September 29, 2020
Mayor Donna D. Holaday
MVP Grant for Berm and Revetment: We have submitted in your agenda grant acceptances for the Berm and Revetment Project behind the Waste Water Treatment Facility. Last meeting I reported that the state awarded the City a $1 million MVP grant to fund the construction of this project. This was the largest MVP grant in the state. We were also awarded a $100,000 MassTrails grant, and there’s the conditional approval of $150,000 of CPA funds to be released. I ask that the Council please prioritize the acceptance of these grants and release of CPA funds. We need to demonstrate to the state our commitment to executing this project by accepting the grants and CPA funds. In addition, we have also included in your agenda a transfer request that would cover the remaining cost of the $1.7 million project. The transfer would take remaining balances from accounts for projects that have already been completed and transfer them to fully fund this project. I request that the Council work quickly but diligently to review this request and approve this transfer. My staff will be available for questions and can attend any meeting of the Council as you deliberate, including our Waste Water Superintendent Chris Pratt and Project Manager Geordie Vining.
Clipper City Rail: PCB Clean-up Update: Backfill is complete. The City’s Licensed Site Professionals (LSPs) have determined that the cleanup has resulted in no remaining significant risk. The site is now ready for the berm and revetment construction. We instructed our contractor last week to reopen the area to informal use. It will be open this week.
Reservation Terrace Shoreline Stabilization: Thank you Council for approving the $50,000 transfer request to fund the shoreline stabilization project. Mobilization began this week with the delivery of sand and super sacs. DPS will be filling the super sacs this week for our contractor to install next week. We expect the installation to take a few weeks as our contractor will only be able to work during low tides. We were fortunate that DCR is contributing another $25,000 for this project, and residents have also contributed as well. The additional funding allows us to install the critical second row of supersacs for added protection.
Grants for Small Businesses and Rental Assistance: We still have available grant funding available for small businesses and residential renters affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Affordable Housing Trust has made available up to 3 months of rent for residential renters, and those interested can contact Pettengill House directly: http://pettengillhouse.org/newburyport_rent_assistance.aspx.
As far as the small business grant, our CDBG grant administrator in Amesbury has received 14 applications from Newburyport businesses so far. Applications and FAQs for this program can be found on the City of Amesbury website: https://www.amesburyma.gov/community-economic-development/webforms/small-business-relief-grant-program. Please help us spread the word on these programs.
FY2021 Budget: This has been an unprecedented budget process that actually began almost a year ago with the joint meeting of the City Council and School Committee in November 2019. Massachusetts General Law allows for the City under extenuating circumstances to pass continuation appropriations for up to the first three months of the fiscal year, and that’s exactly what we did, working together to pass a short-term budget that allowed City operations to continue over the summer. Fortunately, after we passed this appropriation, we learned that we would be receiving from the State no less than the Fiscal Year 2020 level of state funding, including Chapter 70 for schools. This came as a welcoming surprise, and helped us proceed with creating a balanced budget for FY2021 that provides a basic level of service, avoids layoffs, and avoids using Free Cash or Stabilization Funds. The continuation appropriation runs out tomorrow, and I submitted a full Fiscal Year 2021 budget last month to supersede the continuing appropriation. This budget will fund the remainder of the fiscal year beginning on Thursday October 1st through June 30, 2021.
Our number one priority with proposing this budget was to maintain a basic level of City services to our residents, even in the most difficult times. Our services are administered and provided by our employees, and it was important to avoid layoffs and maintain our workforce to ensure adequate delivery of services. We did not want COVID to force us to fall behind on our initiatives and capital projects.
Tonight, I have asked all Department Heads to attend this meeting. They are available to answer any questions as the Council deliberates on the FY21 budget tonight. I do want to take a brief moment to thank them on behalf of the City for all their work and their staff’s work throughout the pandemic. Our public servants are dedicated to their jobs and to serve our community, even in the toughest of times. Our Department Heads never stopped working throughout the pandemic and even during the surge, and they quickly adjusted their departments’ operations to remain productive both remotely and for limited in person hours. I appreciate all the work they’ve put in to help balance this budget. Thank you, Department Heads, for your dedication to this community.
We have heard from many families and residents their concerns on the challenges of reopening of our public schools safely. COVID-19 is still very much within this community. We have had 3 COVID cases in our public schools so far. Fortunately, the protocols that were put into place were highly effective on controlling its spread and limiting its effect on school operations. We will continue to keep our students, faculty, and families safe, with the ultimate goal of bringing our students back for in-person learning. Last night I shared with the City Council and the School Committee Superintendent Gallagher’s reopening plan for the rest of the school year. It includes metrics that will be used as a tool help inform the district when more students can safely return to schools for in-person learning. This plan will still need to go through the School Committee’s review process in the coming weeks, which is a public process. But I felt it was important information to release to the City Council ahead of time to give an indication of how the Superintendent plans on safety bringing in more students for in-person learning. The School Committee will begin reviewing this plan at its next meeting.
It is critical that we move forward and pass this budget. These are unprecedented times and with uncertainty comes a lot of angst for our families and residents dealing with pressures of trying to work, to keep our family, friends, and neighbors safe, and to raise and educate our children during the pandemic. Passing this budget provides clarity and more stability for our community. It reaffirms our community’s longstanding commitment to public education and academic excellence while allowing us to receive all of our anticipated state and federal funding. We need to continue working together to navigate through this pandemic to reopen safely and help us return to normal.
Finally, I want to thank the City Council for fulfilling your duties and diligently reviewing my budget proposal. You’ve spent hours over 6 nights workshopping this budget with my Department Heads. I ask you for your support and to approve a fully funded budget tonight.