Nashua's potential is great, mayor says during State of the City speechBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
February 20. 2018 11:31PM
NASHUA — There is great potential in the Gate City, and Mayor Jim Donchess believes that exciting opportunities lie ahead for the community if it continues to be inclusive and innovative, he said during his annual State of the City address on Tuesday.
Donchess said the state of the city has never been stronger, but acknowledged there are still challenges and work to be done.
“We are strengthening our economy with added jobs, new housing and a revitalized downtown,” said Donchess. “We are making smart, strategic investments by rethinking, rebuilding and enhancing our infrastructure.”
Hundreds of new jobs have been added at BAE Systems, Nashua’s UPS facility, Prudential Overall Supply, Boston Billiards and more, according to the mayor. He said new companies such as Vybe Software and D&P Bioinnovations have moved into the Gate City, and Southern New Hampshire University is launching a new partnership to enhance pilot training at the Nashua Airport.
Donchess mentioned the new performing arts center that has been approved for Main Street, 200 units of housing that will open on Franklin Street, plans to convert the Picker Building into 60 apartments and the city’s development of a riverfront master plan.
“A reinvigorated downtown — including new housing, a restored Nashua riverfront, a performing arts center, additional stores and restaurants — is good for all Nashuans because it will expand our tax base and help pay for infrastructure, for schools, fire and police protection and for other services that benefit Nashuans in all neighborhoods,” said Donchess.
He mentioned the national opioid crisis and the city’s strategy to attack the public health crisis through Nashua’s Safe Stations program launched in the fall of 2016.
“We still have tragic overdose fatalities. One death is too many,” he said. “But we are not seeing rising numbers of fatalities as there have been in some parts of the country stricken by opioids.”
However, Donchess said the city cannot be complacent. Harbor Homes, one of the agencies assisting with the Safe Stations program in Nashua, is currently facing a financial shortage.
“These Safe Stations-related treatment programs cost a lot of money and are currently causing Harbor Homes to suffer a deficit of $400,000,” said the mayor. “ … More support from the state of New Hampshire and from Medicaid would be a huge help.”
One of the city’s biggest budgetary challenges remains the downshifting of costs by the state Legislature, according to Donchess, who said that despite a $2 million increase in the city’s mandatory contribution to the state pension system, the past two budgets have kept the annual tax increases under 3 percent.
This year, Donchess said he plans to introduce his newly proposed fiscal year 2019 budget in mid-March rather than mid-May so that city officials have more time to study the spending plan.
He mentioned the city’s school system and a newly proposed four-year teachers contract now under consideration by aldermen.
“This contract will help stem the ongoing out-migration of trained, seasoned teachers to neighboring districts, like Hollis-Brookline, Amherst and even Manchester for the higher pay those districts offer to mid-career teachers,” said Donchess.
He said the city must encourage the development of smaller homes to accomodate young people and families.
To focus on this initiative, Donchess announced his proposal to change existing zoning regulations in Nashua to allow people of all ages, including young families, to purchase properties in developments with smaller homes.
“Right now, such houses are being built under density bonuses that are awarded to senior-only housing,” he explained.
City leaders are continuing to work with the Boston Surface Rail Company in an effort to bring privately funded commuter rail service to Lowell and Boston, with a possible stop in Nashua, according to the mayor.
“There are a number of obstacles to overcome, but we are optimistic that this public-private partnership could bring rail service to Nashua,” he said.