At Monday night's City Council meeting at City Hall, Mayor Kim Driscoll praised the city for its many accomplishments in 2012, but said "much, much more work" has to be done.
She said, "Our bond rating was upgraded earlier this fiscal year by Standard and Poor’s citing our strong record of fiscal management. This positive news is even more impressive when you consider that it wasn’t that long ago we were facing a multimillion dollar deficit with little reserves on hand."
Among the accomplishments for 2012, she cited the completion of the $10 million Bridge Street Corridor improvements. "It took longer than we wanted and at times was frustrating for both city officials and residents, but the final product was worth the wait -- almost."
She said she is excited that work on the new MBTA garage has begun.
Driscoll welcomed the opening of the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Complex, which consolidated District, Superior and Housing Courts in one building.
"We are now working closely with state officials and members of our legislative delegation on the re-use of the former District and Superior Court buildings. Located on prime downtown parcels, they each bring their own unique challenges for adaptive re-use and we hope to partner with the state on a plan for disposition shortly," she said.
She called the sale of the Power Plant site to Footprint Power and its plans to demolish the current plant and replace it with a cleaner, smaller state of the art natural gas fired facility "a seminal moment in our history."
"It will provide the city with a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform the current 62 acre brown field site from a gated, off limits solely industrial facility to a mixed use parcel, housing a smaller industrial use with much greater allowance for public space and a re-activated port," she said.
The mayor thanked state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, and retired state Sen. Fred Berry for securing the city payments to replace lost real estate taxes from the power plant through 2019.
She repeated her claim that Salem harbor is the city's Route 128 – long a major part of the city's economy.
Until seven years ago, Salem Wharf was just a name on a plan, she said.
"Today construction is well underway at Salem Wharf with Phase 2 of improvements being worked on as we meet, the latest example of the continued renaissance along Salem’s waterfront," she said. "The first 250 feet of the new pier and the first phase of dredging will be completed by Spring. We’ll now have more dock space for the Salem Ferry and other waterborne travel, recreation and commercial vessels."
The re-use of the Power Plant deep water dock will also aid the city's efforts to increase the waterfront presence and allow Salem to welcome cruise ships, a key boost to our tourism and hospitality industry, she said.
Driscoll also praised the city's downtown revitalization. Downtown Salem was named "Best Retail Shopping District" for 2012 by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, a feather in the cap for the city. She gave credit for the award to the Salem Chamber of Commerce, Salem Mainstreets and the Salem Redevelopment Authority.
She also touted improvements to the city's parks.
Under challenges the city faces, she listed the city-owned transfer station site, which she called "an albatross around the city’s neck for decades." She said the city faces a multimillion dollar clean up price tag with no ability to garner grants because the city was the responsible party for the contaminants on site, she said.
"I am concerned that taxpayers may end up having to foot the bill without much of a benefit/payback from this site once cleaned up," she said.
She also said, "Our new senior center remains a top priority of mine and I am pushing the Gateway Center property owner for a start date on this important initiative."
Driscoll, who also chairs the school committee, said improving the education provided Salem children remains a top priority.
"The future of our city is inextricably linked to the future of our public schools. I know we can not be a first class city without high quality schools and I am committed to ensuring that we provide the next generation of leaders with the educational opportunities they need to succeed," she said.