Brookline will spend about $382 million in Fiscal Year 2023 (7/1/23-6/30/24). Organizations should budget their spending based on their priorities. Brookline’s government has implicit priorities that have led us to offer a wide variety of services, from plowing the streets to offering immunization clinics to educating schoolchildren. But they remain largely implicit, and our budgets tend to be built around how money was allocated in the current and prior years.
That happens, in part because we have no formal mechanism for reallocating money in response to changes in the priorities of our residents. And their priorities have indeed changed, and they will continue to evolve.
For example, ten years ago few people in Brookline would have suggested that the Town provide substantial funding for subsidized housing. Discussions of equity in Brookline were largely focused increasing diversity in Town departments. Concern about affordability for middle class home buyers was barely on the radar. There was less focus on reducing driving as a way to reduce CO2 emissions. And ten years ago, very few people talked about replacing natural gas with electricity for heating and cooling homes public buildings.
Since then, housing affordability, equity and climate change have risen in the public’s consciousness. We’re spending more of our money on those issues, but they have not been incorporated into a set of explicit goals and priorities. Both the Select Board and the public should have a clear set goals and priorities in the forefront of their minds, and our spending should reflect those goals and priorities. Moreover, we should be judging the performance of Town government based on how well it achieves its goals. So I will be asking the rest of the Select Board to join me in working out a clear statement of the Town’s current priorities, which are largely unstated in the Town budget, unlike the excellent summaries in School budgets, both current and past.
Setting goals and priorities is a significant task. It may start with a facilitated workshop for the Select Board, but then we will need to reach out to make sure that we get input from residents, and by engaging with Brookline’s 255 Town Meeting members.
Watch this space for updates as we work our way through this process.