West

Marlborough’s frugal mayor looks to rebuild

Marlborough Economic Development Corporation
A view of downtown Marlborough.

MARLBOROUGH — As Arthur Vigeant prepares to swear in for a fourth term as mayor on Jan. 1, he touts the city’s thriving office parks and full purse.

Arthur VigeanT

Vigeant, 60, a fixture as the pro-business fiscal hawk of city government since the 1990s, says his priority has always been a responsible budget.

Now, some critics say the city is long overdue on several major infrastructure projects that are still in their early stages.

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“I don’t know how much the current administration has paid attention to basic things like paving roads,” former mayor Michael McGorty said in a recent phone interview.

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But Vigeant is pushing forward on improvement plans as he begins yet another two-year term. An overhaul of city streets, begun this summer, is one of a slew of projects to come as the city climbs above 40,000 residents.

As part of a five-year, $142.3 million capital improvement plan released in the spring, Marlborough is also planning to build a new fire station on the west side of town, an elementary school, and an expansion of the city’s only library.

The library building is the same size as nearby Hopkinton’s, which recently expanded to serve roughly a third as many residents as in Marlborough. According to director Margaret Cardello, the 22,000-square-foot Marlborough facility has been inadequate for at least as long as she’s been there.

“Every day we’re struck by what we don’t have for the community,” said Cardello, who became director in 2010. The library hasn’t seen an expansion since the 1960s, and it offers just 23 parking spots.

Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe
Jack Trombetta, 8, and Luca Sinni, 9, play with Star Wars toys at the Marlborough Public Library during a "Star Wars" event. Behind them is Luca's sister, Maria, 4.
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Vigeant said in an interview with the Globe that he was originally reluctant to start work on the library because a new school was needed to deal with overcrowding at Raymond C. Richer Elementary School.

“I wanted to wait until we had approval for the school until I put my efforts into the library.” But, he said, “they convinced me pretty early.”

Though district-wide enrollment has increased little in recent years, overcrowding remains a problem at the school. Christina Slocomb, 48, reluctantly moved out of Marlborough last year because of concerns for her daughter, now in third grade.

“The main reason was the overcrowding in all schools at the elementary level,” she said of her decision to leave after 14 years. “I feel the mayor dropped the ball when it came to planning for the future.”

Going into the inauguration, both projects remain in the planning stages and are awaiting grant money. In October, the Massachusetts School Building Authority — which would significantly help with funding — moved the Richer School project into the “schematic design phase,” meaning the city is working with local officials on ideas for replacing the school. Meanwhile, the library is fourth on a waiting list for a $10 million grant from Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. The city is also currently looking to buy property nearby.

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Marlborough has struggled in recent years to win grant money for improvement projects. Vigeant said the city has not successfully applied for any state community development block grants since he became mayor in 2012. “Some of that was our own doing,” Vigeant acknowledged. “We had to get some ducks in order.”

The city recently announced that it was hiring a consultant to write its grant request this year.

Even so, five-term city councilor Joseph Delano said this wave of major projects is possible in part because of Vigeant’s consistent leadership fighting spending and increasing the city’s commercial tax base.

“A decade ago, we were struggling to find revenue to pay for services,” Delano recalled.

He said Vigeant, an accountant who served as a city councilor for 18 years, took hard stances on spending, even on the slim budgets of the recession years when the city lost thousands of jobs. “Not every councilor has been willing to say ‘no.’ Arthur has.”

“He’s taken a lot of heat for it, but that’s why we’re in the great position we’re in today,” Delano said.

The city now has at least $25 million in excess levy capacity and $10 million in reserves and stabilization funds, according to the mayor.

Vigeant also attributes that financial strength to the commercial development the city has cultivated over the years. Overall, the city has seen over 9 million square feet of commercial space added or redeveloped since 2000, a third of that office space, according to a Globe review of data from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Since the recession, the city has been able to attract large businesses to its office parks, including the TJX Corporation, GE Healthcare, Quest Diagnostics, Boston Scientific, and Whole Foods. A 43-acre retail and entertainment development, the Apex Center, opened this fall.

Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe
The Apex Center opened this fall.

Much of that growth, including the Apex Center, has clustered on the west side of the city, where the fire station is now needed.

To pay for recent big projects — like the senior center that opened in 2015 — Vigeant said, “you have to have the resources. And [commercial growth] is what generates the additional money.”

The city is planning to tackle the cost of the projected $8 million fire station without any grant money. A $50,000 gift from the developer of the Apex Center will help secure a consultant in the next month.

And the mayor’s office said tax rates aren’t expected to spike to cover the cost of all the major projects.

“Even with the library, fire department, and school projected in the next few years, the city’s debt service is expected to stay at a level that will keep property tax adjustments steady and predictable as they have been in recent years,” Nick Milano, and aide to the mayor said in an e-mail.

Marlborough has also projected spending $4 million a year on comprehensive road work, with additional money set aside for major sewer work and voluntarily replacing lead water service lines.

Cardello, the library director, said she’s optimistic about where the city is headed with all the work going on. “You need a lot of things to come together at the right time” she said of the library project.

“It seems throughout the city that this is the right time.”

Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.