NEWBURYPORT — Mayor Donna Holaday delivered her first “state of the city” address as a mayor serving a four-year term, and indicated that she and her team have six key ongoing priorities in coming years.
They are to sustain the city’s double A-plus bond rating; complete ongoing capital projects on time and within budget; take advantage of new uses for the Brown and Kelley schools; complete a major update of the city’s master plan; come to agreement on the central waterfront; and develop a capital plan for sports and recreation needs.
Holaday spoke about much more in her illustrated PowerPoint presentation, but she focused on areas of interest that she said are in good shape at the moment.
The mayor said that the city’s recent upgrade to AA+ will mean the saving of thousands of dollars as it borrows for voter-approved schools and a senior/community center.
She added that the city has $2.4 million in free cash, which she said was the highest ever. The tax collection department has collected 98 percent of property taxes owed to the city, marking an improvement over recent years, she stated.
Holaday said that the $38 million Bresnahan School (42 percent state money) is 70 percent finished and the $28 million rehabbing of the Nock/Molin complex (45 percent state money) is 65 percent completed.
She said the new Bresnahan Elementary is on schedule to open this fall.
Holaday said that the Brown and Kelley schools will likely have new uses in coming years.
She indicated that the Brown might be used for youth activities, in part because it has a new outdoor playground and a functioning indoor gym. City officials are soliciting suggestions for other uses of the South End structure.
Holaday indicated the Kelley School might be closed and its after-school programs transferred to the Brown.
If the Kelley is sold, city officials will guarantee that its striking architectural assets will be saved.
Holaday said city officials will continue to work to find an agreeable solution to utilizing the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s 4.2 acres on the riverfront.
A session to brief the new City Council on this topic, snowed out on Feb. 5, will likely take place the first week in March. No date has been finalized.
The mayor said the city’s Master Plan is ready for a major revision, and municipal leaders are finalizing a contract with a private firm to help with the project.
She reported that the city is experiencing a vibrant period of construction and development. Holaday reported that in the last year, 831 building permits have been extended, representing a total worth of $189,756,000. This burst of building generated fees of $576,650.
Holaday said another priority in the next few years is finding enough ball fields and open areas for youngsters to participate in sports.
City officials lost two baseball diamonds when the Bresnahan School was built, and municipal leaders are vigorously looking for open space that can accommodate fields.
Holaday said city officials are considering taking down the north bleachers at the World War Memorial Stadium at the high school to create a synthetic-turf, multi-purpose field for football, soccer and lacrosse.
In addition, designers are studying Fuller Field on Low Street to determine whether another baseball field can be fitted onto that space.
At the conclusion of her presentation, she received vigorous, sustained applause from councilors, city officials and residents who packed the City Hall chamber for the annual assessment.