State of the City Address of Mayor James P. Jajuga, Mann Orchards, April 24, 2018
Good Evening. As we begin this evening, I want to first thank all of you for coming tonight to hear my first State of the City address. I also wish to express my deep appreciation to Mann Orchards for again opening their doors to the Methuen community. I’m always happy to highlight local businesses that are an integral part of Methuen – and Mann Orchards certainly falls into that category. It’s hard to believe that, only a little less than four months ago, I had the honor of being sworn in as your Mayor. I am fortunate to again serve our great city in public office.
Every day I am inspired by the people of Methuen. I am energized by the men & women who work hard to ensure that our residents are provided with the services they need; these public servants are committed to a better future for our city. To all our city employees and to my fellow elected and appointed officials - thank you for your service.
There is no question that we live in a great city - a city of potential and opportunity. As we look at ways to improve Methuen - to make it better for all of our residents - our first step must be to ensure that we are balancing the necessities and priorities of today with our long-term vision and goals. One of my first priorities is to ensure that we have an efficient and effective government for the city’s citizens. For me, that means both looking at the details and the big picture.
To help draw a roadmap for the future of Methuen, we have worked with the Collins Center at UMass Boston to create a comprehensive Capital Improvement Plan for the City to identify the capital assets we have and our future capital needs – as well as how to pay for them. We’ve had great cooperation from all city departments in providing the necessary input for this plan, and I look forward to presenting it to the City Council for review and consideration this fall.
In addition, my administration has been working on a comprehensive review of the city’s human resources functions – both on the municipal and school sides of the house. That work is nearly complete, and we will seek to implement the recommendations we receive to ensure we are providing our city employees with what they need to do their jobs properly. We have also worked – in conjunction with the City Council -- to establish a Charter Review Committee to take a fresh look at our City Charter and to make recommendations for the Legislature – and ultimately the voters of Methuen – on how to improve our governing document.
I have appointed three highly qualified committee members to join three members of the City Council and a joint appointee with the City Council to carry on this important work. It is my hope that the Committee will focus on improvements to our existing system of government without any expectations of making major changes, which would be more appropriately addressed by an elected Charter Commission.
From my first day in office, I began to look carefully at our current budget to identify areas where we could streamline expenses, increase productivity and efficiency, and maximize how our tax dollars work for us. As we finish out this fiscal year, and prepare a budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, we are working hard to find the best, most effective ways for our city departments to live within their means -- and to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars. I want to be clear that our city faces some serious challenges on the fiscal front. There are always competing priorities and there has to be give & take throughout our municipal budget.
After taking office, we discovered that the costs of some of the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the previous administration are significantly higher than had been believed. We have reached out to the unions involved to discuss these agreements, and we are pleased that they are willing to meet. Without reductions in the cost of these contracts, it will be very difficult to ensure that services can continue at the level our residents expect & deserve. Although I would love to be able to fund every budget request in full, that is unfortunately not our reality. As Mayor, it is my duty to look at the entire picture, and to do the best we can to provide necessary services -- all within a balanced budget.
For example, while I understand that the School Committee’s request was made with a focus on providing everything possible for our students – as is their role -- the reality is we may not be able to fulfill the request without causing a significant budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year. Whatever our budget challenges bring, I am confident in the vision and the efforts made by every department. It’s my hope that we can work together to weather these fiscal challenges and to find creative solutions to do the business of government for the people of Methuen.
Despite our fiscal challenges, the work of government goes on in a variety of areas. We have focused on a few key initiatives during the first 100 days of my administration. I want to take a few minutes to share with you our progress and the work we are continuing to do for you and our city. First among our efforts is the work that has been done to counteract everything Mother Nature threw at us this winter. Our Department of Public Works has done an outstanding job through these past months with clearing our roads of snow in an exemplary manner after the many storms. Their fight with Mother Nature continues as they work to patch the potholes and clear the debris and fallen trees she left in her wake.
The DPW also continues to work tirelessly to address the issues on all of our city streets, parks, and public spaces to repair damage. In addition, our water and sewer departments are working continuously to upgrade the city’s infrastructure. In fact, over the next several months they will be upgrading pumping stations and collection systems for our sewer and installing new water meters at every residence in the city. After hearing concerns raised by the neighbors and park users, significant improvements are being made in all city parks. The DPW is executing a city-wide parks initiative to address immediate upgrades and modifications to parks throughout the city and simultaneously creating a long-term maintenance plan for our parks.
We are working closely with the Forest Lake Commission to make significant improvements to that important resource for the people of Methuen. Our goal is to ensure that our city’s infrastructure is well maintained and accessible to all the residents of our city. As we improve infrastructure, we also need to create opportunity. Key among these efforts is the ongoing development of Methuen’s downtown area. Bringing back our downtown to a place residents and visitors see as a destination is so important to our local economy, our local businesses and our sense of community. This transformation won’t happen overnight, but if we build the foundation, we will see a downtown that can and will come back to life.
Along with our 40R designation, which allows for a combination of residential and commercial space close to transit, we also have projects in the works to put in new street lights and better signage and to consider options for enhanced parking to support this new development as it happens. I am also committed to making our downtown not just a destination but an experience that everyone can enjoy. From attractions like the new Rail Trail, which we broke ground on last week, to further integrating the arts in our community; I want our downtown to be a place that enriches the lives of residents and visitors alike.
In addition to downtown, we are focused on how to improve other areas of the city as well. We are working to create affordable housing, especially for seniors. As we balance housing as part of the overall development equation, we are also committed to securing open space across the city. The development projects in the works have preserved over 265 acres of open space -- while also creating over 400 units of housing for new and current city residents to enjoy. As part of those ongoing efforts, we always hope to look at ways to expand recreation along our city’s waterfront near Riverside Park - which is now being renovated with assistance from the Commonwealth.
By opening up an area where the community can access the Merrimack River for boating and fishing, we can expand how our community comes together. As a first step in the process, I have appointed a Waterfront Task Force to provide recommendations to me about how to expand such uses along the Merrimack River. I am also looking to enhance community programs and events to bring together our residents. We are moving the 4th of July fireworks to the Loop so they are more accessible to all, and we are organizing activities this fall and holiday season with the goal of having everyone enjoy the chance to participate in and enjoy community events.
While we look to improve the quality of life and cultural experiences, I am also focused on pursuing opportunities to improve our transportation infrastructure. We recently completed the $1.25 million Pelham/Dayton Drive intersection project. We are nearing the finish line on the $66 million project to remove the rotary to open new opportunities for economic growth while enhancing safety. We are also currently designing a new gateway to downtown at the 5 Corners. Additionally, this year we will be actively paving many streets throughout our city.
We have made a significant investment in equipment that allows our DPW to better maintain our infrastructure challenges. Having the right equipment now will save us both frustration and money tomorrow. These improvements and investments we make today will better position us for new development in the future as well as encourage our existing businesses to both stay here and expand their footprint.
That future is closer than you think. Our Economic & Community Development Department is working on many more commercial and residential development opportunities to grow our community as well as its tax base. I will continue to work with our team to seek out new business and help our great local businesses thrive. I will also leverage my long and strong relationships with our state government – both our excellent legislative delegation AND the Baker/Polito Administration. At the end of the day, economic development means more funding and jobs in the city – and a better life for our residents.
One of the unique challenges we face as a community is having the right guidelines in place to deal with changes to state law relative to recreational and medicinal marijuana use. Frankly, there were some false starts in the recent past in seeking a comprehensive approach to siting a medicinal marijuana establishment in Methuen. In an effort to ensure that we get this right, I have created a Cannabis Policy Commission in the Department of Economic & Community Development to manage the process for siting such a facility.
I am pleased with the progress we have made just a few months into my administration and am looking forward to even more success. However, there is one area where we continue to struggle, and we aren’t alone here in Methuen. That struggle is the effort to break free of the stranglehold of opioid addiction that has infected our entire state and nation. Everyone in our community whether directly or indirectly has seen the impact of opioid abuse and addiction. We can’t win this fight alone. Within my first few weeks in office, I reached out to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor and our legislators on Beacon Hill to advocate for greater access to appropriate treatment and more resources for communities to fight this war. I have also begun to lay the groundwork for a more regional approach, because this isn’t an epidemic bound by city or state lines. I have had initial discussions with several community leaders in the area – including newly-elected Mayor Joyce Craig of Manchester, New Hampshire -- and am continuing to build a coalition in the Merrimack Valley area and beyond to come together and find solutions that get people the treatment they need, raise awareness and increase prevention. Methuen can -- and will -- be a leader in this fight.
We have so much to be proud of in this wonderful city of Methuen. Although we will face challenges at times, I am confident that we will succeed in our focus to continue to make this city ever better. Whether you are a senior citizen or a senior in high school -- whether you moved here 3 days or 30 years ago, I want you to be as proud as I am of our city. I want you to see the potential we have right here. I want you to enjoy what we have to offer and, most importantly, I want you to be confident in our future and know that your city government is here to address your needs and create opportunities for everyone. Methuen is a place where history meets progress. We have a rich and celebrated history. I am committed to continuing our progress.
Thank you all for being here. God bless you, the City of Methuen, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the United States of America.