By: Bill Manzi, Methuen Mayor – January, 2010
This week I will have the honor of being sworn in for my third term as Methuen’s Mayor. Much has been accomplished over the past four years, but so much more remains, with the challenges facing Methuen as great as any that we have ever faced.
Our financial situation remains good, but with the FY 2011 budget will present us with some truly difficult choices. As elected officials we will need to work together and avoid the type of rhetoric that brings division and tries to reap political gain out of those difficult choices. As we move forward let us look at what we have done financially, and where we go from here. We have just had the 2010 tax rate certified by the Department of Revenue. Our budget is balanced with the help of one year collective bargaining agreements that saved Methuen taxpayers $1.9 million dollars in this cycle. We also negotiated health care changes that saved taxpayers an additional $1.2 million dollars. Spending was further trimmed by the elimination of scores of positions that totaled over $1 million dollars. Those positions included the Deputy Chief of Police, a Police Captain, the Deputy (Assistant) to the Fire Chief, two D.P.W. Superintendents, the Historic Planner, six rank and file D.P.W. positions, and a cutting back of our Land Use Planner to a 24 hour position. For those that say that we have not cut spending or trimmed city government those numbers show how wrong that contention is. We have managed to avoid layoffs, maintain services, and remain over a million dollars below the Prop 2.5 levy limit.
That is the good news. Now for the challenges. We will be faced with a pension liability increase of over one million dollars in FY 2011, on top of the $600,000 increase in this fiscal cycle. Our total pension obligation will balloon to over six million dollars in FY 2011. Additionally industry reports indicate that health care premiums are likely to rise over ten percent next year. That would be an increase of over one million dollars in expense to Methuen, potentially driving our health care costs over eleven million dollars annually. Not only are the numbers huge, but the rate of increase in both is simply unsustainable.
As we start the New Year I urge our partners in the State Legislature to act to help us provide a lower cost model at the municipal level. In the area of health care municipalities need the same rights that the Commonwealth bestows upon itself, namely the right to make health care plan design changes outside of collective bargaining. In the area of pensions we need the Legislature to push out the full funding schedule from 2028 to 2040. This would help smooth out some of the enormous one year increases that will be coming down the pike due to losses in our pension system. There is simply no other way
Policy initiatives in Methuen will include looking at new energy initiatives, as well as continued economic development, the construction of a new Headstart Building on Gill Avenue, and the major renovation of Methuen High School. All are important, but I must emphasize the critical nature of the Methuen High School project. The educational infrastructure cannot, in its current state, produce a first rate learning environment for our students. And as we look to renovate our goals are simply to produce a first rate school that will give our students the academic opportunity that they deserve. We will not spend to create a monumental building, but rather to create an atmosphere that will allow our students to compete in the global economy. And without this project we would not likely see State funding for at least another five years or more, putting the High School accreditation at risk and condemning a new decade of students to a substandard building. We can, and must, do better than that. Working together we will see this project through.
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