Introduction and Welcome
My fellow citizens. Thank you for joining me tonight.
As I stand before you this evening, we see a city that is alive with hope and excitement.
We see a city with beautiful hills, green space and open space, -- with 7 lakes, rivers and streams, with people once again facing the river we had long walled ourselves away from.
We see the largest retail expansion in our history, with Target, Lowes, Starbucks, and BJ’s Wholesale Club all opening this year in our city.
We see downtown factory buildings that had been dead—closed for half a century, now alive again as new housing.
We see the best restaurant zone north of the north end, with 20 restaurants open in our downtown area alone.
We see a financial situation where we still have problems, but that is greatly improved – a budget surplus last year of over $3 million.
We see a beautiful city that is alive, filled with hope and opportunity. Tonight, when we see Haverhill, w e see a city that is on the move.
Now we stand at the cross roads—with difficult decisions to make, to insure that the Haverhill renaissance of today will continue tomorrow.
Three years ago
The Haverhill we see here tonight is a far cry from the Haverhill we saw just three short years ago, which I first came before you.
Three years ago, our fire station in Bradford was closed.
Three years ago, we had just faced down a budget that proposed closing our crown jewel, the Haverhill public library.
Three years ago, faced a record budget deficit—a projected $5 million deficit, with no easy way to meet it.
Three years ago, our high school had seen decades of neglect and needed millions of dollars in repairs. We faced the very real threat that our high school would become one of only three high schools in the state to lose accreditation.
Three years ago, our bond rating was tied with Springfield for the lowest in the State. Many people predicted that we would go lower, sink into junk bond status and be unable to float the bonds required to fix our high school.
Three years ago, the city stood on the brink of receivership.
Three years ago, our city had run out of money, and many of our people had run out of hope.
Where we are tonight
Look where we are tonight, with your help
Tonight, all of your fire stations are open.
Tonight, your library remains open.
Tonight, the record deficit we faced three short years ago has been replaced by a $3 million budget surplus.
Tonight, I can report to you that we have been able to balance three budgets in row with without a single layoff and without asking our residents to pay more for an override or debt exclusion.
Tonight, Haverhill is doing better, and our municipal outlook is better—and that isn’t just my opinion.
It is the opinion of the Wall Street firms Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, both of which raised our bond rating two years in a row, gave us a positive outlook and said that they expected the gains in Haverhill to continue.
Tonight, Haverhill is back and hope is back.
How we got there
Haverhill’s success story is no accident. It took hard work and team work—and I am proud of all of you who helped out.
Three years ago, we presented you with a plan to move our great city forward. We worked together, stuck with the plan, made some tough and difficult decisions, and overcame the obstacles that were in front of us.
Three years ago we gave you a plan to cut expenses and increase income.
We instituted a one-time tax amnesty program, privatized our overdue tax collections and instituted new procedures called in the tax collector’s office called a “lock box”.
We reorganized city government and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, cut back dramatically on unnecessary overtime, and then we tackled our biggest budget buster, health care.
We worked with 19 unions to consolidate from 5 health care carries down to one.
Then we worked with our unions again, and asked them to pay a higher percentage of their health care costs. Three years ago, our health care costs were rising at the rate of 15% per year.
Last year, even though our premiums were up by 9%, because of the reforms we instituted, health care costs to our taxpayers were up by less than 1%.
This was made possible by the hard work, concessions and sacrifice of our fine employees, and I want to thank them publicly tonight.
Growing our tax base
Three years ago, we recognized that if we were going to survive, we had to expand our tax base. We set out to do so, and, at the same time, preserve the open space and beauty of Haverhill.
We set out to use smart growth principles—concentrate growth in areas where we already have the infrastructure and preserve your open spaces around the city where we all want to keep the beauty that makes us love this city.
We looked around at the old factory buildings downtown, and saw buildings that had been vacant for half a century.
We knew that if we could put some people, into those buildings that those people would eat in Haverhill shop in Haverhill and provide the economic engine to get our city moving again.
We began by asking ourselves—what are the barriers that have prevented these buildings from being developed for half a century? We found that our zoning laws prohibited the factory buildings from being used as housing.
We worked with the city council, to allow for housing in those old factory buildings.
That change made it possible for, the Cordovan project, a $10 million reinvestment in our downtown, is open for business, and the first urban pioneers have moved in just a week ago. The very first urban pioneer, who moved into the Beacon Cordovan project downtown is here with us this evening, and I would like to recognize him, Mr. Madigan, and welcome him to our community.
Several representatives of the Beacon Company are also here this evening, and I would like to publicly applaud them for their investment in our city.
Earlier this year, we took an area of downtown and rezoned it as a Chapter 40R zoning overlay district. We established new design guidelines so that new buildings would maintain the same historic look and feel as buildings already in the area.
Now, $60 million in development is planned for our downtown.—the largest projects in the history of our city, and we are certainly working hard to move them forward.
Bringing in more dollars
One key to redeveloping our downtown was the hundreds of thousands of dollars brought into our city by our Brownfield’s task force to inspect and clean up properties.
They are here today and I would like to publicly thank them for their work.
When we looked around downtown, we saw that parking was an obstacle to future growth.
For decades, we talked about a new parking garage downtown—but all we did was talk.
We told Congressman Meehan and today, we have a $7.2 million grant to build a new multi-modal parking facility downtown.
By the end of this month, we’ll have a site for this new parking facility, a facility that will help spur the redevelopment of our downtown.
For twenty five years, we’ve talked about building a boardwalk along the river. For twenty five years, all we’ve had is talk.
This year, we worked with the Metropolitan Planning Organization and were able to obtain money to complete the design of a new boardwalk. The design will be completed by September.
Next spring, we will stop talking about a new boardwalk and start building one, and, by end of next year, we will have a new boardwalk downtown.
Expanding our Retail Base
When we set out to expand our tax base, we also set out to bring in new business and give our residents a place to shop.
We looked at our zoning laws and found that we were making it difficult, almost impossible, for large retail stores to locate here.
Two years ago, we asked the city council to adopt a new, 21 st century retail policy that would allow retail stores to locate here.
As a result of that policy, tonight I can report that we have the three largest retail stores ever to come to our city, Lowes, Target and BJ’s Wholesale club, all due to open this year along with Starbucks, new restaurants and more new stores. Altogether, it is the largest retail expansion in our history.
But we didn’t stop with retail stores. We’ve gone after manufacturing companies. We refused to listen to the naysayer’s who said that all the jobs were over seas.
We’ve brought in Magellan Aerospace and with it 200 new jobs, and most recently, Adamson Industries and its 30 new jobs.
For over 200 of our citizens, this increased business activity means new and better jobs and a chance at the American dream. ----
One of those new employees, Rob is with us tonight, and we want to recognize him and welcome him to Haverhill.
For those of us who shop, this new activity means that we no longer have to make the trek to New Hampshire to shop.
And for all of us who pay taxes, more businesses means that they have paid more of the overall tax bill in the city, and all of us have had to pay less.
Because of the increase in commercial property values, this year we had the lowest the lowest single family tax increase in ten years. For many of our citizens, new business has meant lower taxes.
Better Services for our citizens
As Mayor Menino said recently, being Mayor is half about having a better vision for tomorrow an half about running a better government today.
We’ve taken a number of steps to improve the services you get as a citizen today.
In the police department, we added a new crime analyst, added block grant money for overtime, and changed the way we did overtime so that we allocated police overtime where and when police are needed. We added foot patrols to our downtown, changed bar hours to keep our downtown safe and added a noise law and noise meter to give all you some peace and quiet.
But we have to do more. We need to put more police on the streets and we need to do it in a fiscally responsible manner.
The best way to add police is to reallocate our resources.
Six months ago, I introduced a plan to use civilians to give out parking tickets. That proposal added more police to the high crime neighborhoods and better allocated our resources. It is time for the council to pass that proposal.
In the highway department, we’ve planted over 500 trees, about 150 of which were disease resistant Elm trees.
Later this year, your city will be featured in a national documentary about how cities can improve by planting trees.
Last year, we instituted our 24 hour snow emergency hot line and our 24 hour constituent services on our web site. Hundreds of citizens have called and logged in and gotten the types of service that you deserve and expect when you pay your taxes.
This year, we are working on a new program to better track and improve customer service, and better measure the performance of all our departments.
Our future is bright, but, once again, significant hurdles lie ahead. We can clear those hurdles of tomorrow, just as we cleared the ones which faced us three years ago, but only if we plan together, and work together as a team.
Managing Success and Growth
Our first hurdle is a good one to have: I call it managing success.
Downtown, streets that were once deserted are crowded. Parking lots that were empty only a few years ago are now filled. Buildings that had been vacant for a half a century as starting to have people in them again.
Downtown, we have so much going. We have a new parking garage coming, a new boardwalk, new zoning laws and new design standards to enforce.
Now, we need to put it all together in a comprehensive plan that ties everything together and plans for tomorrow.
The Mayor’s Downtown Master Plan task force has been meeting since November to come up with a master plan for downtown.
Tonight I announce that we have raised the money privately to hire a nationally known consultant to help us put together an overall comprehensive master plan for our downtown that will tie together all of our plans into one comprehensive plan for our downtown—and beyond.
Managing a Future Vision for the River
Our future vision for the city has to include the river.
We start with one overriding principle—the river belongs to all of us, not just to those developers wealthy enough to be able to build next to the river.
Last year, with the help of a citizen group called Team Haverhill, we secured a grant called the Urban River Visions Grant. As part of that grant, we are asking citizens from throughout the city to join us on March 31 to discuss their view visions of the river. We hope from that to develop a riverfront vision, with ideas and plans on how boardwalks, trails and walkways can make certain that the river, our greatest natural asset, is for all of us.
Managing our open space
Downtown isn’t the only place where we have to manage success. Although our residential growth has slowed dramatically with the slowing housing market, all over the city, new businesses are springing up.
In the industrial park off of Route 97, Magellan Aerospace and Adamson Industries will together add 200 new jobs to our community.
Across the street, across Route 97, a new shopping plaza will add new taxes and new jobs. In Lafayette Square, new shopping replaces abandoned buildings.
All of this is good and healthy for our city, but all of it needs to be managed.
Earlier this year, we reactivated the Open Space and Recreation Committee. I have asked them to draw up for us a new Open Space plan to map out areas of the city that should forever be set aside as open space or recreation. No one knows the future for, but we certainly know this: we want to maintain the charm that is Haverhill.
Our Financial Problems
Health Care Costs Continue to Rise
If we are going to build the Haverhill of tomorrow, we have to face head on the serious financial issues we have to face today.
Those financial problems include rising health care costs, an overdependence on the property tax and the ever present, and ever looming, Hale debt.
Rising health care costs continue to threaten the fiscal stability of every city and town in Massachusetts.
We’ve made great progress in controlling our health care costs. When we started, our health care costs were going up by 15 -- 20% per year. Last year, our premiums went up by 9%, but because of the reforms we instituted, shifting some of the costs to employees, the actual costs went up by less than 1%. We have made astounding progress in health care reforms.
But, despite these astounding gains, we still spend $19 million a year in health care costs. We project a $1.7 million increase in this year’s budget. That $1.7 million could provide more police to keep our city safer, more teachers for better education, or could lower the taxes of every resident in our city.
Controlling health care costs is critical if we are going to be able to keep our city affordable, and continue to give residents the services they need and deserve. Later this year, in my budget message, I’ll talk about some specific measures we, and should take to once again be the state wide leader in health care reform.
The Hale Hospital Debt Remains an Albatross
Health care is our largest financial hurdle, but not our only one.
We continue to be saddled with paying $6.5 million a year in Hale Hospital debt for a hospital we no longer own.
We have this anomaly--even as we have paid down $4 million in debt since I took office- the total debt, which includes those health care and retiree costs—continues to rise. Those costs will go up to $8.5 million a year in a few years.
In the long term, our financial problems are an obstacle to our continued success. We must meet these obstacles head on or our success will come to a halt.
Some proposed solutions
We can meet this obstacle, if we work together, follow our plan, and make some tough and difficult decisions together.
We have to start by making our government even more efficient.
We’ve made progress on this, and we need to do more.
Later this year, I’ll be proposing a new government reorganization to once again improve government efficiency, and improve customer service. I’ll address this in more detail in my budget message.
We Need to Find Permanent New Sources of Revenue
After we do that, we also have to look at improving our revenues.
One of the best ways to do that is to bring in new business, and one of the best ways to bring in business is to streamline the permitting process.
Now, once again, we’ve made great progress in speeding up permitting. Just today, I received an email from the newly appointed Mass Permit Regulatory Office, and the new permit ombudsman for the State. She said that she had heard from a number of sources that Haverhill is one of the easiest cities in the State for businesses to work with, and we have created quite a buzz about being business friendly.
Now, we want to go the next step and make Haverhill one of the first cities in the State to take advantage of the new expedited permitting laws, chapter 43D.
Then we need to look at long term structural increases to revenue. Some of this will not be popular, but we need to act today to avoid a crisis tomorrow. We need to examine every possibility including pension obligation bonds, and local option taxes, if we are given that choice.
If the legislature closes the telecommunications tax loophole, and I urge them to do so, it means up to an additional $500,000 a year for the taxpayers of Haverhill—money that could pay for 5 new police officers and 5 new teachers. We need to take advantage of that law immediately if it passes.
Part of that solution has to come from parking revenues.
Over the past three years, I’ve proposed three comprehensive parking plans for downtown, and all three have been tabled by the city council.
Within the next few months I will propose yet another comprehensive parking plan for our downtown. There is an old expression—politics is the art of compromise.
I will walk the extra mile, but I need the council to walk with me. You may not get everything you want, and I may not either, but that is the art of compromise. Work with me, and solve this problem. Together, we can.
Public schools and public education
Our biggest challenge and our highest hurdle is public education. Improving public education is critical to moving the Haverhill Renaissance forward.
We owe it to every child who attends our schools, and every parent, to provide our children with the best education we can provide.
But, let me make it clear—good education is not just about the children in our schools. Improving public education affects all of us. Improving public education improves our image as a city and our property values.
As the recent Brookings Institution report Gateway cities—pointed out, improving public education is critical to improving the overall economic success of a city.
We know that education has to be adequately funded, but we also know that money isn’t all there is to it.
Over the past four years, we’ve increased funding for public education by over five million dollars. Today, we are no longer one of the cities that pay the basic minimum for public education—we spend a million dollars more for public education that we are required to spend by law.
Increased funding for public education saved programs like the middle school band program are allowed for an increased number of teachers at the high school, and kept our all our neighborhood schools open. Increased funding allowed us to keep the most important education asset we have in this city--—our fine teachers.
Increased funding for public schools allowed us to fund the high school renovation project, and see to it that this year; our students have state-of-the-art fully functioning science labs for the first time in four decades.
Despite our accomplishments in public education—I am nowhere near satisfied, nor should you be.
The reason for that is simple: as the recent State audit report pointed out, it’s not all about how much money you have, it’s about how you spend the money you do have.
We need to start by expanding our mandatory summer school program.
Two years ago, we became one of only two cities in the state to have mandatory summer school for those children who are failing the MCAS test. Our mandatory summer school has been a success. It’s time to expand it.
We need to work harder to keep our kids in school.
If our kids are going to do better in school, the most important thing they need to do is to stay in school. Three years ago, the Mayor’s Drop Out Task Force made a number of recommendations for change, including starting mandatory summer school—and those recommendations worked.
Now it’s time to do more. Dr. Buchanan and I will be restarting the Dropout Task Force. We’ll be looking at best practices throughout the country in lowering the drop out rate. Our goal is to lower our drop out rate and keep it low.
Then we have to work harder to improve our MCAS scores.
To find the best practices in improving MCAS scores, we don’t need to go across the country to find the best practices. We only need go across the city, to Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, which last year, had the biggest improvement in MCAS scores in the entire state.
One of the ways they did this, was a new computerized tutoring program, where children who are failing are shown exactly the areas they need to improve and are tutored in how to improve.
This year, we will implement that new computerized test program at the Consentino School and as quickly as possible, we need to implement it throughout the district.
Then we need to make after school MCAS tutoring mandatory, and make it clear to students—if you do not attend, you will not be passed onto the next grade.
We need to work harder to make certain that our text books are closely aligned with the State’s curriculum frameworks, and that we are teaching what the State is testing. We got started earlier this year, when we proposed, and the council passed, a new bond order to borrow up to $450,000 for new text books for our children.
We need to do more. Purchasing textbooks should be part of every budget, not an emergency afterthought. The city council and the school committee should not approve any school budget that does not include money for textbooks. I will not approve any budget unless there is a provision for textbooks.
All of this is important, but there is one final thing we can do in public education, and it is the most important thing.
Last year, we brought in a new superintendent of schools, Dr Raleigh Buchanan.
I want to acknowledge and recognize him tonight for his leadership.
Let’s rally behind Dr. Buchanan, and give him a chance to do the job we hired him to do—turn our schools around. It’s time for all of us to work together professionally to move our schools forward.
Let’s all agree that if we disagree –we will never be disagreeable.
I know that, just as we have improved our economic climate, we can improve our schools, if develop a plan, work together and stick to the plan.
Tonight, as I stand before you, Haverhill has made great progress.
Tonight I can tell you confidently, -- Haverhill is on the move, and hope is back.
But for all our successes, if we work together, our best days are yet to come.
Thank you all for being here, I appreciate you very much.
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Office of the Mayor
City of Haverhill, Massachusetts
City Hall, Room 100, 4 Summer Street, Haverhill, MA 01830
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