Mayor James P. Jajuga's State of the City Address - February 20, 2019

The Following is the Text of Mayor James P. Jajuga's State of the City Address Presented on February 20, 2019 at the Methuen Senior Activity Center

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Good evening. Before I begin, I want to recognize and thank the Senior Activities Center for hosting us this evening. Our senior citizens are such an important part of the Methuen community, and I always enjoy the time I spend here.

I want to begin by thanking our City Council, School Committee, and other local elected and appointed officials for their service, as well as all of the department heads and city employees for their hard work and commitment to Methuen.  I also want to thank our Methuen legislative delegation on Beacon Hill for their fine work on our behalf.  And last but not least, I want to thank my family for their continuing love and support.

As the City of Methuen settles into 2019, it is a time for us to reflect on the past and plan for the future. For most of my first term, the City – and me as Mayor -- was consumed with how to address the Superior Officer’s contract we inherited from the previous administration. In short, we significantly reduced the benefits and cost of that agreement and worked for months to seek City Council support to avoid long and costly litigation, and a huge financial risk to the taxpayers of Methuen.

Absent support from the Council, and facing layoffs of much of the Police Department to avoid an illegal budget deficit, I reluctantly made the decision – in the interest of public safety -- to move forward by reverting to the previous contract with the Superiors. While I continue to have concerns that we may still be vulnerable to financial risk, this decision – with the Council’s reinstatement of much of the necessary funding to avoid a budget deficit – has taken the issue off the front burner for now, allowing us as a City to focus on the numerous other important issues facing Methuen.

As we look forward, I am focusing on ways to stabilize the city, create opportunity and improve the quality of life for Methuen’s residents. The first step in these goals is to work to make this city fiscally strong and stable. To achieve this, we are working closely with the Commonwealth to strengthen our financial practices and position. We are meeting regularly with our Fiscal Stability Officer and a Financial Management Review Team, and will soon be choosing the City’s first Chief Administrative & Financial Officer. 

Further, we have hired the Collins Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston to help prepare our Fiscal Year 2020 budget to balance the needs of the residents with the fiscal health of Methuen.  These are challenges that cannot be fixed by short-term decisions, but by a long-term vision and path that we are creating.

We are also finalizing the City’s first Capital Improvement Plan, which will provide a blueprint for addressing the City’s infrastructure needs into the 2020s. A key priority for me is building a new consolidated DPW facility. We have already begun taking steps towards completing this goal, with our legislative delegation on Beacon Hill providing authorization for at least $3 million in state support. We will both seek to grow that amount as well as to identify local resources to assist with this project. It’s a major step forward, and a necessary one!

While we continue getting the City’s fiscal house in order, we also need to be proactive in addressing challenges & creating opportunities to make Methuen stronger, better and safer. For me, the first of these is getting a handle on the opioid crisis. The opioid epidemic has taken hold of, and is strangling, our city, our region, our state and our nation. Last year, we were the first community in Massachusetts to sign on to a class action lawsuit against a number of Big Pharma drug manufacturers, in an effort to hold accountable the companies whose focus was their bottom line, and not the lives, health and well-being of people caught in the grip of opioid addiction. Several other Massachusetts communities have joined this lawsuit, which is now one of many seeking to recover financial damages from these companies.

We are also strengthening our commitment to the crisis with the Police Department CARES program -- a multi-faceted program to prevent opioid abuse and help those who have fallen into its grip. And while we continue the fight on a municipal level, we know that this addiction knows no boundaries.  I believe that as a region we must come together to address this crisis. In early December 2018 we convened a meeting with the Merrimack Valley mayors and managers and numerous state and federal agencies on the front lines of this crisis.   

I will continue to bring regional leaders together to put into place an action plan that will not only address this issue, but one which will be a model of how to achieve success. Because every day without a plan of attack is another day we lose someone to this epidemic. And that is unacceptable!

We are also committed to creating more economic and community development opportunities for this city. This winter, I was pleased to announce two great economic partners - New Balance Athletics and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, both of which have chosen Methuen for enhanced facilities and investment. In December, we announced that New Balance Athletics is moving forward with building a facility to include advanced manufacturing, research and development as well as 3D printing – technology and jobs for the 21st century. This is a $15-$20 million investment estimated to create 60 to 100 new jobs.

And in January, we announced that the Dana Farber Cancer Institute will open a new facility to give area residents better access for treatment of cancer and blood disorders. It will also offer expanded support to patients through genetic counseling, nutrition and social work services.  This $15-$20 million investment is expected to bring 100 new jobs to Methuen.

But those are just the beginning, 2018 saw a great deal of investment, both big and small.  Along with New Balance and Dana Farber, we welcomed the opening of Orange Theory at the Loop and the grand opening of the nearby Chik-fil-A restaurant, the repurposing of the former Parlex and Verizon facilities into mixed use commercial buildings for professional office and warehouse space, as well as the opening of local businesses like Portland Stoneware and the newly relocated and expanded Irish Cottage on Branch Street, just to name a few.

Adding to that momentum, we have also received a federal opportunity zone designation for two areas in Methuen.  This designation provides tax incentives for economic development, encouraging investment in our city. All of these are exciting investments and opportunities which underscore the fact that the potential for economic development is right here in Methuen.  And I am looking forward to pursuing more opportunities like these for Methuen in 2019.

Along with finding ways to bring more new jobs and businesses to Methuen, I am also focused on creating a better quality of life for our residents. We must look at our city in terms of highlighting the assets we have and building upon that foundation to lift our city up. In the coming months, we will continue to move forward on the development of downtown Methuen and our riverfront.

To that end, we are projecting $20 million in investment in our downtown, which will breathe new life into the heart of our city with several new residential and mixed-use development buildings, including $60,000 for parking improvements, $90,000 for new street lights, historic preservation of the railroad depot, and opening of the rail trail this spring. 

With $60,000 in state funds we secured for the waterfront, we will acquire new land for public use at the new boat ramp and complete the vision for a community space between the boat ramp and Martin Park. We are also working with the State Department of Fishing and Boating Access to design a fishing platform in 2019.

Bringing our community together also means both investing in our open space and community events.  As we speak, my office is working on concrete plans to both make improvements to fields at Burnham Road AND to secure more recreational fields for the Methuen community…so stay tuned for more details as they develop! I am also looking forward to building on the success of the community events that we all enjoyed last year, including the impressive 4th of July fireworks celebration at the Loop, the City’s first “Methuen Day” in October, and the highly successful Christmas tree lighting and holiday festival, also at the Loop.

We will continue to partner with city agencies and organizations to make these celebrations even better in 2019, in addition to new, exciting ventures such as integrating arts activities with the new Methuen Arts Partnership. All of these improvements give residents and visitors an opportunity to enjoy our city but, more importantly, helps knit our city together to provide a better quality of life for everyone.

Creating a better Methuen also means making sure our students are receiving the education they deserve to achieve their dreams in a 21st century economy.  And, that means addressing issues of adequate school funding in Methuen and across the Commonwealth. We worked through a difficult issue with our school budget last year, but we need to address the larger issues this year and beyond. Along with the School Committee and the Superintendent, we are tracking how the current funding is being spent to find efficiencies and maximize the dollars we have.

But we will still continue to struggle to make ends meet for our schools. That is why I am  actively engaging with the Governor and our state legislative delegation to ensure that reforms to education funding are fair for Methuen and give our schools the resources they need to provide the best education possible for our youth. As a State Senator and a member of the Legislature’s Committee on Education in the early 1990s, I was on the team that instituted the first “ed reform” initiative in 1993. Now – over a quarter of a century later – it’s time to finally achieve the promise of fair and equitable funding for ALL communities!

All of these efforts are being made in order for Methuen to be a thriving and successful city in the future. But to truly be successful, we need to evolve how we do business. We need to break free from the “town” mentality and  develop a city government that is modern, effective and efficient. We will continue with our leadership team in the City to make improvements, to find efficiencies where we can, and to modernize how we do business. One of those improvements is better information technology systems for city government and its residents. 

For example, the City Clerk’s office – under our new City Clerk Jack Wilson -- now has the technological capability to process vital records requests and payments online through the city’s website.  Now certified copies of birth, marriage and death certificates can be requested electronically, making it more convenient for residents and faster for the Clerk’s office to process. 

Methuen has also been designated a Green Community, and has received a $218,000 grant to help in a 5-year goal of reducing Methuen’s energy usage by 20 percent though an energy reduction plan. We have also received a $32,000 Municipal Vulnerability Planning Grant which will help us plan for future emergencies and contingencies before they occur. In addition, we are also exploring further opportunities to work across the traditional “municipal-school” divide. We are exploring cooperative ventures between the municipal and School departments for providing IT and facilities management services, in order to save money and provide more efficient service. 

Also, as part of ensuring better government, we need Methuen’s charter to better reflect the governance of 21st century city - not a 20th century. Many provisions of the old Charter harken back to the time when Methuen was a town. If we continue on this path, we are doing a disservice to Methuen and its residents. We are watching the progress of the Charter Review Committee in the hopes that we can amend the old Charter to help create a more modern and effective city government.

Now is the time to make the changes that will bring our community together and make our government serve the people of Methuen. A better city government makes a stronger city. We live in a great community blessed by diversity of culture and thought -- by determination and hope -- by opportunity and resolve. There are wonderful things happening in Methuen and positive changes on the horizon. However, we cannot allow ourselves to be mired in negativity. When we stop being distracted by the noise -- and when we push aside the cynicism to focus on all of the positive things that are happening for Methuen, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

It is a great honor to serve the people of Methuen as Mayor.  Our city and our residents are worth fighting for, and that is my mission as your Mayor.  I will continue to do everything I can to make our city stronger and create better lives for our residents. Thank you. God Bless you, the City of Methuen, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States of America.