It took some drama to get there—a drawn-out debate over whether the budget would be short without Wynn casino money and a move to cut a department that angered the mayor—but the Everett city council approved a $196.4 operating budget for fiscal year 2019. The spending plan will mean an approximately 11.5 percent increase in taxes for city property owners.
The vote Monday night was the culmination of a budget process that resulted in an approximately nine-percent increase in spending for the school department and two percent increase on the city side, accounting for fixed costs.
Things didn’t exactly go smoothly before the vote to ok the budget. A spirited, if circular, discussion of what the $12.5-million-dollar tax abatement from the Wynn Resorts casino actually meant to the overall spending plan took about 15 minutes.
Councilor Michael McLaughlin and city CFO Eric Demas ended up in a debate over whether the budget would be short $12.5 million if the Wynn money wasn’t applied. Demas said it would not—that the money would be made up in increased taxes—and McLaughlin saying it would. An item on the agenda to apply the casino money to the budget seemed to throw the councilors off. Demas said later it was on the agenda in the interest of transparency.
If the Wynn money wasn’t used toward the budget, taxes would have increased a whopping 25 percent or so. The council, in effect, made its own bed when it applied the last $12.5 million installment from Wynn to last year’s budget for tax abatement. To not do so again would have triggered the huge tax increase.
Councilor Fred Capone moved to cut the budget line items that made up the mayor’s department of organization assessment, a new department headed by Dr. Omar Easy, a former vice principal at Everett High School. That move set off Mayor Carlo DeMaria.
“For the longest time we had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that you wouldn’t touch the mayor’s budget. You won’t touch the school budget, but you’re going to cut my budget? The man has a PhD from Penn State,” the mayor said of Dr. Easy. “He gives so much back to city—everybody knows Dr. Easy.”
DeMaria was also upset at what he saw as the targeting of Dr. Easy in the budget process. “I was appalled by the way this man was treated; absolutely appalled.” In the end, the effort to cut the department failed. As DeMaria walked away from the table after speaking, he could be heard to utter, “What a joke.”
There was a brief effort by Councilor Michael Marchese to cut the pre-K program in the school budget that also failed.
City residents and property owners can be excused if they get sticker shock when they get their tax bills. Taxes are going up about 11.5 percent and that’s with the Wynn money applied. The increase is driven largely by the nine percent increase in school spending.
Last year, the school department received millions of dollars in supplemental appropriations from the city to stave off layoffs and is still getting the nearly 10-percent bump. Some city residents have expressed concern over the level of autonomy over school and even city affairs by schools Superintendent Fred Foresteire. The school committee is little more than a rubber stamp for him and he faces very little resistance from the city council.