Annual State of the Town Address
Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, John W. Hurd
Robbins Memorial Town Hall, Arlington, Massachusetts
April 25, 2005
Good Evening. Town Meeting Members; School Committee; Members of Town Committees, Boards, and Commissions; Residents; and Invited Guests.
On behalf of the Board of Selectmen, Vice Chair, Kathleen Dias; Kevin Greeley; Diane Mahon; our new member, Annie LaCourt; Town Manager, Brian Sullivan; and our Mayor, Marie Krepelka, it is my honor to welcome you here tonight to the Annual State of the Town Address.
We welcome and congratulate our newly elected School Committee Members, Susan Lovelace and Sean Garballey; our new Housing Authority Commissioner, Teresa Walsh; and all our new Town Meeting members.
I would like to thank the Vision 20/20 Fiscal Resources Task Group for sponsoring this evening’s Address and also recognize the entire Vision 20/20 Committee that works on behalf of the citizens of Arlington throughout the year. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.
It is an honor to have been chosen by my colleagues to serve as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen for the next year. At this time, I would like to thank Diane Mahon for her leadership this past year as Chairman.
I would like to recognize and thank Charles Lyons for his 24 years of distinguished service on the Board of Selectman. Charlie’s many contributions and accomplishments have helped develop Arlington into the community it is today. We wish him well.
Tonight’s address is an opportunity to look back at the past year at our many challenges and accomplishments, take a look forward at our vision for the future, and recognize a number of people who have made significant contributions along the way. The Vision 20/20 Committee’s Motto, “A PROUD PAST AND FOCUSED FUTURE” is most fitting in describing the theme of tonight’s Annual Address.
As we gather here in this historic Robbins Memorial Town Hall, let us begin by offering a special thanks and appreciation to those men and women who are bravely serving in our Armed Forces around the world. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who continue to be in harms way, and in particular, to those families who have lost love ones. We are honored to have with us here tonight a member of our community, Keith Kelly, a Corporal in the United States Marines. Keith recently returned from active duty in Iraq. Thank you very much for being here with us.
On a lighter note, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other important events that occurred outside Arlington this past year. Who knew… looking back a couple of decades through the eighties and nineties, there would be an expectation that the Patriots could win every game they played. Well, they haven’t disappointed us very often; recently winning their third Super Bowl in the last four years. And who knew…in their wildest dreams, looking back almost a century, that our cherished Red Sox would finally "Reverse the Curse" and win the World Series. Congratulations to them! It certainly was a very exciting time for all of us.
Here at home
We are fortunate to live in a community so rich in history and tradition; a community that respects our diverse population and provides for those amongst us who are most in need, and not just in words but in our actions; a community that has dedicated town employees, teachers and administrators that truly care about the citizens they so ably serve. We are proud of people like Patrolman Brendan Kiernan, who was selected as "Police Officer of the Year"; Health Director Christine Connolly and her staff, that followed up on a major hepatitis scare at Friendly’s Restaurant; and John Sanchez and our entire Public Works department that worked around the clock this past winter to clear just over a 100 inches of snow, during 22 separate events, just to name a few.
We are a community with a strong Chamber of Commerce that has become well known for it’s vibrant business districts that include many unique restaurants and specialty stores. As Town leaders, we recognize the importance of continuing to improve the appearance and user friendliness of our business districts, to further sustain our existing retailers, and to encourage new business to come to Arlington.
We are a community with an extraordinary level of volunteerism: as Town Meeting Members; as members of Town Committees, Boards, and Commissions; as youth sports coaches, scout leaders, and those that work so diligently on behalf of many important charities and non-profit groups. The list goes on and on.
We are a community that was recently recognized by Boston Magazine as one of the five best places to live in the Boston area.
The State of our Town at this point in time is strong. Through the leadership of our Treasurer, John Bilafer, we continue to maintain an excellent AA bond rating, our town infrastructure is sound, and we are fortunate to have had the foresight to maintain responsible reserve fund balances.
But our reserve funds are now at dangerously low levels. We continue to experience difficult financial challenges, that have compromised our ability to provide the first rate town services and educational programs our residents have grown accustomed to and so rightfully deserve. Our projected budget shortfall that is in part, the result of substantial increases in health care costs for our employees and retirees, an under funded pension system, unfunded state and federal mandates, and a significant decrease in state aid. We will be required to further decrease staffing in our public safety and public works departments; reduce or eliminate many important programs for our youth, seniors, and those most in need; and further reduce services and resources in our libraries.
Our town employees, understanding the reality of our financial situation, have taken on more responsibility and heavier workloads, while at the same time agreeing to concessions in their overall compensation. Last year, town employees, at all levels, increased their health care contribution ranging 50% to 100% from the previous year. We appreciate their hard work and the sacrifices they have made.
Although we faced many difficult challenges from a financial standpoint, we had many accomplishments we can all be proud of:
Back in 2001, the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting recognized the need to protect the future of the 18-acre Symmes Hospital site from potential over development if sold in the open market. Selectman Kevin Greeley helped lead a successful debt-exclusion campaign that enabled the Town to purchase the property and plan for its reuse. Town Meeting approved the creation of the Symmes Advisory Committee, and after three years of planning that included hundreds of meetings, the Redevelopment Board selected the proposal submitted by Edward A. Fish Associates. The Fish proposal best achieved the goals set by the Selectmen and presented to the citizens. To date, the inclusion of a medical component continues to be the most difficult challenge.
Traveling a short distance up Summer Street to one of the gateways to Arlington, we are witnessing the amazing transformation of the 22-acre Reeds Brook property from an abandoned piece of blighted land commonly called “the old dump.” This project is in the final phase of construction that included a new storm water drainage system. When completed, it will have new soccer, football, and baseball fields; a skate park; a playground; and a dog park.
A great deal of credit should be given to retired Planning Director Alan McClennen, current Planning Director Kevin O'Brien, and our Planning Department that worked in partnership with our Parks and Recreation Commission on this spectacular project which was funded through the Community Development Block Grant Program. This new recreational facility is in a neighborhood of town that has for far too long, suffered the adverse affects of an inadequate drainage system. For the residents, I’m most excited.
At Arlington High School’s Pierce Field, we began the remediation of a 100-year old soil contamination problem. When completed, we will have another first class, "state of the art," recreational facility that will include two new ball fields, new basketball courts, and an artificial turf football and soccer field, at a minimal cost to the taxpayer. This reconstruction effort became possible as a result of very skillful negotiations with the responsible parties led by Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Donovan, Town Counsel John Maher and retired Planning Director Alan McClennen.
The Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), in existence just four years, has taken on a remarkable amount of workload in addressing transportation issues, including the Symmes Hospital site redevelopment, the Mass. Ave. Corridor update, improvements to the Pleasant Street and Mass. Ave. intersection, as well as, multiple neighborhood transportation issues through out the Town. In addition, they have developed decision criteria guidelines for the installation of stop signs, crosswalks and warning signage. The TAC, under the leadership of their very able Chairman Ed Starr, is comprised of a group of highly energized individuals with a wealth of transportation background and community experience. They have worked long and hard to help make our town a much safer place to
live, work, and play. We appreciate their hard work and sincerely hope they are still energized!
In response to the ever-changing world of electronic technology and the need for a formal technology plan for the town, the Board of Selectmen formed the Information Technology Advisory Committee (ITAC) last year. The addition of this committee, to our long list, has enabled the town to utilize the technical expertise of many of our citizens that are willing to volunteer their time to benefit the town. The ITAC is in the process of surveying the public and meeting with department heads and users to develop an integrated plan that will allow our town departments to become even more efficient to better serve our residents. We
appreciate the work of Selectman Annie LaCourt, who presented this great idea to the Selectmen and for her efforts along with ITAC member Dan Dunn in facilitating its introduction.
Other milestones to celebrate
Our Affordable Housing Task Force, in partnership with the Housing Corporation, added eight additional family housing units last year, bringing the total to 28 units in the past four years.
The recognition of Fire Chief Richard Maimone’s outstanding 32-year career, including six years as chief.
The first ever Selectman to become the President of The National League of Cities, Charles Lyons.
The last year of the NESWC trash disposal contract!
Other milestones not so celebrated
Last spring, the Archdiocese of Boston selected St. Jerome's and St. James' Catholic Churches for closure. This decision caused profound sadness among many of our residents, particularly those parishioners for whom each church was such an important part of their lives. We must now look forward to the responsible reuse of these properties.
As a community, we continue to be very concerned about development by our neighbors in Belmont and Cambridge, in environmentally sensitive areas that border East Arlington. Residents in those areas already suffer the affects of flooding, air pollution, and traffic gridlock. We need to continue to be aggressive in opposition to any unreasonable development that will further adversely affect the quality of life in our East Arlington neighborhoods. We appreciate the dedication of Selectman Kathleen Dias on this issue, as a member of the Tri-Community Committee, and East Arlington resident, and 42-year Town Meeting Member, Elsie Fiore. Elsie has been protecting the environment in East Arlington and throughout the town her entire adult life.
Looking forward there are many challenges
The long awaited start of the Summer Street reconstruction plan has begun. This $4.3 million dollar state funded project will include the replacement of the storm water drainage system, traffic signals, curbs, sidewalks, and a complete roadway reconstruction from the Lexington town line to Hospital Road. At the conclusion of this project, the town will assume responsibility from the state for this stretch of road.
We thank Senator Bob Havern for his leadership in spearheading state funding for this project as well as Selectman Diane Mahon for her efforts in closely monitoring this project on behalf of the town and the neighbors that will be affected during this construction period.
After a 3-year delay in our school rebuild program, the reconstruction of the Dallin School is in full swing. The Dallin is the fifth of our seven elementary schools to be rebuilt through the State’s School Building Assistance program. It is a wonderful sight to see and a reminder of our commitment to rebuild all seven of our elementary schools.
Our top priority continues to be the need to implement a plan that will provide the town with long-term financial stability. For many years, the Finance Committee and its Chairman Alan Tosti have stressed the need for long-term financial planning. Last summer, Charlie Foskett developed a concept to pursue that goal, and in December, Selectman Charlie Lyons created a formal plan to achieve it. This plan, which has been unanimously supported by the Board of Selectman, the School Committee, and the majority of the Finance Committee, includes 5 important components:
Controlled growth in our annual town and school budgets
A financial need-based tax exemption for our seniors on fixed incomes
The restoration of our local aid
A $6,000,000 Proposition 2 1/2 override
A commitment not to go back to the voters for an over-ride for a minimum of 5 years
It’s important to point out, that this is a compromise plan, with a disciplined approach. The projected shortfall over the next 5 years, just to maintain our current level of services, is close to $10,000,000.
To achieve these goals-
We need to continue to explore all opportunities to control skyrocketing health care costs, look for additional ways to decrease spending, and continue to explore new revenue opportunities;
We need to provide financial assistance to our seniors that have been so generous to the town in so many ways over years that just can not afford another tax increase; and
We especially need to let our state legislature know, through our legislators, that we are hurting big time, and we need their help. A disproportionate 20% cut in state aid for Arlington is unfair and unacceptable!
Lastly, we need to convince the citizens of Arlington that we are a well-managed town under the direction of our Town Manager Brian Sullivan. We have made substantial cuts in recent years and we have spent their tax dollars prudently. We need their approval of a Proposition 2 1/2 override on Saturday, June 11th, if we are going to be able to sustain our current level of town services and educational programs.
In closing, I’m very proud to say, that together, we have accomplished a great deal. But there is much more to be done and the challenges will become more difficult. The legendary football coach and team motivator Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort- that is what makes a team work; a company work; a society work; and a civilization work.”
I am confident, that we have the people and the team, that will make the commitment, to make Arlington, our town, an even better place to live in the future.
Thank you for coming and have a great evening.