Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller emphasized the importance of the upcoming override vote and reflected on the past year within the city during her sixth annual State of the City Address on Tuesday night.
“Thanks to all our members, the state of the city of Newton is strong, and together, we will make it even stronger,” Fuller said.
Fuller said the city has made numerous accomplishments over the past year. She highlighted public works projects, economic mobility initiatives, efforts in cultural inclusivity, and the work of the Newton Police Department as ways in which the city has improved over the past year.
She also celebrated the city’s use of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and said despite the funds’ inability to completely cover COVID-19 related losses, the money has been critical to maintaining the city’s fiscal health.
“These dollars contributed mightily to this recovery,” Fuller said. “ARPA funds are now almost fully allocated and thus not part of our budget calculations going forward.”
Fuller said the passage of the upcoming override vote on the proposed $15 million tax increase is crucial to covering rising operating costs with the increased tax revenue and promises efficient expenditure of the funds. Residents will participate in the override vote at a special election on March 14.
“We’re always seeking efficiencies to squeeze and stretch our tax dollars further,” Fuller said. “When squeezing and stretching teeters on the edge of compromising and cutting critical programs and services, we turn to you, our residents, to make the decision.”
She pointed to the override’s potential impact on Newton Public Schools (NPS). Two of the three ballot questions concern debt exclusion overrides to fund NPS, and a significant portion of the $9.2 million from the operating override will go toward NPS.
“Seventy-five percent of the dollars in the override proposal are for our schools, our school buildings, and our 11,700 students,” she said.
Fuller said the city is aware it is facing a housing crisis and is looking to combat it. She detailed the city’s progress thus far, including the approval of West Newton Armory’s conversion into affordable housing, the new senior living community Haywood House, and rezoning efforts by Newton’s Zoning and Planning Committee.
“Not just Massachusetts, but Newton, is in the throes of a housing crisis with crazy high costs,” Fuller said. “And I’m glad that we are finding ways to help people find a place to live.”
Fuller acknowledged the need for improvements in Newton’s roads and sidewalks. While progress has already been made on streets such as Washington Street, Watertown Street, and Chestnut Street, the override will help continue the work the city has already done, according to Fuller.
“The override will secure annual funding to allow us to shift from reactive repairs to preventative maintenance on our roads and sidewalks,” she said. “Guaranteed funds will allow us to improve our pavement condition index by at least another 10 points. ”
In regards to families with financial concerns regarding a tax raise, Fuller encouraged residents to call Newton City Hall to inquire about tax assistance programs.
“I will remain steadfast in my commitment to deliver high-quality public services and programs to you, our residents and businesses,” Fuller said. “We will continuously push to improve how we deliver our work. We will invest each taxpayer dollar carefully and transparently.”
Fuller said environmental concerns are a key issue for the city. She emphasized her continued commitment to Newton’s sustainability efforts.
“Our electricity aggregation program using power choice now delivers 80 percent renewable energy as our default electricity supply, the highest level in the Commonwealth,” Fuller said. “We delivered this free power, while this winter saving people hundreds of dollars on their electricity bills.”
Fuller said she has immense pride in the Newton community and encouraged support for the override vote as she closed her speech.
“Let future generations look back at this moment in Newton’s history with pride,” Fuller said. “Let them see this generation is one that invested to make our community even stronger. So let me close exactly where I started: what a joy and what a privilege it is for us to live here in Newton, Massachusetts.”