This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Mayor David J. Narkewicz City of Northampton, Massachusetts Monday, January 6, 2014 Good evening. Judge Goggins, Rabbi David, Reverend Weir, my fellow elected officials, former and outgoing elected officials, our gracious hosts – the staff and volunteers at the Senior Center, other distinguished guests, and my fellow citizens. Thank you all for being here tonight to take part in this important ceremony administering the oaths of office to your city government - elected by you, from among you, and entrusted to serve you the people of this community. I know I speak for all of my colleagues assembled here when I say what an awesome honor and privilege it is to take the oath of office, a formal and public expression of our commitment to leading this great City of Northampton. I personally want to thank Northampton residents for placing your faith and trust in me to serve as your Mayor for a second term. Thanks to all who have supported and sustained me to arrive at this place in time, most especially my parents, siblings, and my wife, Yelena, and our daughters, Emma and Zoe. I am particularly humbled by the historic significance of being the first city resident elected to serve a four-year term as Mayor under our new City Charter. When our city government was established, Northampton’s first chief executive, Mayor Benjamin Cook, was elected to a one-year term in 1885. In fact, our first twenty-one mayors were elected to one-year terms until 1928 when, following a charter change, Mayor Jesse Andre took the oath of office for the first two-year mayoral term. We continued that arc of two-year terms for our chief executives for over eighty years – electing our twenty-second through forty-fourth mayors in biennial elections. This changed when the residents of Northampton voted overwhelmingly in 2012 to revise and modernize our charter, separate our executive and legislative branches of government, and elect mayors to a term of office comparable to our state and federal chief executives. As I look forward to my four years ahead as Mayor, I want to reflect on the significant work we have accomplished together as a city since I raised my right hand two Januarys ago.
FISCAL STRENGTH One of the major challenges we faced was our fiscal health and the core challenge, as outlined in my first budget message, of local revenues and state aid continuously being outpaced by sharp rises in our fixed costs. We have worked diligently to make prudent budgetary decisions to strengthen the city’s financial position, including: • • • • • • • Tightening internal controls on departmental spending, cell phones, city vehicles, and other city resources. Reorganizing and merging departmental functions. Collecting and using data in NorthamptonStat management meetings. Selling an unused former school building at market rate to reduce our municipal footprint and fiscal liability. Collaborating with our city and school employees to achieve multi-year contracts with all of our 14 unions. Implementing historic cost savings for one of our single largest expenses by transferring our municipal health insurance to the state’s G.I.C. program. Rebuilding our free cash and stabilization reserve funds and maintaining our strong credit rating.
Despite all of these efforts, we could not have secured the fiscal stability of this city without the community’s strong vote of support last June for overriding proposition 2 ! as part of a multi-year budget stabilization plan to preserve city services and protect our public schools. That poster-size financial plan I presented to our community now hangs in my office as a continual reminder of the work this Mayor and my financial team and departments must continue to do every day to both meet and exceed its promise to the taxpayers. I look forward to working with the City Council in the months and years ahead to further strengthen our fiscal state of affairs so that we can continue to provide the vital services, public safety, and quality educational system that this community expects and deserves. ECONOMIC GROWTH We have also made significant progress on refocusing city efforts to promote economic development in support of current and new business growth and an expansion of our tax base by: • • • • ! Reorganizing our economic development mission and staff. Revising our zoning - particularly on King Street - to provide more flexibility for commercial uses. Tapping the knowledge and advice of local business sectors through my Economic Development Advisory Committee. Assisting existing local businesses and actively recruiting new ones. "!
Providing regional leadership on passenger rail and other issues. Working with developers and businesses to support new investments and construction for King Street, Atwood Drive, Conz Street, Village Hill, the former Clarke School campus, and other areas of the city. Teaming with our legislative delegation to secure $3 million in funding to address significant neighborhood drainage issues in Ward 3 neighborhoods and advance important redevelopment efforts at the Three County Fairgrounds. Protecting Northampton’s economic vitality as a regional destination for arts and entertainment, local restaurants, and independent retailers from the potential negative impacts of a multi-national casino just a short drive south from our thriving downtown.
Northampton has experienced an unprecedented level of economic activity over the last two years. All told we’ve seen thirteen new projects in various stages of permitting and construction valued at almost $90 million, including nearly 250,000 square feet of office space, 108 new hotel rooms and 83 units of mixed income senior housing. When completed, these projects will have expanded our tax base by 3% generating $1.26 million in additional property tax revenues needed to fund our city and schools. We will continue to work with our local business community, Chamber of Commerce, Florence Civic and Business Association, the Business Improvement District, and our state and federal legislators to continue this positive economic momentum for our city. TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATION We have also made great strides toward our goal of using technology to expand communication with residents, deliver information and city services more effectively and efficiently, and foster an unparalleled level of government access and transparency. Someone recounted to me a recent online exchange where a commenter had opined “Narkewicz must be hiding something” to which another quickly retorted, “hiding something - are you kidding - the Mayor tweets what he has for breakfast every morning.” Now that is a gross exaggeration (#oatmeal), but I will confess to making it a top priority to communicate with residents about my work as Mayor and about the issues and projects we’re working on in city government on their behalf. I’ve made this kind of communication a top priority for my entire Administration, and to that end we’ve strived to expand the use of technology, including: • • • • Using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, NCTV, web alerts, and reverse 911 to push information out to residents. Implementing Google Apps for Government across all departments. Moving data storage and municipal finance systems to the cloud. Investing in computers and technology for our schools and upgrading student information software at NPS and Smith Vocational.
• • •
Piloting a mobile app for reporting potholes, broken parking meters, and other quality of life issues. Forming a Web & IT Advisory Committee made up of residents and city staff to assess our website and technology needs. Completely redesigning our website – northamptonma.gov – to make it a modern, easy to access, and extremely functional information and communication portal for residents, businesses, and visitors alike.
For those who wonder about the value of technology as an important tool for municipal governance, in just the first two weeks after launching our new website we had some 12,000 visitors to northamptonma.gov, 45,000 page views, over 1,000 information searches, and virtual visits from people in every state in America save North Dakota and Wyoming. We will continue to make technology and communicating with residents a central focus in this new term and continue to push the municipal IT envelope. ENERGY AND SUSTAINABILITY I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished as a community to further Northampton’s leadership position as a green city on the cutting edge of energy and sustainability, including: • • Adopting new sustainable zoning to encourage more residential and mixed-use within walking distance of our urban and village centers. Partnering with Columbia Gas, National Grid, and the Center for EcoTechnology (CET) to pilot a program helping small businesses and commercial property owners access energy efficiency audits and incentive funding. Installing more traffic calming and sidewalks, a second park-and-ride lot, electric car charging stations – including at our new LEED Gold police station, developing .7 miles of new rail trail, and finalizing construction plans for our new passenger rail station. Preserving permanently another 500 acres of open space, including 127 acres of agricultural land, and collaborating with Grow Food Northampton to open the Florence Organic Community Garden. Starting construction of what will be our largest recreation complex at Florence Fields and our first riverfront park on the Connecticut River. Partnering with the state, a dedicated team of community volunteers, and 110 homeowners to install 715 kilowatts of clean local power though Solarize Northampton.
These are only some of the exciting projects our community has been able to accomplish together. As the Boston Globe wrote last spring, “Financial support and a committed local government are of course crucial to towns struggling to be greener!—!but so is the initiative and creativity of the community. And on all those fronts, Northampton… appears to have a winning combination.”
While it is important that we acknowledge our hard work and success as a community, there are many more challenges that lie ahead. I want to close by highlighting three issues we will focus on at the start of this new term. SEEKING INCREASED STATE AID AND LOCAL REVENUE AUTHORITY As I reiterated in this year’s budget message, if aid to cities and towns continues to lag and there is no political will to revisit outdated state funding formulas, we must seek more local revenue authority from state government to let us control our own fiscal destiny. I recommit myself to working with the City Council, the School Committee, and all city elected officials and residents to lobby state government for increased local aid, progressive change to our tax structure, and new local revenue tools we need to properly fund our public schools, our police and fire, our infrastructure, and other vital city programs and services. ADDING TAX REDUCTION OPTIONS FOR SENIORS AND VETERANS As we talk about budgets and revenues, we must be continuously mindful to ensure that Northampton remains affordable to those of every generation and on every rung of the economic ladder – particularly our seniors and veterans. Later this year I will file legislation with the City Council to create new Northampton programs to allow income-eligible seniors and veterans to earn up to a $1,000 abatement of their property taxes in exchange for volunteering in city departments and agencies. Many other Massachusetts communities have created these tax work-off programs to the benefit of residents and municipal governments alike. The time has come for Northampton to join them. FUNDING OUR CRITICAL STORMWATER INFRASTRUCTURE I recently spoke to a Leadership Pioneer Valley gathering and was asked what was the next big issue facing Northampton in 2014. My answer surprised them, but shouldn’t surprise you: stormwater. We face a major dual infrastructure challenge to maintain our massive system of levees, floodwalls, and pumps built in 1940 to protect our community from flooding as well as to maintain and upgrade our 100-year-old storm drain system. Both of these critical systems face expensive and potentially punitive federal mandates and the cost of meeting them cannot and should not be absorbed by property taxes and our general fund. I commend the citizen Stormwater Task Force and Board of Public Works for researching this complex issue, crafting an equitable, fee-based solution for funding a new stormwater utility, and going out and discussing it extensively with residents and business owners around the city.
We’ve had two years of valuable discussion and the time has come for us to act on these critical infrastructure mandates. I call upon the City Council to send the pending stormwater legislation to my desk early in 2014 so I can sign it and my Administration can begin implementing it. I have every confidence that working together as a community we can address this and the many other challenges that lie ahead to keep our great city moving forward. Thank you for being here this evening and thank you for allowing me the honor to serve as your Mayor. Congratulations once again to my fellow elected officials. I look forward to working constructively and collaboratively with all of you. Thank you most importantly to the people of this community who elected us to serve them and the City of Northampton. Let’s get to work!
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.