2017-01-13 / Opinions & Editorial

Celebrating past successes, and a look to the future

A column by Mayor Dean Mazzarella

Welcome, 2017. It seems like just yesterday that we were frantic about the change of the century and what would happen with everything from banks to computers to the stock market. We made it, though, and now we have advanced technology that we can’t do without for every minute of every day.

Today we want to remember all those who are serving our country, especially those who are far away and missed the holidays with their loved ones. We also remember those who have passed away over the last year.

In December, we lost three longtime friends and representatives of the city: Ward 2 Councilor Wayne Nickel, former Mayor Ray Harper and Gil Tremblay. Each of these men dedicated their lives to the city through community service. To Wayne, Ray, Gil and your families, thank you for your hard work and commitment. Leominster is certainly a better and stronger city today because of you.

In 2016, we were honored to bring the Wall that Heals to Carter Park for a weeklong remembrance of those that served in Vietnam. Leominster proved once again that we will never forget. Thank you to everyone that was involved in making Leominster a shining example on the wall’s journey across the United States.

I continue to be amazed by the generosity of the people in our hometown. Every year, businesses and individuals alike come to my office to give to the fuel assistance fund. Sometimes one tank of oil is just enough to keep people on track. This year the John R. Tata Auditorium was filled with more trees than ever at the Festival of Trees, which also benefits the fuel fund. Thank you to everyone who donated to this effort and our Community Partnership Program.

Planning. It’s what makes this city run. We plan our financial and capital investments. We plan our infrastructure upgrades. And we plan for future initiatives that will manage growth, access grants, and maximize the city’s full potential. Most importantly, we have one of the best teams I could ever ask for. The knowledge, skills and level of cooperation every day makes the city operate like a well-oiled machine.

It’s the reason we have been able to accomplish so much. Although I would love to list all of our successes, here are just a few highlights.

Schools. As you know, one of my priorities is to make sure every third-grader can read at the third-grade level. In May of this past year, we learned that our programs are working. Test scores are getting higher, and we are confident that we will continue to build on our success. In addition to meeting and exceeding net school spending, the city has continued our strong commitment to our school buildings. Leominster High School, Frances Drake and Fall Brook have all been renovated, at a total cost of $46 million. Just recently we added a new roof on Northwest School and Johnny Appleseed. This summer will see the completion of new windows at Johnny Appleseed School, for a total renovation cost to these two schools of over $7 million. And thanks to our strong fiscal management, we financed these projects at an unheard of 1.02 percent interest rate. I am excited about the future of our school system and the investments we are making in generations to come.

Funding for our Small Business Coordinator and Economic Development Coordinator continues to bring big results to the area. We continue to average over 30 small business openings a year and attract employers such as AIS that brought hundreds of jobs to Leominster and the surrounding area. Aaron Industries, a leader in recycled plastic innovation, doubled in size right here in Leominster. We welcomed innovative companies such as Delicious Manufacturing, T&M Machine Shop, EarthPack and Industrial Packaging Supply that have all chosen to locate and expand in Leominster. This year we will also be welcoming a new Registry of Motor Vehicles building to Southgate Business Park. Thanks to our business creation team embracing tax increment financing and housing incentive packages, the outlying area of downtown in particular has seen a rebirth. City Place on Adams Street is almost full with commercial tenants, with housing filling up fast. Soon to come are renovations to 45 Summer St. and 140 Adams St. In the past three years, the downtown alone has welcomed almost $10 million in state investment for infrastructure.

Speaking of infrastructure, what a change we have seen in Mechanic Street this year! Thanks to $3.5 million in state funds, the gateway to our city has been reconstructed, including road repaving, drainage and complete streetscape. The corner of Laurel and Mechanic is also being transformed into a new recreational area, thanks to state and local funding. A new playground came to Third Street this past year, and soon we will begin work on a new open space park right next to St. Cecilia’s. It will be an incredible addition to the neighborhood. Also in the spring, the Mechanic Street initiative will be expanded to downtown with the investment of $2.5 million from the state MassWorks program for new underground infrastructure, sidewalks, the reconstruction of Depot Square, and new lighting. This will be matched with over $11 million in private investment for new and renovated buildings. Together with a $1 million investment in Phase II of the Monoosnoc Brook Walkway project, it will give new meaning to Welcome to Leominster.

Leominster continues to thrive financially. We have made a long-term commitment to responsibly fund our retiree pension and health benefits, which has resulted in tens of millions of dollars in cost savings and preservation of services for our citizens. Leominster will not kick the can down the road, placing the burden on future generations.

We have also continued to invest yearly in our public safety buildings and equipment to ensure the public’s safety as well of that of our city employees. We have taken delivery on new police cruisers, new fire equipment and apparatus, and new DPW equipment. We have also made renovations to all three fire stations and our emergency management building. And yes, site selection for a new police station will be complete by the end of February.

Planning is critical, and every city department has exceeded my expectations to ensure we maximize our potential as a city.

In February 2016, the Pioneer Institute released a study on the decline of Massachusetts “Middle Cities,” which put Leominster in the spotlight of success.

“Taunton and Leominster buck the trend and are clearly the top performers across indicators. In these two cities, populations are increasing, per capita and average median household incomes are closer to state averages, crime is lower, and educational outcomes are better. More research should be devoted to understanding the underpinnings of success of these two cities compared to other communities.”

In the coming year, we will capitalize on just this. Continuing to build on our successes. We have laid the groundwork for our business parks, and it’s time to create a marketing program for Leominster that can compete on a national level to attract the most innovative companies. Leominster’s skilled workforce, our ingenuity, and all our city’s attributes make for a great story to tell. So come this spring, I will be sending an appropriation request back to the council for $50,000 in marketing funds to tell our story. It’s time.

We will also continue to fight the opioid crisis. We are hopeful that a new federal grant will be awarded that will allow us to hire a person under a pilot program to organize the resources in our area. Our first responders have done hero’s work in responding to this new and worsening crisis. It is time to get them the resources they need to help fight this problem with long term goals in mind.

This spring, we will be bringing back a program that was one of my favorites: Neighborhood Improvement grants. It will allow neighborhoods to compete for small grants to improve a little corner of their neighborhood. It could be a street corner, a portion of a park or anything that you feel needs a little help. Your ideas, your creativity.

I’m so proud our hometown for all we are able to accomplish together. Let’s keep Leominster strong and moving forward. Thank you.

Rather than speak at last week’s Inauguration ceremony, Mayor Dean Mazzarella did a tour around the city while delivering this speech on Leominster Access Television.

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