A New Year, A New Decade
By Gregory T. Federspiel
A new year – indeed a new decade: what lies ahead for our community? Before we get too swept up in the day to day work of running the Town it is worth reflecting on what the priorities are. How have we advanced our collective needs recently and what are we likely to focus on in the coming months and years?
Taking stock of our needs and prioritizing necessary capital projects has been a major emphasis over the last few years. After extensive community input, the Planning Board adopted a new master plan. Three key community priorities emerged: preserving our important natural resources, diversifying our housing stock, and growing our commercial tax base by allowing well-planned development in the areas north of both interchanges off Route 128.
Advancing these three priorities will receive considerable attention in the months ahead. Efforts will continue to 1) conserve a major portion of the Town's "western woods", a 500 acre area of undeveloped lands, 2) expand housing options in collaboration with the Housing Authority and through revised zoning regulations, and 3) pursue more flexible development guidelines while still protecting natural resource attributes in the Limited Commercial District that lies to the north of Route 128.
After years of lagging behind, our capital improvement plan has expanded significantly. We are making major improvements in our basic infrastructure as we replace water and sewer pipes, repave roads and sidewalks and invest in our drainage systems which are ill-prepared for the larger storms we are beginning to experience. We plan on continuing these more aggressive capital investments in the years ahead. One new study about to get underway is to explore the feasibility of connecting our sewer system to Beverly's system and thus avoiding the need to repair, fortify and maintain our own sewer treatment plant.
Meeting the needs of our fastest growing cohort, residents over 60, requires us to rethink the role of our Council on Aging and the spaces we provide for a host of needed programming for our older residents. Voters will likely be requested to approve the purchase of the Cornerstone Church at 20 School Street come the spring Town Meeting. We anticipate raising the funds to renovate the interior through private donations. The building will be able to host an expanded array of programming for young and old alike and has the potential to become an important center of community activity.
A possible new Harbormaster Office and Maritime Center either in Reed or Masconomo Parks along the harbor shoreline will be debated over the next few months as well. The harbor is one of the Town's largest generators of jobs and revenues - improving it to ensure its viability is important to the Town's future.
While our finances remain relatively strong, a possible weakening economy and the continuing challenges the school district faces maintaining their current services within the revenue generation limitations of Proposition 2 1/2 will stress our fiscal resources. Similarly, as the new decade unfolds, the cost of adapting to the new realities presented by rising seas and larger storms will present a new host of challenges for us. A larger commercial tax base, focused on lands to the north of Route 128, may provide the needed new revenues while relieving homeowners of some of the tax burden.
As always, there are plenty of topics that need our attention as we start a new year. With thoughtful input from residents, we will address these challenges and more in the months ahead.