NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 8, 2013

Mayor gives upbeat 'state of the city' report

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Mayor Donna Holaday delivered her annual “state of the city” presentation yesterday, and reaction to her upbeat assessment of the city’s health produced something akin to a state of contentment.

Speaking before close to 140 at a meeting of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Holaday reported on the community’s financial health (good), progress on capital improvements (significant) and plans for groundbreaking of two major school projects (imminent).

She received warm applause after the number-rich, well-illustrated presentation.

If there was a nettling note to the annual report, it was reference to the future for the riverfront. The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, not the city, controls 4.2 acres along the Merrimack River, and she acknowledged that consensus about its future has not been reached.

“I know that not everyone likes the NRA proposal but it’s a viable, exciting plan for the waterfront,” she said. She urged residents and merchants to learn more about it, “and help us make it happen this time.”

Perhaps focusing on the interest of her audience, Holaday first reported that the budget is balanced, and the city has about $2.5 million in cash reserves.

The initiative to develop paid parking in the downtown is yielding about $700,000 per year, and a meals tax produces about $450,000 per year, “much of it going for sidewalk repair.”

The mayor said this is a good time for municipalities to borrow money, and that the city has refinanced some debt from the past (2003, 2005) at 3.2 percent to 3.9 percent.

On the subject of financial commitment, Holaday noted that voters in the last year approved a new Bresnahan School, a major renovation to the Nock-Molin complex and a senior community center.

The state will pay about 45 percent of the schools projects, and Holaday said groundbreaking could take place in March.

The mayor reported that the clearwell municipal water source on Spring Lane has been replaced and enhanced without incident, and the wastewater-treatment complex on Water Street is more than halfway through a major upgrade.

She stated that the city extended 741 building permits in the past year, resulting in a total of $46 million in development.

Holaday noted the proposed Local Historic District was not approved in the past year, and lamented the dissension that arose around the proposal. She said she is looking into new ways to protect historic structures.

Close to two dozen department heads and key officials at City Hall attended the session, and the mayor thanked them all. She reserved a special moment of appreciation to mark the upcoming retirement of fire Chief Stephen Cutter, who retires next Friday after 34 years of service here.

Holaday has said she will seek a third term later this year. Under the new charter, this tenure will be for four years and will pay $98,000. Her current salary is $86,000.