A city where people can walk, bike, and drive without trips, spills and damage to their vehicles due to potholes. Where emergency responders have the tools they need. Where school buildings are conducive to learning. Where students get a well-rounded education with the attention they need to meet their potential, in classrooms that enhance and foster learning.
That’s the Newton I grew up in, the Newton where I returned to raise a family, the Newton we now have the opportunity to preserve for future generations.
But I see it slipping away. Angier and Cabot Elementary have been identified by the state as two of the worst school buildings in Massachusetts. We have dramatic enrollment growth—900 new students since 2005 and 800+ more expected in the next five years. Roads and sidewalks are crumbling. Our outdated Newton Center fire station is slowing down response time and we are seeing increased pedestrian and traffic accidents.
We have the opportunity to turn things around by taking better care of the buildings and services that have long made Newton a desirable place to call home.
When I became mayor three years ago, I inherited a structural deficit, a crumbling infrastructure that had suffered years of underfunded maintenance, and a growing student population that’s 3,000 more than when I was a student here. My administration, school officials, and I worked tirelessly to reduce the deficit and bring spending into line with revenue. During an economic downturn, we managed to find $200 million in savings over a five-year period. We negotiated contracts with all municipal employee unions that limit growth to 2.5 percent, for a five-year savings of $178 million. We found another $15 million in saving through more efficient budgeting and more favorable utility contracts, while at the same time reducing our carbon footprint. We used performance- based management to ensure that every dollar spent was spent efficiently.
Most notably, we developed a 20-year plan—Newton’s first ever—to address our city’s capital needs. This Capital Improvement Plan maps out priorities for improving our school and city buildings, streets and sidewalks that have suffered years of underfunded maintenance and have fallen into disrepair. With our finances in order, we now need to forge ahead in order to prevent further deterioration of our infrastructure and avert the need for vastly more expensive solutions down the road.
My administration is committed to this plan. But to implement it, we need a commitment from the community.
On March 12, voters will decide as a community what kind of Newton we want going forward. We can continue to let our buildings, sidewalks and roads deteriorate, and pay down the road; let class sizes grow to unacceptable levels; let pedestrian and cycling accidents continue to rise, and emergency response time continue to suffer. Or we can choose to make an investment in our city. We can modernize and expand our worst schools; hire teachers and staff to address the huge influx of students; repair our roads and sidewalks; and improve traffic safety and emergency response, and rebuild our Fire Headquarters and Emergency Operations Center.
The override package that I’ve proposed and the capital improvement plan we’ve developed provide the tools to put Newton on the right path. We know Newton has many needs not covered by the override, but the package we created balances the city’s needs with the financial considerations of taxpayers. I encourage you to check the property tax calculator at http://apps.newtonma.gov/tax-impacts to find out the exact amount the override package would add to your property tax bill.
My administration and I continue to search for new revenue sources, such as economic development, and to identify additional cost savings and efficiencies throughout the system. We recognize that raising taxes is never easy. To assist taxpayers, we’ve expanded our tax assistance programs for eligible seniors and veterans. I’ve also designated a staff person at City Hall to help residents concerned about their ability to pay. You can call Meghan Kennedy at 617-796-1282 for information and assistance.
We all have an interest in preserving the fabric of our city. To keep Newton healthy and thriving we need to maintain our schools, our streets, our emergency services and our public safety. We can do that by voting Yes on all three ballot questions on March 12. It’s our choice.
--Mayor Setti Warren
Editor's note: For more override stories, letters to the editor and blog posts, check out our Newton override page.