City of Fitchburg City Hall March 2020

The outside of Fitchburg City Hall.

Supporters of a proposed teen center will need to keep looking for funding for a planned $40,000 study.

The Common Council was one vote short Tuesday, April 13, of a two-thirds majority needed for a budget amendment to move $11,003 from the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative to help pay for the study.

Ald. Joe Maldonado (Dist. 1) and Ald. Julia Arata-Fratta (D-2) had proposed moving the HNI money, designated as the Fitchburg Fund. The funds, Maldonado said as he introduced the resolution, meet the same purpose as the teen center study, as both look at ways to improve youth education.

“This has the potential to do a lot of the things the (Healthy Neighborhood Initiative) grant is at the heart of,” Maldonado said. “I think we just need to let the process go through.”

The resolution failed on a 5-3 vote, with Alds. Sarah Schroeder (D-3), Shannon Strassman (D-3) and Tom Clauder (D-4) voting against. The three also voted against funding a teen center study in the 2021 operating budget last November.

The teen center study would be funded jointly through the tax levy and donations. Of that cost, $25,000 was expected to come from the city’s budget, and another $15,000 through donations, including Maldonado’s council salary, which he pledged during the November budget approval process.

During the 2021 operating budget process, Maldonado offered up a slate of amendments to pay for the teen center, many of which failed as tie-breaker votes from mayor Aaron Richardson.

The budget amendment proposed at the April 13 meeting would allowed the Fitchburg Fund to reduce the donation requirement.

Already $3,000 has been donated, Maldonado said, which would have left $997 to be accounted for if the budget amendment had passed.

The Fitchburg Fund, which was approved in November 2019, was a pilot partnership fundraising campaign between the city and United Way to support youth education programs through the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, a referral sheet for the agenda item states. Because of COVID-19 and the effects it had on education, city staff were hesitant to put out any request for proposals in fall 2020 like planned; the money from the Fitchburg Fund was later carried over from 2021 at the March 9 council meeting.

Maldonado told the council that he felt the teen center funding matched the intent of the Fitchburg Fund dollars, as they were meant to be used in the Jamestown neighborhood, where the teen center would be located.

The alders who disagreed on moving the Fitchburg Fund money to the teen study indicated they didn’t want to see additional taxpayer dollars go toward the study after it had already received more than half its funding in the operating budget process, nor did they want to use Healthy Neighborhood Initiative funds to make up for fundraising dollars.

Clauder said he thought finding money in other places of the city budget was not the way to fund the teen center study, and he highlighted what he saw as differences in the process between the proposed teen center and the Fitchburg Public Library. The teen center lacked the public process the library had, Clauder added, with committees that worked on it and significant donors helping get the library project off the ground.

“We’re dealing a shell game right now, this is a shell game,” he said. “You’re shifting the money around.”

Schroeder said she had remembered alders being excited to use the Fitchburg Fund for the Healthy Neighborhood Initiative when it was first approved in 2019.

“We talked through as to how this would create more involvement and we would potentially work with more organizations across the community,” she said. “This feels odd to me to be shifting these funds.”

Maldonado said that having a teen center study and funding it with neighborhood improvement resources is exactly what his fellow alders had asked for during the November 2020 budget process. A vote to purchase the Roughin’ it in Style building along Anton Drive facing Verona Road had failed on a tie-breaker vote, with alders deciding not to authorize a building purchase until a community engagement study was either in the works or completed.

“This is what I’ve heard from alders and the mayor, that in order for us to be able to move forward on building a community space, we need to get good data,” Maldonado said. “This is actually listening to what folks on the council asked for.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.​

News Editor

Kimberly Wethal joined Unified Newspaper Group in 2018, where she serves as the news editor for four publications and primarily covers the Verona Area School District and the City of Fitchburg. She previously was an intern with UNG starting in 2013.