Update on the State of the City Text Size

In this edition of From Room One, I would like to take an opportunity to bring folks up to date on some of what’s been happening here in Holyoke. All across the city, we are seeing a renewed and spirited commitment to getting things done.

This past April, I gave my State of the City address. In it, I described some of the progress we had already made—prioritizing universal pre-K at our neighborhood schools, expanding community policing, attracting new businesses and helping others expand—and outlined a legislative agenda for this new term. I articulated a vision for what our city could be, and I also outlined a set of concrete proposals to keep our city moving in the right direction.

Just a few weeks ago, the City Council voted to pass my FY2015 budget, by a vote of 9-4. In crafting this budget, per the recommendation of the Fiscal Advisory Committee and some members of the Council, I employed the practice of ‘honest budgeting’—marking the first time a mayoral administration has done so in years. What this means is that the budget I submitted to the Council, while seemingly larger than last year’s budget, was a more accurate reflection of our projected expenditures and our projected revenue.

 I commend the Council for their work in passing this budget. I would like particularly to thank Councilor Joe McGiverin for fiercely arguing against cuts to longevity pay for department personnel. While I can appreciate the Council’s desire to cut spending, such cuts shouldn’t violate our contractual obligations to our city’s hardworking employees. Overall, I am heartened by the fact that yet another budget has passed with the strong support of the City Council—a perfect example of how our executive and legislative branches can work together for the common good.

 And the budget isn’t the only area where these branches of government have worked together.

 After the State of the City, one of the first proposals taken up by the Council was a local meals tax. Now, I know that the word “tax” will never be popular. But a local meals tax simply makes good economic sense. Now, a $100 check at a local restaurant will only cost an additional 75 cents. This is a small price to pay for the estimated $500,000 of additional revenue that this tax will generate for the city. Now, whenever folks dine in Holyoke, more revenue will be coming into our city government—revenue that will help fund the sort of public investment that makes the City of Holyoke such a great place to live, work, and have fun.

 Soon thereafter, the Council voted to extend the position of the Creative Economy Coordinator by another two years. This Council understood that this position, though controversial when I first introduced it, best represents our city’s innovative approach to economic development. Holyoke can become an example to rest of the nation for how former mill towns make a comeback. But that will require wise investment and foresight. The Creative Economy Coordinator is absolutely essential to nurturing our local artist and entrepreneurs. And already, thanks to the great work of Jeff Bianchine, we have seen a tremendous return on our investment. The Council made the right choice to extend this position.

 The extension of this position is just one of many strategic investments our government is making to spur private economic activity. Earlier this summer, we broke ground on the second phase of the Canal Walk. Work has already begun to turn the former Holyoke Catholic High School into 55 units of workforce housing. The Council moved swiftly to acquire the necessary land to begin construction on our new $2.5 million new passenger rail platform, and ground will break on that project later this summer.

 At the Canal Walk groundbreaking, Governor Patrick described the way in which these projects are creating the right environment for private investment—as evidenced by the new businesses we are seeing in the downtown. “They all connect,” he said, “and they are about intentionality in shaping our future.”

 The Governor was right. In Holyoke, we are being very intentional about how we shape our future. Instead of hoping for some quick-fix solution to our economic woes, we are taking the steps we need to take to make Holyoke the place we know it can be. I have said before, and I will say again, that the role of our city government is to assist the homegrown renewal we are seeing all around us. Holyokers are proud of their city. Holyokers believe in their city. They don’t need City Hall to tell them what to do. What they need is a government that is smart, efficient, and strategic—a government that always helps and never hinders.

Of course, I recognize that there remains considerable work to do. Based on recent reports in the media, as well as my own personal conversations with some members of the Council, it appears that there exists some appetite for addressing our unsustainable sewer rate. Already, I have worked with the Council to cut sewer costs in the budget. However, as I’ve discussed many times, we must also adjust the rate itself.  We simply cannot afford to run a $1.5 million deficit in our city’s sewer fund. With this renewed spirit of cooperation, I expect action on the sewer rate to happen soon. For Holyoke’s taxpayers to see the benefit of this action by the next fiscal year, the Council must act this fall.

Further, as I promised in April, I will be announcing a series of steps for reducing blight in our city and improving quality of life. These steps will seek to tackle blight in all of its many forms—whether that means a vacant building, gang graffiti, or litter on the streets. We all know that Holyoke is a city with a lot to offer. By making sure we take care of our city’s appearance, we can help send that message loud and clear.

 When I addressed the Council in April, I said that the state of our city was strong. Today, thanks to the steps we are taking, the state of our city is growing stronger still. Starting next week, I will begin a summer series of weekly neighborhood events throughout the city. I am excited to talk to folks about all the great things happening here in the city, and I look forward to taking questions and receiving feedback on how to make our government work well for everybody.

Posted on July 9, 2014 by