By Mayor Brian Arrigo
This week I requested the City Council to approve appropriations for the disbursement of “free cash” funds to a variety of purposes, projects, and activities that will continue our endless pursuit of a better quality of life for the residents of Revere.
First, understand that the phrase “free cash” is somewhat of a misnomer. It’s not like the City went out and played the lottery and got lucky. Nor were we the surprised benefactor in the will of a long-lost wealthy relative. No.
“Free cash” is the direct result of careful budget planning, meticulous collection oversight, vigilant financial management in every municipal department, constant pursuit of state and federal grant money, and a vibrant community generating revenue through development fees that signify confident commercial investment in Revere. “Free cash” is the common term to classify money that accrues when the City has spent less than it expected to spend, or received more money than it expected to receive, or a combination of both.
Disbursement of free cash permits the City to undertake projects and support activities that were unfunded in a current fiscal year.
A year ago, Revere certified a record $11.2 million in free cash. Two million dollars of that was devoted to stabilizing our water and sewer rates after almost two decades of annual increases. Further, we committed funds to infrastructure improvements and equipment upgrades that already have markedly increased efficiency in our Water and Sewer, Public Works, and public safety departments.
While this year’s free cash certification is less than last year’s record amount, it is, nonetheless, the second highest certification in the city’s history, trailing only last year. Again, we will exercise responsible money management and spread the money among necessary projects and deserving activities.
At the same time we will tuck away a portion for the inevitable ‘rainy day’ when unexpected expenses will make their unwelcome appearance. We will add to a reserve capacity that is the highest in the city’s history. By conscientious planning now, we will be prepared for turbulent times in the future.
For the second year in a row, we will return $2 million the city’s water and sewer rate payers. Last year we broke a streak of 19 consecutive years of increases. Two straight years of water and sewer rate reductions reflect the positive results of infrastructure improvements and the efficiency of new water meters installed in nearly every structure in the city.
In the past three years, we have substantially reduced a staggering backlog of street and sidewalk repairs. These projects are expensive and labor intensive. Revere, like other cities and towns across Massachusetts, must rely heavily on state funds that subsidize only a few projects each year. As many streets and sidewalks continue to deteriorate, the expensive and labor-intensive task of street and sidewalk repair evokes the thought of the cursed mythical king Sisyphus, futilely pushing a large rock up a steep hill only to have it roll back as he approached the top.
This year, Sisyphus gets a helping hand: we will commit $1.4 million in free cash to street and sidewalk improvements to sites throughout the city that have waited years for attention. These sites are in addition to the streets that will undergo repairs pursuant to annual state funding.
Our 2019 free cash will benefit other worthwhile projects. We have committed $100,000 to qualify for a matching grant to fund repairs and renovations at the Revere Historical Society Museum at 108 Beach Street. An additional $50,000 will help fund beautification efforts throughout the City. We will steer additional funds toward Revere’s acclaimed Sand Sculpting festival to bolster security, traffic control, and entertainment.
We often have cheered the academic successes and accomplishments of the Revere Public Schools. But a comprehensive educational process entails more than just classroom study. It involves the teamwork and competition found on the athletic fields, and stimulating extra-curricular activities and clubs. Often, these programs depend on meager fund-raising ventures such as car washes and 50-50 raffles to raise money for sundry expenses such as team jackets, supplemental training or complimentary travel. Parents Clubs toil to raise these funds, and too often teachers and coaches pay for some off these expenses out of their own pockets.
This year, we are providing every varsity team at Revere High School with a one-time allowance of $5,000 to be spent as the teams and coaches deem most prudent. Beyond that, we will provide every extra-curricular program at the high school with a $5,000 allotment so that students and their teacher-advisors can focus on the program’s purpose instead of wondering how they might pay for it.
In another innovative concept, students at every school in the City will have a voice in the decisions of how to disburse the 2019 free cash. For the first time in Revere’s history, we are engaging students to participate in the budgetary process by requesting their ideas of how their schools can most effectively utilize a one-time $10,000 allocation.
This will be an educational process with a direct benefit to every school in the city. Teachers will formulate a lesson plan that outlines criteria of how the money can be used. Students will collaborate to develop ideas from which they will select the one they deem most worthwhile.
Revere is in a unique position. While some surrounding communities struggle to meet their financial commitments or face daunting deficits that auger staff reductions, we in Revere are reaping the benefit of judicious fiscal management, frugal spending, and a buoyant local economy.
Revere’s financial picture today is strong not by accident, but by the tireless work of the people who manage and staff our departments and who are as committed as I am to a great City. When we all work together, everyone benefits.
Brian Arrigo is the Mayor of the City of Revere.