On May 9th, Mayor Jim Donchess gave an abbreviated version of his State of the City (the full text can be found on the City’s website). Last 2 years have been challenging, but the city’s response to COVID has been strong and successful. Right now, there’s a slight uptick in cases, but the cases are less severe than previously seen, with significantly fewer hospitalizations. City budget will be proposed tomorrow night. The budget will be affected by COVID and the inflation that we’re seeing now.
Major considerations for the budget: 
  • Energy costs
  • Health care costs
  • Downshifting  from the state (particularly pension costs)
  • City infrastructure (street paving is just completing a 5-year plan, needs to be extended)
  • Revaluation of all city properties. This is state-mandated and will result in all properties being assessed at 100% of value. This will result in a reallocation of the tax burden rather than raising taxes overall, as commercial properties haven’t increased in value at the same rate as residential. Currently, residential is 2/3 of tax base, but that’s likely to go up to perhaps 70%
  • Education (renovations/expansions/new construction of middle school buildings to allow redistribution and equalization of student population
  • Downtown economy and tax base (housing additions, performing arts center, outdoor dining, 
Questions –
Larry Hersh asked about Bronstein Apartments – Jim responded that affordable housing is a major issue for the City. Bronstein was 48 units and is now being redeveloped for about 210 units. All residents will be able to return to equal or greater size unit. Only a small number of the 210 units will be ‘market rate,’ the majority will be affordable/workforce housing/subsidized.
Beth asked about Boston Billiards purchase of Sheraton Tara – Jim responded that this has been approved by Planning Board for use as a casino. It’s being renovated now, and is under agreement, but the purchase hasn’t gone through yet. Assuming it does, they’d put in a casino and then hire management of the hotel.
Brian Law asked about paving of Main Street – Jim responded that the gas company is working on Main Street, and the City plans repaving around the utilities to hopefully avoid having utilities tear up newly paved roads. Once the utility repairs are done, they’ll repave – in the plan for next year.
Jack Law asked about the city’s ownership of buildings, how many we own and what’s the maintenance impact of that ownership – Jim responded that there’s a city building fund that is used to handle maintenance. Recent focus is Court Street Building, which has been neglected; while some improvements have been made, there’s a lot of work to do still.
Mindy asked about MakeIt Labs in Arlington Street, any thought to expanding that sort of program to other non-profits? – Jim hopes they’ll continue to be there, and there are no plans for similar arrangements in city buildings.
Adrian Levesque asked about the status of DW College – Jim gave a little history. ITT bought it, then went bankrupt, and DWC as an asset was sold under the auspices of the Indiana bankruptcy court at auction. There were several bidders, with a $12.5 million bid ultimately successful from a gentleman from China. The City has had very limited success in talking with the buyer, but believe he has no plans for it and thought he was buying an operating college rather than just the property. The Master Plan recommends that it be used for housing (about 250 units), but the likely value of that housing would be about $4 million - significantly less than he paid for it.
Susan Slane –asked what’s going on a Four Hills landfill – Jim responded that the offices for Public Works are being consolidated there, with the ultimate goal of moving the public works garage there. This is phase 1, which is office space.
Kevin Halloran asked about (1) the federal funds that cities / towns received and what’s been done with it and can it be used for pension relief and (2) how MakeIt Labs got the building and what the process was – Jim responded that we’ve gotten about $16 million and it’s mostly going to be directed towards housing, and it cannot be used for pension relief. MakeIt Labs heard about the building and asked, they were willing to invest in improvements.