Metro

Council approves Boston spending plan amid concerns of lack of power

With a series of sweeping votes, the City Council endorsed Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s $3.3 billion spending plan for city services, capital projects and schools, amid frustration from councilors about their limited role in the process.

Only council president Andrea Campbell cast a ‘no’ vote specifically for the school budget, saying the department has failed to rein in ballooning costs, such as transportation, at the expense of other city programs that also deserve funding, such as affordable housing and public works.

“I think the question is, what are we doing with the resources we have?” Campbell asked. “What does it mean to hold a department accountable?”

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Campbell, who was elevated to president in January, expressed frustration with the council’s lack of authority to delve into specific items in the budget like other governing bodies, such as the Legislature, can do. The council only has the power to approve or vote down the budget that the mayor had proposed.

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“I think it’s time for us to have a conversation of what this body can or cannot do,” she said.

First-term Councilor Lydia Edwards expressed her displeasure with the budget, saying it fails to address gender disparities in law enforcement and include enough affordable housing initiates. Edwards said that, as an advocate on issues like housing, “I’m wondering how I can look them in the face if I vote for this budget.”

She ultimately voted for the spending plan.

In a prepared statement, Walsh said the plan, which he will sign immediately, “upholds our city’s values and priorities, and is a reflection of our leadership position in growing a middle class through strong 21st century schools, good jobs, and affordable homes in safe neighborhoods.”

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The budget represents an increase of $139 million, or 4.4 percent, over last year. The spending plan includes a $43 million increase for city services such as street and park improvements and law enforcement services, and also a $51 million increase for the city’s public schools.

The spending plan also includes expansion of universal pre-kindergarten programs; the doubling of a Youth Development Grant Program to $500,000; the hiring of 30 new police officers and 60 firefighters; and a new position at the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement.

The council also approved the city’s $92 million long-term capital plan, including $50 million to rebuild Long Island Bridge and restore drug addiction counseling services on the island.

The budget includes $2 million for a new body camera program — the first investment of its kind in Boston, but far less than the $6 million city officials have previously said would be necessary to implement the program.

Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George said she supported the overall effort to improve city services, though she was equally critical of the handling of school finances.

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“There is still some work to be done,” she said.

‘I think it’s time for us to have a conversation of what this body can or cannot do.’

The vote came as the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a city watchdog group, issued a warning that the city’s finances are facing increasing pressure from the cost of employee salaries and benefits.

Those payments represent 68 percent of the total budget, and 63 percent of the increase in spending from last year. The report warned that the development boom that has taken over Boston has supported the growth in the budget, but that “the city should prepare for a time when the development pipeline will slow down.”

“With employee costs representing almost 70 percent of the budget, the city must be vigilant in managing its personnel expenses,” said Sam Tyler, head of the bureau.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia
@globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.