The Budget, Going Back to School and Covid ~ METHUEN MAYOR’S REPORT From the Pages of The Valley Patriot

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Methuen Mayor Neil Perry

It hardly seems possible, but we’re on to August! Time is flying by and there’s a great deal to talk about, so let’s get at it.

We start with the FY’21 Budget.

The Good: I’m pleased that we were able to pass a budget that is fiscally conservative, and that many of the departments were able to stand fast with the budgets I had recommended. A great deal of thanks goes to the city unions and employees who made concessions, and the department heads that allowed this budget to be crafted.

The Not So Good: Politics reared its ugly head with council cuts only aimed at specific people (in my office) and an attempted power play (refusal to fund assistant solicitor unless I ceded the position to the council.) The first was focused on developing business in the city and attending to major projects, and the second was working fine – neither new positions; but the council felt the need to initiate a power play. In the long run, in my view – we all lose with these two cuts.

Someday, we will learn to put our differences aside and truly do what is best for the City – no matter who it is.

Important Fact to Know: We ended FY’20 with the City $2.8M in the black. That will be added to our free cash, giving us $5.6M – not as much as we should have, but doubling our total. My thanks to my entire team, the department heads and the CAFO especially, for helping me provide a laser focus on fiscal responsibility. And for the record, our goal is to further boost that number whenever possible, since we do not yet know what our funding from the state will be nor if the pandemic will make a significant return.

The School Re-Opening Plan.

The Good: The MPS administration and staff led by Superintendent Kwong have put a great deal of time and effort into developing a range of options (remote, hybrid, in-person) for starting the school year which gives a great deal of information to parents, school committee members and teachers and staff. The recommendation is for a hybrid approach with several phases identified by date and/or time, and in school education for our populations that most need it. Details of the plan can be viewed online:

The Not So Good: the School Committee is being asked to vote on the recommended plan or alternate without clearly understanding the exact number of teachers or students that will return or choose an alternate methodology due to the timing required by DESE for the plan. We also need more detailed information about how teachers will teach remotely with Google Classrooms, and how the technology will work for all students. This, plus the requirement for a one-time binding choice by parents, is concerning, to say the least. It is hard enough to make this decision with all the facts; in this case much more discussion is required.

Finally, we discuss the state of COVID and the “Stop the Spread Program”

The Good: The Governor announced that via the Stop the Spread Program, Methuen is one of the groups of the next eight cities to get free COVID testing from the state. This is welcome support from the state, allowing us to get in front of the spread of the virus by offering free testing to all Massachusetts residents through August 14. Here in Methuen, simply go to HERE  for more info or call one of our two testing centers, AFC Urgent Care (978-975-0300) or GLFHC (978-686-0090) to schedule an appointment between now and August 14th.

The Not So Good: Immediately, some in the community were concerned about why Methuen was selected for participation. While our numbers remain low, the metrics considered by the state qualified us for participation. I urge you to get tested. Please. Continue to wear the masks. We cannot afford the numbers to climb back to where they were in April; regardless of your age, wear a mask and maintain physical distance. The disease is still a great risk.

There are a lot of good things happening in Methuen: this month will see the completion of the newly re-done outside track at Nicholson Stadium, and last Friday night I had the pleasure of taking part in the 149th Methuen High School Graduation.

It was a moving event and I applaud the efforts of Superintendent Kwong, Principal Barden, Ms. Thomas, and their team in giving this class the event they deserved despite the challenges and obstacles to do so. I also commend the adaptability of the graduates and their families in following the guidelines and ensuring a successful event. Congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2020 on this important milestone, and great job by all!

Methuen Mayor Neil Perry is in the first year of a two-year term as Mayor of Methuen. You can email him at ◊