Mayor’s Report to City Council
May 11, 2020
Today I have electronically submitted to the City Council a Continuing Appropriation for the City of Newburyport. The proposal funds city operations for the first three months of fiscal year 2021. At this juncture, I cannot submit a complete budget for fiscal year 2021 because of the significant uncertainties of future revenues, including state aid and local receipts. This appropriation will allow all city departments to operate in the first three months of fiscal year 2021 on a basic delivery of essential services, while also funding all contractual obligations.
This fiscal year budget will be a vastly different budgeting process than we have ever before experienced. We have been informed the state budget will be delayed by months, and we rely on state aid to fund a significant portion of the City’s operating budget. We wait for more information and clarity and expect significant cuts in state aid and decreases in local revenue. But we must go forward with operating the City in the next fiscal year and this three month appropriation request will allow the city to function as we receive more information and are able to assemble a complete budget for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2021.
My administration strongly believes that the three-month continuing appropriation is the best approach to putting forward a thoughtful and realistic annual budget for FY2021 when more information is available to us. That said, we felt it was important to show the preliminary figures for the Fiscal Year 2021 budget in this continuing appropriation request as a means of illustrating where the budget currently stands. It also helps to inform the City Council and the public about the process in developing the three-month continuing appropriation request, which was developed using the preliminary budget amounts, historical spending trends and known contractual obligations during the first three months of the fiscal year.
For now, we are submitting an appropriation that funds basic City services and meets contractual obligations including but not limited to terms of labor contracts, service contracts, debt payments, and retirement funds.
Three Month Continuing Appropriation Goals
- No layoffs of employees in first quarter FY21
- Meet payment deadlines for obligations expenditures, including retirement (PERAC), health insurance, debt service
- Honor contractual salary increases for employees
- Delay large expenditures whenever feasible
- Ensure strict management of all proposed expenditures
- All capital needs will be deferred with exception of required payments for leases or highest priority and safety issues
Please consider this submission and I look forward to working together collaboratively on a FY2021 budget. In order to ensure efficient and effective communications, if you do have questions, please direct them to Chief of Staff Matt Coogan who will compile information requests for all Councillors during your review.
To date, there have been 53 positive COVID-19 cases in Newburyport, and we have lost two residents due to the virus. While we’re still very much in the fight against the virus, it appears we are moving in the right direction, and are starting to see a downward trend statewide in the number of new positive cases.
We still need to strictly comply with the Governor’s Stay at Home Order and all social distancing guidelines. This past week, the City took additional measures to ensure social distancing. We were hopeful to not have to take these measures, but because of public health concerns and to limit the further spread of the virus, we did the following:
- Skate Park Prevention Measures – We were continuing to witness large groups utilizing the Skate Park, even though it has been closed since mid-March. Unfortunately even with signage and the gates locked, there are many still scaling the fence and trespassing. This is an unsafe situation, and last week I approved the Parks Department temporarily placing wood chips in the bowls to physically prevent skateboarding. This was a drastic measure, but important. We all need to follow the rules right now for the sake of our neighbors and our healthcare workers, including skate boarders.
- Dogs on leash at all times in public areas – As our public spaces have become more crowded, the Board of Heath is requiring all dogs to be on-leash at all times in public areas, effective Friday, May 7th. The off-lease areas of our parks will be suspended until further notice. It is important for public health and safety that pets and their owners do not closely interact with people or animals outside the household. Moreover, we want to discourage out of town visitors from coming here due to the off-leash park areas that have continued to be open. We hope this can be temporary and we will re-open off-lease published hours and locations again when the time is right. In the meantime, residents will still be able to enjoy going for a walk with their dog. We thank all who are temporarily inconvenienced for your cooperation on this.
Information on the City’s response to COVID-19 is available on the city website. I continue my weekly Thursday update through Port Media; my 9th is scheduled for 4 PM on 5/14. We also post information on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Reopening of Local Economy and Economic Recovery and Revitalization Task Force
Today my Economic Recovery and Revitalization Task Force met to review preliminary results of the survey and to set up focus groups by economic sector to begin developing a local reopening plan.
We received over 300 responses to our surveys – 278 responses to the business survey and 53 to the non-profit. That’s over a 25% response rate and we will be compiling the data over the next few days.
Focus groups will meet over the next two weeks and develop phased plans for the safe reopening of our local economy. In addition, we hope to learn from these groups how the City, including its boards and commissions can help play a role in facilitating a safe, thorough, and comprehensive reopening.
We also anticipate additional guidance next week from the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board.
One initiative we are already pursuing is how the City can facilitate and allow for additional outdoor seating for restaurants and for our retailers more outdoor space for retailing in the sidewalk. We expect social distancing to be in place for the foreseeable future and expanding food sales and retailing into the sidewalk and public realm could be an effective way to help our businesses and ensure consumer safety and confidence when the local economy is reopened. We will be using the Focus Groups to solicit feedback from individual businesses on this concept. There many details to consider and we don’t want to simply close down streets without understanding all the consequences. I ask that the Council and the Ad Hoc Economic Development Group work collaboratively with City Departments and my Task Force on this initiative.
Our Public Safety Team meets regularly, and we’ve been discussing whether events can and should be held in the summer, in particular, Yankee Homecoming. Based on the types of events held during Yankee Homecoming and the crowds they draw, our Public Safety came to the conclusion that Yankee Homecoming cannot be held this year. This past Thursday the Board of Health issued the same decision.
I have been in contact Jason Lacroix and explained our decision. We have also discussed whether the Yankee Homecoming Committee could come up with events that could be run safely and comply with the limitations to gatherings and social distancing. If there are such events, they will be considered by City officials and the Board of Health. But based on the information we have, events this summer will not be held.
To be clear, no one has canceled events through the rest of the year. While summer events will not go on, we await more information and further guidance on the remainder of the calendar year.
Phillips Drive Engineering
I am pleased to submit to the City Council a Transfer Request that will help fund the Engineering Design to alleviate the drainage issues in the Phillips Drive Neighborhood. BSC will be in the engineering firm and they have experience working in the City though various past projects. While COVID-19 has delayed this process, we still believe that the engineer plans will be completed this fall. I hope Councillors will support this transfer and I thank the residents of Phillips Drive for your patience.
Rail Trail PCB Clean up
As mentioned in previous updates, we have encountered deeper contaminated soil than was previously expected, and the transfer request before you will fund the remaining cleanup of the project that now includes portions of the Wastewater Treatment Facility. Project Manager Geordie Vining provided additional information on the request in the Council packet. I urge you to please support this transfer request so we can finalize conclude this project and reopen this section of our waterfront for public use.
I am pleased to report that we are moving forward to migrate to online permitting. We will be working with ViewPoint Cloud to phase in this migration, with the Building Department being the priority, followed by the Planning Department. The software has the capability of running other departments permitting processes as well. We will be having a kickoff meeting next week and expect Building to be online in the next few months.
Upcoming Public Meetings
Safe Routes to School, May 14 – This Thursday evening at 6PM, there’s a Zoom virtual public meeting for the Safe Routes to School project on High Street. Senior Project Manager Geordie Vining will be joined by Superintendent Ed Henderson of the state’s contractor RM Pacella. The purpose of the upcoming virtual public meeting is to provide an additional forum for members of the public to potentially ask questions as construction begins on the project. The City and the contractor have been in touch with individual abutters and are generally available to answer questions, and general project updates and information will be posted every few weeks on the City’s website. Thank you to Councilor Shand for coordinating this meeting.
Rail Trail/ Parker Street Shared Use Path Complete Streets Project, May 21 – The Planning & Development Department is expecting to host a Virtual Public Meeting next Thursday to provide information on the design of the Parker Street and State Street Complete Streets project, which includes a shared use path on Parker Street and a safe crossing of State Street for the Rail Trail. MassDOT is also designing improvements to the Route 1 traffic rotary and will connect the rail trail from Parker and State to the other side of Rt. 1, and information will also be provided at this public meeting.