Easthampton mayor touts economic strength in state of the city address

  • Mayor Nicole LaChapelle takes the oath of office Thursday during a swearing-in ceremony at city hall.   STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, left, is joined by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, second from left, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, State Rep. Dan Carey and Easthampton Police Chief Robert Alberti, for a swearing-in ceremony for herself and other Easthampton officials at city hall on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/2/2020 11:24:18 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Mayor Nicole LaChapelle’s state of the city speech touted the city’s fiscal strength and touched on housing, environmental conservation and the local tax rate, and finished with a call to enjoy local milk and  homemade cookies.

The cookies were made by LaChapelle herself, who prepared five dozen, half of them chocolate chip and half of them lemon, butter and cinnamon sugar cookies.

“Please help yourself,” the mayor said as she concluded her speech.

Guests at the state of the city address on Thursday included members of the City Council, state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, and LaChapelle’s mother, Donna O’Connor.

Before her speech, the mayor honored former City Council President Joseph McCoy, who just finished 14 years of service on the City Council and chose not to run for council again this year. LaChapelle credited McCoy with building a strong foundation for the city, and he was presented with certificates of recognition from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

Turning to the city itself, LaChapelle described the momentum and enthusiasm from her first election in 2017 as having persisted.

“It’s infectious — this love for our home, this willingness to invest and grow together for the good of everyone who works and lives here,” she said.

The mayor said economic development has exceeded expectations, and that the number of women-owned enterprises in the city have increased in particular. She also announced that the National League of Cities has awarded the city $25,000 for the creation of Blueprint Easthampton, a project that seeks to map an ecosystem in Easthampton for entrepreneurship.

“Through this initiative, we will map innovation resources for locally owned businesses. If you choose to do business in Easthampton, we will help you thrive,” LaChapelle said.

LaChapelle praised Easthampton’s financial health.

“Today we are in the strongest fiscal position this city has ever seen,” the mayor said. “Our bond rating rose to a historical high of AA+. We increased tax abatement for our most financially at-risk seniors.”

The mayor also said that the property tax rate residents will pay in fiscal year 2020, $17.76 per $1,000 of assessed value, was less than what had been predicted with the approval of the new school project. That initiative will merge Easthampton’s three elementary schools — Maple, Center and Pepin — with White Brook Middle School. The new consolidated school will be built on the site of White Brook, which will be demolished, with the first students attending classes there in January 2022.

The mayor noted that the bids for the school project came in under budget, and praised the work of the School Building Committee. She also promised to focus on the education budget itself.

“We must make sure that every single dollar is spent efficiently to benefit our students, keeping in line with the same spirit and dedication that secured a successful  Yes vote for the new pre-K through 8 school,” said the mayor .

Property taxes have become a heated issue lately, as the increase in the property tax rate has coincided with higher property assessments for many. Following her speech, she spoke to the assessment issue. “This was our three-year re-eval assessments,” she said.

“There were, as you can imagine, some real jumps” for both residential and commercial property owners, she acknowledged, but she expressed hope that growth could result in reduced tax rates in future years.

In her address, LaChapelle touted the city’s work with other mayors in advocating for education, infrastructure and public safety funding, and pointed to the relationships Easthampton enjoys with the state’s federal delegation, including working with Rep. Neal and River Valley Co-Op to secure $15 million for the co-op in new market tax credits.

She also took the time to praise the city’s municipal employees in the room.

“You are the reason for so much of our success,” LaChapelle said.

For the future, the mayor said that she would like to see socially and environmentally conscious development, and highlighted an ongoing study in the city to examine housing needs.

“We will create and execute a plan that addresses our actual housing challenges, supported by data and best practices,” LaChapelle said.

“This will be our guiding message as we look ahead: Create and execute plans based on facts, but guided by the feelings that we share for the city,” LaChapelle said.

The mayor finished up her speech with a call to action.

“We know what we have done and where we have been,” concluded the mayor. “Celebrate this new chapter of our city at this moment, but remember, we hit the ground running today. And tomorrow we do it again. So let’s get back to work.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

Correction: The new tax rate mentioned by  the mayor is $17.76 per $1,000 of assessed value. It applies to fiscal year 2020.




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