By SCOTT JACKSON
Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch on Monday unveiled his $405.78 million general budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, an 8.8 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s spending plan.
The increase in the budget will allow the city to meet the terms of new collective bargaining agreements for workers, create four new positions, and provide raises to department heads and other non-union appointees.
“I do believe this budget reflects the values of the community,” the mayor said.
Koch presented the proposed $405.78 million budget for fiscal year 2024, which starts on July 1, during Monday night’s City Council meeting. The proposed budget represents an increase $33.14 million or 8.8 percent over the $372.64 million budget for the current fiscal year, fiscal year 2023.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget on Monday, May 22, at 6:30 p.m. in the Great Hall of the McIntyre Government Center (old City Hall). The council’s finance committee will begin reviewing the budget that evening and will hold additional hearings on May 30 and June 13. Councillors can cut money from the budget but cannot add to it.
Speaking during Monday’s meeting, Koch thanked all nine councillors for the work they do and for their collaboration on initiatives throughout the city.
“I appreciate the advice and the counsel I get from each of you,” he said. “Though we may not agree on everything, I think all our hearts are in the right place and we continue to move the city forward.”
The mayor said the budget’s “largest increase is dedicated to the new collective bargaining agreements for all our citywide employees” and that 61 percent of the budget increase is directly related to employee costs. Thirty-six percent of the increase is tied to debt service, “in large part due to the offset on the pension obligation bond,” he added.
The budget would create four new positions, one of which is a crisis response specialist within the Police Department. That job would come with a $97,600 salary, which Koch said could be offset with grant money.
“Chief Keenan has been excellent in his leadership of the department and recognizes some of the challenges with mental illness cases we have out there that sometimes the police officers are not quite equipped to handle,” Koch said. “Having in this in the budget is really a big help to those that need service on the street.”
Two new archivist positions would be created at the Thomas Crane Public Library at a salary of $53,450 each. Sara Slymon, the library’s director, asked for those positions, Koch said.
“As you know, we’re an old city, we have a lot of stuff, and that stuff needs to be taken care of. It needs to be catalogued, preserved, and she’s moving forward on that,” the mayor said.
The fourth new position is a recreation operations supervisor within the recreation division of the Department of Natural Resources at a salary of $72,800.
“As you know, we have pretty incredible playgrounds, open spaces, that are in great shape and we try to match that with great programing,” Koch said. “I think our recreation department does a phenomenal job.”
The budget would also provide funding to add a fourth ladder company within the Quincy Fire Department, a proposal that Koch and Fire Chief Joseph Jackson announced last week. During that announcement, Jackson said doing so would cost $85,000 annually because of promotions that would be required in the department.
Overall, Koch is proposing to increase the Fire Department’s budget from $28.73 million in the current fiscal year to $37.27 million next fiscal year. The Police Department’s budget would increase from $34.57 million in FY23 to $40.29 million in FY24.
The general fund appropriation toward the Quincy Public Schools would increase from $120.84 million this fiscal year to $127.54 million in the new fiscal year. The School Committee, not the City Council, will determine how those funds are allocated.
During his remarks on Monday, the mayor also noted that city expects to spend more on waste collection in the fiscal year than it did this year because of rising recycling costs; he is proposing to increase the collection and disposal budget from $8.42 million to $9.39 million.
Koch is proposing to reduce the budget set aside for snow and ice removal, from $2.72 million this fiscal year to $2.22 million in the new fiscal year, based on spending in recent years. State law allows communities to deficit spend on snow and ice removal if necessary.
The budget also includes what Koch termed “market adjustments” to the salaries for department heads and other non-union appointees. The city had contracted with a Minnesota-based company to conduct a compensation study, the findings of which were presented to the City Council last month. Some of the raises proposed in the budget are less than what had been suggested in the compensation study.
Neither the mayor nor the city councillors would see their pay increase under Koch’s budget proposal.
The proposed budget includes $59 million in total for debt service payments, 53 percent of which can be offset by sources outside the general fund, Koch said, including grants from the MSBA and FEMA, the city’s Community Preservation Committee, or the district-improvement-financing mechanism in place for Quincy Center.
Included within the proposed debt service budget is $16.47 million for payments on the city’s pension obligation bond, up from $15.68 million in the current budget. Councillors in June 2021 had authorized the mayor to borrow up to $475 million for unfunded pension liabilities, a move Koch said could save the city $130 million over the years.
In his presentation on Monday, Koch said the city is expected to receive an additional $10.1 million in local aid from the state in the new fiscal year, “a good chunk” of which will be Chapter 70 funding for education.
“I certainly want to thank Speaker Mariano, Sen. Keenan, Rep. Ayers and Rep. Chan and also Gov. Healey’s administration for doing a good job and seeing a good increase in our state aid this year,” Koch said.
The mayor also noted that the city’s portion of the meals tax – one of the many revenue sources that falls under the umbrella of local receipts – has rebounded and is projected to reach an all-time high in fiscal year 2024.
In terms of property taxes, Koch said the tax burden for residents would be middle of the road compared to other communities in the state, while the services the city provides are top-notch.
“Out of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, we are smack in the middle on tax burden, but I would argue that we are right on the top on services provided to residents of the city,” he said.
“We can talk about the services in our schools. We can talk about the sewer department in the middle of the night pumping out a sewer backup in a basement – many towns don’t provide that service. Excellent trash pickup…library service, veterans services, Council on Aging, I could go on and on.”
The city will have $49.1 million in excess tax levy next fiscal year, Koch said, while other communities have been asking residents to approve Proposition 2 ½ overrides.
“Hingham was the latest,” he said. “They were looking for a 2 ½ override just on an operational budget.”
Following the mayor’s presentation, Ward 1 Councillor David McCarthy said the proposed budget for the new fiscal year was solid and “full of positives.”
“When you go through this 2024 budget presentation, it’s full of positives, which I think the residents realize when they ride around the city and look at the parks, look at the buildings, the cemeteries,” McCarthy said.
In addition to the general fund budget, the mayor also presented the water and sewer enterprise budgets, which are funded by ratepayers and not taxpayers. Koch is proposing to increase the water department budget from $22.69 million in FY23 to $22.78 million in FY24, and the sewer budget from $27.8 million to $29.22 million.