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Mayor sets positive tone for State of the City talk

NEWTON — In his fifth State of the City address as Newton’s mayor, Setti D. Warren will review a list of fiscal accomplishments, including passage by voters of last year’s property tax increase, that he believes are the foundation to his vision of creating a thriving city now and into the future.

Warren had been scheduled to deliver his address last week, but Tuesday’s snowstorm prompted him to postpone it until Feb. 3. The Globe was given an advance copy, and sat down with the mayor to discuss what he sees as his administration’s key accomplishments over the past year, and to take a look at what he wants to get done in the coming year.

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Warren said he’s been able to rebuild the city’s finances, which had a projected $41 million deficit when he first took office in January 2010, by “dramatically changing how we do business.”

Immediately after taking office, he started daily morning meetings with department heads to establish a culture of communication that he said had been nonexistent. Warren said his administration created a detailed list and set priorities for capital improvement projects, started drafting department budgets from zero, rather than using existing funding levels as a starting point for cutbacks, and came up with a plan to make sure providing health insurance for retired city employees doesn’t bust the city’s future budgets.

“Every decision we made we did addressing the mission at hand, and looking to the future,” he said.

In his speech, Warren will touch on that theme.

“The state of our city is strong. Over the past four years we have started down the path to building a sustainable, livable, model 21st-century city,” the speech reads.

‘We have put things in place and we are continuing to build a model for a sustainable, livable city. It’s the whole theme of what we’re doing.’

SETTI D. WARREN, Newton’s mayor, previewing his annual State of the City address 
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Warren will highlight his successful negotiations with 17 city unions to keep annual increases in salary and health insurance expenditures at 2.5 percent, and the establishment of a $13 million rainy day fund where none previously existed. He also will report that the $140 million in capital building improvements funded by last year’s Proposition 2½ override are underway, on budget, and projected to be done on time.

The mayor will also tip his cap to Superintendent David Fleischman, saying Newton’s school system remains among the best in the state because of his leadership, and will point to the 50 teachers hired because of the override, allowing class sizes to be lowered.

In the speech, Warren will talk about his administration’s work to enhance livability in the city by improving communication not only within City Hall, but also between residents and their government. He’ll outline improvements to roads and sidewalks, such as making more sidewalks accessible to people with disabilities, and adding bicycle lanes. He will speak of beginning work to install a citywide fiber-optic network, and creating a plan to rehabilitate many of the city’s recreational fields.

Warren will also talk about his administration’s commitment to environmental sustainability, citing the installation of solar panels on four school rooftops, and the reduction of the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 63 percent through purchasing all municipal electricity from green sources.

“The result of these decisions is that the city is saving more than $2 million each year, while the overall reduction in greenhouse gases is the equivalent of taking 2,700 cars off the road,” the speech reads.

He will also point out that the Garden City is not only saving $300,000 annually, but better caring for its trees by creating an in-house tree maintenance department, rather than contracting services only to clean up problems.

Warren said he is particularly proud of the collaboration between his office, developers, neighbors, the city’s planning department, and the state that led to improvements along Route 9, and set the stage for the former Omni Foods property to be replaced by a complex that will include a Wegmans grocery store, a fitness center, shops, and restaurants. The improvements also provided a catalyst for renovations and expansions at retail complexes along the westbound side of Route 9 in Chestnut Hill.

Warren said he is now focusing on the Needham Street commercial corridor, partnering with the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce to work on persuading the state to make improvements to the roadway so the city can begin attracting technology companies to the area.

“We have put things in place and we are continuing to build a model for a sustainable, livable city,” Warren said. “It’s the whole theme of what we’re doing.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.
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