The annual Wounded Vet Bike Run motorcycle ride is scheduled for this Sunday, May 21. The ride begins in Revere at 1pm and should be in Melrose from approximately 1:30pm – 2:30pm.
The riders will enter Melrose on Washington St. near Oak Grove and travel north to Fellsway East and the Lynn Fells Parkway. From the Parkway, they will turn left on Main St. toward Wakefield.
The organizers expect to have several thousand motorcycles who are riding in honor of wounded veterans. Please be aware that this event, which is a fund-raiser for wounded veterans, may disrupt traffic, and plan to avoid these areas during that time.
The Melrose Pedestrian Bicycle Committee will be coordinating a coordinating a bicycle commuter convoy from Melrose to Boston on the morning of Friday, May 19th. These rides are well suited for all levels of experience, including anybody who has considered riding their bike to work in Boston in the morning but is concerned about the route or traffic and would like to try it as part of a group first.
This occasion will be part of Boston’s National Bike to Work Day Festival.
The group will leave at 7:00 am from the corner of Foster St and Main St in Melrose (by the YMCA), picking up more people at 7:15am at the intersection of Main St and the Northern Strand Trail in Malden, and more at 7:30 at the McDonald’s on Route 99 at Beacham St in Everett. They will arrive in City Hall Plaza, Boston at around 7:45, joining an end-of-ride festival.
To find out more, see the City of Boston Bike to Work Day page.
Everybody wants to live in Melrose, and that’s reflected in our property values: The value of an average single-family home has risen sharply, from $397,704 in 2011 to $500,780 in 2017.
This is evidence not only of our hard work but also that Melrose has the things people are looking for nowadays: We have good schools, beautiful parks, an excellent library, convenient access to transit, and most important, a strong sense of community.
At the same time, property taxes in Melrose are moderate: The average property tax bill for a single-family house this fiscal year is $5,909. That’s on a par with Wakefield and Stoneham, our immediate neighbors, and considerably lower than the average tax bill for communities such as Arlington, Belmont, and North Reading, which I would argue are a closer match to Melrose in terms of quality of homes and civic amenities.
This comes about because Proposition 2 ½ limits the amount that we can raise property taxes to 2 ½% of the total tax levy of the previous year, plus the value of any new construction. That means that the skyrocketing property values have not brought a substantial increase in tax revenues to the City. When property values go up, the tax rate must go down to maintain the balance required by law.
We recognize that a moderate tax rate is still not affordable for all our residents. We want our senior citizens to feel that they can stay here as long as they like, and for that reason, we offer an array of discounts as well as the tax work-off program, which allows seniors to reduce their tax bill by doing volunteer work for the city. In order to ensure that as many people as possible can access the benefits they are entitled two, we had two open-house events last year that offered “one-stop shopping” so seniors and others could sign up for all their discounts at once.
Melrose has a relatively small commercial tax base, about 5%, and that is not likely to grow much—nor do we want it to. We value our local businesses, but we also value our status as a primarily residential community, and I think we have the perfect balance between the two. Businesses do pay a higher tax rate, but again, that rate is moderate compared to those in surrounding communities.
Because of Proposition 2 ½, our revenues are capped, even as state and federal aid are declining. Communities with a lot of open space, or large business districts, can grow their budget by encouraging new development, but that’s not an option for Melrose—nor would we want it to be. The amount of land we have is limited, and any new development must be appropriate in terms of size and use, which limits the options even further.
Our 90th season continues with our annual Music Awards concert on Sunday, May 21, 2017, 3:00pm. Each year, the Society awards funds to talented high school students. This year the students auditioning are: Maria Tramantozzi, Voice and Piano, Sofia Quinci, Viola, John Patric Bulman, Trombone, Marie Svoboda, Violin and Piano. Performance interlude will be provided by Jackie Wattenberg, mezzo soprano, including a spiritual, Under the Cherry Trees (written by Jackie), and Those Were the Days. Please join us for refreshments following the program. Free will offering at the door benefits our Music Award Fund for students. We hope all members will come and hear our talented high school students auditioning at this meeting. Your vote is important. Partial funding for this concert was made possible by grants from the Melrose Cultural Council and the Melrose Messina Fund for the Arts. Beethoven Society concerts are held generally on the 3rd Sunday of the month at 3pm at Melrose Highlands Congregational Church, 355 Franklin Street, Melrose, MA. Handicap parking available at the back of the church.
Next Beethoven Society performance: June 11, 2017, “Return to Broadway”.
CDs of the February 2-piano, 8-hand concert are available for sale at the May concert. The price is $10. for members and $15 for non-members.
Polymnia Choral Society “Pops Concert”, “ABBA – PALOOZA,” featuring Broadway Star Danny Zolli, Sat. June 3rd at 7:30 pm, Memorial Hall 590 Main Street, Melrose. Table and Arena seating. Tickets: Online at www.polymnia.org. Miter Biter, 479 Main St., Melrose. Refreshments served at tables and GAR Hall during intermission.
Welcome home Desert Storm veterans and MVMMS Operation Recognition students!
3rd Grader Jude Lowery accompanied his father, Desert Storm and Coast Guard veteran Matt Lowery, on Operation Recognition. This annual trip for Melrose vets is an intergenerational program led by MVMMS students and the Melrose Veterans Office, Veterans Advisory Board, and Melrose Vets Project!
Special thanks to Melrose High School history teacher Lisa Lord, Veterans Services Officer Alicia Reddin, Advisory Board Chair Lt. Col. USAF Bob Driscoll, and Veterans Services Officer Ryan McLane for making this trip a fantastic community tradition, incredible educational opportunity, and another way to say thank you to those that have served our nation.
As I mentioned in my State of the City address, the City of Melrose is now fully funding our Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator. This critically important position is no longer dependent on grants for support. The opioid epidemic affects all ages, and while our focus remains primarily on the schools, and prevention, we are able to offer services to other groups as well.
One of the services we launched earlier this year is the Interface Helpline, which provides referrals to mental health providers. Any Melrose resident can call 617-332-3666, ext. 1411, or 1-888-244-6842, ext. 1411, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. A mental health professional will help them find resources that will work for their situation; the service is free and completely confidential.
Another part of our strategy is having a full time Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator. Today I want to introduce you to Kathy Guevara, the city’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator, who is responsible for oversight of the Substance Abuse Coalition, helping residents who are struggling with addiction and substance use and serving as a consultant, treatment provider, and resource to the Middle and High School staff, parents, and students.
Guevara has offices in Melrose High School and at the Health Department at City Hall. She collaborates very closely with the principals, assistant principals, guidance counselors, and School Resource Officers at the middle school and high school. She also works closely with former assistant principal Bob Savarino, who is the Youth Coordinator. Together, Guevara and Savarino guide the Youth Action Team, a group of high school students who educate their peers about substance abuse through various preventive strategies. One of their means of communication is a bit unorthodox: They create a one page newsletter called “The NewsFlush” that is posted in the school bathrooms in conspicuous spots.
In April, the “NewsFlush” was about alcohol, which Guevara says continues to be widely abused among high schoolers. “With teens, who are just getting or have their driver’s licenses, I talk about what the consequences could be from both a legal and emotional standpoint” she says. “Imagine if you are responsible for the death of your friend because you made bad decisions one night after drinking alcohol.”
Guevara also provides something that many students need: She is a trusted adult who is not their parent. She meets with individual students on a regular or drop-in basis, and she also has a group in the middle school where the students simply talk about the issues that are going on in their lives. She is a consultant and resource to all the school staff in regards to both substance abuse and mental health issues.
While the number of teenagers and young adults who are abusing opiates in Melrose is down Guevara says, alcohol continues to be widely abused and vaping or the use of e-cigs are on an increasingly scary rise.”
One of her goals for this year is to work on implementing a new youth diversion program. The program will help nonviolent first offenders avoid court proceedings and the potential of a criminal record. Instead, the youth agree to the terms of a contract that is about 6 months long. The program requires both the youth and their parent to be educated and learn interventions to prevent substance abuse. The contract may, for example, require the youth to write an essay about how their behavior impacted them and or their families or to “give back” to the community by doing some community service. “It’s an evidence-based treatment model,” she says. “It covers better decision-making, really thinking about the choices one has to make, and learning refusal skills and coping skills. The program is also designed to identify youth who may be developing a substance use disorder and assist them with identifying the need for treatment.”
In the end, Guevara says, the best preventative measure is old-fashioned communication and setting expectations from care providers. “The number one thing to prevent substance use is for parents to have open communication with their kids and have expectations for their behavior,” she says. “Let your children know how disappointed you would be if you found out they were using drugs or alcohol. Evidence shows that is the number one intervention: Parents having relationships with their kids and talking to their kids and saying ‘I have this expectation for you.'”
For more information about how to get involved with the coalition or the Diversion program please contact Guevara at 781-979-4130.
BabySongs featuring Jessica Buster will provide the entertainment for this month’s Melrose Kids Club on Friday, May 12, from 10-11 a.m. at Memorial Hall.
Local Melrose mama Jessica Buster began BabySongs five years ago, creating a community of other parents and caretakers who gathered together with their small people to sing and swap songs. Eventually Jessica was asked to lead regular sing-alongs and performances in venues around town, including the public library, the YMCA, and Lilah-Rose, the children’s boutique on Main Street. Her engaging style is informal and welcoming, and her repertoire includes old favorites and more unusual offerings, traditional folk songs, participatory movement songs, puppets, and the use of song-based picture books.
Carbs, Fats and Proteins Oh My!
So much misinformation. What works for weight loss? What is important in athletic performance?
Date: Tuesday, May 9th
Time: 7:00pm – 8:30pm
Location: Memorial Hall
Open to ALL ages
Admission is FREE
Presenter Jenine Wright:
Jenine Wright has her Masters in Exercise Physiology and is a Nutrition Educator. She is a Certified Exercise Physiologist and a Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist through American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Jenine has worked with a diverse population including high school, college, professional athletes and has trained at the Olympic center in Lake Placid.
Here is my Fiscal 2018 Budget Address, which I presented to a joint meeting of the Board of Aldermen and the School Committee last night.
Good evening. Tonight I present the FY 18 City of Melrose budget in the amount of $77,397,009.19. This represents a consistent practice of conservative budgeting during my term as Mayor and in fact, with a 2.75% increase, this is the smallest percentage increase in City spending since FY 14.
This is a balanced budget that was developed using a combination of efficiencies, diversified revenue sources, and reductions. The majority of the increases we see in this budget reflect school spending, health insurance costs, contracted salaries and wages, and necessary operational adjustments.
This budget also represents the most transparent budget in the city’s history. It does not irresponsibly compromise reserves. It reflects the will of the people regarding staying at our levy limit and follows our ten principles of sound management that we have been practicing for the past 15 years.
Although a variety of constraints present operational challenges, this city clearly is moving forward with many important initiatives, and I must be clear: The challenging times that we faced in the past never prevented this administration from taking on major issues in this community head-on and finding solutions. We have found solutions to problems in the worst of times that were never solved in the best of times. That is going to continue, and I would like to focus on that this evening.
- I will submit to the Board of Aldermen 0% increases in water and sewer volumetric rates. Furthermore, there will be no increase in ambulance rates. The challenges of water and sewer rates are not simply a Melrose issue. They are a burden shared by the 55 cities and towns under the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. We have two obligations when it comes to water and sewer rates: Our rate structure must be legal under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the amount of revenue attained through this rate formula must meet our fiduciary obligation to the MWRA and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. This Board of Aldermen has learned in the past that when the rates do not meet that financial obligation, the Department of Revenue will come to Melrose, as they did a few years ago, and demand that we institute conservative practices to ensure the solvency of both the water and the sewer fund. The steps we have taken to manage water and sewer rates are absolutely working. They are not driven by politics or quick, easy fixes. Although 0% increases are rare, this year’s rates are driven by three circumstances:
- Due to last year’s drought, the MWRA has brought on many additional communities on a one-time basis. As a result of these additional members, this year’s MWRA rate increase was lower than usual.
- We have successfully completed our reserve plan one year early, in four years instead of five. These reserves are critically important to the long term stability of rates and the financial health of the program. Due to meeting our goal, there is no need to raise rates to meet this obligation.
- We have been able to cut indirect costs by 6.5% in both the water and sewer budgets. This was a goal we set out last year, and we have achieved it.
Our collective actions have set up water and sewer rates for greater rate stability in the future, not only for the aforementioned reasons but also because we have now fully begun the multi-year I & I program, which will reap great benefits. We have also made great gains with the new water meter installation program, which has reduced estimated reads, allows us to track illegal hookups and losses in water, and allows us to begin an opt-in program for monthly billing.
- This budget represents Year One of a major three-year road program for the City of Melrose. Over the past year our engineering team has done a comprehensive study of our City’s streets and has ranked them based on need for repair as well as anticipated utility and water work. This program touches every corner of the city and will also include a new state program, Complete Streets. The goal of the Complete Streets program is to improve and connect roads and sidewalks for all modes of transportation and for all ages. The Complete Streets program is a partnership between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and municipalities, and we will be very aggressive in pursuing the funding available over the coming year. Major targeted areas include intersections, school neighborhoods, and business districts, schools, and other community meeting places. Beginning this month, the City of Melrose will be convening a working group to help identify and prioritize up to 15 Complete Street projects that we will submit to the state for funding as part of this initiative.
- This budget includes increased downtown parking. Over the last year, we have made great strides in improving downtown parking with the expansion of the Dill’s Court lot, which added 23 spaces. We also partnered with the Chamber of Commerce to implement a parking plan that places emphasis on customers for prime parking and greater turnover of spaces, eliminating abuse of the previous parking permits. In addition, I am happy to report tonight that we have reached an agreement in principle with the Archdiocese of Boston to add 19 additional spaces to downtown parking. I will submit this agreement to the Board of Aldermen for approval, and it is funded in this budget.
- Bids have come in, money has been approved, and construction has begun on the expansion of the Winthrop and Hoover schools and the renovation of the Horace Mann elementary school. Included in this project is significant site work in all three schools as well as improved handicap accessibility and greater educational equity. When summer turns to fall, we will deliver a top-notch product of great quality and on budget. With kindergarten placement complete, we continue to see classes well over 300, which will continue to present an operational and financial challenge with regard to hiring staff. This is clearly not a bubble but a trend, which shows the health and collective success of a community that is desirable to families and a place where people want to raise and educate their children.
- One year ago we announced the formation of a Public Safety Building Committee, which included citizens and public safety officials, chaired by former Fire Chief John O’Brien; President Conn and I also both serve on the committee. We began the process of bringing to this Board and the community a solution to the issue of a police and fire station that are both over 100 years old. I am pleased to announce that the committee has narrowed the selection process to two architectural firms. In the coming weeks, a firm will be chosen. They will present a set of possible solutions in the fall. The committee will then deliberate and recommend a solution to be presented to this Board of Aldermen for public dialogue and debate, with the final decision to be made by the citizens of Melrose.
I am also excited about the following initiatives in 2018, which include
- A Citizens Academy, which will increase civic engagement;
- The launch of an online building permit system, which will allow homeowners and contractors to start filling out building permit applications 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and a software system that will allow online payments for building permits, live tablet inspections by staff, and online permit inquiries;
- The opening of the community garden in June, which will allow people who don’t have yards of their own to have gardens and will improve the health of all Melrosians;
- Planting of nearly 100 trees citywide;
- The construction of a World War II monument at the Knoll this fall;
- The improvements to the soccer field at the West Knoll;
- Using the funds from the National Grid Energy Challenge that the citizens of Melrose completed, we will see solar lighting at the dog park, a solar powered bench at Melrose Common that will allow people to charge their devices, a solar water-filling station at Fred Green Field, and the retrofitting of a DPW vehicle to reduce emissions;
- In partnership with the Northern Bank, a new handicap accessible senior shuttle;
- In partnership with the Friends of the Milano Center, renovation of the second-floor classroom of the Milano Center, as well as full exterior painting;
- A partnership between the library and the Council on Aging to bring books to homebound seniors;
- An upgraded City of Melrose website;
- Release of the new Master Plan;
- New solar-powered speed signals on Howard, Upham, and Franklin streets and West Wyoming Avenue;
- Completion of the wiring upgrade in our public schools to provide reliable WiFi to all students in all classes and allow them to implement computer-based testing for MCAS.
As we complete Fiscal Year 2017, it is my professional obligation as Mayor and chief executive of this City to advise you of the quite obvious challenges that are before us. I have said for years, and it has never been truer than it is now, that the state and federal government are withdrawing from cities and towns. The federal government provides $2.2 million in direct aid to the City of Melrose. Most of it goes to helping those most in need: special education students, the free and reduced lunch programs, and mandates. As that money goes away, there is nothing to replace it.
Congress is debating a new health care bill that has the potential to blow a multi-billion dollar hole in the State Budget. These are not my words, but those of our Governor, Charlie Baker. There is no question education and municipal budgets will suffer to close this gap. Current State revenues are $462 million below projections with only two months remaining in the current fiscal year. This means spending is on track to exceed revenue by nearly a half billion dollars. And with the Massachusetts Senate deliberating on the FY18 state budget next, their projections will need to be readjusted and tough decisions will absolutely need to be made.
Every year, increased state assessments chip away at our local aid, and unfunded mandates continue to grow. That includes this coming Fiscal Year: Our total state aid increased by $206,652, but almost half of that is eaten up by an increase in assessments of $92,751, which leaves the city with just over a 1% increase in state aid over the current fiscal year. I do not anticipate anything stopping this trend, and neither should you. Local aid makes up 18% of our budget and there is no money to replace this loss or to pay for new unfunded mandates.
Let it be known that the City of Melrose budget is balanced. Our revenue projections are accurate. Our spending is in line with those revenues and we have positioned ourselves with reasonable reserves to maintain our strong bond rating.
Let no one in this room think that this year’s school budget did not include real pain. Not only the pain of eliminating needed positions but the inability of our public schools to reach their fullest potential, due to the need for increased staff, particularly at Melrose High School. The predominant reason for this is we are spending the majority of our money to address the needs of increased populations in K through 3 that require us to hire additional staff. Almost all our money is going to address that issue as well as providing our teachers with a modest and well deserved raise.
As someone who has developed and implemented budgets for many years, I have managed through very difficult times and some good times. We have never been on our own more than we are today. I have also never seen as much instability at both the federal and state levels of government as I do today. These are the realities. The answer is not always that we need to tighten our belt or do things in a different way. We have been tightening our belts for 16 years. We have reinvented this city in a hundred different ways to make it more efficient, and that has allowed us to survive and made us the most desirable community in Massachusetts, by all indicators.
Did we get through this year and does this budget get us through the next? We did, and it does. But these trends are real. This is a solutions-based business and a results-based business. And those who stand for office this year must focus on solutions, not cliché or ideology. My administration has delivered results and solutions for over a decade, and we have a lot more to give, but we need your help—the people in this chamber who are elected and the people who are at home. It has never been harder, and it won’t get easier.
The budget process is now in the hands of the Board of Aldermen, as the legislative body of the city. Once the budget is passed, this is not the end of the process but the beginning of a new year. And like every new year, there are new resolutions and opportunities, but it can never be forgotten that the process must always be guided by the citizens of our great City.
I thank each of you for your service to our city, and I offer this budget for your consideration and passage.