PLATFORM

"The most good, for the most people, most of the time." - Keith St.John
WHY I'M RUNNING
LIST OF ISSUES

The current Mayoral administration has employed the strategy of extensive property development as a means to keep taxes down. I believe that this is a short-term solution to long term problems that will create more long-term problems for Marlborough. It is time to start thinking long-term and begin to implement a strategy that will improve the city’s competitive advantage for the next 20-50 years. 

Due to the emphasis on new building projects, the city’s existing commercial infrastructure has been neglected, city owned properties purposefully left vacant in order to create a situation in which they can be liquidated without the people’s knowledge, that if properly managed, they could be an asset rather than a liability. Their rationale for this, is that the sale of the property would give a large boost to the general fund, the downside, that this is a onetime boost, not a continual stream.

As the consequences of climate disruption are being felt on a larger scale than ever in 2019, city officials blithely continue to employ “the ostrich strategy” believing; that even if there was a problem, that nothing could be done to prevent it at the municipal level. Rather I feel as though we should “think globally, act locally”. There are steps that we can take that will do our part in addressing climate, while improving the City’s situation. 

Education

By far, the single largest line item for our city’s budget is education. This provides for 11 schools, a transportation fleet, and classroom space for nearly 4,600 students. Marlborough has an enviable school system. Assabet Valley Vocational Tech school has been a stalwart for decades to this AMSA was added to give a more dedicated hard sciences’ education. Marlborough High has maintained strong STEM and vocational options as well as providing a balanced quality education. In fact, this has drawn many families to Marlborough.

Though resources are being cut at the federal level, and some state initiatives have been slow in developing, Marlborough Public Schools have delivered a strong standard of achievement. This is not to say that we have been perfect, some students have slipped through the cracks or not been properly served.

With the bond being approved for new school construction, valuable permanent classroom space is being created for art and music, with new space for special ed and ESL classes. However, there is still need, the average class size of 22 is a bit large, larger still at Jaworek Elementary where many more classes are needed. 

With the much touted increase of businesses and industry in Marlborough, it is surprising that 66% of our students face some level of food insecurity at home. Free and reduced lunch programs provide much needed meals for 60% of our students. Hungry children cannot learn, children who cannot learn fall behind, those who fall behind have an increased probability of remaining behind. Massachusetts continues to have high standards for these programs, however, the Federal Government continues to slash funding supplemental food programs. Coupled with the State Government’s established track record on funding. Our students may not be able to count on these federal programs indefinitely. 

For this, I propose class gardens at all of the schools in the city. These would introduce students to gardening and might spur some of our students to seek a career in agriculture. Most students though, will find it to be a useful skill if they find enjoyment in it. To benefit the school, these gardens will supplement the fresh produce available for school lunches. This should help to reduce costs for the city and provide much needed fresh produce. Assabet Valley may also find it to be of a unique interest aligning with their renown culinary program.

In my youth all students were pushed toward attempting a 4-year degree. Even before the ’08 economic collapse there were many, some that I knew, who after one or two years dropped out of college, no degree, few practical skills, and $60,000 in debt. This sort of story does not benefit society. Those students were failed by the educational system and fell through the cracks. 

We must expand on programs which expose our students to the potential benefits of vocational training. Many of the fastest growing careers in the Commonwealth and our nation do not require college degrees, but they do require advanced technical training. We do a disservice not just to our students but to the whole of the community by diminishing these vital programs. We need to highlight the financial benefits these programs offer comparative to the cost of living, so that we may give our students the opportunity to prepare for their futures. 

Marlborough is home to a hospital, high tech, defense contractors, and a myriad of other light industries. We can develop and expand public-private partnerships to provide educational opportunities through internships and other hands on training programs to expose all our students to all possible career paths. Benefitting both the Marlborough Public School system and the local business community.

    As mayor I would strive to work with state and federal officials to bring grant money to Marlborough in order to offer greater access to job retraining programs to those whose jobs have been lost to offshoring or automation.

Green Initiatives: Infrastructure and Industry

Solar Infrastructure

As the evidence of climate disruption become more difficult to ignore, Marlborough needs to do more. Both to ensure the long-term viability of the city and the planet which we inhabit. Marlborough, for fiscal your 2019 spent $1.8 million of the general city budget on electricity, with an additional $860,000 within the school maintenance fund, meaning that $2.66 million of the $162 million budget or 1.6% of the total budget is spent on electricity. This presents an opportunity, a two-pronged approach to adding solar capacity to the city.

The first prong is to add solar panels to city owned properties to replace or greatly reduce the amount of power drawn from natural gas and coal fired power plants. Prong two is to work with commercial property owners, particularly at our shopping centers to allow the city to erect “parking lot solar arrays.” 

City owned solar would constitute a significant investment, however, there would be an immediate savings for the city as power would no longer be purchased and once the initial investment is returned, it would become a revenue stream for the city.

Such solar arrays have fringe benefits for patrons of those plazas which implement them. Such as, no longer loading vehicles with your purchase in the rain or snow. No more entering oven like cars with palm burning steering wheels. With a smaller surface area to be plowed after each storm property owners may see a slight savings on their snow removal costs. 

Waste Initiative 

When I was a child growing up in Massachusetts there were two refrains blasted everywhere from back to school shopping to Saturday morning cartoons aimed at getting the new generation, my generation, to look at environmental issues and consumption on a scale larger than ourselves. Those oft repeated mantras:
 

“Think globally, act locally”

“Give a hoot, don’t pollute”

 

Now that we are adults, our pattern of thought and consumption are reflective of those ideals that were set for us. Yet our active involvement seems to find opposition from that same generation that attempted to instill these values on us. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the issue of plastic reduction.

The world is suffering through a plastic crisis, at the same time the Commonwealth is struggling with a garbage crisis. Our local government has a responsibility to be conscious of our city’s impact on a global scale. We as a municipality have it within our capacity to help combat both of these issues. 

Sadly, the pervasive plastic bag continues to make its presence felt in the parks and drifting down the city streets. Plastics are manufactured from lentil sized pellets, which are shipped from refineries to producers, 250,000 tons of these pre-production plastic pellets enter the world’s oceans annually. Once in the water, it is nigh impossible to remove, leading to the contamination and possible destruction of valuable food resources.  

We can simultaneously address this issue and become a leader in the Commonwealth by instituting a city-wide ban on single use plastic bags and food containers. This is both to reduce plastic litter in Marlborough, and to reduce the manufacture of single use plastics in the first place. 

There are new plastics recycling techniques and manufactured processes that are rapidly gaining market share. These coupled with a move toward bio-plastics that will actually bio-degrade if they get into the environment. These next gen plastics are going to be manufactured somewhere. With our proximity to major distribution routes, access to students from top technical schools, and industrial park with room to expand, let Marlborough become a manufacturing city once more. 

As Mayor, I would incentivise companies to come here, and build a state-of-the-art recycling facility here, so that we may capitalize on a nation-level problem and reap the financial benefits to better our community.

To combat solid waste, we can introduce a municipal composting program, this will not only help to reduce the amount of waste headed to landfills from Marlborough but will supplement and eventually replace the fertilizers purchased by the city for the various parks and flower beds. Depending on the volume of available compost, it is possible that it may also be available to residents or landscaping businesses, further reducing costs. This program can begin on a trial basis with the many restaurants and markets that make this city so great, and if this program proves successful, it would be expanded to residential collections.

Replacing Natural Gas

An ancillary benefit to my solar energy proposal is a reduction in the amount of natural gas that will need to be delivered to the Commonwealth. In the aftermath of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, some of the displaced residents were hosted by hotels in Marlborough, still the struggle continues over the new proposed pipeline to increase delivery of yet more gas. We need to utilize lessons learned from this tragedy by implementing energy policy respective to both future planning and public safety. Currently, natural gas is also one of the primary heating sources in the city, and so to mitigate fossil fuel dependence, I would support a plan to help residents convert their furnaces from natural gas or oil burning to geo-thermal or heat pump technology. I plan to achieve this by matching potential state contributions for residents who voluntarily switch over, or by offering other such tax incentives.

Want it in bullet points? 
Assabet River Rail Trail

The Assabet River Rail Trail thatconnects to Hudson and other communities has a terminus in downtown Marlborough. At the current moment, there is a vacant lot in the vicinity as well as multiple businesses in the automotive trade. I believe that instead of continuing to pursue luxury development, I contend that is a prime location for a pedestrian mall area for local businesses.

With parking available on nearby Jefferson St. there is accessibility for people to come into the area. Attractions such as a bike shop, eatery, tourists information booth, perhaps a fountain, and other possible draws to entice those who do not live in the immediate vicinity. With this innovation, we can attract people from outside Marlborough who will begin to see the downtown business districts as a worthwhile way to spend their leisure time. 

Currently, Marlborough residents either use our parks or go to Framingham or Worcester to enjoy their recreational time. Our city has many new residents but only a few draws that bring recreational dollars here to help promote local business, and perpetuate the success of the city.

New bus routes or expansion of those in current use, will also help to bring those who prefer not to drive to the downtown district. Especially now with the return of our semi-pro football team compounding an existing traffic problem. The city hosting more and more varied events in the downtown area will bring those from greater MetroWest to Marlborough for leisure and recreation.

The new outdoor public history museum is a good start, but on its own is little more than  a curiosity. Events such as the food truck festival in September are also progress for the city. However, to have the festival in a park away from other businesses will not have a long term benefit. Instead the food truck festival should be used to introduce our city, with the aim of bringing about repeat business. This may be accomplished by designing the festival to be a walking tour of Marlborough.

Marlborough has spent many years and taxpayer resources to create an enviable public parks system, as well as reestablishing the Assabet River watershed and developing the Assabet River Rail Trail and support interconnectivity with other trail networks. We can design periodic and sustained exhibitions and festivals to encourage local adventuring to support the neighborhood economy. Greater connectivity between Marlborough and Framingham, Marlborough and Hudson, Marlborough and Northborough to improve alternative commutes.

Infrastructure Initiative - Water Resources

The continued development of the western portions of Marlborough both puts strain on the existing water and sewage infrastructure, and provides an opportunity for our city to take a leading role in redefining how water is treated and managed at the municipal level. One of the global consequences of climate disruption is a shifting of weather patterns that are making some regions wetter and others drier. 

One major way that Marlborough can reduce waste is through infrastructure initiatives, repairing or replacing leaking or broken water mains. Secondly, we can aid in the reduction of use by households and horticultural enthusiasts by expanding programs that provide water barrels or create programs to aid in the installation of grey water systems. These programs would help to reduce water delivered to properties. As well as reduce storm run-off and wastewater from entering the water treatment system in the first place.

            A third option that some cities have found success reducing storm run-off, is by creating roof top gardens on buildings with the structural integrity, and smaller ones on bus stops and other micro spaces. On those sound, flat roofed buildings, roof top gardens have been found to have many benefits. The first being that much of the rainfall is absorbed in the flowerbeds. These flowerbeds also provide needed urban habitat for insects and birds. An added benefit for the building owner and the community is the increased level of insulation provided by the gardens, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat and cool the building. 

            Lead water contamination in today’s America is most often caused by the wrong chemical cocktail being used to treat our drinking water. Municipalities around the globe have begun to use artificial swamps as opposed to traditional chem based plants. Though these artificial swamps are more expensive to build, and take extra time to fully come on line as the environment must be developed incrementally. They are cheaper to operate over the long run. Using aquatic plant and animal life to clean water eliminates the need for chemicals in the water that we drink, cook, and bathe in. 

            This could make Marlborough not simply a leader in the Commonwealth, so far as water resources are concerned, but also a leader globally.

Roads, Plumbing, and Electric

A recent line of storms spurred an all too familiar scene, a tree branch, blown down onto a power line, the pole snapped and lines on the ground, knocking out power to homes and businesses. A recent lead water scare in the city has brought up the imagery of Flint MI, in wealthy suburban Massachusetts. The Merrimack Valley Gas line explosions have brought home the all to real prospect of the multiple leaks and old infrastructure could rupture in Marlborough as well.

    This all intersects with the condition of the city’s roads. Many are in a terrible state of disrepair, even some main thoroughfares have grass growing down the middle of them, with a patchwork quilt of tar lines, the equivalent of structural band-aids, on a serious long-term problem. Many of the city’s bridges are at the end of their useful lives or under specified for the current traffic load, chief amongst them the Forest St. bridge over rt 495.  

    As we begin to rebuild the road surface, beginning with the roads in the worst state of disrepair, or suspected to have the most water or gas leaks under them. It is irresponsible beginning with those in prominent neighborhoods, we can set the city up for future successes. Once the roads are dug up, leaking and out of date water mains can be replaced. Those residences or businesses that are still hooked up via lead service lines can, and should, be replaced as well. Leaking water lines cause numerous problems under ground by keeping soils saturated, weakening the subsoil. These leaks also cost the city money and deplete water resources. Resources that during a summer drought are already taxed. 

    Some of those families who were displaced following the Merrimack Valley tragedy are staying in Marlborough hotels. The root cause of this was a plethora of leaks caused by the age of the system and neglect. There are leaks here in Marlborough, fixing them will go a long way in preventing disaster here, and reduce the amount of natural gas that is piped into the city. 

    Over time, Marlborough would also benefit from transitioning our above ground power lines to underground lines. This helps to protect our power lines from storm damage and adverse weather conditions. In addition, many roads are too narrow for the current traffic that now utilizes them to go around the center of the city. One of the constraints on widening these roads, is the existence of telephone poles. With roads dug up to be replaced electric conduits can be buried now, so that in the future the more expensive and laborious task of hooking up the individual buildings will not require future road work. 

    The benefits of burying the lines are numerous. Some of the more narrow roads in the more wooded neighborhoods could be widened to more capably carry the traffic load. This would also reduce power outages as no above ground lines would exist to be downed in a storm or struck by a car and broken. An ancillary benefit is that the aesthetic of the city will increase, of particular import on the cities designated scenic routes. 

    This will be a laborious project, but one that needs to be undertaken. And one that if done right the first time would dramatically reduce the need for patchwork later. Higher quality road surfaces and possibly redesigned traffic patterns to reduce congestion will benefit everyone. Finally we will continue to replace those bridges that are nearing the end of their serviceable life, or are underspecified for the current load.

Housing

No two words seem to inspire more fear of rampant governmental overreach than “affordable housing.” According to rentjungle.com the current average rental rate in Marlborough is $1,840 per month. A 4.24% increase over last year when rents were $1,762 a nearly 1% increase over the previous month, since 2014 rental rates have grown 32%. Meanwhile average household income has not kept pace, growing just 5.29% over the most recent 5 year period. When speaking to financial professionals and budget experts; people should not spend more than 25% of their monthly income on housing. 

    Therefore, based on these numbers, the average Marlborough resident must earn $7,352 per month (a wage of $45.95 per hour) for a 40 hour work week. Most jobs, even in the best vocational trades, do not pay this well. Rental growths at this rate are simply unsustainable! 

Rises in the rental rates at the top end of the market have enabled building owners to raise rates on existing stock without requiring any sort of improvement. This forces the need for dual income households and in many cases, multiple jobs for each earner in the dual income household. This hardship is unfortunately necessary simply because base wages are lower than is necessary to afford the escalating cost of rent. 

For parents, this means more time away from home, putting an additional financial strain by necessitating childcare or after school type community programs. Unfortunately, this problem is made worse because there is a drastic shortage of these programs. 

What then can be done? We can attack the root of this problem by implementing an accessible affordable housing strategy aimed at both young professionals who desire to put down roots as well as older residents looking downsize from family homes. It is important to be clear that older residents who wish to downsize from family homes do not necessarily want a senior living community or senior housing. Independence and autonomy are very much woven into the fabric of this Commonwealth and our Nation, and it is imperative that our municipal plan reflect that.  Rather than approving more luxury development, which pushes up rents and further drives the average worker away from Marlborough, putting more cars on the road as public transport continues to lag behind demand or need.

Though many view the issue of affordable housing as a unilateral taxpayer subsidy of section 8 housing or 40-b housing, there are more simple alternative approaches. We can begin by no longer approving projects, that aim for the top of the market, and focusing to approve projects that will enable those who work in Marlborough to reasonably afford to live here. Residents deserve to have equitable work-life balance, and not be required to sacrifice for a home they barely have time to sleep in. We must make Marlborough a living city!

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© 2019 by the committee to elect Keith St.John