2018 State of the Town — Braintree, MA
Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan — State of the Town Address — Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 7:00 PM in Cahill Auditorium, Braintree Town Hall
Mr. President, members of the town council, school committee members, our legislative delegation, town department heads, distinguished guests, my friends.
Allow me to begin by thanking you, the people of Braintree, for entrusting me with the honor of being your Mayor. Since January of 2008, we have been tasked with implementing our new government in the most beneficial way so as to provide a level of municipal services that you should expect and to accomplish our work in a way that is strategic, thoughtful, and focused on the long term fiscal health of our community.
I want to offer my thanks to our department heads and town employees. Our daily work would amount to nothing if it were not for their efforts to serve our community. Whether it be the daily administrative work or the efforts of our DPW during the hottest days of the summer, the public servants of our town keep Braintree going and I am very grateful for their work. I also want to thank the citizens of our town for their active participation in our democracy — the civic associations, the Braintree Chamber, the Rotary, the Historical Society, the PTOs, every citizen contributes value to our community conversations.
As we position ourselves for today and a strong future, we must also remember that we occupy a place in our country’s history that few communities can match. From our nation’s earliest days, Braintree has been at the forefront of the American story. On Monday of this week I was in Boston at the John Adams courthouse — which houses the state’s supreme judicial court to witness the swearing-in ceremony of a friend of mine who was nominated for a judgeship by the Governor. That majestic courthouse — bearing the name of our native son -reminded me of our town’s place in the history of this country.
Yet, our rich history as a town will be no good to us if we don’t heed its lessons. We talk often about being the home of two Presidents, John Adams and his son John Quincy, but do we truly recognize the importance of these two particular Presidents and how we can put their examples into practice?
Both Father and Son were subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism during their lives. I am sure that the urge to pull back on an unpopular opinion or decision was often great, but both men believed that the forsaking of current popularity was hardly a price to pay if it meant advocating for what they believed to be the appropriate course for our then young nation. Over two centuries later, history has, on many issues, proved John Adams and John Quincy Adams, right.
Today, with the advent of social media and new technologies it is often expedient to make decisions and take positions with more concern for current popularity than for what builds a steady and stable future for our community, our commonwealth and our country. If we look at the life lessons offered by the public service of John and John Quincy Adams, we can see no better example of their declaration, “That facts are stubborn things.”
The message I offer you tonight is one of confidence for a bright future for our town. The first decade of our new government has been laying a solid and stable foundation on which to build the Braintree of the decades ahead. We have understood the significance of our work in our daily duties — but also in developing long term capital plans that offer a steadiness to our actions.
In 2008 the message would have been very different than what I present this evening. Our financial reserves were nearly non-existent, our roads were crumbling, our schools were in need of fixing, and years of squabbling and often petty disagreements had not provided Braintree government with the best reputation. Additionally, no one could have predicted the worldwide economic storm that awaited us that autumn. Those were the facts that confronted us — undaunted we rolled up our sleeves and went to work.
Now, as the second decade of our Mayor-Council form of government begins we find ourselves in a much different position. Our once meager financial reserves have given way to a solid fiscal base. Our bond rating, which in 2008 was AA with a negative outlook has been raised twice to AA+.
Simply stated, we have managed our town over the past decade to its highest level of financial performance in its history. As I have said before and I restate tonight — without a strong financial foundation we cannot achieve all the other benefits we seek.
We have spent millions on our schools, streets, and parks. We have restructured our government operations and we have added online services to be more responsive and informative to resident concerns such as our Commonwealth Connect (SeeClickFix) citizen request program, our town-wide emergency alert and notification system- Braintree Alerts and the “Braintree Blue” monthly email newsletter.
So, with these steps behind us and with more steps to take the question for us now is how we can use the results of our first decade to continue to move our Braintree forward in 2018 and beyond.
Let me offer some fundamental principles.
We all want to feel safe in our homes and in our neighborhoods. That is the promotion of public safety.
We all want to provide a good education for our children and valuable programs for our seniors. That is the advocacy for our schools and our elders.
We want our town to look well — so that have a sense of pride in our community. That is the fixing of our streets, parks, schools, and town buildings.
We all want to believe in the operations of our municipal government that services are being provided in an efficient manner. That is the implementation of our core mission — municipal services such as plowing, curbside recycling, and beautification efforts of our public spaces.
We want a healthy and diverse local economy that provides financial stability for our town with jobs and revenue. That is the delicate balance of maintaining our residential character while having in place a robust local economy.
Using what I recited I think you can check every box of the work that we have done and be enthusiastic about the work ahead.
On the public safety front — we are fully staffed at our fire department and we thank our firefighters for their daily work. This year we will begin our work on renovating the headquarters station as we have already done at our stations in East Braintree and the Highlands.
In our police department we will add 11 new officers this year in order to get our staffing to an improved level of operational support. Our goal this year and beyond is to achieve the superior standard of national accreditation and to continue to support those who take the oath to “serve and protect” all of us.
This spring after years of public discussion we will embark on the most ambitious school building project Braintree has seen since the mid-1970s. Both of our middle schools, East and South, will receive large scale additions which will allow us to move our 5th Grade classes to the middle school level, freeing up classroom space at all of our six elementary schools. Here in Braintree, because of our financial management, we are able to undertake these two projects without having to request any additional tax revenue from our residents. We did not have to choose between better schools and (higher) taxes. I want to take a moment to recognize our state legislative delegation, Senators John F. Keenan and Walter Timilty, and Representative Mark Cusack for their partnership on these projects particularly in the area of working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority. I also want to recognize the work of our Superintendent Dr. Frank Hackett and our school committee for their leadership and our Town Council for their supportive efforts. Braintree Schools are performing well and with these capital projects we will see that physical improvements will begin to match the superior classroom instruction that our teachers provide.
For our Seniors, our magnificent addition to our Senior Center has added programs in an expanded way. It is the place to be!
For the eleventh summer in a row we will embark on an aggressive program of roadway upgrades. In 2018 we will expand $5.7 million dollars on our roads and water and sewer improvements throughout town. Braintree roads have become synonymous with a better quality of life for all. This work increases property values and improves commutes for our residents while also making our town a more pleasant place to live. This work will be coupled with our enforcement of our new 25 mph speed limit in residential neighborhoods and additional traffic calming techniques throughout town such as speed humps, our new bike lanes, and other pedestrian enhancements — to assist in the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
With the approval of the Petersen Pool — Rink complex and I am grateful for the planning department’s thorough and full review of this proposal — This facility will be one that our youth and high school hockey and swim teams will be proud to call home. Our goal is to begin construction on this long awaited development this summer and keep the promise that Captain Petersen offered us over 50 years ago.
The Petersen Pool is only one part of the wider plan for the recreational areas in our community. Led by our Director of Recreation and Community events Nelson Chin we have begun the planning process for improvements to the Dauraghty Gym, and our neighborhood playgrounds, as we continue to partner with our town’s youth sports leagues to ensure that our recreational amenities, basketball, baseball and softball diamonds and let me not forget pickle ball remain “fields of dreams” for our youth — and the older generation.
Our business community is thriving — over the past few years we have added two new hotels in the new Hyatt and Marriott, new retail and restaurants at South Shore Place, the marketplace, our squares and the Landing with more to come at Pearl Plaza and other spots throughout town.
I want to recognize a new business that is coming to town this year — Foley’s Ice Cream Parlor — on Hancock Street. The owners, Jen and Mike Foley are Braintree residents — and now entrepreneurs — who approached me for help in getting their business started. I directed them to our planning and building department and working through all the issues that come with the establishment of a new business — including a variance from the ZBA — I am happy to report to you that the Foleys are ready to start scooping within the next few months.
Their shop, coupled with the new Daddy’s Dairy on Union Street could make us the Ice Cream capital of the South Shore — I think that’s delicious!
Our strategic location — at the intersection of roads and rail — otherwise called “The Braintree Split” is both a benefit and a challenge. We will see this year the commencement of a $35 million upgrade to our MBTA station –which serves at the start of the Red Line into Boston — to make public transportation more accessible for all.
Competition in the business world has been a fact of life since the beginning of commerce. In today’s reality it’s imperative for municipalities to be competitive in attracting the variety of business needed to augment a successful financial model. Leveraging our state and regional assets has played an integral part in our efforts to be economically competitive and are paying off for Braintree.
Amongst the economic related success stories is the Channel Fish Company. Following multiple consolidations and acquisitions Channel Fish grew out of its location in Boston and needed a larger space to run their consolidated operations and have access to major highways to handle their distribution needs. Braintree was chosen over several other North Shore and South Shore locations due to the commerce ready assets Braintree has to offer.
As a regional member of the life sciences Red-Line corridor, we are assisting Zimmerman Bio, a leading innovator in the Bio Med market to expand their current location in Braintree to accommodate significant market growth for their products and research. Cited as a leading differentiator was Braintree’s proximity to the abundance of intellectual capital in the Greater Boston area, the geographic advantages and the transportation assets available for product distribution and employee commutes.
An international plumbing supply company here in Braintree, the Symmons Industries was recently lauded by our State Economic Development agency for reaching significant milestones in manufacturing results and sales. The advantages of our lower electric rates and water rates are important indicators when considering how a business can achieve the biggest gains for its investment dollars. Braintree is one such place.
Additionally, the challenge to our brick/mortar retail stores is real with the ever growing online capability like Amazon. We will work with our retailers (the plaza and others) to see that they remain healthy in this ever evolving retail marketplace.
All of these businesses — all over Braintree — see a place that we call home providing good jobs and underscoring that Braintree is a desirable place to grow your business.
We are a community within the metropolitan Boston area — and as much as we enjoy the benefits of proximity to New England’s capital city — we also maintain our own specific proud identity of a bedroom community ten miles south of the city.
Today in 2018 nearly a quarter of our population is age 65 and over. In fact, the entire South Shore has an aging demographic that is clearly noted in a South Shore chamber housing report for the region. For us this means two things — we must build some more units of housing for our seniors — and we should provide additional opportunities for those who want to call Braintree home. Over the last four years, Braintree residents have seen the value of their homes and real estate investments consistently grow. Braintree is a very desirable community for many families, younger persons and established adults. It’s also a community where those young adults who grew up here want to stay here. Purchase their own homes and raise their families here in Braintree.
In order to assist in achieving these realities we need to create a more diversified housing inventory and in doing so create the types of homes that first time home buyers and families seeking to improve their lives can afford. In addition, providing housing alternatives for our “graying” population in order to allow retired and empty nesters the opportunity to down size and stay in Braintree amongst family, friends and community bonds built throughout their lives is very important. Diversified housing options will keep Braintree affordable for both our retirees and the next generation(s) of our residents.
An additional advantage for a diversified housing inventory also creates a greater appeal to the types of business, retail and commercial diversity our tax base requires to keep our economic engine running. Braintree will continue to attract the types of business that are do impact our neighborhoods and community natural resources — Promoting a commercial tax base that helps keep our residential rates low, and offers revenue along with community preservation funds to preserve open space in our community. Such as we did with the new highlands playground.
The days ahead always have a level of uncertainty, we have issues that at the time seem out of our control — natural disasters, like the floods that we encountered in March of 2010, of February of 2015 that hit us with 100 inches of snow and not a day above freezing during the entire month — we didn’t complain — to much — we just did the work necessary to get the job done — and saw the goodness of our people as we assisted our neighbors.
The uncertainty of the opioid epidemic and all of its related issues remains a priority for us as a community. Again in our efforts I have seen the goodness of folks who want to help others and are working hard to do so. We have made progress but much work lies ahead:
Let us realize that people of all ages, regardless of race, class, and ethnicity suffer the harmful consequences of drug abuse and addiction. In Braintree, we are working diligently to prevent youth substance use and support individuals and families touched by addiction.
Most drug use begins during adolescence and early adulthood when experimentation and high risk use typically begins. Young people are particularly vulnerable to addiction because they are still developing both cognitively and socially. The simplest and most cost effective way to lower the human and societal costs of drug abuse is to prevent it in the first place. That is why educating our young people and their caregivers are an essential piece of prevention.
For this reason, I want to thank the Braintree Partnership on Substance Use and the Braintree Alliance for Safe and Healthy Youth for providing this important education to our young people and their families.
Supporting individuals and families experiencing addiction and loss is equally as important. The Partnership disseminates help resources and links individuals and families to programs and services that support recovery and grief.
Braintree’s first responders continue to carry and use Naloxone, in an effort to save the lives of individuals experiencing opioid overdose. In 2017, our first responders saved 78 lives, and for that we are grateful.
Early detection and intervention support better outcomes. If you or a family member needs additional information on how and where to access help, please know that we are here for you.
Let me end with the best, to our Veterans groups who honor us with their presence by posting the colors this evening, one of the greatest honors I have as Mayor is leading a community with not one, not two, but three thriving and active Veterans posts. The men and women of the Braintree DAV, VFW and American Legion have offered incredible service to our nation and they continue to serve our community on a daily basis and we are truly grateful to them.
In our ten years of existence we have created a record that will be graded by history. It is never known at the actual time, when you are doing the work, if history will judge you well or not.
In the end, it is the history that defines us — yet in taking a hands-on approach — we can define our history. There is a significance in our daily work that layers upon one another which creates the history of our service.
Our thinking — our actions — our hands –as the future unfolds — offers us the opportunity to remain positive about the time ahead of us — while making the effort to create a community that we can be justifiably proud.
If we remain mindful of the fact that we can shape our history — and ultimately the way in which our time of service is recorded — then I believe the review of our stewardship will someday be said of us “well done!”