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Mayor’s State of the City Address

Posted on May 10, 2024

Mayor Joshua A. Garcia presented the proposed FY25 City Budget to the City Council and delivered a State of the City Address at a Special Meeting of the City Council on May 9, 2024. Click to watch video of the speech on Holyoke Media. 

“Thank you, Holyoke city councilors, for the opportunity to address you tonight. I appreciate everything you’re all doing for our city.

I’m also grateful to our incredible city staff, some of whom are with us here tonight. You do the hard, often overlooked work of making sure our government is doing its job – of making sure the people of Holyoke can enjoy the services they need and deserve. You are the guardians of our local democracy, and I couldn’t be prouder to work alongside you.

Big thanks, of course, to my wife Stefany and my whole family, whose patience gives me the ability to do this work.

And, as always, I want to express my appreciation to the people of Holyoke.

We often think of history as a series of decisions made by the powerful. We think of the presidents, the legislators, the innovators, the entrepreneurs. We think of grand narratives of progress and decline.

But we all know, on some level, that this kind of history doesn’t capture life as we all live it. It hardly captures anything.

Because, in reality, the heart and soul of any community is its people – folks you might not read about in the textbooks, or only once in a while in the papers. And here in Holyoke we are blessed, day in and day out, by citizens who are just trying to do the right thing. Folks drawing on a shared reservoir of goodness. People taking responsibility for making our community stronger and more vibrant for the next generation.

So, it is my hope that when future generations recall this moment in our history, they will see that we were a determined, decent people; that we faced challenges, but were not defined by them; that whenever we were knocked down, we got right back up.

When I last addressed this chamber, I described some of the concrete steps our local government had taken to right our financial ship. Tonight I am proud to report that, over the past year, our financial position has only gotten stronger. We’ve kicked off the comprehensive master planning process that will guide the city for the next twenty-five years. The budget is balanced. City services are being delivered. The state of the city is strong.

Last year, I also talked about our post-Covid economic comeback, and I mentioned how the hydro-power capabilities of our dam and canals were attracting the interest of some  of the industries of the future.

Today, thanks to good governance and smart policy from the local level all the way up to the Healey administration, that interest has been transformed into new businesses here in our city.

Sublime Systems – a company that develops a fossil-fuel-free, low-carbon alternative to traditional cement – will soon begin construction on its first commercial manufacturing site right here in Holyoke. Cement is the key ingredient in concrete, and today, its production is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. Sublime Systems is working to change that. This is not only a great investment for our city; it’s a reminder that environmentalism and economic growth can go hand in hand.

And let’s not forget Clean Crop Technologies, based in Holyoke since 2021. Clean Crop helps increase crop yields, reduce food waste, and improve food safety – all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Clean Crop was built here, and it’s growing here, having built a 14,000-square-foot facility in the Wauregan Building, a former paper mill on Dwight Street.

Just this year, Clean Crop Technologies and Sublime Systems were both named in Time Magazine’s list of America’s Top GreenTech Companies. With these companies and still more to come, we’re showing that America’s economic future is now – and it’s happening right here in the city of Holyoke.

This is a sign of a healthy community: new industries setting up shop here, because they know they can succeed here. Another sign of a healthy community is the presence of quality housing. On that front, too, we’re making important strides. In the past few years, over one-hundred new units have been developed, and we’re looking forward to seeing over one-hundred more units in the years to come.

By the end of this year, we’ll see the completion of Way Finders’ phase two project, known as The Essex, which will consist of 41 affordable housing units along the Chestnut-Essex Street corridor. And I must thank the City Council for authorizing Community Preservation Act funding to get this project over the finish line.

In these new housing developments–in their mixing of new development with the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure–we see the brilliance of what the city’s founders gave us. And not just the founders, but also the workers who wielded the picks and shovels and pieced together our infrastructure brick by brick.

And finally, a sign of a healthy community is when a community has the ability to invest in itself. This has been my core message ever since my days as a candidate. If we get our financial house in order, then we can finally make the investments the city needs to grow and thrive – the kinds of investments any self-respecting city should be making.

Together, that’s what we’ve done. We’ve made critical investments in our government infrastructure, some of which are still underway. We helped equip our government to meet the needs of a modern economy, and we made capital upgrades that will help us improve quality of life for everyone.

And we took the transformative step – by a vote of our city council – to approve the building of a brand new middle school, a school worthy of our students and their dreams. This step sent a clear message: The kids in the Holyoke Public Schools are all of our kids. Their success is all of our success. We’re all in this together.

It’s a message that the state has finally heard and understood. The acting education commissioner recently announced that Holyoke is officially on a path back to local control of our schools. I want to thank everyone who fought so hard to get us this far, and I ask you to keep up the fight until local control is finally achieved.

Across every important metric, Holyoke is solidly and decisively moving in the right direction. Our local economy keeps getting stronger. Our schools are on their way back into local hands. Our budget is in surplus for a third straight year, and we didn’t need to use any reserves, free cash, or ARPA revenue replacement. By the fall of 2025, our kids will enjoy a new middle school, and, in the coming years, thanks to tens-of-millions of dollars of private investment, the city will welcome a brand new state-of-the-art sports complex, poised to do wonders for the local economy.

This is a record we should all be proud of. I’m grateful to everybody in this room who helped make it happen.

In the coming year, with the budget I’m presenting tonight, we have a chance to further strengthen our city’s finances. I am once again providing funding for a new city position, the chief financial administrative officer, or CAFO for short. Creating this position is consistent with recommendations from the state Department of Local Services, and it will help us operate with a more accurate and precise financial forecast. I’m calling on the council to get this done.

I’m also asking the council to place on the ballot the question of making the treasurer a position appointed by the City Council. These recommendations are not new and are part of my efforts to strengthen financial controls across all departments.

One new item you will notice in this budget is funding for a professional accountant for the police department. This was one of the recommendations of last year’s audit of the department, and, along with the new crime analyst, it will help the Holyoke Police make sound fiscal decisions as they continue to protect and serve our community.

Of course, this is a time of change for the department, with Chief Pratt just announcing his retirement. I want to thank the chief for his more than thirty years of service to the people of this city, and for being an outstanding partner in our pursuit of a safe and just Holyoke. Congratulations, Chief Pratt, on a well-deserved retirement. I’m looking forward to working with my police relations advisory team to help choose a worthy successor.

If we take these steps, I am confident that we will continue to build on the progress I’ve outlined tonight.

But, even as we acknowledge the progress we’ve made and are still making, I’d like to use the remainder of my remarks to reflect more on some ideas that have been on my mind –  and on my heart –  a lot this year.

A little over six months ago, Holyoke found itself in the national spotlight – not for any of the good work we’ve done, but because of the menace of violence on our streets. A stray bullet struck a public bus, wounding a pregnant woman inside, Selena Santana, and killing her unborn son, Ezekiel.

For many readers,  this awful crime – this moral outrage, this senseless act – was their first thought of our beloved hometown. That’s just a fact.

And just last month, the Boston Globe published a profile of another member of the Holyoke family, a Puerto Rican woman named Nereida Badillo.

It’s an important read that describes Ms. Badillo’s painstaking efforts to buy her own home and provide peace and security for her three sons. The obstacles she faced will be familiar to many of our fellow Holyokers. They’re familiar to me and my family, too.

When she finally purchased her own house, Ms. Badillo cried tears of joy. But because of the vast economic inequality in her city, the house she bought was in a part of town she had tried to avoid – a part of town still troublingly plagued by crime and violence. Soon her middle son was picked up with a gun.

This woman who had played by the rules, done everything right, made every sacrifice imaginable – still unable to get free of our history’s painful racial and economic legacies.

So, even as we acknowledge and celebrate our progress as a city, we can’t allow ourselves to look away from our people’s struggles. We can’t use favorable statistics to pat ourselves on the back.

Narratives of progress and decline can only tell us so much. We have to remember the people’s particular lives – and what they can teach us about what we owe each other, as fellow members of one community.

We can’t talk about our visionary founders without talking about the Irish, French Canadian, and Polish laborers who toiled to make their vision real. We can’t talk about an improving school system without talking about how hundreds of our students experience homelessness each year. We can’t talk about a declining crime rate without acknowledging that we have parents who are afraid to send their kids outside to play.

We can’t wish this all away, and we can’t accept these realities as inevitable. Allow me to read you a headline from a different edition of the Globe: “Rebounding Holyoke Battles Bad Reputation.” That’s from November 25, 2000.

Here’s another Globe headline about Holyoke: “Idealistic young mayor hits bump in city’s recovery.” No, that’s not about me, and that’s not about Alex Morse. It was published in 1999 about Mayor Szostkiewicz.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying no progress has been made. Holyokers don’t quit. Holyokers keep pushing. That someone from South Holyoke community now serves as the city’s mayor is proof that Holyoke can change. That we enjoy a City Council as diverse as ours is proof that Holyoke can overcome its painful past.

But I am challenging us – all of us, from my office to the council to every city department – to think about why stories written twenty-five years ago sound like they could’ve been written yesterday. And I am asking what we are going to do to make change that lasts.

If we need to demand more of our state and federal partners, that’s what we’ll do. If we need to demand more of ourselves as local officials, then we’ll do that, too.

Now is the time. Those of us in the room all share a special love for this community. And we have all – in our own lives and our own ways – known tragedy and suffering. Our lives together are too short, and the work before us too important, for us to spend another moment on the small or the trivial. We know these things.

And if we ever forget, we can look to Selena Santana, who, out of her personal tragedy, has advocated for ways to make us all safer – things like more tenant protections, better housing options, and more investments for our youth. We can look to Nereida Badillo, dancing the night away at our Fiestas Patronales de Holyoke festival – dancing in defiance of despair.

These are the people – this is the Holyoke – that I do this work for each and every day. And if we learn from their example, and if we summon what is best in us, the story of Holyoke will be bright and full of promise.

Because we’ll be writing it ourselves.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the city of Holyoke.”

Joshua A. Garcia, Mayor
City of Holyoke

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