Methuen Mayor Neil Perry’s Monthly Column ~ Covid, the Holiday’s, and the City’s Finances

November, 2020

By the time you read this article, the presidential election will be finished, hopefully. Regardless of who you supported, and whether that candidate won or not, here’s hoping we can learn to dialogue respectfully about our issues, and work towards improving our city, state and even our country. Know that if you are a friend of mine – you are a friend whether you supported Biden or Trump – and you will remain a friend. Our differences are truly what makes us great, and we need to embrace our diversity.

Once again, the month has flown by and we’ve a great deal to talk about- so let’s get to it!

COVID Update: We start with the COVID update. Methuen, as with much of the Commonwealth, spent the month in the high risk, or “Red” category. We are taking several steps to address, including the use of COVID Enforcement Officers. So let’s dispel the myths that are floating around. First, we should have called them COVID Education officers because that is what they are. They have not yet written one single ticket nor assessed a fine, to anyone.

They are not there to raise the cities revenue fund by assessing fines. They ARE there to address a specific subset of the population, that quite frankly has been struggling since Labor Day. Parks and playground use and accompanying adherence to COVID protocols by those that use them has slipped significantly since the start of the Fall. Large gatherings have increased as well. These individuals (2), including one bilingual person, are being paid for by CARES Act funding, not by tax dollars.

They are necessary because we have not shown the personal responsibility nor accountability required to reduce the risk in our community. In the next two weeks, they will begin handing out over 15,000 reusable masks (also bought using CARES Act funding) to local citizens. Secondly, we are working on increasing our testing capacity – and while the two Stop the Spread sites in our city are extended through January, we are working to get mobile testing for our shut-in population and those that simply can’t make it out.

On a positive note – we have not seen school spread – despite the community spread we have witnessed, so we made a decision to send our 5th, 8th and 12th graders back to school on November 2nd – joining our K-4 and 9th grade populations in hybrid A and B cohorts. And to further ensure we address the risk of that school population, the City is planning on using an additional ~$600k of CARES act funding to test all our student, staff and administration population in both November and December.

Finally, every city building now has foggers that are in use daily, in the am and pm, to sanitize the office areas, and we have installed a sliding glass door in the tunnel as we prepare for a customer service station to be installed and address most immediate resident concerns as soon as they come in the door. But all this effort pales, and cannot guarantee that we reduce our high risk status, until I get the entire community to buy in. Can I count on you? #maskupmethuen We are all in this together.

Drive Through Trick or Treat@ The Loop: While we experienced some traffic issues, the overall event was a stunning success! Scheduled from 3:30 to 6pm on the 31st, the event ran, two lanes non-stop from 3 pm until 7:20 pm when the last car drove through. Residents enjoyed themselves despite the wait with over 30+ candy stations, accompanied by a DJ, characters, a Methuen Fire Department Ladder truck and The Ghostbusters, of course. And candy, candy, and more candy.

Quite simply, events like this are where our community is at its best. We collectively overcame having to cancel traditional Trick or Treat due to our high-risk status and were able to conduct a fun, safe event enjoyed by well over 2400 kids in great costumes. My sincere thanks to our many employees, the City Councilors, The High School students and all who helped make the event such a success. My deepest gratitude to Randy Allen and The Loop for all their assistance , as well as to our other donors and sponsors: Margarita’s, AMC Theaters, Crumbl Cookie, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, The Savings Bank, EJ Paving, Treadmill Corp., Texas Roadhouse, Ellie’s Farmhouse, Connie Doto Realty, Mann’s Orchard, Party Connection and American Foods. Please patronize these local sponsors!!!!

We held our new outdoor track ribbon cutting event with Reps. Linda Dean Campbell, Christina Minicucci, State Senator Diana DiZoglio, Superintendent Brandi Kwong, our City Council, Principal Barden and Athletic Director Matt Curran all in attendance.

The day was gloomy, but the feeling was anything but, as we saw a first-rate outdoor track, really enhancing the Nicholson Stadium Complex, and providing our students and community the facility they truly deserve. Much of the credit belongs to the hard work and team effort of Bill Buckley and Brian Keating from Community Development, along with State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell who provided the original $200k earmark from the state (DESE).Working under a tight deadline, they pulled together with Superintendent Kwong and her team and made it happen! Sp

eaking of gratitude. Let me just say how tremendously excited I was to meet Ernie Boch, Jr. and accept his extremely generous donation of $25k to support the Methuen Cares Center (pending city council acceptance of the gift). The Cares Center is still at 10 Ditson Place but will be moving again later this fall – and we have worked hard to provide for those in our community who have been impacted by the COVID situation, including quarantined individuals.

We are still delivering food to those who cannot get out and the seniors in our community and we are still accepting donations of non-perishables and supplies. What greater way to celebrate Thanksgiving than being grateful for all we have, and making a donation to the CARES center? Cash donations can be made as well by coordinating through MAN, Inc. and designating CARES as the intended recipient.

On the financial front, late last month I sent an appropriation for $1.6Million to the City Council. To be clear, that is NOT monies to be raised by additional taxing of our residents, rather, now that we know what the state revenues to the City will be, they are slightly better than what we estimated at budget time. The difference is the amount of this appropriation, and I have sent this to City Council asking them to approve it (first vote, 7-2 for on October 19th).

Of that $1.6M, I have scheduled $300k to go into stabilization as we try to build upon our reserves and just under ~$900k will be used as excess capacity – to offset the impact of any tax increase upon the residents of our city. Simply put, I realize this has been a difficult year for everyone in the city, with our unemployment hovering at ~11%. We have tightened our belts on the city budget, managed to improve our fiscal rating and put some monies in free cash, and now we are trying to do something to aid you.

If we were not to do this, if we just waited and set the tax rate, then the citizens would not see the benefit of this in the tax rate, and any monies would simply fall to free cash.

Coming Attractions:

(1) On the horizon, we are planning for our annual holiday Tree Lighting event as well as our Santa Parade. While it most likely will be impossible – unless we get to Phase IV in short order, which is doubtful – our Halloween event has given us much to think about, and we are committed to celebrating the holidays with our community.

(2) We will celebrate our veterans and our gratitude for their service to our community with some gifts to be provided to both the American Legion and the VFW by the City. Please join me on November 11th and say thank you to all those who have fought to protect the very freedoms under which we live. We also are launching our search for a new Veterans Service Officer and encourage anyone who is qualified to apply for the position. We will share hiring news in December.

(3) As we head towards the holiday season, I am encouraging our community to follow the example of Louann Santos. The most positive person in our community – Louann has stared the Positivity Challenge. I am going to participate and encourage you to do so as well.

(4) Since so much has been said and written regarding the executive session meeting on July 13th – when our city came under cyber-attack – and now that I have received a copy of the 26 minutes of available audio from that session -I’ve made it available on the city website under the Council Meeting minutes section from July13th. I encourage you to listen to it and end any speculation on what happened. It should be noted that our neighboring community, Salem NH, recently came under attack as well, but with much less fanfare from the local media.

(5) The end of November will bring the Methuen Police Audit to a conclusion. I pledge to share the results with the citizens and work to develop a plan to address any shortfalls or issues cited, while building upon any strengths observed.

It is November. I am thankful for the love of my family, of good friends, and for a community that I am proud to serve as mayor and call my home. I hope my actions every day make you thankful as well. Until next month, bless you and yours – enjoy a safe and healthy Thanksgiving, and remember, we are truly better together – so be kind to one another. ◊