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Group Pushing for 2 Year Test of a Social Services Coordinator

The Budget and Fiscal Oversight Committee wants more information on whether the town would be duplicating services, how other towns do it.

Supporters of creating a community social services coordinator to make it more appealing to members of the Watertown Town Council.

Town Councilor Tony Palomba, who takes part in a task force looking to create the new position, reported that the job would start as a two-year pilot funded by both public dollars and private donations. At the end of two years, the Town Council would have to decide whether to make the social services coordinator a permanent position, he told the Budget and Fiscal Oversight subcommittee Monday night.

The coordinator would focus on directing on people to services available from the town, state and federal governments, Palomba said. They seek a licensed social worker, however, because he or she will do some counseling, as well.

Concerns of Overlap

Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she worries that the new position would overlap with other social workers, such as the one employed by the Senior Center.

The person would work with people who are not served by other town departments, such as the senior center, public schools or veterans’ services office.

“There is a gap in the middle of people who don’t fit any category,” said Will Twombly, a member of the Council on Aging. The position, he said, would focus on people ages 19 to 59.

The task force suggests contracting out with a social service agency and paying the agency up to $80,000 for the position - $50,000 of which would go for salary, Palomba said.

For the first two years, private donations would pay 40 percent of the cost of the coordinator, Palomba said, with the town covering the rest. The task force already has pledges from Watertown Savings Bank, the Watertown Community Foundation and the Helen Robinson Wright Fund.

Evaluating the Coordinator/Program

Someone would need to evaluate the coordinator, and Town Councilor Cecilia Lenk said she would not feel comfortable having the agency that employs the coordinator do it, and paying another group could be costly.

Susan Flint, who is a faculty advisor at the Boston University School of Social Work and an advocate for the position, said she did not think the evaluation would be too costly.

“I recognize it is expensive, but you don’t put together a $10,000 evaluation for an $80,000 program,” Flint said. “Over the two years I think it would be between $6,000 and $8,000.”

Other Towns

Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli, chair of the budget subcommittee, said he wants to know what other area towns do. He noted that Belmont and Arlington each have a part-time social services coordinators. He asked Town Manager Michael Driscoll to see how other towns handle social services and what the job descriptions look like.

Piccirilli said he is also interested in exploring whether other towns would like to partner up and share a coordinator with Watertown.

Palomba said he wanted to make sure his committee, the Human Services Committee, is kept in the loop about the position.
“I would like my committee to be part of designing the way the position looks before it is considered by the Council,” Palomba said. “And I would like to see any information gathered by the (Town) Manager.”

Piccirilli assured Palomba his committee would be part of the process.

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