Fuller: The state of the city is healing

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller delivered the annual State of the City address to the City Council Tuesday night, highlighting strides made and challenges faced in the past year.

“I am conscious that our civic body is still recovering from some bruising trials,” Fuller said. “The state of the world. The country, the commonwealth and our city show signs of stress. The challenges of our times are manifest.”

The city still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and financial insecurity, flooding and traffic congestion and the impacts of a two-week teachers’ strike were just a few of those challenges, she noted.

“Yet, in spite of all these seemingly intractable issues, I can’t think of a better place than here in Newton to wrestle with these challenges and together develop transformative solutions,” Fuller said. “I remain optimistic and full of energy to take on the work of local governance.”

Fuller’s speech centered around a theme of balance.

“The duties of a city government are varied and complicated, and success is measured not by how well we do in just one or two areas but rather in dozens. The rapid progress we years to make on one front is often tempered by the responsibilities we must met on many others as well as the stubborn truth that our resources are finite and out budget must balance.”

Fuller named three areas she wants the budget to focus on: “Educational excellence, forwards-looking governance, and up-to-date infrastructure.”

The strike

She started with education, dealing with an elephant in the chamber—the teachers’ strike—right off the bat.

“We just signed a four-year contract that improves education for our students, allows Superintendent [Anna] Nolin to move forward with important initiatives, provides competitive pay and benefits, and, yes, works within our financial framework,” Fuller said.

Fuller said she would be putting an extra $14 million in the budget for schools in FY2025, to bring the total schools budget to $282 million, a 5 percent increase over FY2024. Much of that money, she said, comes from the Eversource tax settlement she announced last summer.

“With this increase, the superintendent will be able to hire additional staff, to improve curriculum and pedagogy, and to address class sizes,” Fuller said.

New zoning, clean energy

Fuller spoke next about “forward-looking governance,” by which she meant zoning and environmental protection ordinances.

She praised the Village Center Overlay District compromise that re-zoned half of the city’s village centers to allow more mixed-use development and higher-density housing.

“Thank you to the city councilors, current and past, and to the director of planning and development Barney Heath and his talented team, for helping people live better and businesses do better,” Fuller said.

And the city will soon move even further than it has away from fossil fuels, with a new policy requiring all new construction to run on electricity instead of gas or oil.

In March, a new ordinance banning most single-use plastic from Newton businesses will take effect.

Trees will be protected, too, as a new enhanced tree protection ordinance also takes effect in March.

Buildings will be updated with solar power, and another large phase of solar component installation will be enough to generate more than 1.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

“Fun fact: With this additional solar, close to 40 percent of our total municipal electricity consumption will be offset by our solar arrays,” Fuller said.

Parks and roads

Parks will be updated with new pools and splash pads by summer, she continued, turf fields will be replaced at several schools, and Albemarle Field will get six new pickleball courts.

A citywide bicycle safety plan is almost complete, too. And the city is closer to having at least one its commuter rail stations renovated.

And then there are Newton’s roads, notorious for potholes and other impacts from wear and tear.

“If there’s one thing I’ve consistently heard from residents since before I was elected as alderman and on through my tenure as a city councilor and mayor, it’s the frustration about the state of our roads,” Fuller said.

Fuller noted that her administration has been pushing ahead with the Transportation Network Improvement Plan formed by her predecessor, Mayor Setti Warren, to improve many of Newton’s roads.

And the work isn’t nearly done. The city is going to push forward with more and more roadway improvements until all that’s left to do is maintain the streets.

“While anyone who drives in Newton knows that we still have a lot of work to do, please also know that our paving teams will be coming soon to a neighborhood near you,” she said.

You can watch the entire State of the City address on YouTube.