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Tax and fees, back on the agenda

Posted December 2, 2008 09:30 AM

Members of an advisory committee Monday answered questions from members of the Newton Board of Aldermen and School Committee about their recommendations for saving money and increasing revenue in the city.

The Citizen Advisory Committee, a 14-member body established by Mayor David Cohen to identify revenue streams and cost savings for the city, released a report last month identifying up to $10 million in potential revenues and savings from measures such as asking for higher payments from universities and other non-profits and increasing fees for garbage, parking and recreation. But it warned that these measures could only close the city's growing budget gap for one to two years.

Committee Chairman Malcolm Salter said the city needs to set priorities and know that “there are reversible choices, and there are irreversible choices.”

Aldermen asked questions about issues ranging including merging departments between the municipal government and school department; how much money to put into maintenance; hiring a federal grant writer on retainer; and charter reform.

The committee clarified some confusion, and also said it has yet to discuss or analyze in detail some of the issues aldermen raised, including charter reform and the details of maintenance.

And their answers were frank. For instance, when the issue of transparency in governance was raised, vice-chairman Ruthanne Fuller said, “The lack of transparency really helps elected officials. It gives you guys wiggle room to say yes to the person who wants that and yes to the person who wants that when you can’t afford to fund both."

Aldermen also wanted to know the committee’s thoughts on changing the way the city government is set up, including the powers given to the board and the size of the board. “The governance structure is archaic and prevents us from moving forward,” said Alderwoman Sydra Schnipper.

Salter said the committee has yet to discuss government structure. The group expects to release a more comprehensive and detailed report in late January.

-- Rachana Rathi

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