The Town Council’s budget discussion meeting Tuesday night took two hours and 50 minutes, but if Council President Jeffrey Turco can harness some of the excellent ideas that were put forth by his colleagues (and himself), then Winthrop will move forward in its pursuit of being a great and financially stable town.
Perhaps the best part of the meeting occurred when the nine councilors were able to assess where they see the town proceeding in the next five years and how it’s going to get there in a financially feasible fashion. It began with Councilor Nick DelVento saying that the next two years (as the national economy tries to rebound and grow under President Obama’s leadership) are critical to Winthrop’s future.
And then the avalanche of suggestions and revenue-generating ideas came forward. Councilor James Letterie asked whether the increased meal tax (to 6.25 per cent) was showing an impact on town revenues. Finance Director Mike Bertini stated that after the new meals tax had been in effect for a consecutive three-month period on March 31, it would be the right indicator of whether revenues are up or whether people are not visiting Winthrop restaurants as often because of the increase to 6.25 percent from five percent.
Letterie also brought up the issues of consolidation and the funding of the Quinn Bill for police officers who obtain advanced degrees.
Councilor Sanford spoke of the casino issue and the potential impact of having one built at Suffolk Downs and the "economic opportunities" that could come Winthrop’s way. And he mentioned the possibility of hiring a grant writer (an idea that was rejected by voters at the Proposition 2 1/2 override vote) and whether it’s time for Winthrop to capitalize on the many stimulus funds out there and the numerous other funding channels that a full-time grant writer could pursue.
Council Vice President Linda Calla said it was imperative that our roads and sidewalks look good and that the revitalization of the beach is an important issue. Councillor At-Large Larry Powers agreed with Calla, but said that the town must gives its employees the tools it needs, referencing new police cruisers and fire trucks, to help Winthrop become the picturesque town it can be as well as provide essential public safety services.
Council President Jeffrey Turco spoke about the importance of maintaining the parks, eloquently speaking about Ingleside Park and the potential it holds in Winthrop’s ability to attract people to the town for outdoor concerts and events of that nature. He talked about the size (meaning the number of officers) of the Winthrop Police Department and the condition of the high school and the future renovation of the facility.
And leaving no financial stone or savings to the town unturned, Turco mentioned the possibility of having just one polling location on election day, noting that the town of Burlington already does that.
Councillor Jeanne Maggio encouraged people to get involved in government. Her Citizens Casino Committee was a means toward that goal. The casino debate begins soon and let no one doubt that a full scale resort casino at Suffolk Downs is sure to impact Winthrop’s way of life.
One of the last speakers, Councilor Paul Varone, asked about the Town Hall being open on Fridays and said that his colleagues had done a good job of articulating the needs of the town. There were so many good ideas, not to mention the parking situation on streets and the municipal lots and how those could generate funds for the town. Turco said he would ask the Council’s economic development committee to come up with a proposal.
And we would add that there also is the potential for the reuse of the E.B. Newton School and the future of that building. It was a productive meeting and we’re sure you’ll be hearing a lot of these ideas revisited in future sessions.
Still, we caution residents not to get their hopes up too high. The reality is that local and state governments are more pinched today than they were even during the Great Depression. There is only so much that the Council can do given that local aid from the state appears certain to be reduced significantly. Absent a major revenue stream soon, equivalent to the first MWRA mitigation package that lasted for 12 years from 1988 to 2000, reconciling the town budget with the necessities of operating the town is akin to putting the proverbial square peg into a round hole.