As the new Town Council term begins, Watertown Council President Mark Sideris looked toward the next two years and said that some of the major focus will be on traffic, development and communication with the public, as well as the upcoming school building projects.
Newly elected Town Councilors, School Committee members and Library Trustees were sworn in by Town Clerk John Flynn on Tuesday night at the Mosesian Center for the Arts.
After his swearing in, Sideris addressed the audience in the theater at the Arts Center.
Development has been a big issue for several years, and Sideris said he would like to take a new approach at looking at new projects in town, from those completed, to those under construction and projects just getting started.
“I will be working with the Community Development and Planning Department to coordinate a field trip to visit the sites that have been developed,” Sideris said.
Sideris invited not only members of the Town Council, Planning Board and the Zoning Board to the tours, but also the general public to attend. He said he would like to get input on the projects.
“Is this what was envisioned? Is there something that can be done better in the future?” Sideris said.
Communication with the public from town government and departments, or a lack there of, was a big issue in the recent election, Sideris said.
“We can do a better job in this area,” Sideris said.
He wants to increase outreach, and said it has started with a newsletter from the Town Manager in the most recent property tax bill. He also plans to create a Media and Outreach subcommittee for the Council which will find ways to reach the general public and put out a Town Council Newsletter, which would be sent out at least quarterly.
Transportation and traffic was one area that has been a focus of the Town Council for the past two years and will continue to be one in the new term.
“We now have a Transportation Management Association (TMA) in place and we will be looking to launch a pilot shuttle program thanks to the effort of the Town Council’s Transportation Committee working with staff and others to get this off the ground,” Sideris said. “We also have a Transportation planner starting on January 8th to help us in this area.”
Schools have been a priority, Sideris said, with Town and school officials working to provide a 5 percent increase each of the past few years, including $4.3 million of funding increases over the past two years.
Some major school building projects are in the preliminary stages of planning or about to begin planning. In October, Town Manager Michael Driscoll announced Watertown will be able to pay for the $80 million to $120 million to renovate the three elementary schools within the town’s Debt and Interest Forecast, Sideris said, and in December Watertown High School was invited into the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s Eligibility Period (the first step in the process to renovate or build an new high school). An architect has been hired to do schematic design of Watertown’s elementary schools.
The library continues to be very popular, Sideris said, as is the new Hatch maker space located in commercial space at the Residence at Watertown Square. However Sideris said the newish program is in need of a permanent home.
The Senior Center is also a bustling place, and Sideris said seniors are one of his biggest concerns.
“I am always concerned about providing services to our senior population as they seem to be the most vulnerable as costs skyrocket and their resources are limited,” he said.
Sideris soon expects the recommendations to come forward from the committee looking at phase 2 of the Victory Field renovation, focusing on the track and courts area of the facility. He noted that other questions have arisen during the committee’s meetings.
“From the use of the artificial turf to the lighting of the fields, to the scheduling of the use of the fields,” Sideris said. “These are going to be priorities over the coming months and we are going to be working on them with the help of Town and School officials as we need to try to come up with solutions for the citizens, athletes and all who use the fields.”
Sworn in Tuesday night were:
Caroline J. Bays
Michael F. Dattoli
Anthony J. Donato
Lisa J. Feltner
Angeline B. Kounelis
Vincent J. Piccirilli, Jr.
Kenneth M. Woodland
School Committee members:
Amy B. Donohue
Lindsay Jean Mosca
John H. Portz
Lily R. Rayman-Read
Michael J. Hanlon, Jr.
Daniel E. Pritchard