In his last days as Mayor of Methuen, The Valley Patriot sat down with Steve Zanni for an exit interview to see what he thought of his six years as mayor and if he was able to accomplish what he set out to do in 2011.
Q: When you came into office you had some ideas on the things you wanted to accomplish. We interviewed you when you were first inaugurated. Did you think you lived up to what you set out to do?
“In the beginning Tom, you come in very excited and you [have] things you want to accomplish. But, with government it seems to move a little slower than I thought. But, at the end of the day the things we pushed forward in the beginning all took place namely, the high school, which was finished on time and under budget. The second project was the clubhouse and the renovation of our stadium. That took a period of time, but that’s been accomplished.”
“The third part of that puzzle is the track. That has not been completed. But, the money I have left from the high school project, we are putting towards the track. That’s the final piece, and that will be left to the new mayor.”
“Some of the other projects we’ve done? All the fields in the city have been redone. We have a brand new splash park in the Arlington Neighborhood area. That was missing for years for kids in a neighborhood who can’t get away [in the summer].”
“We have the downtown project, as you know is ready to start.”
“The governor and lt. governor were helpful in getting us a million dollars for the gateway, which will be at the five corners, at the fire station.”
“We also received over a $1M to do the rail trail over again. Now that we have the action plan approved by the state, they are giving us $350,000.”
“$200,000 of that will be held primarily to do [the] historic part, like lighting, etc. There are already three buildings that have been taken over, and we are working with some other developers but, that’s a great project for the new mayor to continue.”
Q: There seems to be a school of thought in Methuen that there is too much development in the city. Some people believe there is no plan for all this additional strain on the infrastructure, the schools, the police and fire. What do you say to those concerns?
“First and foremost, what I looked at was, what was best for Methuen.
“Methuen is a 55 and older community. This means [increasing that population] is not a drain on the school system, the transportation, and traffic issues are not a problem.”
Q: You mean these new developments are 55 and older?
“Yes 55 and over. There’s one [project] that’s not going to be 55 and over and that’s the one at the Loop.”
“But, that’s only a small percentage. If you look [at] what’s going to be built there, it’s going to be for affordability as well. You know, some people can’t afford [housing] … you look at [the development] off of Howe Street.”
“Those homes are going for, from $600,000 to a $1M. That was unheard of a few years ago. Out of the 140 [homes], there are eighty-something that are already gone. There are already 40 or 50 families living in there. It brought $1M in permit fees, $1M in taxes, and it’s not going to hurt the infrastructure of Methuen. You know, some people keep saying it’s over development’. But, the other problem is, a lot of people say ‘not in my neighborhood’. They worry about affordable housing and what it’s going to bring in.”
“The truth of the matter is, we didn’t have our [required] 10% [affordable housing]. Up off of Howe Street, they were going to put in a 40B project (low income), which Toll Brothers eventually took over. In time, we have not only this project, but we also have Broadway next to the new Methuen Credit Union. That will be an affordable housing project as well. So, that’s going to bring us to our 10%.” [The state requires 10% of all new housing be reserved for low income occupants].
“Some of these new councilors coming in say we are being over developed. I’m looking at what’s best for our community. Bringing in the 55 and older [housing] didn’t hurt the infrastructure, it brought a group of people in and it brought taxes.
Q: Did anything surprise you when you took office?
“Initially, I thought what was good for the community was a power plant. It was going to bring in $3M a year for thirty years and built in a setting that wouldn’t affect any residential neighborhoods.”
Zanni says he sat down with councilors and explained the project he wanted to propose but to his surprise 30 – 40 people showed up at a meeting to oppose it without even really knowing the details.
“And of course, the council backed away from it. They never gave me a chance. So, of course, that project was dead. I think the politics overall surprised me. When people start venting their frustrations, some of the councilors look at that and get nervous about where their votes come from.”
“Another good example was the totes for the trash. I thought that was a great idea. A lot of communities have done it. That would save big money. They [the council] decided again, because 10-15 people show up in the audience against it, they voted it down.”
“The IT department took me over two years [to change]. They said, ‘you are picking on townies’ or ‘why are you picking on them’?”
“I said, ‘we’re looking at saving more than half a million dollars a year if we outsource it.’”
“The same thing with custodial services. I outsourced the custodians and we are saving $50,000 to $60,000 a year in this building alone. They come in at 4:30 in the afternoon, clean the building and they are gone at 10:30pm. They have done some other things as far as cleanliness that’s better than what was here before. So, I look at those things and it’s not so much about getting rid of people, it’s about what’ s best for the community.
I also think, to answer your earlier question about not having any scandals. I don’t have a relative in the system. I don’t have a cousin in the system, and that made me work in a way that I can make decisions not based on the individuals that are going to be affected but what’s best for the Town. At the end of the day I am accountable to the people. I’m leaving on a good note. And I am going to leave a transition that shows, these are the things that can still be accomplished.
NEXT MONTH: PART II, Mayor Zanni’s thoughts on education and public safety in Methuen.