Mayor Galvin: ‘The State of Our City is as Strong as it’s Ever Been’

Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin delivered the following State of the City Address before the City Council and School Committee on Tuesday evening, January 8, 2019:

Good evening honorable members of the Woburn City Council, School Committee, City Board Members, Department Heads, Staff, Guests, and residents at home.

I am grateful for the opportunity to present the State of the City to the citizens of our great City. Thank you to my wife Eileen and our children for your love and support. Special thanks to my assistant Marie Lingblom for your continued commitment to the City.

As we begin the year 2019, I am pleased to report, as I have every year since being elected Mayor, that we continue to strengthen our financial position.

Our successful work has been a collaborative effort among my office, City Department Heads, the City Council, and School Committee.

We have—and will continue to—implement more efficient ways to operate, reduce inefficient and wasteful spending, and continue to deliver the highest level of affordable quality services to the residents of Woburn.

Our commitment to financial best practices—led by timely collections and conservative budgeting and spending policies—is the backbone of our success in strengthening the City’s financial position.

We continue to incrementally increase our reserves, including free cash, which begins the year at slightly more than $24 million and serves to protect our community’s interests against any financial emergencies. Cumulatively, these actions have helped us secure and retain our hard-earned Aa1 bond rating—the second highest municipal bond rating available.

At the same time, we will continue to face budgetary challenges over the next year, including financial obligations related to new debt service payments, funding post-employment health insurance benefits (OPEB), as well as pension and health insurance increases.

As we have in the past, I believe that—working collaboratively with the City Council and School Committee—we can formulate and approve a responsible budget that allows the City to prosper while addressing these challenges.

In addition, we are in the midst of negotiating new contracts for every union in the city.  As always, my goal is to treat our hard-working employees fairly during this process, while balancing our fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of the city.

Growth

The City continues to show signs of solid growth, as evidenced by the strong volume of building permits issued by the Building Department, as well as visible daily construction activities across the city.

We expect this growth and construction activity to continue in 2019, highlighted by the permitting and build-out of the new Woburn Mall mixed-use revitalization development.

In addition, we continue to work toward finalizing agreements that will pave the way for permitting the best development possible for the 57-acre Atlantic Gelatin site.

Taxable new growth, as certified by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue was also strong in FY 2019, totaling $3,500,000, and with a number of residential and commercial projects recently completed, we anticipate solid new growth next year.

Average residential values continued climbing in FY 2019, increasing by 8% over FY 2018, to $475,745 for a single-family home.

The average tax bill for the single-family homeowner is $4,520.  That is significantly lower than tax bills in most—if not all—communities in the immediate surrounding area, while also delivering superior municipal services and unrivaled value for the dollar.

The strong increase in property values indicates that Woburn continues to become a more desirable place to live and raise a family.  At the same time, we recognize there are many senior citizens living on fixed incomes that may be struggling with the effects of increasing property values.

I will be submitting a proposal to the City Council at its next meeting that would deliver relief to some Senior Citizens by reducing the impact of increasing property values on their real estate tax bill.

Infrastructure Projects

In addition to our continued commitment to relining aging water lines, reducing I&I in our sewer pipes, addressing long-standing drainage and flooding improvements and investing in green energy upgrades, there are a number of important infrastructure and planning initiatives that we will undertake this year.

I would like to highlight a few that will vastly improve the quality of life for Woburn residents when completed:

The Montvale Avenue widening project is scheduled to begin construction in April, with completion set for 2020. Preliminary work on drainage will soon be completed. The $4.7 million in construction costs will be funded through the State’s TIP program.

The much-needed improvements will help alleviate traffic congestion leaving and entering the city via Montvale Avenue and Washington Street, and, at the same time, reduce vehicle emissions and fuel consumption.

The need for this long-awaited traffic improvement dates back to the 1990s. The City was able to get this project designed and funded with federal and state resources through our advocacy and support as a municipal voting member of the Boston Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Since the closure of the New Boston Street Bridge in the 1970s, travel, economic development and access to and from Interstate 93 have been impacted negatively, as we are all aware.

Our work successfully convincing the Metropolitan Planning Organization that reopening this bridge is a critical regional project that will improve economic development and traffic congestion has resulted in state and federal funds to pay for the new $18 million bridge.

We are now in the process of completing the 75% design phase with final refinements to 100% design expected by the end of this year. Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2021, and completed in 18 months.

We will also continue with our commitment to improving recreational opportunities for all Woburn residents with the construction of a new multipurpose park at the Fleming Field/Clapp school site, which will improve the quality of life and provide passive and active recreational space for all Woburn residents.

The contractor will be working over the winter, grading the site and preparing for the installation this spring of recreation equipment, a basketball court, walking path and Splash Park.

We continue to be aggressive in our commitment to provide modern equipment and training to our public safety officers and firefighters.

This year, our public safety investments are focused squarely on addressing the aging physical conditions of fire stations throughout the City—a critical investment aimed at the safety of our firefighters and residents alike.

To that end, I am pleased to report we recently formed a building committee and issued an RFP to hire an architect to perform a feasibility study to identify solutions to modernize the building facilities for the Woburn Fire Department.

In addition to studying the options for renovations and/or additions to existing facilities, the study will focus on the replacement of existing fire station(s). The building committee will be selecting the architect by the end of this month, and we anticipate a dynamic feasibility study with exciting options to be completed in the fall of 2019.

On the renewable energy front, we will continue efforts to create renewable energy in municipal facilities, and improve the energy efficiency of municipal buildings with the assistance of a $230,000 grant from the Massachusetts DOER Green Communities division.

I am also pleased to announce that—working collaboratively with the School Committee and Superintendent Matt Crowley—we will be installing solar panels on the roof of the Joyce Middle School.

The solar improvements are estimated to save the School Department more than $750,000 over the next 20 years.

In furtherance of our commitment to protect the city’s natural resources, we have updated our source water assessment plan. The Horn Pond aquifer provides, at different times of the year, up to two-thirds of the City’s water.

We are ever vigilant in our work to protect this vital, clean resource.

The SWAP evaluates the Horn Pond watershed for any potential water quality threats—such as stormwater runoff, sanitary sewage and land use—and makes protective recommendations.

The City is moving forward in line with requirements mandated by the EPA under its MS-4 program, and we will be discussing this important work in more detail with the City Council in the coming months.

We will also be seeking funds from the State Municipal Vulnerability Program and the Department of Natural Resources to restore wetlands, construct flood storage and walking trails in the Shaker Glen conservation area to improve flood mitigation and provide another recreational opportunity for residents.

Finally, we will begin the process of demolishing the dilapidated Plympton School, which has most recently primarily served as storage space for city records.

The Plympton site will be retained as passive open space land, which will be welcome news to the neighbors of the old school.

In conjunction with the demolition of the old building, we will be creating a new modern storage site elsewhere in the city to hold municipal records.

 

COMPLETED PROJECTS

The following is a quick recap of a number of important city projects that were recently completed.

As we continue to strongly invest in public education and state-of-the-art school buildings, we opened the Hurld Wyman Elementary School on time and significantly under budget in September 2018.

This remarkable achievement was due to the commitment, support, collaboration and cooperation between the School Building Committee, City Departments, the School Committee, the City Council and my office.

Meanwhile, the dynamic preservation and expansion of the Woburn Public Library is substantially completed and will open in mid-March.

This project has also succeeded because of the perseverance, support and collaboration between the Building Committee, City Departments, the Library Trustees, Friends of the Library, the City Council and my office.

I am proud to have supported this long-overdue undertaking, which will provide our residents with exceptional educational, cultural and community benefits.  I believe the completion of both of these projects represents government working at its best.

Our collective efforts to increase parking in Woburn Center have resulted in the addition of 60 new parking spaces at the intersection of Main Street and Salem Street. This new parking lot is fully operational.

In addition, with foresight and creativity we have constructed 100 new parking spaces behind the Woburn Public library.

The total of 160 new parking spaces will enhance the revitalization and economic development efforts in Woburn Center, and were built at a fraction of the cost of a parking garage.

At the Four Corners, the DPW and Engineering departments worked closely with a private land owner to successfully remediate long-standing flooding issues caused by a significant breach in the culvert.  As many of you know, the flooding during major rain events wreaked havoc on the intersection. The DPW will continue to perform inspections and maintenance on the culvert during the year.

Also during this past year, the DPW developed a list of 100 streets to be resurfaced over a multiyear period. Resurfacing contracts have been developed for a full range of street repair tactics—from pavement preservation to full reclamation, including a milling and patching component by the DPW.

Contracts are in place to allow resurfacing to begin in the early spring and continue through the summer.

This past year, the DPW resurfaced Shield Street, Fryeburg Avenue, Fairview Avenue, Bird Street, Chase Street, Dale Street, Elm Avenue, Felton Street, Gregg Street, Montvale Road, and Monroe Avenue.  Russell Street, Winn Street and Wildwood Avenue received cold in place recycling with a micro surface. These three streets will receive additional repairs and a second layer of micro surface in the spring to complete these roadways.

 

EDUCATION/WOBURN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

In January 2018, the Woburn School Committee hired Dr. Matthew Crowley to be our Superintendent, and last spring he and his team worked to create a strategic plan for our school system. Dr. Crowley and his leadership team pursued a comprehensive strategic planning process, based on educational research and best practice, and created this plan to guide the district over the next 3-5 years.

 This planning work led directly to a focused and thoughtful FY19 budget. Because we are living in an era of unprecedented change, disruption and innovation, it is vital that we take care of the diverse needs of our kids.

Specifically, we need to recognize the need to prioritize the social and emotional needs for all of our students.

I enthusiastically supported this important initiative, and, working together with the School Committee and City Council, we were able to increase the availability of counseling support to our students at all schools, K-12. This critical initiative also gives our teachers more freedom to teach.

 The commitment to our students can also be seen in the structures in which teaching and learning is occurring. For example, we just opened the new the Hurld Wyman School.

Here you see the type of learning facility that families are drawn to, and is a state-of-the-art elementary school. What we see in the new Hurld Wyman is a clear example of our commitment to our children, their future, and the legacy of this great City.

To continue the success that has been generated in our schools in recent years, we must continue our efforts and our investment.  Across Woburn, our schools are doing well. Our students are hard-working and kind, and our teachers and staff consistently go the extra mile to support them both inside and outside of the classroom. Woburn is a great City, with great schools.

STATE OF OUR CITY

Tonight, I’m pleased to report the state of our City is as strong as it has ever been.  My sincere thanks to all of the hard-working City employees and Department Heads for their consistent commitment to delivering the highest quality services to our residents.

Thank you to members of the City Council, School Committee, our State delegation and our many boards and commissions for the countless hours you continue to dedicate to the well-being of our City.

We are also grateful for the wide range of businesses, civic groups, volunteers and hard-working residents who consistently give the best of themselves to help make Woburn such a great place to live.

As we move forward into 2019, I remain committed to working on behalf of the caring community in which we live—and working with all of you to achieve our goals, together.

Thank you again for this opportunity, and good night.

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