On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Town Manager Austin Faison presented his annual Fall Forum to the Town Council where he touched on the major issues currently facing Winthrop.
The presentation covered five areas: COVID-19, finances, middle school site, water and sewer, and department updates.
Winthrop’s vulnerability to the virus lies in its proximity to hard-hit Lynn, Chelsea and Revere. Despite Town hall being closed to the public since March 16, it has continued to render services to the public without interruption. All municipal offices have been providing remote support and meeting virtually. As a result, no cluster outbreaks have impacted town employees.
CARES Act funding has allowed the expansion of the Winthrop Public Health Dept., which was overstretched due to the pandemic. Future staffing and organization of the department will be optimized to tackle the issues of the day.
Town Hall will remain closed until Feb. 1 with all meetings continuing virtually. No-cost testing will be offered until the end of December. The town will continue networking with professionals around decision-making, and will expand its campaign of encouraging masks, social distancing, handwashing and, eventually, vaccination.
Faison cautioned that 2021 would be “another difficult year”, with no projected end date to the COVID restrictions. The town’s CARES Act funding expires on the last day of the year, with no additional federal funding lined up. He added that education and budget creation will continue to be of concern.
FY21 Financial Update
COVID-19 has had significant impacts on the town’s FY21 budget, and the town is updating its revenue projections monthly. Nearly 65 percent of the town’s revenue comes from property taxes. Property values have outpaced property taxes. In FY20, Winthrop had the 65th lowest budget per capita of all 351 towns in the state.Departments are already preparing their FY22 budgets and a balanced budget document for FY22 should be available to the public by the spring. (For a more in-depth look at the town’s finances, watch the full presentation here.)
Middle School Site
The Win2030 survey asked the public how they would like to redevelop the old middle school site, which is largely empty and which the town currently pays insurance on. The site will need to be rezoned in order to develop it and the Joint Committee has been holding meetings to gather public input on the project.
Water and Sewer
Community members have requested an audit of the water/sewer rate, prompting a deeper dive into the town’s rate structure. A consultant will review the situation and public input will be solicited as needed. Rates are established by the town staff along with the MWRA assessment and debt-financed infrastructure work. Outside auditing occurs annually.
The Police Department has been in communication with the Town Manager’s office regarding the department’s compliance with the national #8Can’tWait campaign, which developed eight strategies to reduce civilian deaths at the hands of police. The department is currently proactively reviewing its use-of-force policy with the town’s attorney. Additionally, the WPD received almost $30,000 in funding for new dashboard cameras and a new server.
Regarding the Center Business District, Public Works projected a water main improvement completion by Nov. 25. All sewer mains have been installed, with 70 percent of service installed. Seventy percent of storm drain improvements have been installed. Electrical ducts, street lighting, street and sidewalk improvements, and the remaining storm drain improvements will resume in spring of 2021.
The Transportation Safety Advisory Committee will hold public meetings on Dec. 9 and Dec. 16 to gather community opinion on the success of the Point Shirley parking pilot program.