2020 State of the Town Address
January 7, 2020
I now have the privilege of delivering the State of the Town address, reflecting on key 2019 accomplishments and the vision we've worked to set in motion for our future.
First and foremost, I'm happy to report that the state of our Town is strong! We have an immensely bright future, which is a reflection of the contributions of our resident volunteers and Town employees, many of whom are here tonight.
When I took office two years ago, I committed to focusing on the following four key priorities:
- Maintain strong fiscal oversight
- Chart a vision for Westfield's future
- Champion quality of life issues
- Increase resident engagement
As your full-time volunteer Mayor, these priorities remain the guiding principles of my administration. I'm very proud of how much progress we've made in addressing these priorities, and would like to share a few 2019 highlights:
- Achieved first 0% municipal tax increase
- Maintained a robust $9.5mm budget surplus and AAA bond rating, while making sound investments in our future
- Paved 20 miles of roads, the most in Town history
- Completed the Master Plan Reexamination, Parks Strategic Plan, and Bike and Pedestrian Plan, which, combined, represent an unprecedented holistic road map for our Town driven by robust public input
- Successfully lobbied for restoration of RVL off-peak one-seat rides, and prioritized our fight for better service and peak one-seat rides
- Introduced policy improvements to incentivize Downtown business climate, and saw the opening of 23 new businesses in 2019 alone
- Introduced a significant number of community events including our second annual AddamsFest, as well as our first MultiCultural Festival, Chili and Chowder Cookoff, and two movie nights, to name a few
- Implemented numerous new Green Team initiatives, paving the way to becoming a leading sustainable community
- Planted over 900 trees, the most in Westfield's history, and strengthened our tree protection ordinance
- Received $935,000 in grants, almost doubling what we've historically received on average
There is a much more exhaustive list of accomplishments that can be found on the Town website, but I prefer to spend my time this evening focusing on our future.
This year, we'll be commemorating the 300th anniversary of our Town's settlement in 1720, while also embarking on a new vision for Westfield's future. In addition to the solid progress we've made to date on multiple fronts, we've also spent the last two years collecting your input to lay the groundwork for the exciting yet challenging decisions that are to come. We've listened, and this Council is now prepared to act.
And so tonight, I'd like to talk about change, and what that means for us as a community. For those worried about the state of our downtown, change hasn't been happening fast enough. For others, when it comes to areas like development, change is happening too abruptly.
Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, we can all agree that change is both hard and inevitable. It's how we decide to address it that will define us. We can choose to ignore change, and let circumstances drive our outcome, or we can accept, embrace and plan for it to help ensure that we control our own destiny.
Not only do I prefer the latter, but it also represents a hallmark of my approach to problem-solving. From my many interactions with residents, I think most of you prefer this proactive approach as well. To that end, we must work together to build on the progress we've made these past two years for Westfield to become:
- An inclusive community where young couples can afford to put down roots, empty nesters can afford to stay, and our children's children will want to call home
- A community that cherishes its remarkable past and historical character, while embracing the future and the change that inevitably comes with it
- A community that preserves its green and open spaces, while providing more fields and recreation opportunities for youth and adults alike
- A community with a vibrant, walkable downtown where you can meet up with your neighbors in new public spaces, have options to live and work downtown, and enjoy a thriving restaurant, arts and culture scene anchored by a reimagined, multi-purpose Rialto
- A community that finally addresses long-standing challenges that impede progress, including infrastructure, parking, traffic, and walkability
Based on your input into the recently adopted Master Plan Reexamination, this is the future that you, our residents, envisioned for Westfield. This vision wasn't imagined by a select few, but rather by consensus from the public at large, and this is the year when we will determine how best to achieve it.
I'm certain we all agree on a top priority, that we can't rely on raising property taxes to deliver this vision and the services we want and deserve. Any plan must include new and creative sources of revenue to diversify our tax base and reduce our over-reliance on residential property taxes. With 85% of collected taxes coming from residents, it's not sustainable, reasonable, or fair to ask us to contribute more.
With that understood, let me highlight the key priorities we will address this year:
- Revitalizing Our Downtown: While there are many different studies, indicators, and opinions on what makes a great downtown, all agree that successful downtowns don't just happen. They require hard work, proactive planning, a concrete vision for the future, and the courage and willingness to make that vision a reality. To that end, this Council, in collaboration with the Planning Board and DWC, and incorporating the input we've received from downtown property owners and merchants, is prepared to prioritize and advocate for the following:
- Address parking deficiencies for commuters, shoppers, and employees by reevaluating capacity of all municipal parking lots and seeking sensible opportunities for expansion
- Identify a plan for developing downtown space that attracts a broader variety of commercial tenants, thereby increasing downtown foot traffic while also expanding our tax base
- Create new open spaces, public meeting places, and culture and arts opportunities, while continuing to drive productive discussions about the Rialto's future and its hopeful re-opening as a performing arts center
- Diversify our housing stock through zoning changes that enable more downtown housing options for young couples, downsizers, and seniors
- Reenergize the Downtown Westfield Corporation by prioritizing economic development, adding new highly engaged Board members, and hiring a permanent Executive Director
- Increasing Parks and Recreation Opportunities
- Implement initial Parks Strategic Plan recommendations, prioritizing the addition of new fields in partnership with the Board of Education
- Improve maintenance of existing parks, optimize open spaces, and plan to add trails, water fountains and restroom facilities where needed
- Prioritizing Quality of Life Issues
- Continue to fight for RVL peak one-seat ride service to improve commute and increase property values
- Establish circulation and traffic management plan to mitigate congestion and pedestrian safety issues associated with existing and new development
- Strengthen our Historic Preservation ordinance to protect the historic character of our town, and build upon the momentum of the recent historic designations
- Expand sensible investment in infrastructure, including accelerated road paving, addressing storm water issues, and automation of town services
- Continue to strive towards becoming a leader in sustainability by expanding the Green Team and their initiatives
In closing, let's remind ourselves that the most important quality of life issue can't be solved by a series of ordinances voted upon by the nine of us. It can only, truly, be solved by all of us. And that is a commitment to living up to the ideals of the kind of community that we want to be. One that prioritizes compassion, acceptance, kindness and empathy. One that celebrates and welcomes diversity, and works through disagreements civilly and respectfully. I know that's the Westfield we all want, and the one that will help us advance our shared goals.
In closing, my final ask of you is to commit yourself to remaining engaged and informed. You can do this by proactively staying on top of information we share, either by following me and the Town on our social media channels, subscribing to our email updates, or regularly perusing the Town website. I also ask that you continue holding us accountable, and approach this year with an open mind and a heart full of gratitude for being fortunate enough to live in this great community.
It remains a privilege to be your mayor. God bless our great community and country. Happy new year! Now let's get to work!