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Warren avoids taxes, talk of Senate run in state of the city speech

Posted by Your Town  January 17, 2012 08:33 PM

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Newton Mayor Setti Warren said today that the city must fix its aging schools, roads and buildings but stopped short of advocating for a tax increase to pay for the extensive list of projects.

In his annual state of the city speech, Warren also silent about his aborted and surprising run for the US Senate seat last year. Warren was among the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to unseat Senator Scott Brown, a Republican. He dropped out of the race when Elizabeth Warren emerged as the Democratic front-runner.

Instead, Warren, who is two years into his first term as mayor, highlighted his administration’s accomplishments locally in controlling the city’s budget, negotiating union contracts and bringing more transparency to government.

"When I decided to run for Mayor i saw a city that was not going to meet the vision of a city that could continue to attract old and young, families, seniors and people of all backgrounds," Warren said tonight. “While we still have much work to do, we have made significant progress and laid an important foundation for the work ahead. Newton is on the move once again.”

Warren pointed to the Chestnut Hill Square project, which after nearly a decade of debate was approved by the Board of Aldermen and will include a new Wegmans grocery store.

Discussions between the developer of a mixed-use project around the Riverside Station and city officials are also progressing, Warren said.

In his speech, Warren focused on his successful negotiations with the city’s employee unions that brought growth in labor costs in line with revenue increases, at 2.5 percent. Payroll and benefits were previously growing at a rate of 4.4 percent, Warren said.

“That is the single greatest game-changer in the city’s finances,” Warren said in an interview prior to his speech.

Warren said his administration has also put more information about local government on-line to improve accountability to residents. For example, citizens can report problems in their neighborhoods on the city’s Web site and officials are monitoring response times to ensure that concerns are quickly addressed, Warren said.

As for the thornier issues facing the city, including how to pay for more than $240 million in infrastructure needs, including renovations and expansions to schools, fire stations and City Hall, Warren said officials and citizens will have to discuss that in the coming year.

Warren opened the door to a debt-exclusion override that would temporarily raise property taxes in November when he first presented his capital improvement plan. But his speech Tuesday mentioned “alternative funding sources” but was vague on details.

Warren said he plans to present his plan for funding the capital program this fall, but in the meantime he wants to hear from the community about the needs and ways to pay for them.

Among the options some aldermen have started to debate is a temporary property tax increase and a instituting a fee for trash collection.

Newton must address the growth in school enrollment, increased traffic and its neglected buildings, Warren said.

“It also means engaging all our residents about the choices we face and gaining alternative funding sources to address those challenges in the future,” he said.

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