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Holyoke Mayor State of the City 2014

Holyoke Mayor State of the City 2014

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Published by masslive
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse delivered his State of the City address on Tuesday night.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse delivered his State of the City address on Tuesday night.

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Published by: masslive on Apr 02, 2014
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07/25/2014

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Good evening. Thank you, members of the City Council, for the opportunity to address you tonight. I would also like to thank those of you tuning in at home. It because of you – the people of Holyoke – that we get to remake the Paper City together. It is because of you and your energy that Holyoke is becoming an example to a new generation and a new century of American cities. It has been five years since a Holyoke mayor has provided a State of the City address, and I am proud to reinstitute the practice. Tonight marks an important step forward in governmental transparency. Further, tonight is an opportunity for me to discuss the great strides being made in our city, and to outline some ways to build on our successes. When I first took office, our city faced many great and complicated challenges. We knew then, as we do now, that none of those challenges would be resolved overnight. But we also knew that we couldn’t let the difficulty of our task exempt us from action. We got to work. And over the past several years, Holyokers from all walks of life have worked toward a brighter future. Together, we prioritized early literacy for our students and welcomed a new superintendent of schools. Together, we expanded community policing – restoring relationships between our Police Department and our citizens, and making the city the safest it’s been in decades. Together, we attracted new businesses and helped others expand. Together, we ushered in a new era of civic pride and community engagement. And together, we sent the clear message that the City of Holyoke is making a comeback. Because of the work we have done together, I can proudly say that the state of the city is getting stronger each day. Our city’s rebirth is well underway. And it’s up to each and every one of us to make sure it continues.
BUDGET
 Central to achieving the City’s agenda is properly managing the City’s fiscal health, which is why threats to our finances should be faced with utmost diligence and attention. It is widely known that there are a few situations
 
that are fiscally unsustainable, and which I propose we tackle together in the months ahead. Fresh on everyone’s mind is the current situation with the Holyoke Geriatric Authority, which my administration has been working hard to resolve. I updated this body recently on steps we are taking to protect the city, the taxpayers, and most importantly, to protect those who have called the authority their home. For years, the Geriatric Authority has struggled with mismanagement, forcing the taxpayers of Holyoke to subsidize the facility upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. As with other obstacles, we have faced this head on. We have been working hand in hand with the Department of Public Health and the Attorney General’s office to ensure a smooth closure. We have worked diligently to transition every resident to another healthcare facility, and upon the request of my office, the state department of labor has sent a rapid response team to help employees find other employment opportunities or career training options here in Western Massachusetts. My office has also facilitated the transfer of the Adult Day Health program, the only one of its kind in Holyoke, to another site in the City, preserving jobs and ensuring that the 54 individuals who rely on the program will continue to receive care. As of today, only 14 residents remain at the Authority, and I look forward to working with all of you in the coming months to officially acquire the Authority’s property and spur a project that generates tax revenue and creates job opportunities for our residents. My administration has also worked hard over the past two years to aggressively collect back taxes owed to the City. City Treasurer Jon Lumbra announced last year that the City had set a back-taxes collection record for any one fiscal year, over $1.2 million dollars in FY13. I’m pleased to report that we are on track to collect the same this year, if not more. In addition, last year the City hosted its first public property action in over 45 years. By taking properties for nonpayment of taxes, we have succeeded in putting properties back into private hands as taxpaying entities, and watching vacant properties go back into use and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. We are preparing now to have another auction later this year, and expect to see strong interest in the available commercial property throughout the City. Now as you all know, we are in the midst of crafting our budget for the next fiscal year. I have been meeting with my department heads to review their proposals and have been working diligently to cut costs while improving city
 
services. New this budget season, I have also scheduled community forums where my administration will explain the budget proposal and allow questions and input from the community. I’d like to do the same for all of you – if any councilors have any input as I prepare my budget presentation, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. There are few who would disagree that the process in which we approach our city budget is not nearly as transparent as it should be. Each year there are millions of dollars in expenses that are not included in the final budget, which end up being paid for through supplemental transfers. The current system of departments requesting free cash transfers for expected budgetary items is extremely inefficient. This is not a new practice, and while there have always been reasons that this has been necessary to do, the time has come for us to confront the budget head on so we don’t have to rely on these kinds of practices. In about one month, I will be submitting a budget that is an honest reflection of the needs of the City, based on historic trends. The goal behind this is to present a final budget that is truly balanced, from day one. This will allow us to use our certified free cash to pay off debt, invest in capital expenses, and increase the reserves in our stabilization account. In addition, I’m proud to say that over the last three months we’ve been negotiating a new single source Health Insurance contract, which will guarantee the same level of coverage that city employees enjoy now, but also provide a reduction in costs to both employees and taxpayers. In fact, if the plan on the table now is accepted, there could be millions in savings made to the general fund. While making these strategic adjustments to the budget is a promising start, it will not be enough. In order for us to maintain the current level of city services we provide, new sources of revenue must be sought. Tonight on the council’s agenda is an order seeking approval for us to assess a local meal tax similar to the hotels tax that the city council adopted early on in my first term. A local meals tax would increase a $100.00 check at a local eatery by just $.75 cents and would generate over $500,000 in revenue annually. This will provide much needed relief to Holyoke’s already strained property taxpayers. I’ve heard the argument that this will scare diners away from our locally owned food establishments but I disagree; in contrast, most of this revenue will come from the fast food restaurants located in and around the Holyoke Mall. The tax would increase a $5 lunch by less than

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