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City to focus on quality of life issues

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD With the city's finances under control and the settlement of contracts with all but one of the city's employee unions, Mayor Charles Ryan said last week the city will now focus on quality of life issues.

Although the city will move forward with its plans, Ryan said the effort would be helped with more Additional Assistance funding from the state. He noted that in the two and a half years of the Finance Control Board, the city has received a $52 million loan it must pay back, but no remedy in the distribution of more regular state aid not earmarked for schools.

"Up to now, it's [the recovery] has been due to a combination of our own ingenuity and productivity," Ryan said.

He made his comments at the October meeting of the Sixteen Acres Civic Association.

The city will continue its repair and restoration of city streets and sidewalks. This year over 50 streets were repaired and Ryan anticipates that next year the number will "far exceed that."

Ryan also said the city has paved and repaired 20 "private way" streets and will do 20 more next year. He said the city has 85 miles of private way streets and he has heard no complaints from residents because "they had given up." He said that he has driven over many of the private ways and they "were just like a battlefield."

He said the street and sidewalk program has helped improve public safety and unified neighborhoods.

There are 1,500 to 1,700 dead trees in the city which need removal and Ryan said that $1 million has been set aside for that purpose.

Within the next 45 to 60 days, Ryan said the city will seek a $50 million bond to put towards $150 million in capital improvements. Among those projects include a new Putnam High School of which the city must pay $10 to $12 million; repair of the Campanile, which is estimated at $10 million; a new fire station that would cost $5 million; a cap on the Bondi's Island landfill, which is estimated at $2 million and $15 to $25 million in rehabilitating the city's school buildings.

He said the city spent $3 million in the last two weeks for the demolition of abandoned buildings and there is between $12 and $14 million in demolition yet to be done.

Ryan said the city has made strides in the collection of the $46 to $47 million dollars in back taxes his administration inherited. He said that 51 percent of those taxes have been collected to date, and explained that some of the outstanding debt may never be recovered due to bankruptcies.

"There was absolutely nothing being done to collect taxes [before]," Ryan said.

Commenting on the status of Putnam Vocational High School, Ryan said there might be chance to keep the present shop area, which would result in a savings of $20 million in the costs of a new school. He said that some parts of Putnam are just 20 years old.

"This is a living testament to what happens to a building when there is no maintenance," he said.

When one resident asked about additional police patrols downtown to deter day-time street crime, Ryan said that in February of 2003, Mayor Michael Albano cut 135 jobs from the Police Department and "not one position has been re-filled."

Ryan is hoping to receive more state aid to bring more officers to the Department and said he is "counting on the next administration in Boston to do something different."

Ryan said that, by being citizens of the city, "we perform an act of faith every day."