City Manager Tom Ambrosino took the podium at Monday’s first Council meeting to deliver a recap of the madness that was 2020 in Chelsea, and the hard work and hope that lies ahead in 2021 for the City.
“We have just come through an extraordinarily challenging time here in the City, perhaps the most difficult since receivership,” he said. “However, this pandemic we face is not over yet…There’s no denying the terrible, terrible toll COVID-19 exacted on this community economically, physically and emotionally.”
Ambrosino started by recapping so much of the tremendous support that was provided by the Administration and the City Council with City, state and federal funding over the past 10 months. He said the Council and the community responded to the tragedy and the needs with “some degree of effectiveness.”
“It is important to note this Council stepped forward with unprecedented support for the community,” he said.
He said the Council approved monies to support renters, to support homeowners, to support small businesses, and to support those suffering from food insecurity. While doing that, he highlighted the action by the Council to address systemic racial injustice within City government, putting money aside to start and Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Equal Employment. That will likely be kicked off in the spring. He said the City has lived through one of the most difficult years in decades, but also said more challenges are likely to come.
Then Ambrosino moved towards a more hopeful outlook for 2021, talking about the vaccine distribution program underway and new federal government COVID-19 assistance that will come soon for small business.
“The reality is immense and demanding issues will confront us in 2021,” he said.
He called for collaborative action with the Council on four specific areas, including repairing the small business community, addressing the housing situation, assisting the Chelsea Public Schools with funding, and restoring the financial stability of the City.
For the business community, he said there are going to have to be creative ideas to revive businesses that have, and are still, crippled by shutdowns and COVID-19 restrictions – including the budding restaurant scene.
He said the housing situation is at a critical precipice – especially for homeowners and he cited the real estate crisis from 2007-08 as something not to be repeated.
“We will need innovative strategies if we do not want a repeat of the foreclosures that inundated this entire region for many years a decade ago after the Great Recession,” he said. “Part of that strategy will have to include a renewed emphasis on affordable housing for our residents.”
He said the public schools will need guidance and assistance to make sure students can get back to in-person learning safely and “as soon as possible.”
Finally, the financial stability of the City has been a paramount concern as the City funneled millions of dollars in Rainy Day Funds to help with food pantries, rental assistance, homeowner stabilization and many other matters – much of which was buttressed by federal CARES Act money as well. Even so, revenues from hotel excise taxes and vehicle excise taxes and Logan Airport operations have nearly dried up over the past eight months.
He said that soon, it will be time to re-establish the financial health of City government somehow, some way.
“We drained an enormous amount of reserves responding to this pandemic,” he said. “It’s possible we may still need to tap into more reserves before this is fully over. Once we’re safely through this ordeal, we will need a renewed effort to generate economic growth. We’ll need to re-establish a healthy Rainy Day Fund.”
He also mentioned the Charter Commission and its year-long work reforming and formulating suggestions on the 10-year review of the Charter. That work continues, and he said it is work that fall only with the Council. Meanwhile, all other work will call for close collaboration, and he invited the Council to once again work with himself and his Administration to solve the issues that will confront Chelsea in 2021.
“How we solve these difficult challenges ahead of us; of that, this evening, I confess, I am a little bit uncertain,” he said. “Solutions aren’t easily at hand. What I am certain of and have absolutely no doubt about is the ability of this group of councillors to work collectively with my administration to find the right path forward. We were able to do it in the darkest of times and we will do it again. I am eager – eager – to get started in that effort again.”