This week Gloucester had the distinct privilege of hosting mayors from across the state at our monthly Mass. Mayor’s Association meeting.
Mayors from as far away as North Adams, Pittsfield, Northampton and as nearby as Salem, Lynn, Peabody and Newburyport attended. Others came from in between places like Fitchburg, Brockton, Taunton, and Braintree.
Traditionally, the host mayor is given the floor for about 15 minutes to “brag” to the other mayors about what is happening in his or her city. I talked about the financial turnaround of the city, overcoming infrastructure crises, and carrying out management reforms all of which, when under control, allows for focus on quality of life for residents.
I talked about transforming a negative unreserved fund balance into a positive fund balance in one year’s time. In many ways, only a fellow mayor can understand what it means to go from negative $600,000 to positive $3.2 million in one year without collapsing city services.
The mayors also understand what it means to do the same thing with free cash. I talked about coming in to a deficit of $3.8 million in free cash, orchestrating the financial turnaround with our team, improving the bond rating, and last year producing $4.8 million in free cash – a healthy and appropriate amount.
One of the mayors came up to me afterwards and said, “we have negative unreserved fund balance and negative free cash. Can I come out and spend some time with you?”
Telling him I would be more than happy to help, I told him to bring his CFO or other team members and said, “don’t even think of tackling this alone.”
I talked about overcoming infrastructure crises including the 20-day boil water order the city endured due to a catastrophic failure of the water system. It was crippling economically, and I used the example of Gorton’s of Gloucester, one of the city’s biggest employers, which had to shut down production lines, and truck in water costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
We’ve since spent about $40 million on the water system, and were able to convince Gorton’s to continue to invest in the city. They have just recently completed an expansion of their plant, added a new production line, and new jobs in the city.
I talked about management reforms being put in place under the leadership of our new public safety leaders, Police Chief Campanello and Fire Chief Smith. Following through on the change out of civil service was probably the single most difficult thing we’ve achieved but well worth it. On the other side is a level of professionalism and outside perspective that is sometimes necessary for needed reforms.
With finances and infrastructure under control, and management reforms well under way, the city has been able to turn its attention to being proactive on the things that are important to the community such as a long-term capital plan for our elementary schools or cutting the ribbon on a new stadium at Gloucester High School in early September or wind turbines that are on track to generate enough revenue to help us finance a new public safety building with no override.
I closed with a message to the mayors to come back and enjoy our beautiful beaches, go for a harbor cruise, have dinner, listen to music, shop Main Street, browse art galleries, walk the Harborwalk, or explore our two cultural districts.
“Get to know Gloucester again,” I urged my colleagues.
Never am I so proud to be mayor of Gloucester as when I get to brag about this city to other mayors.
Carolyn A. Kirk is mayor of the city of Gloucester.