Fiscal Affairs, Management & Leadership
Waltham is a wonderful place, but we can do better. Taxpayers deserve the best that we can offer. For too long, inattentive management in City Hall has led to costly deferred maintenance, government inefficiencies, and missed opportunities. My vision for City Hall involves moving away from erratic and kneejerk short-term spending and toward a focused spending plan that supports long-term citywide priorities. We will hire new personnel, reshaping our city’s operations model, and make investments to repair our long ignored city infrastructure. With a revised approached, we will be able to fund the strategies I am outlining with existing resources or through reallocation of existing resources. In short, Waltham will get a lot more out of resources while enhancing the experience of living and working here.
Surplus Cash Without A Plan
In Fiscal Year 2015, the City of Waltham operated a $247M local budget, 66% of which was funded by our local tax levy and 7% state aid. At the close of Fiscal Year 2014, we had more than $21M left over in free cash, representing 8.8% of our total budget. We have a 5% debt to budget ratio and our residential tax rate ranks in the lowest 25% in Massachusetts.
In the last two fiscal years, Waltham has had the second largest pot of free cash left over at the close of the fiscal year. The state recommends that municipalities should aim to have 3% – 5% free cash available to cover any unforeseen expenditures that should arise throughout the year. Over the past three years, Waltham has ended the year with approximately 7% – 9% of the total budget left over in unused free cash.
If Waltham has this surplus of cash available, why aren’t we using it to repair our roads, improve city traffic, and increase the quality of our schools?
Having extra money left over at the end of the year is certainly better than the reverse scenario, but, the City of Waltham has far too much cash and too many issues negatively impacting Waltham’s quality of life. The city needs to put that extra money to work for its residents by investing in infrastructure upgrades to curb traffic and minimize sewer backups, filling key local positions that are critical to city operations, and making more timely investments such as building a new high school before we are threatened by the state with losing accreditation.
Instead of thoughtful long term planning, Waltham spends valuable resources on short-term fixes while kicking the can down the road on existing issues. We currently use cash to fund capital expenditures and depreciable assets that municipal finance practices dictate are more appropriate for bonding. Additionally, there is no vision or plan to guide our spending decisions. Each decision happens in a vacuum with little context for how each decision impacts the big picture. Waltham taxpayers deserve better and the strategies I outline will provide taxpayers with more value and improved services for their tax dollars.
Citizens become more engaged when they have a better understanding of what is happening in their city and when they have a point of contact for questions. It is difficult for taxpayers and other stakeholders to understand the affairs of city because the city’s website is antiquated and the information lacks an explanation of the big picture. I will publish an annual report that discusses the goals of the city, plans for achieving our goals, and how our city expenditures align with those priorities. I will publish an organizational chart for City Hall, so residents understand who their public employees are and the employees feel a strong sense of accountability to those taxpayers. And I will publish annually a detailed fiscal analysis outlining the health of city finances with benchmarks and a clear, understandable budget documents that shows budgeted and actual spending by category. I will utilize the City of Boston’s Budget Office webpage (http://www.cityofboston.gov/budget) as a model for the City of Waltham, and our city will be a stronger community when more people feel informed and engaged.
One critical flaw in our city government is that our operations structure is not set up to maximize efficiency or effectiveness. Simply leaving positions vacant for years at a time or eliminating positions or entire departments does not equate to effective management or fiscal responsibility. Waltham has some very talented employees with much to contribute, but without the appropriate support and adequate authority, these talented employees will not reach their maximum potential. As mayor, I will provide leadership and vision, and I will empower our employees to implement. I will source the very best talent available to the city and I will require that city employees utilize best management practices, consistently measure performance and effectiveness of their programs and services, and seek opportunities to innovate and improve. City employees will understand the goals of the city and we will work together to provide seamless interactions for residents.
Sound Fiscal Management
Under my leadership, Waltham will adopt a transparent budgeting system such as the state’s Open Checkbook to enable taxpayers to understand city expenditures and the outcome of each investment. In fact, as a State Representative in 2009, I co-sponsored the legislation to establish the state’s Open Checkbook. As an additional way to engage taxpayers, I will establish an annual budgeting contest whereby residents will nominate and vote on specific investments for the city, and the city will then make a targeted investment in that effort as requested by taxpayers. The City of Cambridge has implemented this budgeting strategy, as have other jurisdictions across the country, to crowd source ideas for municipal spending. It has been a tremendous success and it will be in Waltham as well.
In my administration, taxpayers will know the city priorities, how much they cost, and how we can pay for them. I will work with department heads, councilors and residents to prepare a long-range capital improvement plan and maintenance schedule for city infrastructure, buildings, equipment and vehicles. I will commit to working proactively with the City Council and residents to explore all funding solutions and I will cooperate and collaborate to achieve the best fiscal outcomes for the city. I will make it a priority to leverage all available state and federal grants, no and very low-interest loans, and other technical assistance programs to support critical investments and programming for our city. It is a shame to leave any available funding source untapped when we have the opportunity to improve our city without financially burdening residents.
The City of Waltham has a 5% debt to budget ratio. The chart below shows how this ratio compares to other similar cities.
Commonly accepted municipal finance principles dictate that bonding is a more financially prudent and effective means of paying for capital expenditures and depreciable assets than cash. Working with the City Council, I will conduct an analysis of our debt capacity and our capital investment needs to introduce greater transparency around the city’s bonding process. Taxpayers should understand the full implications and opportunities of future bonding for certain capital expenditures such as a new high school or road and bridge upgrades. I will also develop a policy to guide bonding decisions in the future.
What this means to you
My reason for running for mayor is to put Waltham back on the right track. I have clear and concise plans for the future and I will establish performance measures to ensure that those plans are working. My objective is to maintain low residential tax rates and a stable fee structure for our residents and businesses while improving the services, programming and the quality of life for residents. Under my leadership, Waltham’s local government will be more effective and efficient, and our city employees will enjoy a better work environment. Through enhanced collaboration, thoughtful planning, better communication, and more effective city management, our residents and businesses will enjoy improved services and more predictable and consistent governing from City Hall.