WOBURN - Though Woburn is in good shape financially, Mayor Scott Galvin warned that issues with the federal and state economies could have a negative impact on the city’s finances.
During his State-of-the-City address at last night’s City Council meeting, Galvin touted the city’s $8 million in free cash, reduced residential property taxes and water and sewer rates, and Aa2 bond rating.
“In spite of our solid financial position, however, I remain vigilantly cautious as we start this new year. The potential effect of political gridlock in Washington D.C., and the uncertainty surrounding the effects of recent fiscal cliff negotiations is troubling and could have a major effect on our local economy and tax revenues,” said Galvin.
“At the state level, we were recently notified of 9C cuts to our local aid, and reductions in circuit breaker and reimbursement for homeless transportation that we had planned to receive when we prepared our FY 2013 budget,” added the mayor.
Galvin’s address, given at the outset of the first council meeting of the new year, lasted about 15 minutes and also highlighted the advances the city has made in the realms of public safety, education, recreation and energy.
“As we begin the year 2013, I am pleased to report that we continue to solidify our financial position while still delivering the highest quality services to the residents of Woburn,” said Galvin.
The mayor said he would work with the City Council and the School Committee to maintain a conservative financial approach, while introducing cost-saving measures that account for the likelihood of reduced local aid and less tax receipts.
Galvin noted the city would continue to “aggressively explore” refinancing its debt, which he said has saved $500,000 thus far. He touted “energy upgrade investments” in City Hall and the Woburn Police station have resulted in savings of $160,000, with estimated annual energy cost savings of $30,500.
Woburn has also entered into a collaborative with four other communities to replace the lighting in the city’s street lights with light-emitting diodes, resulting in an expected annual savings of $70,000. The solar panels at the North Woburn landfill are also expected to save $200,000 in energy costs per year. The solar energy project will be put out to bid by the end of March, the mayor said.
Galvin said the implementation of the new Citi-Stat program has allowed the city to better track and maintain its public safety and other municipal resources. Citi-Stat “tracks and analyzes data relates to how a municipal department operates, and helps identify areas where they excel, along with suggested areas of improvement,” the mayor said.
In conjunction with Citi-Stat, the city will offer an application that will allow smart phone users to report neighborhood issues like graffiti or potholes directly to the appropriate city departments. The program is being funded by a state grant.
There are two capital improvements currently taking place at the police station - the repair of the original roof, which Galvin said was “completed on time and under budget,” and the installation of a new dispatch center that complies with new federal requirements. The project, for which $750,000 was budgeted - is nearly complete.
Citing the school shooting last month in Newtown, Conn., Galvin said the local response to the tragedy by school and public safety officials reassured Woburn parents that their children are safe in the schools.
The mayor noted Woburn has been invited by the Mass. School Building Authority to participate in the first phase of the process toward the construction of a new Hurld/Wyman Elementary School.
The introduction of the virtual Edline system has allowed teachers, students and parents to communicate better, and the school system’s provision of in-house special education services has been expanded, the mayor said.
Galvin noted the 40 students in the Joyce Middle School who participated in a math and science testing program in which Massachusetts’ eight graders placed first in the U.S. and fifth internationally.
Galvin also cited “comprehensive offerings” at Woburn High, including academics, athletics, fine arts and a “wide range of clubs and activities.”
“Particularly important is that our educators have created a learning experience and environment that has encouraged our students to become engaged in the community through numerous events and fundraisers that benefit worthy causes and those in need,” said Galvin.
Galvin touted the addition of a new Wellness Coordinator position in the Recreation Dept., and the progress toward the construction of an athletic field at Whispering Hill in West Woburn. Galvin said the city expects to award the contract for the field and begin construction this month, weather-permitting.
Spence Farm, purchased under the Galvin administration, continues to see “strong activity,” with a weekly farmers market and events like Oktoberfest and a monthly recycling drive.
Galvin said Woburn continues to be an attractive location for business, primarily due to its proximity to two major highways and a competitive tax rate.
“However, a new business interested in the 128/93 beltway has numerous attractive options to consider. In this increasingly competitive environment, we must continue to explore additional ways to attract businesses to locate in our commercial districts, and expand our commercial tax base,” said Galvin.
He added he has scheduled a meeting with the executive director of Mass. Housing and Economic Development to discuss a tax incentive program that will enhance the local economy with new jobs and business growth.
“Our hallmark here in Woburn is found in the hard work and leadership of city and school officials, business owners, civic and other organizations who work together to ensure Woburn remains progressive, prosperous, affordable, and dedicated to one another,” said the mayor.