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Mayor calls budget gap Newton's biggest challenge

Posted by Sarah Thomas  January 18, 2011 08:30 PM

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In his State of the City address Tuesday night, Mayor Setti Warren said that "everything must be on the table" as he works to close a projected $9 million budget gap while preserving services in fiscal 2012.

"This year again, we intend to present a balanced budget; one which will require nearly $9 million in savings," said Warren, who is beginning the second year of his term. "And again, we will focus on the priorities of our residents – educating our children, protecting residents and their property, maintaining our public buildings and spaces."

His speech before the Board of Aldermen detailed many of the cost-saving successes of the mayor’s staff and other city officials, but in an interview Warren said the work was far from over.

"We are working as hard as we can, and the budget is far from finalized," Warren said in the interview, adding that he will not seek an override this year. "The schools especially have done a lot of work, but there's a lot more to do. The work is ongoing."

In his address, Warren said one of his proudest achievements in passing the current fiscal year’s budget was that no teachers, fire fighters, or policemen were laid off. But he said he could not pledge the same would be true this time.

Much of Warren's speech was dedicated to praising employees and colleagues who had already found ways to save the city money.

In addition, Warren outlined some of the goals of this year's budget cycle, which include protecting collective bargaining with the city's public sector unions and reassessing the city's health care costs.

"Everything must be on the table including how we actually implement the mandates the State requires. There can be no sacred cows," Warren said. "We have found millions of dollars in savings on the municipal side and I will spend as much time as I have to over the next few months to ensure that together – school committee, administration, teachers’ union – we find the money we must to close the budget gap."

The Newton School Committee has scheduled a public forum to discuss the school budget on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at Newton North High School. Warren has also promised a series of town hall meetings to discuss the budget; dates for the meetings have not been determined.

In addition to the budget, the address also focused on programs residents can expect in 2011, such as increasing the number of villages served by the Newton Serves program and encouraging the development of local councils.

He cited progress on two significant projects in the city, Chestnut Hill Square, which was approved by the Board of Aldermen, and work on Needham Street.

Warren said city officials had lobbied MassDOT to work on Needham Street and had begun conversations with Needham.

"The state took notice and agreed to complete the design work, a value of nearly $500,000, and I am optimistic we will have even more progress to report this year."

He also cited the residents of Newton for their engagement with the city's officials, saying he was pleased to hear a more civil tone in Newton discourse - a very public topic after the tragic shootings in Tucson earlier this month.

"When I took office a little more than a year ago, I talked about the fact that sometimes our passion here in Newton keeps us from hearing one another," Warren said. "Just this past week, our President reminded us that 'only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make those who lost their lives proud.'"

Warren cited one perennially-newsmaking issue - dog parks - as evidence of the positive change in Newtonian rhetoric.

"Last year we argued bitterly about one temporary location," Warren said. "Today, we have made Cold Springs Park a permanent off lease area and five new locations will open in the spring."

Sarah Thomas can be reached at

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