Methuen’s East District has two elected representatives on the city council. The city council votes on local ordinances (laws), and approves spending for the police, fire, schools, and other city services. They also have to approve any tax hikes or developments in the city.
The two current city councilors representing the East District – Tom Ciulla and Ron Marsan – are not running for reelection because of term limits. City councilors can only serve three, two-year terms on the council.
There are five candidates running for the two open seats. They are; Steve Saba, Eunice Zeigler, Adam Chiocca, Dan Grayton, and Sid Harris. The top four vote-getters on September 26th will go on to the November final election where the top two vote-getters will take a seat on the city council.
Steve Saba is a 57 year old homeowner who is an independent contractor. He is self-employed, representing banks and businesses that need merchant services for more than 15 years. Before that, he owned his several businesses, was in the restaurant business, and was a USDA plant manager. He has been married for 33 years, and has three children, ages 19, 26, and 31.
We asked Mr. Saba what his priorities are.
“First off, I want an immediate capital improvement plan. A real one. I’m really concerned about the way the city spends the tax dollars we collect. Also, future infrastructure and needed repairs that are being ignored.
What concerns me is that every time we tackle a major project we are putting out fires because we have an emergency situation that wasn’t planned for and addressed. With a detailed capital improvement plan, we know average lifespan on firetruck, a school roof, etc. We know what’s coming up, and yes we can always adjust the capital improvement plan, but right now if we have to buy a truck we have to borrow from reserve fund.”
Saba says his “second priority is to have a clear master zoning plan. My concern is the way developments are handled at the zoning level. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of plan. In the 80s there was a big push for residential homes to have a minimum number of 2 acres of land. Today, it seems like they’re just letting buildings go up anywhere without a plan. There’s no thought given to the repercussions of continually building out and increasing the city’s population until it becomes a crisis.”
Saba says with all the unplanned for growth the city is going to need to hire more cops, firefighters and possibly build another school.
Saba says the current administration leaving the city with no reserves is “extremely disappointing.”
“I’ve been touring various areas of city that most people don’t see – like the DPW, and water and sewer systems. I know there are needed repairs, yet the city reduced taxes 1 ½ M this year just so they can say ‘look how good we are.’ It’s reckless. As a tax payer, I’d be thrilled to hear the tax rate is not going up this year. But, I will tell you that by cutting back $1.5M after taking money from the reserve fund is not responsible. We need to be responsible and use that $1.5M to keep taxes level and put the money back into reserve where it belongs. We needed to use some of that money to repair infrastructure. The next council will have to deal with this. They are going to have their backs up against the wall with no reserve fund.
I don’t ever want to see taxes increase, but before you cut $1.5M you have to replace the rainy day fund. When you tap into that fund you are borrowing the money. It also affects our bond rating. We are ok right now but, at this pace it’s not looking good for the next two years. You can’t eliminate your reserve fund. What’s really going to hurt us is if something happens next month; like an emergency, a flood, something we aren’t anticipating, and what are we going to do then?”
Should the schools get more money?
“The short answer is yes. I think they should get more money. They just cut back. You have to look at the whole budget. We fund the schools to the bare minimum allowed by the state. I agree that the schools need do a better job, but you also have to look at in perspective. It’s easy to say we get $73M and lament that it’s a lot of money. But, look at our average expense per student as compared to other communities and we are not over funding them at all. We have a lot of challenges in our schools and they need to be adequately funded.
Saba says that he believes the high school stadium should not be under the purview of the city but should be a school department responsibility.
Overall, Saba says that he is tired of politicians spouting talking points about transparency and then never doing anything to fight for transparency when they get elected … and reelected.
“I want more transparency, but I want real transparency. A lot of politicians use that phrase, it becomes a buzz word and people don’t even pay attention to it anymore. So, let me say this. I honestly want to see the public being educated more about what their city government is doing. And I want them to know before the decisions are made, not after. There’s too much going on ‘behind the scenes’ now and if I’m elected I am going to push very hard to make sure we are educating the voters as to the big decisions coming up – the pros and cons. Sometimes I think there is too little participation by voters because nobody is being proactive to educate them as to how our city government works.”
“Look, the voters of Methuen are all grown-ups. They’re all adults. They are mature enough to handle the truth. It’s up to the elected officials to tell them the truth so they can make better decisions. There’s nothing so bad that we can’t tell the voters about it. Whether it’s an upcoming expense that’s not in the budget, or proposed changes, to updating the city charter. We should do it all publicly. I want honesty. I want true transparency. Not just saying the word “transparency” while people aren’t being told the truth.”
Asked if there was one thing he wanted our readers to come away with from the interview, Saba said the following:
“If I win and I can’t make a positive change in the community, I will not run again. That’s a promise. I have no interest in being a career politician. I have no ambition to run for higher office. When I fought for the stadium, I wanted to make sure we did it right. I wanted it to be something everyone could be proud of. That’s how I am when it comes to the city as well. When I do something I do it 100%.”
“I want to see more services for seniors. Not because it’s the buzz words everyone says to get elected – that most never do anything about – but because it’s the one thing government is supposed to do. Provide services for people who need them. I will measure my own success or failures by what I can accomplish for them, whether or not we can get a master plan that is actually used. I will only be one councilor, but with six new councilors coming on board, I think we can make some real positive changes for our community. If I can’t do that I will step aside and let someone else give it a try.”