The following is the speech that Manchester Mayor Theodore Gatsas gave at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Puritan Conference Center on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Published as submitted by the Mayor’s Office. ~ Melanie
Good morning everyone.
Thank you Mike for the introduction. Thank you for the invitation to be here this morning – it’s an honor to be here amongst this group this morning.
I’d like to thank Mike and his team at the Chamber for putting together this annual event. The Chamber is an important partner for the city of Manchester – specifically the Manchester School District with their mentoring program.
Thank you to Beth Roberts and the folks at Harvard Pilgrim for being the premier sponsor this morning and to Ron Covey and St. Mary’s Bank for sharing in that partnership. Also to Ever Source for probably the most important sponsorship and making sure we all are caffeinated this morning.
Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention my dear friend Andy Crews of AutoFair who is here this morning and was just announced that he is the Chambers’ 2016 Citizen of the Year. A well deserved honor.
All of these businesses have a long-standing history of supporting the city and are valued corporate partners. As Mayor one of my top priorities has always been to ensure successful public/private partnerships with our business community for the benefit of the city and the school district.
I look around this room and I see a lot of people that have been touched by City Year; a mentoring program that’s making a real difference in the lives of our youngest students.
Dean Kamen came forward and sponsored the FIRST Jr. Steam Ahead program and DYN has helped make the STEAM program at West High School a reality.
At the city level we are in the midst of, and working on, probably the most important public private partnership concerning THE major issue. I am sure every person here in this audience today is concerned about the staggering rise in opioid addiction here in Manchester, across the entire state and our country. The business community is an important partner in this fight and we will certainly address the issue here today.
When you engage a business, and leaders like yourself, in the community the benefits are three-fold:
First, the business becomes invested in Manchester –you become a stakeholder in the cities success and, just like the Mayor, you celebrate our triumphs and work to find solutions to our toughest problems;
Second, your employees become invested in the city, they participate in our economy and they are never shy to step forward to volunteer their time and talent;
Third, is the combination of the previous which results in lifting a community – in more ways than one – – you foster a home-town pride for the city and a thriving and successful business invites new economic development which is important to growing our tax base.
So for all that you do I begin my State of the City address this morning by thanking you – the business community – for all that you do for our city and our citizens!
This morning I come before you for the State of the City. Every year I look forward to this event because it gives me the opportunity to reflect on past success, report on the progress our city has made, give you insight about how we are moving forward and how we are realizing new success.
This morning I will address four areas – city infrastructure, economic development, education and public safety which today will mean heroin and opioid addiction. As I stand before you today I can say, without question, the city has made great strides on all fronts.
Let’s begin our conversation this morning with infrastructure. Last year we had a very, very tough winter – this year we barely had a winter. While it was not necessarily great for our ski industry it was good for our roads!
Last year, our roads were in tough shape. At our office, and with the Aldermen, I would say it was the #1 complaint.
When we really took a hard look at the state of our roads, and what was needed to do to move the ball forward, we identified two hurdles that we needed to overcome – first – funding. City funding was inconsistent we needed a guaranteed minimum threshold for funding of repairs. Second was the timing of available funding.
We have succeeded on both fronts. This past construction season, or paving season, the city began a five year road replacement program or the Annual Road Replacement Fund. This is a multi-year program and commitment by the city to fund road repairs and replacement. It sets a minimum bonding threshold of $3 million annually for what the city will bond for road repairs and upgrades.
By setting up the fund, and making it a separate program, we have removed it from the budget process. We put differences aside, found consensus among everyone and moved it forward in a timely, efficient and unified manner.
In year one, which is the year we just completed, we funded $6M in road repairs, our bidding process was completed by May and we sealed, reconstructed or repaired 52.5 miles of the 415 miles of city roads.
For the upcoming construction season, which if we had known what the weather would be, we would be starting today. The contracts are out to bid, the program will be funded at the $3million level and we will address, at a minimum, over 25 miles of city roads depending on where the bids come back. Given the price of oil I am hoping we can stretch that number significantly.
In the city we have also just completed the reconstruction of the Derryfield Golf Course which opens this weekend. We are prepping for the new splash pad on the west side and we have completed our LED street lighting conversion which created significant savings in our city budget.
Infrastructure is important. It’s an investment in our future and I am proud that we have always and will continue to make it a priority.
Here in the Manchester there are always great things happening when it comes to economic development. There is one especially exciting project happening here in the city that I would like to highlight.
There is a very hard working group of volunteers that you may not be familiar with, the Manchester Development Corporation or MDC. The purpose of the group is to invest in properties and to help finance and rehabilitate city properties or landmarks to promote economic development.
Recently this group purchased a property located at 23 Amherst Street, which used to be a night club in the heart of downtown next to the courthouse. It’s also known as the Rex Theater.
A few weeks ago MDC released an RFP seeking proposals to renovate the building as a venue for live music, theatre, movies and community and private events. The vision for this property is to bring new arts and culture to the downtown – and if any of you are familiar with Tupelo in Londonderry – that is a good blueprint for what they are trying to achieve.
When the proposals for this project come back it will be exciting and it will soon become a vibrant mainstay in our downtown adding to our very rich culture.
This comes in addition to another exciting project which is the rehabilitation of the Citizens Bank property into high-end apartment living and mixed retail in our downtown.
When it comes to economic development in Manchester there is always something happening. Given the ups and downs of the economy we are fortunate, and we should never forget that Manchester always has a lot to offer and is well worth the investment.
For as long as I have been Mayor I have highlighted the great strides we have made in education here in the Manchester School District. We are the most diverse district in the state and with that come very unique opportunities.
We have STEAM Ahead and FIRST Jr. STEAM Ahead working to develop new science and technology leaders in our city and City Year continues to make a difference with our at-risk elementary school students.
Four years ago we made the Manchester School of Technology a full-time option for city students. We are the only district in the State of New Hampshire that has an opportunity like this for our students.
79 days from today, on June 4, 2016 – I am so proud to say, and I want everyone here to know – we will hold the commencement of the very first graduating class of the Manchester School of Technology. This is an amazing accomplishment and only possible here in Manchester because of outstanding students.
When you see the stories in the paper, and on the news, about this great accomplishment a few months from now remember our friend, and former superintendent Dr. Tom Brennan. He believed in this idea, believed in our students and made it happen.
Just a few facts about out the program: It has a 96% daily attendance rate, the highest in the city and 150 of our 8th grade students have applied for the nearly 100 available spots.
Finally, I will address the issue of public safety.
Whenever I sit down to develop my state of the city address I do two things – first I start with the question, “What do you, my audience want to hear about and what would the leaders in the city like to share with you?” Second, I look at the previous year’s address so I can review our progress.
When I looked back at the public safety portion of last year I was struck by how very different the subject matter was. It’s frightening that in one year’s time we have reached this level of crisis when it comes to heroin and opioid addiction.
As I said when I opened up my remarks this morning this is THE major issue. And it is not just here in Manchester, it is everywhere. The statistics will shake you to your core. The numbers I am about to share with you are through Monday:
- 154 calls for service for suspected overdoses;
- 99 of those patients were treated with Narcan;
- 26 fatalities;
- That’s 1 in every 6 calls resulting in a fatality;
- The youngest suspected OD treated is 15 years old
- The youngest fatality is 22
- The oldest suspected OD treated is 70
- The oldest fatality is 57
I could go on, but I think that’s enough to make us all agree this is a crisis. It’s a safety issue for sure. Based on the calls received by police and fire that I just shared with you it’s an issue they deal with every minute of every day. And just when you think you might be getting your arms around it – it suddenly gets a little bigger.
For example. Narcan – no doubt it has saved lives. But now we hear that the dealers are selling the drugs laced with the Fentanyl. The addicts do the drugs and should something happen the dealer will bring them back to life with Narcan.
That life is important, every life matters and everyone should live. But what we need to do and the dealers need to understand is that that for every overdose of Fentanyl we trace back to the dealer the charge should be attempted murder.
A few weeks ago the Board of Aldermen heard our Assistant Chief say if they go to a call they are unable to make arrests because the law protects the other people under the Good Samaritan statutes.
We saved a life, yes we did and that’s what we all want. No mother or father should ever have to wake up to that call. But what we cannot definitively say is that we prevented the death of another by the very same hands.
Would arrest prevent it? Would harsher penalties prevent it? There is no easy answer but we must constantly keep reevaluating so we get the answer.
So again, just when you think you have your arms around it – there’s something else.
This morning let’s peel back one more layer and take a look. What you see is that long before this becomes the concern of our police department, fire department and emergency responders it’s an issue of public health.
People do not wake up and decide one day they are going to use heroin – it doesn’t just happen that way.
But what if I made a shocking statement and told you that some addicts are born addicts. A statement like that is breathtaking, and not in a good way. I know when it was made to me I had no words. I pass this on to you today because in addition to the public safety aspect there’s more we need to be talking about. This is a public health emergency.
Here in the City of Manchester at the Elliot Hospital and the Catholic Medical Center over the past two years 200 babies were born drug addicted. In 2015 there was a 33% increase over 2014.
Babies born, by no choice of their own addicted to heroin. From the very second they are born into this world they are fighting addiction. They cry so hard doctors and nurses fear detached retinas.
These babies, by no fault of their own, cost the healthcare system 15-16 times more than that of a normal birth.
These children, and I stress by no fault of their own, require developmental supports throughout their lifetime.
These children, by no fault of their own, when they enter the school system most often require enrollment into our special education system.
And these babies, are being born to children themselves whom have no idea how to care for an infant – – and you are hearing more and more siblings and grandparents caring for these children.
200 babies right here in Manchester. As one public health official, whom I have a great deal of respect for puts it, “born on the tip of the iceberg.”
It’s hard to talk about. It’s upsetting. It’s a public safety issue for sure, but long before that it’s an issue of public health and as far as I am concerned it’s an emergency, the public needs to know it and we must do something.
I’m sure you sit here and your heart is heavy and you ask what can I do? As I said the city is in the midst of putting together a public/private partnership to address the public health issues and bring awareness to the public. This is an area where you, the business community will be needed and will be essential to our success.
I see Patrick Tufts here of the United Way, and I know many businesses are involved in with the United Way and expect to see them involved – because it will take everyone.
The chamber was very kind to me today and gave me a table. Here at this table, joining me, are the individuals on the front line here in Manchester. They are the most capable, most experienced, most passionate people addressing this issue. If I could ask them to stand and be recognized:
- Chief Jamie Burkush, Assistant Chief Dan Goonan and Chris Hickey from the Manchester Fire Department;
- Chief Nick Willard and Assistant Chief Carlo Capano from the Manchester Police Department;
- Chris Stawasz with AMR Ambulance Service;
- And Tim Soucy and Anna Thomas from the Manchester Health Department.
Everyday these people, and those they represent, put their best foot forward and work towards finding a solution. They are the best – and I mean it. I am extremely grateful for their service and I know that the citizens of Manchester are as well. Thank You!
Certainly we will enter the question portion of this program in just a few minutes and I would welcome questions to this group also.
As I conclude my remarks this morning I look around the room and I see a lot of friendly faces and everybody that knows me know that I love Manchester. This city has made me the person I am today.
Here in Manchester we never shy away from a challenge, we work together to find solutions and we are not content until we find a way to succeed.
Every year when I present this address I am reminded that’s who we are and I can assure you it will never change.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning and express this to you all.