Mayor Moak addresses the city

Friday, March 31, 2006

Editor's Note: Mayor John Moak delivered his first State of the City Address at the City Council meeting, Monday, March 27. Following is a reprint of the speech.

Good evening: Councilors and Attendees

Thank you for the opportunity to present to you the State of the City's Address for 2006.

I feel it is appropriate to touch upon some of the goals that I have set for my administration upon taking office in order to put into context our short term activity as well as the planning for the future.

The keystone and essential element of our strategy going forward is the establishment of a budget process that enables us to have an accurate picture of our financial condition.

Our school administration has worked diligently during the last three years of fiscal constraints to provide an effective and stimulating core curriculum. The school budget has been criticized for being a document that is not understandable. A document that encouraged people to believe that there may be fat in the budget. This year's budget document illustrates a tremendous effort to show the true cost of the educational needs. Unfortunately, as with the general government side of the budget, these costs are far beyond the revenue we have to effectively carry out an educational program that meets our goals. Presently, a gap of over $800,000 separates the funding needs for level service education programs and the available funding.

This does not mean that our educational system has not reached high levels of accomplishments including implementing new math programs in K-8, new science program in K-4 providing strong training programs for teachers new to our system. Providing effective professional development for teachers throughout the system as well as adding much needed full day kindergarten programs.

Unfortunately, the lack of funding has placed the expense of transportation, enhancement courses and extra curricular activities on parents.

As we reflect on our schools, it must be mentioned that we will be losing a tireless support of quality education for our children. Mary Murray leaves us this July and deserves tremendous respect for the work she has done to provide a high quality of education for our children. We will also miss Michael Jacobson for equal dedication to our youth.

Change can be difficult, especially as we say good bye to the people who have served the community and been our friends. But as inevitable as change may be, it can introduce a fresh perspective to our methods and incorporate new management techniques drawn from the experiences of other communities.

We have high expectations for all members of our government team; we have been fortunate with the people we have who serve our community. As needed, we continue to interest qualified and highly motivated people to fill position of those individuals who, for various reasons, no longer are part of the management team.

As with the school system, we have to implement effective financial management criteria for our general government services.

This Administration has introduced a much more thorough and justification-driven budget preparation for FY2007. I must compliment the Department Heads and their support staff for the work and attitude they have put forth in adapting to a new and more intense budget process. They have endorsed our request for documented justification costs for operating their department; this will insure increased effectiveness in fund allocation.

I especially want to thank my assistant, Maria Capriola, for her tireless efforts to make sure everyone was informed with each new step of the budget.

The review of department budget narratives has begun, while analysis of fiscal year 2007 budget requests starts this week. In its final form, the budget will serve as a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide as well as a decision-making tool.

As Mayor Menino stated to me at last Wednesday's Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, "This is the toughest budget season I have faced in the 12 years as Mayor of Boston, GOOD LUCK". We know that challenge - health care cost increases exceed the available increases in property taxes allowed under Proposition 2 1/2. Energy costs have out paced most predictions, and state-aid remains far below the 2002 levels. This, along with the decrease in new growth... challenges us to create a budget that can still meet the needs of our community. But, most important, we will now have the document to intelligently analyze our needs and forecast future expenses.

Our budget priorities do not only include previously defined operational costs, but needs to address funding to maintain our real property investments through timely maintenance programs. These programs are important for the care of our buildings and grounds, but also demanded by those institutions being solicited to assist the city with capital projects.

Our financial plan must also consider how we pay for our capital needs. We can no longer continue with the practice of financing projects beyond their life expectancy and burdening future generations. A good example is this evening's request for repair on the Middle School roof. A roof that has a life expectancy of 15 years and a warranty of 10 was bonded for 20 years. As you are all too aware, we are now facing repairs before the original repair is paid for. The City Hall exterior rehabilitation project, which is moving on schedule and should be under construction by mid-July; is yet another example of one of these projects.

This undertaking has been funded through the citizens of Newburyport CPA Tax, the use of this money has eliminated additional debt service override which would have been necessary to fund this restoration. It would be my desire that this debt be retired when my granddaughter, who enters kindergarten this year, graduates from high school, not when she is 26 years old. We must recognize that our financial commitment to this historic building does not end with its restoration but continues with a need for maintenance. This type of financial planning takes thought and demands prioritizing of needs, which often means more costs in the initial years, but the savings of funds in the future.

Again, we need to look at the length of the expected life of our capital investments when planning our bonding.

It has become increasingly imperative that City government initiate the economic engines for funds to help support the services desired and needed by our citizens. Property taxes constitutes a stable revenue, but do not allow for the funding of increasing costs of maintaining current services. We need to control costs, but that alone will not balance our budgets. (On a five year scale, our costs of operating has increased a moderate 5.2 percent annually, but our revenues through taxes have only increased 3.9 percent annually....this is a trend that has depleted the ability to save, has cut into reserve accounts and curtailed many services.) The City has to look at a means of raising revenue beyond the real estate tax source. We need to demand that the State share equally in revenues with the municipalities. My Administration will make a concerted effort to present our needs at the State level in an attempt to find creative solutions to this approach.

On the local level, we should be examining ways to generate income, especially through our tourist or visitors trade. We must look carefully at projects that create high maintenance, while favoring projects that generate an income.

Maintaining the position of Economic Development Director is critical to the City's involvement in economic growth. This position is being advertised presently, I am impressed with the quality of applicants that we have received; applicants with proven experience and tremendous knowledge of business and government interaction. I am confident that the selected candidate will help to address our current goals to fill the existing facilities with viable businesses and work with property owners to adjust zoning in portions of the Industrial Park and to allow corporate headquarters and R&D facilities.

I have spent almost two months attending meetings with the various boards, commissions, and committees of the City. This has been an excellent means of learning more about the issues confronting the City and the people making decisions on these matters. I have been pleased at the reception I have received, not always have we been in agreement on the issues, but the ability to converse has opened lines of communication which makes the ability to arrive at consensus that much easier. We are fortunate to have the numbers and quality of people serving as volunteers on our commissions. I have been equally lucky to have well qualified citizens applying for openings on various boards, it has given me the opportunity to be selective and present appointments that fit well for the various openings.

Their talent, along with independent thinking, is essential to our form of City government which emphasizes use advisory and policy committees.

Even with major funding constraints, we continue to bring services to our citizens. The youth and recreation programs slated for this summer are reaching out to families and the youth of our community. This past week more than 250 families visited City Hall to sign up for these programs. Most are self-funded, but the commitment the City has made to employ a qualified professional to create and promote these programs is having a positive effect.

Through the CPA tax, the City has purchased significant amounts of open space for passive recreational uses and protection of our environment. This is appropriate and commendable.

Senior citizens have stepped up their efforts to make the City more aware of their need and desire to find a solution to the establishment of a Senior Center. The city is working conscientiously to bring this vital project to fruition. In doing so, two critical elements are being addressed: the financial options for funding a building and the acceptance of such allocations by the community at large. This process will be a priority of this Administration and I know the City Council has also begun research into this matter.

This administration awaits the results of the Central Waterfront Land Use Survey, this survey along with the needs of the neighbors of the NRA property and community access to our waterfront will be the focus of all the alternatives that we will consider for a solution to the use of this property.

On our list of immediate projects to be faced are two compelling sidewalk projects and two major electrical projects that need to be addressed this calendar year. I will introduce a plan that uses the Capital Projects Stabilization Fund as a method to fund bonding of these projects. This will not impact our operating budget.

It would be an understatement to say that my first 85 days have been a challenge, however, it is an opportunity that I welcome.

I believe we are making significant strides toward putting into place fiscal management tools necessary to make long term goals a reality. Short terms goals, however, have not been overlooked as we are presently engaged in such concerns as personnel issues that span the interest of all unionized labor in the City, as well as the landfill closure issues and the final negotiations to close out the high school building project. The positive result of this work will significantly impact the finances of the City and the quality of life for our citizens.

I come away from my initial three months in office with a sense of confidence and awareness that a continuing effort to improve communication with the City Council, Boards and Commissions, and the citizens of Newburyport are of the utmost importance.

I am committed to this effort which will facilitate the accomplishment of numerous projects awaiting action.


(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Current.)
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