Special to the Journal
Revere City Councillors, Anthony T. Zambuto, Gerry Visconti, Richard J. Serino, Dan Rizzo, Joanne McKenna, and Anthony Cogliandro have issued the following response to Mayor Brian Arrigo’s statements on the new high school that had appeared in last week’s Revere Journal. The Councillors’ statement reads as follows:
“In response to the Mayor’s statement on the outcome of the vote of our City Council to not advance the schematic design of the proposed new Revere High School, published in the Revere Journal on March 1, we feel compelled to offer a rebuttal to the residents and taxpayers of the City.
When a majority of your City Council – including a former teacher and a former mayor – is voting “no” on advancing a new high school as presented by the Mayor’s Administration, that should raise a serious red flag to the average resident as to the earnest concerns the City Council had about the proposal, and put into question if the proposal presented to our honorable body was truly a prudent one in the best interest of all residents, present and future – particularly from a financial standpoint. Part of the responsibility we have as your City Council is to serve as diligent guardians of the City’s finances, and for us, the question of advancing the schematic design of the new Revere High School was not solely a question of education and legacy – it was a question of the true viability of affordability to the City, especially when the overall projected cost for the construction of the school and the land it would sit on was nearly half a BILLION dollars – this was a financial decision we took solemnly and not lightly.
As the public saw throughout the Ways and Means Sub-Committee process, the potential projected costs that we were asked to consider were all over the place – ranging from $499 Million overall, with a potential cost of $338 Million to the City to $470 Million overall, with a potential cost of $290 Million to the City. Couple this with a $30 Million cost of the Wonderland site, and the possibility that the cost of the land on which the new high school would have sat could potentially double, triple or nearly quadruple that number after litigation (based on comments made by the attorneys representing the owners of Wonderland in the Revere Journal on February 22). Let us be clear – if the Administration was able to clearly articulate to both the City Council and the residents of the City a definitive plan for how the City was going to comfortably finance the $290 Million for the construction of the school, plus whatever price the Wonderland site were to end up costing the City, the outcome of Monday’s vote would have been different. Instead, when the City Council initially asked the Administration how we, as a City, were affording this project, we were first given (in January) a grim report that tough decisions would likely have to be made, and we would have to implement some combination of measures – many of which would fall on the back of the average taxpayer – in order to bring the proposal for a new high school into fruition. By mid-February, the Administration provided the Council with a vague roadmap for how the City could finance the project, but this plan only included percentages of future revenues in various accounts and capping spending growth percentages for various areas in the annual budget with no real projected numbers. Finally, on Monday evening, February 27th, at the start of the Ways and Means Sub-Committee meeting on the night the Council was expected to vote, the Councillors were presented with hard numbers that we had been asking for throughout our deliberations. For any member of the public watching this process play out, it would seem skeptical and questionable – as it did to the six of us – that the City went from having to potentially take drastic measures to make this a reality to confidently being able to afford this project within a matter of six weeks.
The plans for financing the new high school at the Wonderland site as proposed by the Administration were weak, at best, and did not take into account unforeseen financial events that we, as city leaders, have a duty to plan for (i.e. a recession or some other unforeseen emergency). The plan put forward to finance the high school would also have diverted funding away from other important priorities of the city by capping spending growth for Public Safety and Public Works, among other areas, in the municipal budget and requiring some monies from municipal accounts, like the Community Investment Trust Fund, be allocated to pay for the debt incurred for the new high school. Additionally, the justified concern of the unknown eventual cost of the land itself given the pending litigation, and the fact that revenues generated from the eventual development on the Wonderland site could help to pay for the cost of the high school, made it clear that we needed to think twice about the suitability of this particular location. These are not hypothetical uncertainties – they are fiscal realities. Further, given the options for site selection around the city considered by the School Building Committee (IE the Cooledge Street Housing Development among others), it was most unfortunate that the City Council as a whole was not included in this process until the consensus was reached by the School Building Committee and the School Committee for the Wonderland site. By the time the City Council was able to offer meaningful input, the Administration had made clear in its presentation to the Council that Wonderland was their preferred site.
The outcome of this particular vote to not advance this project as proposed is not on the City Council – the Chief Executive and the Administration did not make a strong enough case to convince us – and the taxpayers of the City – that this was a totally fiscally sound proposal. The risks to the financial standing of the City were greater than the positive result of having a new high school on that site. We value education; we, too, want a new high school. However, we could not and cannot ignore the affordability of such a project. Your City Council had no other logical choice but to air on the side of caution for the sake of the taxpayers who have entrusted us in overseeing their Treasury. A decision to move forward with so many valid concerns of Councillors and residents alike and real fiscal uncertainties would have been reckless and irresponsible. Moving forward with the proposal as presented by the Administration would have set up the next Mayor or two and future City Councils, and more importantly, the City itself, for financial disaster that would be felt for decades to come. Voting “yes” would have been the easy thing to do; voting “no” was the prudent judgment call.
Finally, to be crystal clear to the residents of the City who fear that this is the end of the conversation, the vote on February 27th did not kill the dream of a new Revere High School; it simply sent a message that the City Council, the Mayor, the Superintendent of Schools, the School Committee, and the School Building Committee have to continue to work collaboratively to refine a proposal for a new Revere High School. Be it this Administration or the immediate one following, the Chief Executive’s team will have to present a proposal to the honorable City Council that is not only economically feasible, but realistic, because the burden of the costs for a new high school cannot – and will not, on our watch, – fall on the backs of the average taxpayers of our community. Accordingly, we urge the Mayor to direct the School Building Committee to immediately reconvene to determine a viable path forward that will provide a new Revere High School for our students while ensuring a fiscally sound future for our City.
Anthony T. Zambuto, Councillor-At-Large
Gerry Visconti, Councillor-At-Large
Richard J. Serino, Ward Six Councillor
Dan Rizzo, Councillor-At-Large
Joanne Mckenna, Ward One Councillor
Anthony Cogliandro, Ward Three Councillor