Mayor Nicole LaChapelle
State of the City Address
January 2, 2020
As I begin the second term of my service as Mayor of Easthampton, I am struck that our forward momentum and enthusiasm has not only sustained from that first election in 2017, but it has also grown in its reach. It’s infectious – this love for our home, and this willingness to invest and grow together for the good of everyone who lives and works here. I love this job.
Economic development has been a bright spot in our work over the last two years at a pace that exceeded even my hopeful expectations. I was proud to secure millions in grant money for Easthampton, and we’re seeing those investments come to fruition now. We have welcomed new businesses who have chosen to make this their home, and we have seen an increase in women-owned enterprises in particular.
And I’m thrilled to share some exciting news: the National League of Cities has awarded Easthampton a $25,000 grant to fund the creation of Blueprint Easthampton. Through this initiative, we will map innovation resources for locally-based businesses. If you choose to do business in Easthampton, we will help you thrive.
Today we are in the strongest fiscal position this City has ever seen. Our bond rating rose to a historical high of AA+. We increased tax abatement for our most financially at-risk seniors. The city’s property tax rates overall remained lower than our initial projections, even with the costs of new school building.
These financial successes are a strong foundation. And the two years ahead will be defined not merely by growth, but by locally-based smart growth to improve the quality of life for all residents.
We’ve also had to make some tough decisions to fix years of deferred maintenance in vital infrastructure needs. I know you feel the pain of those costs. I have worked to temper those costs with new local taxes on cannabis, short-term rentals, and ridesharing. But new taxes are not a panacea to address every budget need we have, and we must be thoughtful fiscal stewards with this funding.
We must continue to be innovative to keep Easthampton affordable. New tax revenue from the adult-use cannabis industry been a welcome addition, but the reality is that those dollars are more likely a solution to filling budget gaps from the increased costs of doing business – like health insurance for city employees, heating costs for our buildings, and the asphalt we use to improve our streets.
Collectively, we recognize that these tough decisions are generational investments, and your continued support has made all the difference. We are in this together, so that our children and children’s children continue to call Easthampton their home.
Our relationships with partners at every level of government have grown and strengthened in the last two years. Now Easthampton is at the table with other Mayors statewide, advocating for education funding, transportation investments, and public safety resources.
I’m proud of the partnerships we have secured at the federal level, and some of you heard that earlier today when we were joined by Senator Ed Markey and Congressman Richie Neal. We have secured significant grant money in areas like firefighter staffing and public health through the advocacy of Senators Markey and Warren. With the leadership of Congressman Neal, my office worked with River Valley Co-Op to secure crucial support with $15 million in New Market Tax Credits.
And together, we have seen measurable increases in community participation – a signal of increased public confidence in our commitment to equity and inclusion. Each step of the way, I have put the needs of our residents at the forefront of our plans.
I approach this second term with a specific word in mind: Utility. Economic development and smart growth are not about bows and bubbles; they are about nuts and bolts. Now it is my responsibility to make sure that we can execute on each of those promises made through these grants. And to do so, we need to rethink the way we do business in City Hall and expand our capacity.
At 50 Payson, there is a shared commitment among municipal employees to ensure that with every new challenge, we remain, strong fiscal stewards, entrusted with your taxpayer dollars. I’d like to take a moment to say a sincere thank you to all of Easthampton’s public servants. You are the reason for so much of our success.
As we step into 2020, we go even further.
Long-term planning demands environmentally and socially - conscious economic development. We’ve taken steps in that direction, like the near net-zero construction underway at One Ferry Street, River Valley Co-op and our new school.
We’ve taken steps to protect the Mount Tom viewshed, successfully pursued electrical vehicle charging stations, and have been awarded more Green Community grants.
Over the next five years, we will tackle our Intergrated Stormwater Management and Water Plan to comply with federal standards. We will work with our regional partners to focus on action-oriented grants to protect our aquifer, building resiliency to secure the City’s sole source of award-winning drinking water.
We take a deep dive into the challenges of our school budget, away from top-down prioritizing. We must make sure that every single dollar is spent efficiently to benefit our students, keeping in line with the same spirit of dedication that secured a successful Yes vote for the new pre-K through 8 school.
I should also pause here and acknowledge the members of the School Building Committee, who worked over the last two years to design a consolidated school campus that was budget-conscious while driven by community vision. The bids for the school came in under budget, allowing for a new Maintence Building, roundabout, durable flooring in high traffic areas, and a track around the new athletic field. Thank you so much for your work – this was a tremendous community effort.
We have a comprehensive study underway to examine housing needs and production. We will create and execute a plan that addresses our actual housing challenges, supported by data and best practices. Our highest priority is addressing the real need in Easthampton with a particular focus on protecting our most vulnerable populations.
You’ve seen that philosophy already, in our support for the arts and culture community. We obtained an arts visioning grant and underwent that process, which was informed by significant research and a public-intensive process from our residents. We will expand youth art projects, formalize public art policy, and spread resources across more diverse opportunities. But through this visioning, we know that we need to go further and support our artists, focusing on inclusion and equity in areas like housing, wages, and opportunity.
That will be the guiding mission as we look ahead: Create and execute plans based on facts, but guided by the feelings we share for the City.
We just obtained a new MassWorks grant, beginning to correct the Route 10 “tangle of traffic” near the new River Valley Co-op. The grant will bolster pedidestian and bicycle access to the market’s site in a more enviromentialy friendly manner. It’s not a particularly exciting grant announcement, but it addresses a very foundational part of our growth: Managing traffic.
These purposeful steps are what I mean when I say utility. This year, we take all of that planning and investing and we move ahead, taking control of Easthampton’s future. When our city thrives, we all succeed. Each new milestone only matters if every single resident here can enjoy our shared success.
We know what we have done and where we have been. Celebrate this new chapter of our city at this moment, but remember that we hit the ground running today. And tomorrow we do it again. Let’s get back to work.