Walsh commits $50 million to Long Island bridge in new budget
Mayor Martin J. Walsh has committed $92 million to rebuild the Long Island bridge over the next three years, according to a city spending proposal he unveiled Monday, keeping to his plan for providing addiction recovery services on the harbor island in spite of local opposition.
The mayor has devoted $50 million in funding under the city’s capital plan in the fiscal-year budget that begins July 1, according to city records. The mayor had already reserved $12 million in a previous capital plan, and the city set aside another $30 million from a parking meter fund when the mayor announced plans for the bridge restoration during his inaugural address in January.
The mayor ordered an emergency evacuation of the island and the closure of the aging bridge in 2014 due to safety concerns, forcing the relocation of hundreds of homeless people and others in recovery programs. The mayor has vowed to rebuild the bridge despite opposition from residents in Quincy, which vehicles must pass through to reach it.
Boston officials said Monday that the bridge restoration is a centerpiece of the mayor’s spending plan for addiction recovery services. The city has devoted another $250,000 for addiction awareness programs. It has agreed to fund $1.8 million to make permanent an Engagement Center for homeless people that began as a pilot program in Newmarket Square.
“The mayor will also set the stage for planning the comprehensive, long-term recovery campus [on the island] that the city and state desperately need to tackle the opioid crisis,” the city said in budget documents announcing the plans.
The budget will officially be presented to the City Council on Wednesday. The council could then make recommendations before agreeing on a final spending plan by June.
The spending plan for the next fiscal year totals $3.29 billion, an increase of $137 million, or 4.3 percent, over the last fiscal year. City officials said much of the new revenue comes from growth — and, consequently, property taxes — from a historic building boom in Boston. Of the $137 million in new revenue, $118 million — or 86 percent — comes from property tax growth projections, they said.
Meanwhile, state revenue remains stagnant. The city could end up receiving roughly $20 million less from the state this year after accounting for Boston’s contribution to charter school and MBTA costs, officials said.
Officials said they recognize that the city will not be able to depend on revenue from new growth forever, and that Boston and other communities must do more to challenge the state to meet its revenue obligations.
“The fact that Boston has a booming economy is a good thing,” said Justin Sterritt, the city’s budget director, adding that “we are using that growth to make investments, despite declining state aid, that will keep the middle class here in Boston.”
He added, “As net state aid to the city continues to decline, we are required to identify new and sustainable sources of revenue to continue investing in our priorities.”
Emme Handy, the city’s chief financial officer, added that the city continues to see a balanced budget that will preserve the city’s high bond rating, while also sustaining spending for the mayor’s priorities.
That includes $2 million in funding for a police body camera program, as well as funding for 30 new officers. The city has also doubled funding, to $1 million, for a loan program for middle-income homebuyers who need assistance with a down payment or closing costs.
Meanwhile, the city projects it will receive $5 million in additional revenue from increased parking fines that will help fund transportation programs, including new bike and bus lanes.
Walsh said in a prepared statement to the council that the budget “is balanced, sustainable, and proactive in investing in the needs of our growing city.”