Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's Official: Somerville Spends Less per Capita than any City in Massachusetts

According to the latest state data from FY2009, Somerville spends less per capita than any other city in the state of Massachusetts. Somerville now sits just below Revere, Fall River, and Fitchburg on a scale tallying spending per resident (see the chart above). More important though is how and why we got there.

Two main forces have led us to this position: dramatic cuts in local aid and an unwavering commitment by Mayor Curtatone to methodically seek out efficiencies in every department of City government.

Over the past ten years, state aid to Somerville has decreased significantly. Only Boston and Cambridge have seen steeper cuts during the same period. In 2002, local aid to Somerville totaled $61.6 million, or 38% of the city’s revenue. In 2012, Somerville’s local aid is expected to fall to $40.9 million before state assessments are subtracted—or, 25% of the city’s proposed FY2012 budget. (Assessments are payments Somerville is required to make back to the state for services such as MBTA transit.)

The result is a lean budget. To compare us to a “less interesting city,” Somerville spends just over half as much ($1,828 per capita) as Cambridge ($3,352 per capita). Meanwhile, the state’s biggest local spender, Wellesley, doles out $3,860 per capita.

As a result, like much of the country, Somerville has had to find ways to do more with less, and the City’s SomerStat office is one critical piece of that effort. Founded by the Mayor in 2005, SomerStat works within the city as an internal management analysis arm. SomerStat analysts assist each department in finding ways to increase efficiency and find cost savings while still improving the quality of service. At the same time, SomerStat helps each department set measurable yearly goals and, while doing so, encourages city staff to think creatively and generate new initiatives—such as our planned shifts to single-stream recycling and LED streetlights, both which have the potential to generate cost-savings for the city.

Also of note, the Somerville Police Department manages to provide full coverage to the City with a field force roughly half the size of neighboring Cambridge's. Yes, Cambridge is a larger city, but not twice as large. Based on 2010 Census data Somerville's population is 75,000, while Cambridge's population is 105,000.

Meanwhile, other towns are facing painful massive layoffs, including Belmont, which sent lay off notices to 40 teachers this spring. Others are slapping fees on school sports, and cutting programs. But Somerville continues to push forward.

Somerville will layoff only three city workers in 2012 (three parking control officers). The City's schools continue to thrive with new programs including expanded science curricula. Every student in every grade is eligible for free breakfast, and all sports and extracurricular activities are free. Rather than cutting programs, new services are being added. To name just a few, a new Youth and Volunteer Coordinator was recently hired, a Future Economies Commission is forming, and five park renovations are under way (Quincy St., North St., Dickerman, Morse Kelley, and Harris).

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