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Mayor Setti Warren: Preserving Newton: It’s Our Choice

An opinion letter from Mayor Setti Warren supporting the Newton override.

 

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 Our outdated Newton Center fire station is slowing down response time and we are seeing increased pedestrian and traffic accidents.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.

Bob TB March 01, 2013 at 08:13 PM
How much are the new parades and festivals going to cost?
Bill Heck March 01, 2013 at 08:51 PM
All the municipal employee union contacts increased 2.5 percent amidst a terrible economic recession – very, very lucky employees indeed, and very, very unlucky taxpayers who are pressed to pay the costs with overrides as, once again, new schools are held hostage by bloated city employee benefits costs. If there is a five-year savings of $178 million plus another $15 million in “found” saving through more efficient budgeting and more favorable utility contracts, why are we having an override?
Thomas Scott March 01, 2013 at 10:10 PM
Just in case you have not reviewed what we paid city employees over the last few years here are links to the 2011 and 2012 Employee Earnings Report: (2011) - http://www.newtonma.gov/civicax/filebank/documents/39308 (2012) - http://www.newtonma.gov/civicax/filebank/documents/49210
Marcia Tabenken March 02, 2013 at 03:49 AM
The savings enabled the city to close the huge structural deficit that Newton was incurring annually and that was growing under the previous administration. The override will enable the city to take on extraordinary projects such as Angier, Cabot, and Zervas schools and dramatic student enrollment growth. As you are well aware, the city must reach agreements with employee unions re salary and benefits. The unions accepted step decreases and increases in their personal contributions to their health care benefits. Perhaps future negotiations will yield additional savings--and perhaps the unions will demand concessions in return for what they give up. In the meantime, Newton is anticipating it's largest kindergarten class since the '70s; the biggest class in the system is moving into the middle schools, and the city continues to throw away money on energy inefficient buildings that require constant expensive repairs and maintenance and that can't handle the current student population, educational and technology needs.
John Brennan March 02, 2013 at 02:22 PM
How can we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on one HIGH SCHOOL (not university) project and then be told a couple of years later that we have elementary schools are in dire straits and need more of our taxpayer dollars? Let's find the money in our budget for the school upgrades and if it can't all be found at once then phase it in over 2-3 years. Enough is Enough!
Moving Newton Forward March 02, 2013 at 02:45 PM
John Brennan, we found that if the city workers agreed to an 18 month pay freeze, the city would free up enough funds to cover all the spending projects sought by the override supporters without asking the taxpayers for a Proposition 2.5 override, let alone three.
Robert L. Cerra March 03, 2013 at 11:22 AM
What the city of Newton needs is our own form of a Sequestor. The Mayor is incappable of staying within a budget. Obama, Deval and Setti, along with the choir at the Newton School Committee, have told us that the world is going to end if we don;t raise your taxes. It is pure fiction fueled by an unrealistic view of spending tax dollars

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