Before agreeing to put the mayor's proposed override package on a ballot, the Newton Board of Aldermen is hoping to clear up a few specifics on what is slated to receive funding.
In a Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 14, several aldermen requested more information on what exactly the operational override would fund in the Police Department.
According to city officials, $500,000 of the total $8.4 million operational override package will be used to cover salaries for four new police officers.
During Wednesday night's meeting, Interim Police Chief Howard Mintz explained that the department could use additional weekend officers in the Traffic Bureau, as that department currently does not have any traffic specialists working on Saturday or Sunday.
Mintz said the number of sworn officers in the city has dropped significantly since the 1980s when roughly 230 officers were on the force. Currently, the department has 139.
In addition, the department is in need of laptops, both for its offices and several cruisers.
"There are a lot of areas that we can improve with this override, although it won't cover everything we need," Mintz said.
Nevertheless, Alderman Ruthanne Fuller argued that she would like to see more details on the new personnel.
"I just really want to understand what the four police officers will be doing and how they will be deployed," Fuller said.
Aldermen Marcia Johnson, Deb Crossley and David Kalis agreed; the Police Department plan should be as specific as possible to justify the $500,000 needed.
"It's not just that you have the number of [officers], we want to know why it's four instead of two -- I just want to be sure we understand all of that before voting," Kalis said.
- An $8.4 million operational override that includes $4.5 million to help with high student enrollment (teachers and short-term space); $500,000 for police personnel and equipment; $1 million for street and sidewalk repair; $800,000 for renovation and rebuilding of Fire Station #3 and Fire Headquarters; $1.6 million to renovate/expand Zervas Elementary.
- A debt exclusion for Angier Elementary School rebuilding
- A debt exclusion for Cabot Elementary School rebuilding/renovation
Aside from the Police Department funding, the aldermen also asked why there is not a separate debt exclusion override question for renovations/expansion at Zervas Elementary School, as the $1.6 million will only cover a portion of the renovation project.
School Department officials, including Superintendent David Fleishman, argued Wednesday night that having the funding for Zervas in the operational override will allow the city to move quicker on expanding the centrally-located school.
"Zervas offers additional capacity in a key part of Newton," Fleishman said. "We need the space."
Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan, who also asked for more information on a potential Zervas debt exclusion, questioned why the debt exclusions for Angier and Cabot would go forward before the city has better cost estimates and site plans for the new schools.
"My concern is that we get the best numbers in front of the voters before we ask them to vote," Hess-Mahan said.
And while Alderman Marc Laredo agreed that more information should be provided for the Police Department items, school budget numbers may not be as easy to nail down.
"We have to do these schools, there's no question about it," Laredo said. "While it would be great to have more information, I'm not sure we're going to get it."
"We have to go out to the voters and make the case why doing these buildings is absolutely critical," Laredo added.
The Board of Aldermen will meet again in a Committee of the Whole on Thursday, Nov. 29, to continue the override discussion.
Alderman Lenny Gentile, who presided over Wednesday's meeting as chair of the Finance Committee, said the board will likely vote on Dec. 3 on whether to put the override questions on a March Ballot.