Archive | May, 2017

Peabody’s dead zone downtown takes another hit, beat goes on

31 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

At this point, why not just build a slot machine parlor, a petting zoo, or … even a roller coaster?

Or, in an effort to fit with the rest of the surroundings in Peabody Square, why not attract another barber shop, nail salon or liquor store to the now up-for-auction O’Shea Building at the corner of Main and Foster?

Get a haircut on the first floor, a manicure on the second, and then treat yourself to some tasty Mad Dog 20/20 on the rotting third floor of the historic building. You can share your tasty beverage with the urban “campers,” who have taken over the square, which these days looks like one of those Arizona ghost towns at night, minus the tumble weeds of course.

Ghost-Town_Sample

Peabody Square on a Saturday night?

Might as well, since our civic leaders, especially His Honor the Mayor, Ted Bettencourt, have no other clue, have no real plan for revitalizing our downtown. They have no idea on how to grow our commercial tax base, and take the pressure off residential ratepayers, who have endured 14 straight years of tax increases.

And, another increase is coming in December, so Merry Christmas, Peabody!

What’s the fastest way to scrape the Teflon off Teflon Ted? Well, just keep raising taxes on seniors on fixed incomes, who are by far our largest voter base. The “Oh, what a nice young man,” he’s heard for years from the blue hair set could soon be replaced with an “up yours, sonny!”

The latest disaster downtown?

Well, the Salem News reported today that plans to convert the O’Shea Building into a boutique hotel (or, if you prefer, more “much-needed” apartments) have ended because of financial difficulties of yet another dubious local “developer.”

In the words of the boys in “Animal House” after wrecking the Caddy Flounder borrowed from his brother …

“You screwed up … you trusted us!”

Of course,  the other question here is how are we going to get back the $200K the city gave this character by way of a business loan?

The O’Shea Building disaster could be a poster child for the failed efforts to revitalize the downtown area under Bettencourt, a happenstance for which the Mayor only has himself to blame. After all, there remains no strategic plan for redevelopment, only starts and stops, failed hunches, and deals with developers, who would turn the downtown into a Syrian refugee camp … if they thought that’s how they could make the most dough.

What happened with the O’Shea Building is what happens all the time in Peabody. The Mayor and several city councilors get duped after some fly-by-night developer makes goo goo eyes at them, and maybe even a few very legal campaign contributions.

In this case, this pipe dream of a project had trouble written all over it from the start as the developer first talked about a hotel with a restaurant before morphing the project (as the all seem to) into apartments instead of a hotel.

In case you haven’t noticed, the only real development downtown the past 20 years has been shoe-box apartments, many of which have turned into Section 8 Housing. Not sure those poor people have the discretionary “cake” to buy lattes at the fantasy cafes, sample small plates at the fictitious bistros, or shop at the imaginary boutiques that now line Main Street.

But don’t blame the developers, who have about as many scruples as most members of Congress. They’re just trying to make a buck.

Blame the continued blight downtown on the city council and the 9-to-5er who currently occupies the corner office at city hall.

The fact is, despite being in office for almost six years, His Honor still had NO plan for revitalizing downtown. He has surrounded himself with yes men who have no clue, and has no interest in finding talented people who know how to improve things the way they have — in dramatic fashion — in places such as Newburyport, Salem, or even Danvers. Instead of hiring true experience and talent for important community development positions, Bettencourt chooses instead to rely on the “friends and family plan” for filling those very critical jobs.

Oh sure, they’ve moved that poor monument a few times, and made Main Street so much safer for pedestrians. It’s only too bad that there aren’t enough pedestrians to enjoy not being hit by a car, since there’s very few who come downtown for anything. I mean, I like Brodie’s too, but how many chicken fingers can one person eat!?

While Salem, Beverly and Danvers are bustling on a Fridays or Saturdays, there’s plenty of available parking in Peabody Square. Of course, that parking has a one-hour time limit, which makes about as much sense as the Mayor’s imaginary revitalization plan.

“I think there’s real value to that (O’Shea) building,” Bettencourt told the Salem News, the Mayor no doubt very optimistic about my roller coaster suggestion. “It has some charm, it’s in a great location … I probably have had a dozen developers in the last few years inquiring (about it).”

But no takers, and now a listing by JJ Manning Auctioneers states the auction will be held today, 11 a.m. at 9 Main St. According to the Salem News, the terms of sale include a 10 percent deposit with $50,000 down, and the rest within three days.

I hear that wannabe liquor store owners are already camping out so they can be first in line.

That huge $ucking sound is coming from our schools

15 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

A financial crisis the likes of which Peabody probably hasn’t seen since the Great Depression may be looming, and much of it is the result of the mismanagement and shoddy leadership that has gone on in the department that eats up almost half of our municipal budget.

pvmhsHad to marvel the other day over reading how the Chairman of the School Committee, our Fearless Leader, our Mayor Ted Bettencourt asked that the proposed 2018 school budget be whacked by $2.7m. Interim Superintendent for Life Herbie Levine and the school committee had asked for a whopping $4m budget increase over FY2017, but the mayor said nyet, and instead said he would only allow for a $1.5m increase.

One wonders now if the Fiscally Conservative Teflon Ted is going to show up, and slash the friends and family plan he’s created with unnecessary salaries at City Hall. But, I digress . . .

Here it is Peabody, the major reason why your tax bill continues to go up, year after year for the past 14 years is because the school budget continues to go up year after year at an alarming rate.

Some of the recent annual increases can certainly be tied to the construction of the much-needed new Higgins Middle School. There’s also no avoiding the collectively bargained raises and increases in benefits due our teachers.

But a lot of the blame for these annual school budget increases fall on poor planning, poor decision making by our elected officials, and poor leadership.

Specifically, the biggest boondoggle Peabody has ever signed up for, also known as the Mega Voke, or more formally, Essex Tech, is a “gift” that keeps on giving for the Peabody Taxpayers.

Our assessment there is up a whopping $600,000 and closing in on $4m, and who’s to blame? Well, the Peabody City Councilors, of course, who created a large sucking sound in our city’s budget six years ago when they voted for this disaster with zero financial information or projections in front of them. All but three councilors at the time just said “yes,” because Rep Ted Speliotis came before them and started waving his arms and screaming how Peabody kids would be left behind, and how the school wouldn’t get done without the state being able to fleece Peabody’s taxpayers.

Now, and after thousands of construction lobbyist dollars have been poured into Slick Teddy S’s campaign coffers — rather than having our kids reap the benefits from what could have been a nifty and economical $10m renovation of our existing vocational facilities — we are choking on the Mega Voke annual bill. Meanwhile, we can’t service even half the number of Peabody kids who seek a vocational education.

We’ve also already had a major scandal involving a lying, cheating first superintendent at the voke, and who knows what future scandals are on the way following the possible payola that went on there in Middleton.

Put it this way, the school committee’s request for the $4m budget increase to 74.5m in 2018 roughly equals what our total assessment is for the Mega Voke.  And while some of the councilors who voted for this disaster have moved on, some are still there, which is why I remind you that this is an election year.

But the school budget bloat doesn’t stop there. Herbie is proposing two new administrative positions in the 2018 budget at $100K apiece. One of those jobs, Herbie says, is so they can trim the workload of Assistant Super Cara Murtagh. That’s right, let’s potentially cut teachers so the Superintendent in Waiting doesn’t have to work a few extra hours each week.

“Most of you know that I’d rather chew my arm off than lay off a teacher, but I had to give you something,” said Herbie, the crocodile tears no doubt rolling down his cheeks as he proposed the slashing of no fewer than five teacher jobs to help trim the school budget.

Yeah, how about giving back some of your bloated salary, which already pads your hefty pension? Instead of worrying that your sidekick is working too hard, how about paying attention to and solving the teacher morale crisis at our Level 3 status high school?

“We’re going to have to make some very difficult decisions,” Bettencourt told school committee members.

But what the Mayor should have said was: “It’s time to give until it hurts once again, Peabody taxpayers.”

Dancing Peabody’s cares away

8 May
band

Was this the band they hired for last night’s Peabody Centennial Ball?

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

They continue to call it the dead zone. Friday or Saturday night. Peabody Square.

While people venturing to dine, or hang out in Salem or Beverly or Danvers fight over parking spaces in those downtowns, the downtown Dirty ‘Biddy looks like an old west ghost town. All that’s missing are some tumble weeds.

Yesterday, on a bright May Sunday afternoon, as Peabody’s political swells patted each other on the backs while celebrating a fake Peabody Centennial (at taxpayer expense) while dancing at a grand ball at the dying North Shore Mall, the downtown was again dead with activity. Meanwhile, the streets of Salem were filled with people and dog walkers. Outdoor cafes were alive with diners, and the cha-ching of tax dollars could be heard up and down Washington Street.

And wasn’t it fitting that, while Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem took pride in knowing she had provided the type of leadership that is creating an economic boom in Salem, that Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt was toasting the political swells and hacks in the halls of Peabody’s largest, dying commercial taxpayer. “Pssst .. did you notice that the Emperor has no clothes?”

That’s right, folks, the North Shore Mall is teetering on collapse right now. That’s not Bettencourt’s fault, but rather an indication of how retail is struggling across the nation as online shopping kings such as Amazon take a toll on brick and mortar outfits. In the case of the mall, the celebrated Apple Store has left, and so has PF Chang’s Restaurant. Now, rumors abound that Macy’s and Sears will pull out next.

All of this shouldn’t really be Peabody’s concern. Right?

Well, if you are a residential taxpayer it should be of MAJOR concern. If we lost the North Shore Mall as a commercial taxpayer, it would be an epic disaster for our modest berg. Already, with the mall’s big tax payments, this mayor and his minion can’t figure out how to stabilize the residential tax rate.

Failing mall, not Bettencourt’s fault . . . but what’s he gonna do about the potential enormous loss of tax dollars?

Recently, the Mayor appointed a very nice man named Curt Bellavance to the all-important role of Community Development Director. It’s a job that’s pivotal when it comes to helping to boost our commercial tax base, and perhaps, save us residential taxpayers by bringing businesses to the downtown that will attract people the way Salem does.

Now, I’m sure that Mr. Bellavance is a hard worker, who will do his best, but what’s his previous experience as a civic planner? Well, he served as town administrator in the “booming” rural town of Tyngsboro, and before that in a community planning role with the small town of North Andover.  Not exactly the background of someone we now need to charge with the very complex challenge of urban planning in Peabody, with its rotting downtown, and where flooding might not be as big of a concern as the hundreds of years of tannery toxins buried below.

Curt Bellavance is also the husband of the Mayor’s very capable administrative assistant, Mary. Draw your own conclusions there. But, as the saying goes, “After another nationwide search . . .”

Meanwhile, the downtown remains a ghost town. Vacancies at Centennial Park continue to rise. And now … the failing mall.

If we can’t grow the commercial tax base, or if the commercial tax base continues to shrink, where do we get the money to pay for police and fire, and road repairs and schools?

How about right from your pocket?

It’s been 14 straight years of annual residential tax increases in Peabody. In some cases, people are paying as much as 60% more for their homes than they were in the Year 2000. Seniors on fixed incomes are beginning to feel the pain, and it’s a virtual guarantee that another increase is coming in December. So . . . early Merry Christmas.

Yet, Peabody’s ruling elite dances the night away, at our expense, celebrating 100 years of a community that was actually founded 161 years ago, in a building that could be the eventual symbol of our demise.

Well, at least I hope the food was good. Any truth to the rumor that they hired the same band that performed on the Titanic?

Give ’em bread and circuses; happy 161st birthday, Peabody!

1 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you must truly distract from what’s going on, give them bread and circuses. It’s the old Roman way, and there’s no doubt that Peabody’s ruling politicians have learned this lesson from our ancient cousins.

The numbers are still adding up, and as you ponder what will likely be another annual property tax increase come December, courtesy of the Bettencourt Administration and signed off on by his merry men (aka the Peabody City Council), know this:

romans

The Mayor and Peabody’s City Council discuss our next tax increase

We’ve spent several hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars the past year on what is essentially a sham centennial celebration. That’s right, as I learned way back in Mrs. Ogren’s first grade class, Peabody was founded in 1855. That fact makes our past year of expensive parades and other events 61 years late, and . . . quite lame.

So, what exactly have they been using your hard-earned tax money on to celebrate?

Well, in 1916 Peabody went from having a town form of government to having a city form of government. In other words, before 1916 we used to run things like Danvers, but starting in that year we decided to run things like Beverly. It’s a truly “remarkable” reason to spend hoards of taxpayer money, right?

In 1872, it was called Peabody just like it is today, although I’m not sure back then that the “Dirty Biddy” nickname was as much en vogue.

In other words, our berg is NOT 100 years old. It’s a ripe, old 161!  But  . . . who doesn’t love a parade?!

And, when you’re trying to distract people from annual tax increases, mediocre schools and zero progress in making the downtown area a destination rather than a pass through, you give them bread and circuses.

After all, who in their right mind, would want to celebrate Peabody’s 161st birthday?

BTW, the fleecing of the taxpayers here finally ends with the Grand Centennial Ball, a pricey black-tie affair at the North Shore Mall on May 7th  (since they are all acting like Romans, wonder why they didn’t make it a toga party?)

As it says on the centennial ball website, “All good things must come to an end, and so to [sic] our Centennial celebration.”

So, eat drink and be merry Peabody in crowd. Rome is burning, and no one seems to care.

Anonymous commenator sums up the situation in Peabody

1 May

Publisher’s note: After reading the article in today’s Salem News in which the Mayor talks about all of his “successes,” I was almost compelled to post this morning. But then the following “anonymous” comment came in. It pretty much sums up how a lot of us are feeling right now. There are indeed dark clouds on the horizon for our fair berg, and people need to know this. So … I am re-posting the anonymous comment I reference above:

From anonymous, 5/1/17:

I read the fluff piece on Salem News regarding the updates to the races in Peabody and I’m very disturbed that no one feels they can beat the Mayor. All he has done is spend our money and when he wants more he just raises taxes.

bettencourt

Everything is definitely NOT beautiful in Peabody these days.

Where is the effort for bringing in new streams of income for the city? The farm!?! Our biggest stream of taxes, aka the mall, is limping and when Macy’s and Sears finally decide to call it quits in Peabody, we are all going to be wrecked. Businesses are leaving faster and faster to towns that border us. Lynnfield and now TJ Maxx to Middleton. This city is going down fast and he is spinning how great he is with spending all our money with ZERO rate of return.

The fact that he tries to own the middle school as a huge achievement that all started with the previous mayor, is laughable. The other laughable items that need to be mentioned are that he has not been able to get a true superintendent for the schools, and he as the Mayor and Chair (of the school committee) have not led the high school out of its Level 3 status that turns the entire city into a level 3. Also, the AP courses to the max do not fix that!

When the Salem News released all the salaries for the city, as always our city employees are doing almost 4 times the household average in Peabody (btw the average went down). How is the Chief of Police not being scrutinized for all the OT/details that are being paid above their base salary?

I respect the police and fire for what they do, but you can’t tell me that someone that made over 75K in OT is effective in their normal shift. Maybe we need more officers to have a better control on spend. At least we know what they will need to budget for instead of asking for another million. The Mayor made some comment it had partially to do with Crystal Lake, and honestly the project just got started and is moving at a snails pace.

The other night the Mayor wanted to reduce the requirements for parking to make them (the spaces) more valuable. He should want to do the opposite to control these larger developments building more of those Avalon style apartments. If they have low parking requirements they will build as high and wide as they can. He is turning Peabody more and more into a Lawrence and Lynn. The school system is going to be overwhelmed in the next few years if you see more and more of these units coming into play. The taxes generated on these buildings does not support the amount of money necessary to educate families with multiple children in these units.

For someone that allegedly has all this power, why has he not been able to persuade business to come to Peabody? Why isn’t he partnering with Simon to help correct the outflow of the retail spaces in the mall. They are just throwing out liquor licenses to get restaurants to come, but there is no real future thinking of what the city needs to survive.

The city is in for a lot of hurt in the near future, if the city doesn’t find someone that is going to be proactive and seek out businesses that want to invest in its future then our current Mayor will just continue to spend to make himself look good and take more of our taxes via property. Has anyone seen the actual bill for all these Centennial celebrations?