Let's Talk About Progress.

In spite of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, during Mayor Hawke's terms in office, many issues have been addressed and the City of Gardner has experienced progress as demonstrated below.

• Municipal Aggregation

Residents of the City of Gardner have saved over $640,000 in 2018 due to municipal aggregation.

By taking advantage of the mass buying power of all the residents of the City on the National Grid Basic Utility rate, the City was able to procure an electric KwH rate lower than the National Grid Basic Utility rate.  We locked this rate in for two years and saved our residents hundreds of thousands of dollars.  We recently locked in another rate for three years.  If the National Grid rate is ever lower, you can simply opt out of the program at any time with no penalties.  Then, if the National Grid rate goes higher, you can simply opt back in, again, with no penalties. 

• 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 funds in every budget since FY14 for additional paving funds. This is the first time the City has budgeted for paving from the general fund.

Ninety percent of all roads in the Commonwealth are maintained by Cities and Towns. When he took office in 2008 the City received about $400k in Chapter 90 funds for paving. At that rate the City was able to pave just over 1 mile of road each year. Gardner has over 110 miles of roadway. In working with the Massachusetts Municipal Association, of which he is a Board member and immediate Past President, municipal officials from across the state rallied to lobby for increased Chapter 90 funds. Bringing this proposal to Beacon Hill, they 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. A concerted effort was made, not only to lobby for additional paving funds from your gas tax, but the City has also budgeted additional paving funds from the general fund and made even more funds available from our certified Free Cash for paving.

• Schools

For the first time ever, the City has been able to invest in our schools over the mandated Net School Spending amount. 

Starting in FY17 the City budgeted funds over the minimum mandated Net School Spending.  The City has been able to increase this investment annually and is now budgeting over $1 million over Net School Spending in order to fund our schools appropriately.

The City has invested over $7 million in our schools infrastructure over the past six years, installing new roofs, windows, doors, heating systems, science labs, pavement, athletic fields and playground equipment. Maintenance is less expensive than replacement.

Gardner is investing in our school buildings. Our newest school was built in 1996. Our oldest school is almost 100 years old. We are making strategic investments in maintenance, improvements and upgrades. This is another targeted investment in our City’s quality of life. Good, safe and decent school buildings lend to a positive learning environment. 

The City has been accepted into the MSBA New School Building Grant Program in order to build a new elementary school.

Gardner has never built an elementary school.  A single new elementary school will combine two older antiquated buildings into one school and allow for an appropriate sized 21st century learning environment.  We are eligible for 80% reimbursement (the highest possible rate) on eligible costs which will likely net out to about 60% as not all costs are eligible. 

• Bond Rating

In 2008 the City’s Bond Rating (credit score) was “Baa1 with a negative outlook.” Today, Gardner is rated “AA- with a stable 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

Following the Great Recession the City of Gardner experienced more development than during any other period in decades. Recent developments include: 99 Restaurant & Pub, Timpany Crossroads Development, Concord Electric, Price Chopper, Super Walmart, 354 Main St. Professional Office building, Planet Fitness, Heywood Commons and over 5 megawatts of solar arrays among others.

The Great Recession 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 appointed its first ever Economic Development Coordinator during this time. 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 $3 million in grant funding for economic development.

The City has used every tool in our toolbox to work with existing companies and attract new ones to the City. Gardner is 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. The major situations that contribute to increased taxes is that while decreasing local aid to Gardner by nearly $775,000 since FY09, 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. The City 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 $675k from increased taxes in Fiscal Year 2020. Any additional mandated spending must come from cuts and efficiencies.

The City has improved, and continues to improve, our efficiency; and has 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.

Parks & Playgrounds

Every single one of the City’s parks and playgrounds has been re-vitalized. New basketball courts, walking paths, playground equipment, tennis courts, benches and picnic areas have been installed. The City has also been able to re-establish a summer program for kids.

We made the conscious decision to invest in our parks and playgrounds. We needed decent and safe places 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 rebuilt 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 installed all new playground equipment. 
  • Pulaski Playground: had the newest playground equipment, but needed some TLC. We also installed a new Dog Park and an approximate 1/4 mile walking path around the perimeter.
  • Jackson Playground: all new playground equipment, a new basketball court, refurbishment of the softball field and a new skate park.
  • Monument Park: installed a new sidewalk, benches, and waste receptacles. 
  • Citywide Beautification: An aggressive tree-planting program is ongoing and we partnered with MWCC to have art students paint the electrical boxes around the City.

In addition, the City has been able to fund a Recreation Director and summer activities for our City's youth.

• 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.

• 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.

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. 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.