NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 31, 2012

Tax rate generates controversy in Amesbury

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — The year 2012 was an interesting one for Amesbury. Looking back years from now, we’ll be able to say this was the year thousands of runners invaded Point Shore and painted the streets every color of the rainbow. This was the year Universal Studios came to town and brought the DeLorean Timecar with them.

We can even say that 2012 was the year that the infamous Route 110 bottleneck finally met its end. One can only hope that also means the end of beach traffic, too, though that might be asking a lot.

Regardless, it was an eventful year, and before we move ahead, here is a brief look back at five of the biggest stories in Amesbury from this past year.

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Without a doubt, the hottest issue in Amesbury in 2012 was taxes. Whether it was during the budget meetings, the tax classification hearing or the acrimonious Department of Public Works facility debate, the issue continuously manifested itself and was always at the forefront of the political discussion.

That doesn’t figure to change going into 2013 either. This year’s new tax rate of $20.24 caused members of the City Council to express frustration with Amesbury’s tax situation and promise meaningful spending cuts in the upcoming budget session to try to alleviate the pressure on taxpayers.

Being an election year, the anti-tax proponents in Amesbury figure to remain a loud presence in the local political scene in 2013 as well.

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When word got out in early August that the Hines Bridge would be reopening, it was as though everyone in Amesbury simultaneously threw up their hands and shouted “Finally!” in unison.

The vital link between Amesbury and Newburyport was closed for more than two years after a barge hauling electrical parts for National Grid struck it in 2010, knocking its northern pier 8 inches and forcing the state to completely rebuild the bridge at a cost of $34 million.

Once the bridge was ready to reopen, the parents of Derek Hines, the local soldier killed in Afghanistan after whom the bridge is named, became the first to drive over it. After that, a stream of cars followed, some honking their horns in excitement along the way.

Though there were some grumbles from a few nearby residents who preferred the peace and quiet that the closed bridge offered, the overwhelming consensus from residents was excitement and relief that a trip to Newburyport would no longer require a long detour down the highway or through Salisbury.

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Considering how big a system Sandy was, Amesbury weathered the storm fairly well. The city did not experience any flooding, and despite a considerable rise in water level, the houses by the Merrimack River were never in serious danger like those on Plum Island.

What Amesbury did suffer worse than many other area communities were power outages. More than 80 percent of the city lost power at some point during the storm, which affected the majority of the city’s traffic signals and streetlights.

Compared to past storms in recent years, the outages didn’t ultimately last very long and most of the city was back up and running by the next day. But a couple of nights later, a surprisingly potent late-season thunderstorm rolled through and knocked out power to a large segment of the community again.

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On Sept. 15, 18-year-old Paige Fortin was struck by a truck while riding a scooter in Haverhill with her boyfriend. While her boyfriend escaped with minor injuries, Fortin was nearly killed in the accident and was flown to Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston for emergency treatment.

Fortin suffered injuries that her doctors described as among the worst they’d ever seen, and one of her legs was in such bad shape that it had to be amputated below the knee. Over the course of the next month, Fortin endured more than a half-dozen surgeries as she began the grueling process of recovery.

But what made this story so incredible beyond Fortin’s own courage and perseverance was the outpouring of support she received from the community. A Facebook page called “Lets Help Paige Fortin” was set up and has been liked more than 7,700 times, and tens of thousands of dollars have been donated to help support the family and pay for Fortin’s medical bills.

In October, Paige’s co-workers at Flatbread Co. set up a fundraiser that featured an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, gifts for sale and a live outdoor band. Hundreds of people came out and the restaurant raised $17,000 in one night.

Several months after her accident, Fortin is still recovering, but has progressed to a point where she can walk on crutches and was able to return home.

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This year marked a return to prominence for Amesbury High School football, which had spent the past few years languishing after winning the Super Bowl in 2008.

Led by dual-threat quarterback Matt Talbot and an explosive offense, the Indians blitzed through their Cape Ann League competition and finished the season with a 9-2 record while riding an eight-game winning streak into the playoffs.

That streak was capped off by a Thanksgiving Day victory over archrival Newburyport in a game that served as the de-facto Cape Ann League title game, the team’s first win over the Clippers since the 2008 season. Amesbury won 13-10, securing the league championship, a year’s worth of bragging rights and a freshly baked cherry pie for Mayor Thatcher Kezer from Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday.

Amesbury ultimately couldn’t duplicate the 2008 team’s heroics, however, falling 35-14 to Lynnfield in the first round of the Division 3A playoffs. The team was well represented among the league’s award recipients, with Talbot earning CAL MVP honors, and seven others garnering All-CAL Division 3 recognition.