PROGRESS

Let's Talk About Progress.

In spite of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, during my three terms in office, many issues have been addressed and the City of Gardner has experienced progress as outlined below.

• Solar Development

The City of Gardner will save over $1.1 million in electrical costs, gain over $1.2 million in land lease payments, and receive almost $500k in new taxes over 20 years from the new Solar Development project on West Street.

When the Commonwealth developed a Green Communities program, Gardner applied and received the designation. Grants funds totaling approximately $250k were awarded to the City to assist with our “green” initiatives. Not only does being “green” make financial sense it is good for our environment.

As part of the City's green initiatives, Gardner is in the process of constructing a 2.5 Megawatt solar facility behind the former landfill on West Street. This unused land will become a revenue generator for the City. A second facility on Mill Street, generating 0.8 Megawatts, is being developed in conjunction with the Gardner Redevelopment Authority and Boston Commonwealth Capital. The City will gain approximately $350k in taxes, and the Redevelopment Authority will receive approximately $350k in land lease revenue.  A local non-profit, yet to be named, will benefit from the discounted electricity that is produced.

• Parks & Playgrounds

Every single one of the City’s parks and playgrounds has been, or is slated to be, re-vitalized by the spring of 2014. New basketball courts, walking paths, playground equipment, tennis courts, benches and picnic areas have been, and are being, installed.

Two years ago we made the conscious decision to invest in our parks and playgrounds. We need decent and safe place for our children to play and create memories. This was an investment in the City of Gardner’s quality of life. To date the following improvements have been made. 
  • Bickford Playground: installed two new basketball courts, a volleyball court, new playground equipment, a quarter-mile walking path and a new parking lot 

  • Ovila Case Playground: resurfaced two tennis courts, installed a quarter-mile walking path, begun the lengthy process of re-building the Up Down All Around Fantasy Playground, installed a new parking lot, and just started rebuilding the softball field. 

  • Greenwood Playground: installed and re-worked the baseball field and fencing, developed a new basketball court, created a new parking area and are in the process of installing all new playground equipment. 

  • Pulaski Playground had the newest equipment but lacked some TLC. We have cleaned the park and delivered multiple loads of play sand. 

  • Jackson Playground: recently received a $65k grant for multiple improvements including ball-field work, playground equipment, and a new basketball court.

  • Monument Park: installed a new sidewalk, benches, and waste receptacles. 

  • Citywide Beautification: An aggressive tree-planting program is in the works.


• Senior Tax Aid

The City of Gardner established a Senior Tax Aid program. Eligible seniors can earn up to $750 off their annual real estate tax bill each year if they qualify. Download the application here to find out if you qualify: COA Volunteer Application.

The majority of communities across the Commonwealth provide a Senior Tax Aid program for income eligible seniors. Gardner had not had this program in place for a very long time. We reinstituted the program three years ago. The program offers up to a $750 rebate on your local real estate taxes for income eligible seniors in exchange for hours of “volunteerism” to the City. The program allows those on fixed incomes the opportunity to reduce their taxes while giving some of their time to the community. It’s a win-win proposition.

• Paving

Gardner has received a 50% increase in paving funds from the state due to continued advocacy by Mayor Hawke and others. In addition, Mayor Hawke was able to include $90k in the FY14 budget for additional paving funds. This is the first time in decades the City has budgeted for paving.

Ninety percent of all roads in the Commonwealth are maintained by Cities and Towns. When I took office in 2008 the City received about $400k in Chapter 90 funds for paving. At that rate the City was able to pave about 1 mile of road each year. Gardner has over 110 miles of roadway. In working with the Massachusetts Municipal Association, of which I am a Board member, we rallied municipal officials from across the state to lobby for increased Chapter 90 funds. Bringing this proposal to Beacon Hill, we were successful in getting the Legislature and Governor to back an increase in this funding in 2012. Gardner received over $600k in Chapter 90 funds, a 50% increase. In 2013 the Legislature unanimously agreed to increase this funding again, which would translate into $900k for the City of Gardner. Governor Patrick has yet to approve this additional funding. Additionally, 2013 represents the first time in the history of the City that we have budgeted for paving funds.

• Police Station

The construction of the Police Station does not add one penny to your taxes. The City will maintain its debt service payments at the same level for two years, after which payments will then begin to drop. 

The current police station was never meant to be a police station. It was a car dealership that is in a sick building. There is a tremendous water problem in the building which has led to mold and rot. When I took office, our debt payment was about $3.1 million. We have aggressively paid off our debt and reduced borrowing so that our current debt payment is about $2.1 million. This payment is scheduled to remain the same for 2 years and then begin to drop again. If taxes never increase again, we will still be able to afford this building. This building is an investment in our City. We need adequate facilities for our Police, Fire, Schools, and Municipal employees.

• Schools

The City has invested over $6.5 million in our schools infrastructure over the past two years, installing new roofs, windows, doors, heating systems, science labs, and playground equipment. Maintenance is less expensive than replacement.

Gardner is investing in our school buildings. Our newest school is now 16 years old. Our oldest school is almost 120 years old. We are making strategic investments in maintenance, improvements and upgrades. With the typical new school construction cost averaging in excess of $50 million, maintenance is truly less expensive than replacement. This is another targeted investment in our City’s quality of life. Good, safe and decent school buildings lend to a positive learning environment.

• Bond Rating

In 2008 the City’s Bond Rating (credit score) was “Baa1 with a negative outlook.” Today, Gardner is rated “A1 with a positive outlook.” This saves us money and is the product of sound financial planning.

A bond rating is like a credit score. The worst the rating, the higher the interest rate on any borrowing we do. The better the rating, the lower the interest rate will be. This saves the City tens of thousands each year. The “positive outlook” assignment is an indication from the rating company that they believe the City is in a positive financial place and that the economic development occurring in the City will continue. The rating company has praised the City’s financial management plan as well as its budgeting work.

• Economic Development

During the Great Recession of the past several years the City of Gardner has experienced more development than during any other 3-year period in decades. Recent developments include: Price Chopper, Super Walmart, 354 Main St. Professional Office building, Planet Fitness, Heywood Commons and almost 3.5 megawatts of solar arrays among others.

The Great Recession has wreaked havoc across the country and the world. Gardner was not immune to the repercussions of the recession, but due to our sound financial planning we were able to weather the storm and come out stronger than before.

The City has appointed its first ever Economic Development Coordinator. This position, initially funded entirely by grants, is tasked with being the key point of contact for all things related to economic development. The coordinator exhibits properties for sale and markets the City as a whole at trade shows; and is charged with applying for specific economic development grants. So far, we have been successful in reaping over $2 million in grant funding for economic development.

We have used every tool in our toolbox to work with existing companies and attract new ones to the City. We are competing against 350 other Massachusetts communities and Devens which is run by the Commonwealth's redevelopment authority, MassDevelopment.

• Taxes

Why do your taxes increase? 

This question always comes up and I want to address it here. The major situations that contributes to increased taxes is that while decreasing local aid to Gardner by nearly $2 million, the State has increased spending mandates for education and contributory retirement funding.

In Fiscal Year 2014, the State mandated that minimum school spending increase by $1.2 million. We received an additional $600k in Chapter 70 funds for education. The remaining $600k increase has to come from the City. In addition to the education increase, the City must meet the increase in mandated contribution to the retirement fund for public employees. The increase is approximately $175K per year.

Under Proposition 2½, a law passed in 1981 to limit the annual amount cities and towns are allowed raise property taxes per year, Gardner can only gain $500k from increased taxes in Fiscal Year 2014. Any additional mandated spending must come from cuts and efficiencies.

We have improved and continue to improve our efficiency; and have made some hard choices in terms of cutting costs. We continue to try to attract businesses and industry to Gardner to help improve our economic situation.