EASTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle released her annual State of the City Address on January 31st.
In the address, Mayor LaChapelle acknowledges state and city officials, as well as city workers and teachers for their leadership and commitment to Easthampton during the pandemic. She also highlights resiliency planning, investing in capital projects, and increasing reserves.
The following is the full-text version of her speech which can also be watched on YouTube.
“As we enter 2023 together, I think that it is important to recognize how we got to where we are today. This has become a familiar theme in these speeches, recognizing our work relative to the challenges of the global pandemic. Even though the specter of Covid-19 and its variants continues to affect us all, overwhelming our hospitals and continuing to cause disruptions, I am hopeful that we are through the worst of it.
Throughout the worst of the pandemic, the state and federal governments undertook heroic and unprecedented support of our communities and small businesses, our renters and residents, our hospitals and schools as we all sought to adapt to the violently changing world.
I want to pause here to recognize our federal delegation, Senators Warren and Markey and Congressman Neal, for working through the pandemic to provide for our city. I also want to thank Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito for ably guiding the state forward in spite of the truly historic nature of the public health crisis we faced. Throughout the dynamic and harrowing years of the pandemic, our city workers, teachers, and employees, addressed and adapted to the changing demands and requirements that we faced. I want to personally thank and recognize you all for your continued commitment to our students and our city.
The coming year again presents an opportunity caused by crisis: The incoming “Cliff Effect” when federal and state COVID dollars taper off and there will be a gap in local funding. In advance of this, Easthampton is investing in capital projects that buttress human and physical infrastructure while building reserves to support these expanding services in our operating budget. This is how we build a more financially secure, just, equitable, and resilient city. We speak of resiliency in terms of climate change, but it encompasses our mission and vision as a City.
To be clear, we are building a city that is more prepared to withstand the increasingly erratic and severe weather that comes with climate change. Specifically, Easthampton has major road, sewer, and wastewater projects scheduled through 2030. This is decidedly less sparkly as other city work, but no less important. Sewer projects aren’t just about making our storm water cleaner but about ensuring that businesses and residences don’t face future problems like expensive backups and overflows. Each of these projects is in a Environmental Justice neighborhood and is meant to future-proof our city against the changes in the world around us; creating a cleaner environment as well as expanding economic development possibilities in the coming years.
Easthampton’s first comprehensive Climate Action Plan will be created, cataloging what steps we take next to minimize carbon output while maximizing positive impact. The Plan helps plan for assertively negotiating solar PILOTS, electrifying the city fleet, and migrating to more efficient water, sewer and wastewater technology.
Today I speak of resiliency in a broader sense.
Just as we’re building a city that is more prepared for the changes we’re seeing in the climate, we’re making those same investments in school buildings that will better prepare our children for the next economy and the changing world that we’re all experiencing.
The Covid-19 pandemic laid bare the digital divide that our businesses, residents, and students are facing. We are working with the Mass Broadband Institutes’ Municipal Digital Equity Plan program to provide access and affordability to address this gap.
When people are given the option of working remotely, cities like Easthampton benefit.
When businesses can reach their customers and clients remotely, cities like Easthampton benefit.
And when we provide affordable access to high-speed broadband, all of our residents benefit.
Similarly, we’re bringing in new businesses and new development to ensure that our tax base grows and remains strong in the coming years. The Route 10 Highway/Business corridor is buzzing with new development turning underutilized property into dynamic, mixed-use space that will welcome new jobs and residents to our city. None of this growth would be possible without the support of Mass DOT, providing the infrastructure of growth, helping us lay the groundwork for the future.
Similarly, the Main Street Transportation Improvement Project is in the design phase with THIRTEEN MILLION DOLLARS in federal money set aside to build out and execute that plan. The first public meeting will be held mid-February along with the Pleasant, Green, and Mill District.
Numerous housing projects are under construction or in the planning phase. Tasty Top, 19 Cottage Street, and so many other smaller projects are moving forward. These are projects that just five years ago seemed impossible. Slowly we worked with developers to come in, compiled the capital stack, and these projects are moving off the drawing board and onto the tax rolls.
We do not just grow for the sake of growth but for a more sustainable future. Denser housing uses fewer resources, are accordingly better for the environment, and ultimately contribute to our tax base more than single family homes on a per acre basis. By building density we are creating a more environmentally and fiscally sustainable and resilient city.
The Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce has chosen our city to open a regional office because they recognize the type of ecosystem we’re building in Easthampton. Their presence in Easthampton signals there is a safe space to incubate where there was not in the past. Adapting to rapid market changes, Blueprint Easthampton’s operations shift to our longtime partner, the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce. This partnership provides micro business with support to expand and diversify, including English and Spanish curricula, local technical support, and co-working space. We need to invest in our human capital like the Chamber of Commerce does, just as we are investing in physical infrastructure.
Part of our infrastructure is our ability to collect, interpret, and act on incoming data. In short data is the new currency of municipalities. On the city side, we’re going to use dynamic data to drive our decisions in municipal decisions around issues like parking, plowing, and potholes. Freshly updated data drives us forward – tracking how our infrastructure is holding up depending on current traffic patterns, who accesses what city facilities and who does not, correlating speeding with accidents.
Data will drive Easthampton’s decisions for future investments, expenditures, and services. Throughout the pandemic we were able to respond in real time to spikes in Covid positivity, growing out Department of Public Health threefold. With that real time success, we can use data to provide improved and more timely, appropriate city services to address the needs of our residents.
From a municipal planning viewpoint, 2023 brings the first coordinated review of our spending, division of labor, operations, and policies starting with the internal workings of City Hall. As well the City and School Department are collaborating on an audit to identify inefficiencies, overlap, and undetected bias. One deliverable will be an outwardly-facing dashboard with key community indicators. This will provide an extra layer of transparency that will allow residents to track outcomes along with city officials as well as determine our future based on data rather than antidote.
Ultimately a stronger Easthampton means more resilient businesses, organizations, and people. Like any ecosystem, diversity ensures longevity and strength. We will only continue to grow as a resilient city if we continue to change, to adapt, and to include more voices in the conversation. Change is not on its way; change is a constant – let’s embrace it together for collective resilience. We are all caretakers of our community, stewards of our economy, and trustees of our environment. It is up to us all to keep an eye on the future even as we tend to the needs of today. Together we can build a more just, compassionate, and resilient city for the future.”