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2019 State of the City Address

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I would like to acknowledge and thank some special guests who are with us tonight:
 
To my family: for your love and support.
 
Auditor Suzanne Bump, for your strong example of leadership
 
Pat Carnevale, Director of the Governor’s Western Massachusetts Office. Thank you for so effectively communicating Easthampton’s needs to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
 
Register of Probate Mike Carey for oversight of our county’s Probate systems.
 
Sheriff Patrick Cahillane for his forward – looking vision.
 
Senator Don Humason for your candor and help.
 
Representative Dan Carey for stepping up into state public service.
 
My legislative partners on the Easthampton City Council, including those here tonight - Peg Conniff, Homar Gomez, Tom Peake, Owen Zaret and Bill Lynch. Thank you for your sincere commitment to our city.
 
A hardy thank you to Liz Quigley from Congressman Neal’s office for the unequivocal support the Congressman gives to Easthampton.
 
I am proud to stand here and say our city is stronger than ever. The year has been defined by gains in our local economy, increased efficiency in government through examining current practices, expanded resources through diverse partnerships, and protection of our existing assets through strategic planning.
 
As Mayor, I made sure Easthampton is a Housing Choice Initiative community and has Opportunity Zone designation. These two new programs helped us explore connectivity and availability for bicycles through two key projects: the developing of a multi-use trail network, and a revamped bike and auction program, which will broaden access to bikes and provide necessary education and equipment.
 
In the past year, I have been successful in landing the City of Easthampton millions of grant dollars. This has made it possible to take on significant projects that will benefit our city for generations. Many of these crucial grant dollars were awarded due to the concerted, strategic efforts of our Planning Department, led by Jeff Bagg. Jeff worked closely with his team, the City Engineers, and the Public Works Department.
 
I am incredibly excited to share the details of these grants:
 
  • $3,510,000.00 MassWorks grant to support new mixed-use development and bring 43 million dollars of private investment to the heart of the Mill District.
  • $212, 000.00 in Complete Streets funding to design safer thoroughfares for cyclists and pedestrians on Cottage and Main St.
  • $225k for the equipment necessary to join the Valley Bike share program.
  • $798k to improve outdated and inefficient infrastructure in the Admiral Street neighborhood - designated specifically to benefit low- to moderate-income individuals and families.
  • $28k for Municipal Vulnerability Program Design to protect and prepare Easthampton for severe weather events.
  • A $50,000 Planning Assistance Grant to create a Downtown Strategic Plan, focusing on Cottage and Union Streets. It also supports our exploring options for the two soon-to-be-surplused elementary school campuses.
  • $100k to demolish the Lower Mill Pond pumphouse, which is an environmental and public safety hazard. I want to give a special thank you to our Building Inspector, Jon Flagg, for expediting this project.
  • $75k to purchase modern equipment for our Parks & Recreation department so it can maintain our amazing public open spaces.
  • A $400k PARC grant for the City, in conjunction with the Kestrel and Pascommuck Land Trusts, to purchase 11 acres of the Mt Tom viewshed off East St.
  • $50k in community compact grants to modernize our budget process.

Working with our city’s leadership team, I have consolidated day to day administrative operations. This has provided a streamlined interface for the public and more efficient spending of municipal dollars. For example, in my own office, I consolidated clerk responsibilities for the Planning, Licensing and Health Boards. This saves resources and provides consistency for the public record. I would like to thank Municipal Clerk Lindsi Mailler for taking on these responsibilities.

I also updated the city’s financial policies and budget practices. The budget document now reads like an “Owner’s Manual” for residents. It provides narratives of why, how and where our taxpayer dollars are spent. The new budget format shows the timeline for purchasing big ticket items. In addition, it outlines the type of funds that will be used to purchase them over the next five years. I added a forecasting model to detail what revenues and expenditures the city can expect going forward. This means that my financial decisions are well informed today and will stand up tomorrow. These extensive projects are possible only with the help of our finance director Melissa Zawadzki and Alan Wolf in my office.

i also initiated a review of employee functions, job descriptions and pay scale to properly align with the needs of the city. We are working to create a modern, equitable organizational structure. Thank you to Monica Kane, the leader in our personnel department.
 
To make sure Easthampton is ready for business, I have forged a strategic relationship with our Chamber of Commerce and its amazing Executive Director Moe Beliveau. While many chambers are struggling, in 2018 our Chamber welcomed 37 new members.
 
I am proud of the smart and diverse growth in our local economy. New businesses are coming to Easthampton and existing businesses are thriving in new and innovative ways. Rock Valley Tool LLC is a great example. A family owned machining facility, now under the ownership of Elizabeth and Jason Paquette, Rock Valley is celebrating its 60th year of operation. In the last five years, Rock Valley has doubled its workforce to 34 employees and more than doubled its sales. The company is currently seeking to expand its existing workforce by developing partnerships with Easthampton High School, Riverside Industries and Berkshire Hills Academy. Rock Valley serves as a model for the way Easthampton does business. It reaches out to partner with other organizations in order to expand their business impact and potential.
 
Going forward I will remain steadfast in improving and protecting Easthampton’s businesses and the larger community – I will continue to reach out, listen, and lead our city forward.
 
I take pride in my outreach efforts over the last year, including:
 
●  Mayor Update segments on Easthampton Media, our local cable access provider
●  Convening stakeholder meetings on housing and economic development for the Mill District and the Route 10 corridor
●  Spending time at the Council on Aging - playing cards and hosting coffee hours for residents to interact with me and other elected representatives;
●  Attending school events and games - scooping ice cream at Center/Pepin Schools and watching the EHS basketball teams play
●  And attending conferences in Washington DC, Boston, New York City, Kansas City and Israel
  • I have told people around the country and around the world that Easthampton works – for businesses, workers, families and tourists
 
And I have gathered information on new approaches and best practices, which I have brought back to our city
 
I have learned that we have more in common than not in our strengths and challenges. We are strongest when we work together - building our community, businesses, schools, and public services. We are a city that values a better life for everyone, affirming each person’s existence and voice. These values built our city and shape its future. Easthampton’s future indeed looks bright.
 
Tonight began with an example of that brightness - Clara Downey, Easthampton High School Senior and 2019 Distinguished Young Woman of Greater Easthampton. Thank you, Clara, for opening our program tonight.
 
Joining us this evening are members of the Easthampton High School We the People team. Our team just won back to back state championships! In April, our EHS team will once again head to Washington DC to represent the state of Massachusetts in the We the People national competition. Congratulations also go out to the Williston Northampton School team, which placed third in the state.
 
I also want to recognize the self - initiative and high level of civic engagement of my intern, Ruby McElhone – Yates. She is an Easthampton resident and a sophomore at the Williston – Northampton School. Ruby approached me about how to highlight the roles women have and can play in public policy and elected office. She is now the co - founder and lead organizer of an April forum on women’s roles and potential in policy making. I am honored to be a sponsor of this event.

We are fortunate to have these remarkable young people in our community. I am so proud of them all --- let’s acknowledge these young community leaders with a round of applause.
 
Every young person deserves the opportunity to learn and thrive like the youth who are with us tonight. These opportunities only happen with investment in our public schools. In May 2018, the people of Easthampton made that commitment. They voted for a huge investment in our schools. This secured over 45 million dollars in state funds for a new PreK-8 school. This, combined with a recently built state-of-the-art High School, ensures that every child in Easthampton will attend a new school by September 2021. Now the state must do more. This is why I signed on to the PROMISE Act which will calibrate our state education funding formula in an equitable and fair manner. The current Chapter 70 education formula punishes cities like Easthampton for the size and geographic location of their schools. Our students, all of our students, deserve better and need better. They are our future, and the future must be funded now.
 
Our future stands on the foundation built by our seniors and retirees. They too need and deserve our support. To that end, Our City Assessor, Lori Stewart, initiated tax relief to help seniors. The tax exemption has been increased to $1,000, and the eligible age has been lowered to 65. In addition, City Auditor Valerie Bernier has worked with the Easthampton Retirement Board to increase the funded ratio of our municipal pension. The goal is to have the municipal pension fully funded by 2032.
 
Under new Director Brendan Rogers, our Easthampton Council on Aging & Enrichment Center has added new programming. It has also implemented a data collection system that assesses needs in real time. In conjunction with Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, the Council is proud to bring the TRIAD program back to Easthampton, for the first time in 8 years. TRIAD works with seniors to access public services and to promote elder safety.
 
The fire department, led by Chief Mottor, recently faced one of its largest, most challenging projects: the opening of the city’s first retail cannabis dispensary. Reutilization of old mills poses complex problems. These included code enforcement and public safety complicated by the unique challenges of the cannabis industry. The result was not only a safe operation, but a model that will be used going forward throughout the Commonwealth. This work was done in the face of a service call volume rivaling neighboring cities three times our size.
 
Two members of our fire department were honored at the “Firefighter of the Year” Awards. Deputy Chief Wayne Hennemann, who is a member of the Executive Board of NoFIRES, was honored for his work with the youth program. The Northwestern District Attorney’s office, in collaboration with fire, law enforcement, mental healthcare providers and social service agencies provides a consistent, coordinated and appropriate approach to helping children and their families.

Firefighter Sandy Krauss was honored for her work with WMASS Technical Rescue Team. They used high angle and swift water rescue techniques to recover the remains of a 21-year-old man who fell from Bish Bash Falls. In addition to giving closure to the young man’s family, Firefighter Krauss brings her rescue knowledge to our fire department on a regular basis.
 
Our police department, led by Chief Alberti, saw an increase in calls for assistance while balancing additional work related to the cannabis industry. To best manage this increase, the Police Department leadership team restructured its staff to save on overtime. They added a Midnight Shift Relief Sergeant to give supervision on every shift.
 
The police department is currently conducting traffic studies on most major roadways in the City. It is also performing directed traffic patrols, made possible by grant-funded equipment. The data they are collecting gives essential information about traffic flow and speed across the city. The department shares this information on its social media pages in order to keep residents informed.
 
This year, Chief Alberti and I introduced an ordinance to create a Community Relations Committee. This grew out of an effort to directly address divisions in our city. I thank the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service team for leading us in this effort. I also thank our City Council for codifying our city’s commitment to healthy, proactive community-building conversations.
 
To demonstrate our long – term commitment to community work, Chief Alberti appointed Liaison Officers in addition to a School Resource Officer. We now also have Liaison Officers for Veterans and Elder Affairs, Diversity/Bias, Domestic Violence, and Witness Protection. Sgt. Dennis Scribner has been tasked as the Community Services Sargent overseeing all liaison officers. He also directly supports the Community Relations Committee.
 
Of course, the most popular member of the force, K9 Gino, with his partner, Officer Andrew Beaulieu, assists in all community efforts.
 
In the face of the public health addiction crisis, the city is working closely with Hampshire HOPE. We are assigning police officers to battle the scourge that opioid and substance abuse have brought to our city. In support of this important work, I signed on to a class action lawsuit with hundreds of communities across the nation. We intend to hold the massive corporations who manufacture and distribute opioid based pharmaceuticals accountable. The settlement from this legal action will bring dollars back directly to Easthampton.
 
Dispatch Supervisor Brenda Therrien, who is on the front lines of receiving calls for service, very capably handled 13,000 calls. Brenda has raised the standards for her team and has instituted a rigorous professional development program to ensure that everyone who calls is given the due care and support they expect and deserve.
 
Our Public Health Department, now led by Bri Eichstaedt, brings a fresh approach to the health needs of our city. To date, she has conducted 128 housing inspections, 97 food inspections, 5 body art inspections, 2 tanning inspections, and 29 nuisance investigation inspections. Bri has also made the department’s new application forms more accessible by putting them on our city’s website.
 
Our Department of Public Works, led by Joe Pipczynski, provides the essential services of water, sewer, waste water, and highway maintenance. Everyone expects these services, but we seldom stop to appreciate them. With diminishing state and federal funding, and increasing federal mandates, our DPW team navigates a complex set of issues. I can’t thank them enough for educating me about these essential services. This has helped me to prioritize my grant applications in order to support their great work.
 
Our Parks & Recreation Department is led by John Mason, who is supported by an active board and a fabulous staff. John does a great job of partnering with local businesses and community groups to upgrade facilities. He and his team also provide free activities, sponsor community events, and support outside events. The Department’s efforts are seen throughout Easthampton.
 
● For example, you may have noticed that the benches and bleachers throughout Nonotuck Park have been replaced. This was done with help from the Easthampton Little League. I also want to thank the Community Preservation Committee for providing the funding.
● A particular point of department pride is the outstanding and affordable summer camp program that Parks and Recreation provides for the youngest members of our community.
● Parks and Recreation also sponsored 9 concerts, 3 movie nights, the Rag Shag Parade, Harvest Fest, and Whobilation.
● In addition, John and his crew supported outside events and concerts, such as the 50th Anniversary of Riverside Industries and the very popular Mill Pond Live Concert Series.
 
A hallmark of Easthampton - our arts and culture community, continues to thrive! Easthampton City Arts Coordinator Pasqualina Azzarello consistently organizes inspiring events, exhibits, and initiatives that highlight and support local artists and makers. The vibrant Cultural District Subcommittee continues to reimagine how art can enrich our city. ECA’s new website captures this dynamic, creative economy. Stunning exhibits at the MAP gallery and Old City Hall, the Youth Art Initiative, and Cultural Chaos have a clear economic and creative impact. They not only attract visitors, they also attract businesses like Wedgeworks and #LOCAL. I am proud to support these efforts by funding the Arts Coordinator position in the annual budget so that it is no longer dependent on grants.
In an exciting next step toward Easthampton’s own performing arts center, I negotiated a long-term lease with the visionary CitySpace Board of Directors. This opens needed finance tools for the full renovation of Old Town Hall’s 2nd Floor Space.
 
Easthampton’s restaurant scene is also more vibrant than ever. This is exemplified by Kisara, a truly phenomenal Japanese restaurant on Cottage Street. Before they opened, the “coming soon” sign in their window was seen by thousands, during Cultural Chaos. This helped build excitement and kick started their success. This is just one example of how Easthampton’s unique mix of culture, art, and economic opportunity helps the city thrive. Kisara’s co-owners, Luis and Mitchell, specifically chose Easthampton to start their business. Illustrating their commitment to excellent food and to Easthampton, Luis, drives to Boston to personally select each cut of fish served at Kisara. Easthampton’s openness and opportunity make the long drive worth it. Even before opening the restaurant, Luis would come to Manhan Cafe on Cottage St to see what was happening in the city. If Kisara’s top-notch staff look familiar, that’s because Patty and Jessica are the daughters of Doug -- the former owner of the Manhan Cafe -- and worked at the cafe for many years. We are lucky to have such an all-around talented and experienced restaurant team. Since they’ve opened, Kisara has earned two Advocate Best Of awards, and I understand why. I love their food, and I love that I can enjoy it right here in Easthampton.
 
Civic pride runs deep in Easthampton, and I will continue to cultivate this pride by always working to increase inclusiveness, equity, transparency and accessibility. Hate has no place in Easthampton. Unfortunately, it still resides in the shadows of our city. Shining a light on it, having conversations, and working together allows us to build common ground and to regard each other with common respect, and common humanity. This will make Easthampton better for all. As Mayor, I will not give up or quit these convictions. I reach out to you and encourage you to reach out to those living and working next to you. Let’s stand together and face challenges, both known and unexpected.
 
I am humbled and blessed to be your Mayor and I vow to carry the good work of this year forward. Building on this year, my priorities going forward are to:
 
● Secure the highest bond rating possible for our upcoming school project
● Craft a city communications plan that keeps residents informed about ongoing projects and current events in the city
● Deliver quarterly reports to the City Council on the state of our city
● Conduct ongoing stakeholder meetings with regional, state and federal agencies regarding housing, public services, and infrastructure
● Host quarterly mayoral coffee hours at city hall
● And pursue grants:
○ to build additional accessible trails
○ to award a second round of funding to protect our natural resources
○ to add additional firefighters
○ to fund technical assistance to remove impediments to development

One year ago, you gave me the honor of serving as Mayor of this great city. At my swearing in, I promised to focus on Easthampton’s long-standing strengths, especially our hard-working families and our entrepreneurial spirit. We share a collective commitment to leave our city a better place for generations to come. I am humbled and grateful for the faith the City has put in me. My vision of leadership includes a broader way of governing, thinking, listening and doing business. I said Easthampton deserves a mayor who cultivates progress and thinks creatively to solve existing challenges – it is my privilege to work every day to be that Mayor.
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