Ambrosino delivers State of the City address

As the specter of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to linger over Chelsea and the world, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino is looking forward to making sure the city gets back on track economically and helps those residents in need.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Ambrosino gave the annual State of the City address, highlighting how the city has handled the pandemic over the past years and giving his major areas of focus for 2022. The City Manager said affordable housing, economic development, and mental and behavioral health services for city youth are among the areas of concentration this year.

“I think when we were here a year ago, we were lamenting the very difficult 2020 we had been through and hoping 2021 was going to be a different kind of year,” said Ambrosino. “Even though we did a tremendous job of vaccinating our residents, unfortunately, the pandemic did not go away.”

As 2022 has already seen the rise and decline of the Omicron variant, Ambrosino said experts state that things are improving, but that people may have to live with some form of Covid-19 for years to come.

Even with that uncertainty, Ambrosino said Chelsea is in a much better place than it was a year ago, with the vaccination rate near 90 percent, and vaccine clinics and testing sites easily accessible in the city.

“What we need to focus on now is the recovery from Covid,” said Ambrosino. “What I am talking about is getting us back to and regaining for the city the strong economic momentum we had prior to the onset of Covid, and I feel like we are in a really good position to do that.”

Despite spending $12 million in direct pandemic relief to residents in the form of rental, food, and business assistance, Ambrosino still has over $17 million in its general stabilization fund and expects to have about $10 million certified in free cash. In addition, Ambrosino said the city has $40 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

“That is really a healthy financial balance sheet for a city the size of Chelsea,” said Ambrosino.

As to the ARPA funds, he said a community advisory committee will soon be making recommendations for how the city can best spend $15 million of those funds. The remaining $25 million will be earmarked for capital improvement projects in Chelsea.

“The capital improvement plan (CIP) document is probably the most robust and significant CIP that this city has seen in recent history; it’s certainly the largest one I’ve ever submitted to the council, and it includes over $24 million of direct spending in Fiscal Year ‘23, with $12.3 million of that coming from ARPA funds,” said Ambrosino. “Projects in there that will benefit the community include things like the complete renovation of Highland Park with new turf, the redoing of all that open playground area at the Williams School, the full rehabilitation of Cary Avenue, the continued rehabilitation of the Garden Cemetery, and the complete rehabilitation of the E911 facility.”

Ambrosino said the CIP also includes a number of climate change and resiliency initiatives.

Looking ahead, Ambrosino said the first area he wants to focus on is affordable housing.

“The best way to address our housing crisis is to build more houses,” said Ambrosino. “It’s simple, but it’s the most effective method.”

He pointed to a number of housing developments in the city that will either begin construction or come online this year that will include affordable housing units.

The development at the former Midas site at 1005 Broadway will include 38 new affordable units, at 25 Sixth St. there will be 62 additional affordable units, and the city is undertaking a project at the former Salvation Army building on Broadway that will include 28 affordable units.

In addition, a project at 361 Broadway will have a combination of 42 affordable and Workforce Development units, and the major Innes redevelopment project is breaking ground this year, with a mix of 330 affordable and Workforce Development units, and 96 new units for the city’s public housing tenants.

“I think we still have to do more, and there are two initiatives I’m going to present this year that I think will help chip away at the problem,” said Ambrosino. “Neither one is monumental, but both are small efforts that I think can help.”

Ambrosino said he hasn’t given up on his desire to have the City Council consider changes in the density requirements for the city.

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