Framingham's Mayor Charlie Sisitsky outlines areas of focus in State of City address January 31, 2022
Zane Razzaq 508-626-3919 Metrowest Daily News

In first State of the City address, Sisitsky outlines areas of his focus

FRAMINGHAM - Mayor Sisitsky highlighted balancing the city's budget and revamping economic development efforts as goals for his young administration on Monday.

The city's new mayor gave residents and officials an update on areas of focus in a prerecorded State of the City address. In an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, there was no audience.

It's just 31 days into his term. Since he unseated Yvonne Spicer in the Nov. 2 municipal election, he has been rebuilding the administrative team, diving into priorities with other local and state officials, and crafting the general fund budget ahead of its May submission deadline.

The city charter requires the mayor give an address on the state of affairs in the month of January.

Administration filling out

Sisitsky said filling vacancies in his administration has been stymied due to the "lack of support from the prior administration during the transition period."

"This created a challenging situation getting positions posted, and in some cases, funded, which hindered the ability for my administration to begin adequately staffed," said Sisitsky.

His senior mayoral team is composed of Chief Operating Officer Mike Tusino, Chief Financial Officer Louise Miller, Chief of Staff Susan Nicholl, and Executive Assistant Jenn Nall.

On Tuesday, he will present Kathy O'Leary, his choice for the human resources director, to the City Council. He will also submit Kez Franca's name for approval as the new citizen participation officer.

She was born and raised in Framingham, speaks fluent English, Portuguese and Spanish, and currently works in the office of Equity, Diversity, and Community Development in the Framingham Public Schools, said Sisitsky. Revitalizing economic development

Sisitsky said a focus of his administration will be how to revamp "the way that we foster economic development in the city."

He will follow through with the requirement of the city charter to provide a plan to reorganize the planning and economic development department. He will also explore involving the newly proposed Economic Development Corporation and other relevant committees.

Framingham Mayor Charlie Sisitsky talks to those gathered in the hall, and those who are watching virtually because of COVID-precautions, during his inauguration ceremony at Nevins Hall in Framingham, Jan. 1, 2022.

"By accomplishing this, it will provide a pathway for desperately needed creative economic development in the entire community," said Sisitsky. "Local business enclaves are the backbone of Framingham's economy, and it is critically important to help them sustain their existence."

Sisitsky said that includes downtown and small businesses across the city as well as large property owners and companies that may be suffering from vacant office and commercial buildings due to the pandemic. Sorting out city finances

Sisitsky was upfront when he said fixing the deficit in the water and sewer fund will require a rate increase, calling for "a sustainable solution."

"The prior administration did not focus closely enough on expenses and controlling them, and refused to raise rates when it was needed. The current existing rate structure is nowhere near enough to support what is being spent," said Sisitsky, calling the system "seriously underfunded."

More than $6 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds were used to support the system, said Sisitsky. But these funds are limited, could be better spent elsewhere, and will not be available again, he said.

Sisitsky said the city will hire a rate consultant, but the increase will likely be high.

"I recognize this a painful realization for many but there is no choice given where we are and the lack of proper rate setting in recent years," said Sisitsky.

Going forward, he promised to operate the fund in a way that leads to "manageable and predictable rate increases." Environmental goals

A priority is jump-starting the acquisition of Framingham's portion of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, said Sisitsky. He said he has reached out to CSX and has begun conversations that he intends to lead to an agreement to purchase the rail trail property.

More:Committee to oversee Framingham's trails proposed

He has also met with Senate President Karen Spilka and members of the State Department of Environmental Protection to begin planning the Phase 2 cleanup of the contaminated General Chemical site. This will be possible due to a $12 million state grant shepherded by Spilka, said Sisitsky.

Additionally, he has met with City Solicitor Christopher Petrini and others to continue work to clean up contamination at the Mary Dennison playground and proceed with its development. Campaign promises

Earlier this month, Sisitsky and other city and school officials halted youth athletic and other extracurricular activities in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases. One student athlete wrote a letter to him and others, voicing her disappointment and suggesting they reconsider the policy.

"I've said all along, that as your Mayor, I'd listen, and take input from people," said Sisitsky.

More:Amid COVID-19 surge, Framingham halts all group activities for two weeks

More:After initial two-week pause, Framingham officials say extracurriculars will return Friday

He said the student - Framingham High junior and varsity hockey player Sophia Tersoni - did "precisely what we encourage people to do."

"We heard from Sophia and many others, who convinced us to review and revise our 'pause' on the athletic and other extracurricular activities," said Sisitsky.

It's since been reversed with additional safety measures put into place. Sisitsky called it "just one example of how my new administration listens and respectfully responds."

"I am committed to bring a spirit of cooperation, respect, and civility back to City Hall," said Sisitsky>

Zane Razzaq writes about education. Reach her at 508-626-3919 or Follow her on Twitter @zanerazz.

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