for 100 additional prekindergarten seats; and $3.9 million for extended learning time at 16 additional schools, the city’s fiscal aides say.

The mayor also has set his fiscal sights on clearing hurdles to police and fire jobs. Walsh wants to resurrect the Police Department’s cadet program, an apprenticeship that gives residents a nonmilitary path onto the force. Civil service laws give veterans hiring preference. Former mayor Thomas M. Menino cut the cadet program during hard times in 2009, city officials said. Walsh’s budget sets aside nearly $370,000 to help reestablish it, city officials said.

The budget also is designed to help the mayor fulfill his campaign pledge to make sure the city’s workforce reflects Boston’s diversity. Walsh’s plan allocates about $90,000 to hire a diversity recruiter in the Fire Department, the least diverse major city department.


The mayor recently hired the city’s first diversity officer, Shaun Blugh, whose task is to improve the hiring and recruiting of people of color.

The mayor is planning major investments in public parks, including a second maintenance cleanup crew at night. He also wants to hire staff for a planned 311 help line. Walsh’s budget would boost public health initiatives such as overdose prevention, outreach teams, and needle pickups.

He has allocated more than $500,000 to cover minimum wage increases for city youth jobs, aides said.

Fresh from this year’s historic snowstorms, the mayor is increasing snow appropriations by almost $4.1 million. This year, Boston spent $45 million responding to snowstorms. The city had budgeted just $18.5 million for that purpose.

Walsh’s budget would allocate $660,000 to buy two snow blowers to clear clogged roadways. Public works plans to expand its hokey program. Hokeys are seasonal workers who walk behind garbage trucks and retrieve falling debris.

The mayor’s recommended budget also seeks to elevate his arts and culture chiefs to Cabinet level positions. Arts and culture would see a 33 percent increase to its current budget of $1 million, aides said.

“With this, Boston will be able to expand its major event offerings, support its artists, and enrich the lives of citizens, while contributing to the local economy,’’ the mayor said in his letter to the council.

The budget also includes $1.75 million for the development of 4,000 units of affordable housing for the elderly by 2030.


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.