Tag Archives: Mayor Ted Bettencourt

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?

Mayor Bettencourt voices his strong opposition to pipeline in a letter to FERC

19 Jun

The following was re-posted from the Peabody Citizens United to Stop the Kinder Morgan Pipeline website:

Mayor Ted Bettencourt

Mayor Ted Bettencourt

Strong support from Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt for our opposition to the proposed Lynnfield Lateral of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project continues. Below is a letter he recently sent to FERC.

The city’s elected officials continue to unite with residents in fighting this destructive and potentially dangerous project.

 Please join us on Tuesday, June 23rd when Kinder Morgan comes before the Peabody City Council at 6:30 p.m, to answer some tough questions.

Here’s Mayor Bettencourt’s letter to FERC:

June 12, 2015

Sandra Waldstein, Director

The State, International and Public Affairs Division

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

888 First Street, NE

Washington, DC 20426

RE: Docket No. PF14-22

Dear Ms. Waldstein:

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline, L.L.C. has submitted to FERC an Application to open a pre-filing proceeding of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, L.L.C. under New Docket for Tennessee’s Northeast Energy Direct Project under PF14-22.

As part of this project, Tennessee Gas has proposed building a spur of subsurface pipeline in an area of Peabody, Massachusetts wholly unsuited for such a utility.  As Mayor of Peabody, I feel it is my duty to convey to FERC the concerns and fears of so many in our community.

First, the area proposed for pipeline construction runs adjacent to one of our city’s most beloved and tight knit neighborhoods.  Families who live here are justly concerned about a disruptive construction project which could forever alter the landscape of their homes.  Homeowners have also expressed to me their concerns relative to public safety and protection of property.

Also, the area proposed for pipeline construction runs along the Peabody Independence Greenway.  Known locally as simply ‘the Bikepath,’ the Greenway is a favorite destination for thousands of walkers, joggers, cyclists and wildlife enthusiasts.  Many of these individuals have expressed their dismay over this pipeline proposal and I share their concern for preservation of this vital community resource.

Finally, the area proposed for pipeline construction is home to a number of natural resources which could be jeopardized by such a large scale and disruptive project.  Thanks to its vicinity to the Ipswich River, the area is rife with wetlands, plants, trees, and other types of vegetation.  While Peabody is renowned as a center of industry and technology, we treasure our open space and natural resources.

I join my fellow elected officials on the City Council as well as hundreds of Peabody residents who have united to oppose this project.  The Tennessee Gas proposal will disrupt Peabody neighborhoods, jeopardize public safety, decimate a treasured recreational amenity and wipe out precious natural resources.  Thank you for your consideration of this public comment.

Warmest regards,

Edward A. Bettencourt, Jr.

Mayor, City of Peabody

Sighting a local hero and some curious political creatures at re-scheduled Ward 6 party

21 Jul

 

Sgt. Steve O'Hara, wife Jessica, and their children accept the Ward 6 "Heroes Among Us" award, flanked by Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz (left) and Mayor Ted Bettencourt

Sgt. Steve O’Hara, wife Jessica, and their children accept the Ward 6 “Heroes Among Us” award, flanked by Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz (left) and Mayor Ted Bettencourt. (Photo submitted courtesy of Doug Finnegan).

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

The re-scheduled Ward 6 Fourth of July party at Symphony Park this past Saturday featured a huge crowd, the traditional patriotic bike parade, the honoring of a local hero, and much more.

But it was also a day of some interesting sightings of local elected officials, and other political wanaabes.

Please read on, and we’ll get to the political stuff, but first it was wonderful to see a local hero honored for the work he’s done as a police officer.

West Peabody resident, and MBTA Transit Police Sgt. Steve O’Hara was acknowledged for his work in the areas of hostage negotiation/crisis intervention.

O’Hara, who received praise and a certificate from Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz and Mayor Ted Bettencourt, was recognized for talking a suicidal man out of jumping  from the top floor of an MBTA parking garage, and his work helping the family of a fellow officer, who was seriously wounded during the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.

When Officer Richard Donohue was shot, it was O’Hara who was charged with informing the fallen officer’s wife, Kim. Kim later, in an emotional Facebook post, talked about how O’Hara’s wonderful approach to informing her, brought great comfort to the family.

Honoring O’Hara was part of an annual tradition of honoring a local hero at this ward party. It’s an awesome moment at what is always a terrific, well-organized event hosted by the Ward 6 Councilor.

But as I wrote off the top, it wasn’t only about bike parades and ceremonies for heroes.

***

As local politicos know, Ward 6 these days has one of the largest voter turnouts in the entire city, and showing up at Symphony on July 4th (or in this case, July 19th), is a must.

Here were some of my observations and sightings …

  • The biggest battle for the hearts and minds of Ward 6 voters will come in the race for State Rep in the 13th Essex District, and it wasn’t surprising to see both Democratic incumbent Ted Speliotis and his challenger, Republican Tom Lyons, in attendance. Both men thoroughly worked the crowd. Speliotis, who didn’t make an appearance at this ward party last year, seems to suddenly be shifting into campaign mode. Lyons may have held a slight home park advantage on Saturday, since he lives in the ward.
  • Good to see Congressman John Tierney in attendance. I say “see,” since he wasn’t doing a lot of mingling, and it was definitely noticeable when he didn’t say hello to party host Sinewitz. Wonder if that has something to do with the Ward 6 Councilor endorsing Tierney’s opponent in September’s Democratic primary, war hero and Marblehead businessman Seth Moulton? Moulton, who had planned to be at the party on July 4th, couldn’t attend the makeup date because of a family wedding.
  • Even though it’s not an election year for city councilors, it was nice to see Councilor At-Large Tom Walsh come to the party.
  • State Rep candidate Beverley Dunne shows off her basketball skills

    State Rep candidate Beverley Dunne shows off her basketball skills

    It was also nice to see candidate for State Rep Beverley Dunne show up, especially when you consider she’s running in the 12th Essex District, which doesn’t include Ward 6. The long-time school committee member clearly thinks community first, but it’s a good thing that she’s running for state rep and not hoping for a career in the WNBA. Her performance in the women’s free throw shooting contest was, well … let’s just say that at least she didn’t do any worse than fellow school committee member Brandi Carpenter. They both tried their hardest, even if they didn’t win the prize.

  • Showing off some nice basketball skills in the free throw contest was a Bettencourt. No, not the Mayor himself, who once starred for the Holy Cross basketball team. Peabody’s First Lady, Andrea Bettencourt, used a smooth follow through to take second place in the women’s free throw shootout.
  •  Finally, for those who care, I did have a “reunion” with an old political foe. Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw chased me down across the basketball court to say hello, and give me an indication that he’s a big fan of this blog. “Bobby, Bobby, just wanted to say hello, even though you keep taking pot shots at me (in The Eye),” said Mr. Saslaw.

…  Oh, did I also mention that Curious Creatures brought some snakes to show the kids?

 

Peabody needs ‘signs’ of economic development in the form of a master plan

15 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

This might surprise followers of this space, but I actually think that the digital billboard approved by the Peabody City Council last week on city-owned land off Route 128 near Fishery Products International is good for the taxpayers.

Square

We continue to wonder when we’ll have an overall strategic plan for re-developing Peabody’s downtown

The company erecting the 60-foot sign will pay Peabody an initial $500,000, an initial permitting fee of $25,000, and $250,000 a year. It’s significant revenue for the city, and from what I can see, it’s not a huge threat to quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.

But with me, that’s where the love ends for Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s strategy of looking for much-needed revenue by playing a continuous game of billboard roulette.

We get it, Ted. We all realize that the city needs the money, and that we can’t continue to raise taxes on resident payers, something that has happened for the past 13 straight years.

But dude, where’s the plan for sustainable revenue?

This strategy of blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ our mind, is not a plan at all.  In most cases, it’s a blight on our landscape, and simply quick-hit, unsustainable revenue. Not only that, but I think I might have heard somewhere that there is so-called “moratorium” against more billboards?

The stark reality of our economic situation in Peabody is that, these days, there seems to be no plan, no strategy for creating real, long-lasting, sustainable revenue. Oh sure, we have some “piecemeal” little victories here and there, a promise of a hotel in downtown, a few new restaurants, and an urban redevelopment consultancy is helping us analyze why Peabody Square is a ghost town on a Saturday night.

But there’s no strategic master plan, so  it’s either blight the roadsides with billboards, or keep shifting more of the burden on us … young families struggling to pay their mortgages, and seniors fearful that higher property taxes are going to eventually force them to sell their life-long homes.

Worse than not having a plan for increasing city revenues, is that there’s no one currently in the employ of the city with the skills and knowledge to even help us come up with that strategy.

I think the Mayor is an intelligent guy, but right now he needs to do what all smart, successful chief executives do, and surround himself with advisers who understand, inside and out, the keys to successful economic and community development. Clearly, based on the poor results, and based on us not having an overall strategic plan, those competencies don’t exist within the current Community Development Department.

Instead of adding new unnecessary positions, and assistants to the assistant here and there while paying off some old political debts, the Mayor needs to put together a plan to hire a person or persons who have helped other communities remarkably expand their commercial tax bases while improving quality of life.

He needs to look around, maybe even steal some of the best and the brightest talent from communities such as Salem and Newburyport, Melrose, and even Beverly.

How did these communities turn their blighted downtowns into full-speed-ahead economic engines, while making themselves destination communities for those who enjoy dining out and shopping? That’s something we need to find, and we need to model. Now, not later.

In these places, more responsible, quality business has resulted in more commercial tax revenue into these cities’ coffers. And, unlike billboard revenue, it’s sustainable, and of benefit to quality of life.

So, while we’re counting the big bucks from this latest billboard, let’s stop this game of billboard roulette, and realize, once and for all, that our community’s vibrancy and survival requires that we enlist the best and the brightest, and FINALLY, come up with a strategic plan that will make Peabody a destination rather than a pass through.

The by-product of that will be less of a tax burden on residents, and an overall boost to everyone’s quality of life.

Peabody tax and water bills on rise as city tries to pay for new voke school boondoggle

19 Jun

Mayor calls for $5.4M budget increase; $3M assessed to pay for new voke school

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you supported those wasteful, big-spending elected officials – especially State Rep Ted Speliotis — who pushed for Peabody to join in the taxpayer screw job called the new North Shore Technical school, then please, bend over right now and scream out “thank you, sir! May I have another?!”

Call this horror show The MEGA VOKE that ate the Peabody Taxpayers!

Artists rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Artist rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Because of this opulent and overly ostentatious new voke school in Danvers – which will only serve around 150 of Peabody’s roughly 6,000 students – not only are your property taxes going up in 2015, but get ready for an increase in water and sewer rates too.

 

Mayor Ted Bettencourt submitted his FY2015 city budget to the City Council, and it’s calling for a $5.4 million increase, of which roughly $3 million will go to offset our share of next year’s piece of the North Shore Voke pork pie.

The mayor, in a letter to the city council obtained by The Eye, says that roughly means an average tax increase of $189 per homeowner, and a likely, yet to be determined increase in Peabody’s traditionally reasonable water and sewer rates. For those keeping score, that’s 13 straight years of property tax increases in Peabody.

And … this is just Year 1 of this Disaster in Danvers. This state of the art, $133 million school in Speliotis’ hometown, is the “gift” that will keep on giving for Peabody taxpayers now and forever.

Speliotis, who faces an election year challenge from Peabody Republican Tom Lyons, not only got this Taj Mahal of a school for his hometown of Danvers, but I’m sure he made big labor happy with the building’s bloated construction costs, which are already over budget.

Then there’s the hacks-at-the-trough process they’re using in hiring administrators. The new school’s superintendent, a guy named Daniel O’Connell, will make $197,000/year. That’s about $50K more a year than what we thought was a big contract for Peabody Schools Super Joe Mastrocola. Looks now  like Joe was a huge bargain when you consider that he manages a system with roughly 5,550 more students than will attend O’Connell’s school.

And, it gets ever worse. Not only will Peabody need to pony up millions more to send a handful of students to this new school, but because we’re transferring students from our system to this regional voke system, Peabody is set to lose $504K additional when it comes to state aid.

Next time you complain about the conditions in Peabody’s public schools, think about this: It’s only going to get worse while we as a city figure out a way to pay for a school that will service less than 3% of Peabody’s total student population. And we haven’t even talked about the costs associated with our own much-needed new Higgins Middle School, where huge construction bills are in the mail.

At this point, I should add a disclaimer for those screaming that I’m anti-vocational education. This space supports vocational education as much as the next blog, but we’re just not seeing the practicality or fairness of bilking the taxpayers in this particular situation.

Here are the facts, ladies and gentlemen: An estimated 200 Peabody kids, who we could have given a valuable vocational education had we only – for a lot less cost – re-vamped our on Peabody Vocational High School – are now going to watch helplessly as 150 of their classmates hit the lottery and are allowed to attend this educational palace on the hill in Danvers.

So, please bend over today, and thank Ted Speliotis, and those Peabody City Councilors who voted for this disastrous “gift” that will keep on giving for us the taxpayers.

Time to finally get serious about the vision for downtown revitalization

10 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

SquareSo far, we’ve seen baby steps and a piece meal approach to the revitalization of downtown Peabody. But we remain without a master plan for development, and without true visionaries to lead when it comes to getting us to a place where Peabody Square is no longer a ghost town at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night.

The problem we face in moving this forward was again on full display this past week when a developer came before the city council with a plan to jam 10 apartments into an old office building at 98 Main Street. During the debate, there was talk about a lack of parking, which is a major concern overall as we try to bring people back to the square. But there was also talk about what the vision should be for all future downtown development.

Many councilors argued against creating more apartments (these ones with future Section 8 housing potential), and for the need to think in terms of mixed-use development (e.g., residential on the top floors, commercial space on the bottom). Thankfully, the bid for a special permit at 98 Main went down to defeat with a 5-5 vote.

The issue at 98 Main is simply one symptom of a much larger problem.

We have no overall strategic plan/vision for development, but even if we did … we have no one to lead it. Community Development’s push and praise for the developer’s plan at 98 Main certainly shows that no one there has the skills, experience, or juice to lead the mammoth undertaking of bringing economic life back to the downtown.

Although I believe and support Mayor Ted Bettencourt when he tells us that revitalization of downtown continues to be a focal point of his legacy, I also think the Mayor needs to do what many of us have been urging since he was first sworn in almost two years ago:

He needs to enlist more skilled movers and shakers to help us with this. We need an experienced redevelopment “czar” with unprecedented power to get things done, including overseeing a comprehensive, step-by-step vision. But first, we need that plan, which right now is beyond the current competencies of those who lead our Community Development efforts.

It’s time to look at what other communities have done here, and see which models we can adopt.

But we’re not getting there by allowing developers to jam 10 tiny apartments into a space that might be better for retail space, and the types of businesses that make Peabody Square a destination rather than a pass through.

Those who think that bringing more people to live downtown is a key to our future success here are wrong and misguided. We already have thousands of people living within a half-mile radius of Peabody Square, and what has that gotten us? More barber shops, nail salons, and liquor stores.

Meanwhile, Salem is becoming the restaurant capital of the North Shore, and a destination for people looking for a night out or a day of boutique shopping. By now, we should all be a little tired of the claim that Salem can do this and we can’t because Salem has the built in advantages such as the waterfront. Most of the new shops and restaurants in Salem are down along Washington Street, which isn’t on the water.

Salem has been able to revitalize its downtown because, thanks to its civic leaders, it came up with a comprehensive vision designed to encourage the right kind of businesses downtown, and Mayor Kim Driscoll is using her power to ensure that it gets done right.

Mayor Bettencourt has the opportunity to now do the same.

Mr. Mayor, I support you, but it’s time to bring in some more talent when it comes to your Community Development department.  Let’s find out who those redevelopment visionaries are, and let’s hire them to help us with something that would become your major legacy piece as mayor.

Peabody’s general obligation municipal purpose loan nets very low 2.042% interest rate

10 Apr

The following press release was sent to The Eye by Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s office.

From the Mayor’s Office

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt, Jr., is pleased to announce that the City of Peabody received competitive bids from bond underwriters on Wednesday, April 3, 2013, for $10,533,000 General Obligation Bonds.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch was the winning bidder on the Bonds with an average interest rate of 2.042%.  Bond proceeds will be used to finance Library Building Improvements, Water Treatment Plant Upgrades, Flood Mitigation, as well as to refinance bonds of the City dated February 1, 2005.  The refinancing will generate total savings of $327,327.

Prior to the sale, Moody’s Investors Service, a municipal credit rating agency, affirmed the City’s “Aa1” long-term debt rating. The agency cited the City’s sizable and diverse tax base, unused levy capacity, and stable financial position as positive credit factors.

“We’re obviously very pleased with the results of this bond sale,” said Mayor Bettencourt.  “Peabody’s strong ‘Aa1’ credit rating and the continuing low interest rate market enable us to make critical infrastructure upgrades while saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in interest charges.”

The bids for the bonds were accepted at the office of the City’s financial advisor, First Southwest Company, at 54 Canal Street in Boston, Massachusetts.