City Manager Tom Ambrosino delivered his annual State of the City address to Council on Monday evening, going through the lows of 2020 while identifying pitfalls ahead in 2021, but also noting that he is more optimistic for the moment than it was on the last year.
“It has been the hardest for me in my 30 years of public service, and it has been probably the hardest for this city in its history,” he said. “However, I have to say that over the past few months I actually feel a sense of optimism – optimism based on the belief that despite a still raging pandemic and despite continuing economic turmoil and despite injustice racially unresolved, we seem to be well placed as a city. and a nation to turn a corner. The vaccines are there, and although the distribution is frustratingly slow, it is here.
“I have no doubts that this virus will be healed in Chelsea in the coming months,” he said, highlighting an incredible moment for the hard-hit community.
His address began with a discussion in these difficult times. He noted that the city had been “unprecedented and tragic”, denouncing the 218 deaths in Chelsea solely due to COVID-19. He added the racial injustice uncovered after the murder of George Floyd, the insurgency on the nation’s Capitol, among other events.
“A year like this could easily leave a person completely disheartened,” he said. “This is not how I look back on this past year, certainly not as the leader of this city. In the midst of all that darkness there was light and it was a light that was clearly visible here at Chelsea. The most obvious is how this city has mobilized to respond to the pandemic.
With that, Ambrosino highlighted the work Chelsea has done to support residents and once again noted that this was more than any city its size had done to support its residents. This included rental aid, small business aid, pantries, the COVID isolation hotel, the legal aid clinic and the innovative Chelsea Eats debit card program.
“(Chelsea Eats) has been one of the greatest drivers in the land of direct, unfettered money for those who need it,” he said. “It’s a program that could become a national model for how you deliver effective safety net relief.”
Ambrosino also highlighted the work done over the summer to address racial inequalities in municipal government. He said they moved quickly to create the Office of Diversity and Equity and were just days away from choosing its first director.
Beyond the victories in 2020, Ambrosino reiterated four challenges in 2021 that he also identified during the inauguration in January of the city council.
“Significant challenges await us as we speak,” he said.
One of those issues is housing insecurity, and he said the City will somehow have to tackle the rent arrears that exist and will only increase over time.
He also highlighted the zoning package that was sent to Council after a mostly positive recommendation from Planning Council. One of the main changes in this area is to increase density. Meanwhile, a house rules petition approved by the state legislature not long ago transfers the properties from tax title in the city to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for the Development of affordable housing – a first in any community.
I expect the Board of Directors to come to the Board very soon to request a transfer for their first project, ”he said.
A second concern is the rebuilding of the small business community. He said the City was going to have to invest significant sums to move small businesses out of the crisis phase and return to sustainability. He said he tasked the town’s community development office to go out into the community and start this work.
Rebuilding the Small Biz Community
“I asked DHCD to spend the next month working closely with the business community and the Board to develop ideas on how we could most effectively start this industry with government support,” a- he declared. “I think this could include help with alfresco dining, a second phase of the storefront improvement program, and maybe sponsorship of some events to attract businesses to the commercial sector once it is. safe for large gatherings. Details are still being worked out, but the City is committed to using government resources to fuel this resumption of activity.
Meanwhile, with small businesses on solid financial footing, Ambrosino said the city needs to start thinking about replenishing its reserves. The pandemic has caused the city to dig deep into its rainy days fund, with the fund growing to around $ 25 million before the pandemic, and now to $ 15 million. He said they spent $ 12 million to support residents, of which $ 5 million came from City savings. Another $ 5 million was used to support the budget this year due to declining revenues.
“We have work to strengthen our financial strength,” he said. “I will say things are not as gloomy as these circumstances have indicated. In fact, the economic outlook for FY22 looks brighter… Replenishing $ 10 million in our reserves will be difficult, but we will start that in FY22.
Finally, the last point of attention, according to him, must be the school system. He said Chelsea’s public schools could not function without the city’s help.
In closing, Ambrosino said he remains optimistic about 2021 and that by working together, city leaders will find their way out of the pandemic.
“I am convinced that by working with you, we will find the right way forward in 2021,” he said. “Our city was tested and shaken in 2020. I will quote one of my favorite Bible verses: ‘We were in a hurry on all sides, but we were not crushed.’ Instead, we came out intact and Chelsea’s condition tonight remains stable, strong and determined.