New term, same issues
As of noon Sunday, the city administration took its oath of office and begins the work of governing this city of more than 53,000 over the next two years. Mayor Nancy Rossi begins her second term in office, and a new City Council begins its own term.
This year, for the first time in recent memory, the city’s minority Republican Party, will have two members on the 13-member council. This is a major improvement over the past two decades, and allows debate of minority-generated issues to be discussed by the legislative panel.
With the new term, the administration must now formulate concrete programs to combat the city’s many issues. We, for our part, have a few hopes for the coming term, and hope they correspond with the desires and aspirations of the new administration:
Taxes, spending and staffing – When Mayor Rossi came into office, she entered with an admitted handicap. Unknown to her – or anyone except the former administration – the state had empaneled a review board to oversee city finances. The use of a bonding ordinance to cover a $17 million deficit triggered the action under what was then new legislation. Over the last two years, Rossi and the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) have navigated some treacherous waters with not a little controversy.
As far as taxes are concerned, the die is cast. The MARB has dictated that taxes must go up over the term of the five-year plan to 40 mills. Spending is low, and has been cut by the administration to correspond with MARB’s desires. It is in the matter of staffing that we have, many times, asked for study.
The city is in need of a complete audit of staffing and needs. Personnel are the largest line item in the budget. The city should have a study on its needs, and the number of people working for it. Some of this has taken place via necessity with budget cuts, but this has been more of an activity of necessity, rather than a willful understanding of where personnel are needed. We hope to see something of this nature in the next two years.
Blight – The city has become, for better or worse, one of absentee ownership. This has led to a careless attitude on the parts of many property owners when it comes to upkeep. Meanwhile, on those properties owned by residents, we have seen deterioration, parking of autos on lawns, and other such nuisances. We hope in the next two years a comprehensive plan is laid out to combat this matter.
Redevelopment/Economic Development – During the campaign this issue came up as a matter of course, and, as a matter of course, generalities were used. Over the next two years we hope a plan of development can be issued by the city that will address several key areas: Allingtown and its continued upgrade, the Center and the use of empty properties or storefronts, and the shore (particularly Beach Street), where empty properties are hurting neighborhoods.
The Haven is a matter that, if it is ever begun and finished, would serve as an anchor for future actions, but outside that area of the city, more must be done. To say that areas of town are languishing is to understate the case. We hope that some type of coalition including the city, the business community, and representatives of the three major sections of town can work together to get some type of plan that will attempt to move the city forward.