State of the City Address
Mayor Shaunna O'Connell State of the City Address
February 2, 2023
Good evening and thank you for joining us tonight. Our goal was to make this a community event, and it is wonderful to see this chamber overflowing with people.
I am awed and inspired by the renewed spirit and energy we feel throughout our community.
Every day I love serving you. My husband Ted and our daughters, Ashton and Riley, are my superheroes who make it possible for me to be my best.
When I was elected to be your Mayor three years ago, I pledged that together, we would make Taunton a leading City in the Commonwealth – and we are well on our way.
Our positive vision and the collaborative teamwork of our City employees, City Council, local businesses and organizations, and of course, our residents is what makes Taunton such a wonderful place to live and work.
I am grateful to our amazing City Team for the creativity, dedication and compassion they bring every single day. And the Mayor’s Office staff are truly a special group of people who serve our City with unparalleled commitment.
We all have much to be thankful for in 2022. In the midst of an economic downturn and on the heels of a global pandemic, Taunton continued to move forward full speed ahead. We are carrying that momentum forward into 2023, and you will see dynamic things happening in our City.
Together we have had many successes over the past year, and it was really hard to figure out how to talk about all of them without keeping you here for an hour. So I am going to highlight some of our priorities and achievements.
And let me start with some really important people: our youth, our seniors, our veterans, and our families.
Our kids need support in mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 and further developing coping skills, and resiliency.
Our partners at the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and Girls Inc. provide important programs that help our children thrive. Utilizing ARPA funds, we worked with them to give our kids extra support by hiring social workers for their after-school programs, and we thank them all for their partnerships.
We also reactivated the Youth Commission. Our youth are the next leaders, and we’re excited to help them discover ways to be engaged and active in their hometown. I’m grateful to the adult members who generously give their time as mentors.
We love our seniors, and they are always a priority. With the help of the Taunton Housing Authority, we are renovating and modernizing our Senior Center – and we are going to have one heck of a party to celebrate!
We also want to make sure seniors are safe in their homes, so we collaborated with Brewster Ambulance to be the first City in Bristol County to establish a Community EMS Program that provides in-home wellbeing visits. Charlene Bonenfant and her team have been instrumental in making this initiative a success.
And as many seniors struggle with rising inflation costs, I worked with our Finance Team to find creative ways to provide assistance. This led us to develop a proposal to increase property tax relief and expand our tax deferral program to help our seniors stay in their homes. I’m honored to partner with City Council to support our seniors, and we look forward to their approval of our plan.
We know that sometimes people need a helping hand. I grew up in low-income housing with my mom and brother and sister, so I know what it’s like to need a little extra help.
We allocated new funding for the Taunton Emergency Task Force to help families in need with utilities and rent, and to care for homeless residents by providing a cold weather shelter.
This coming year we are going to lead the way by creating the first of its kind “Helping Hand” fund so that we can provide targeted assistance to our residents who need it most.
We are committed to investing in people and helping them thrive. But we don’t do that alone. We have many wonderful organizations like Triumph, PRIDE, Associates for Human Services, T.R.U.E Diversity, New Hope and Taunton Diversity Network, and we are proud to partner with them and provide funding to support the vital work they do.
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Local events, programs, and recreation bring people together and make a community a great place to live — and Taunton is a great place to live.
Last year we supported many recreational activities, including new summer youth programs, outdoor movie nights, increased Hopewell pool hours, and senior events.
We honored our veterans with the Honor Our Military event and the Downtown Veterans Banner Program. We deeply appreciate the generosity of Bruce and Sandy Thomas in sponsoring all the banners. Taunton supports our veterans, and we are grateful for their sacrifice and services. Tonight we are honored to be joined by some of our veterans. Would you please stand to be recognized?
Our Halloween Trunk-or-Treat was a huge success — and we know that because we ran out of candy. And while the weather didn’t cooperate for our Lights On celebration, we carried on with our Christmas City spirit, proud to be designated as one of the nation’s “21 Best Small Towns to Visit at Christmas.”
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We are transforming our parks and recreation areas into beautiful outdoor spaces — and it is hard to tell who is more excited: our kids or Commissioner AJ Marshall!
There has been a total renovation of Flannery Park; ADA improvements have been made at Weir Riverfront Park, and we’ll be installing a splash pad there this coming year.
In the spring, we’ll begin a complete renovation of Memorial Park, and make improvements to Davol and Whittenton Parks.
Lake Sabbatia is a beautiful natural resource in Taunton, and we are pleased to have begun the clean-up of the lake. Many people have worked to make this happen, and special thanks goes to the Lake Sabbatia residents who spearheaded this effort, and that is Lisa Potter, Pegi Conti, Craig DeMoura and they were assisted by John McCaul. We also thank State Rep. Carol Doherty and Senator Pacheco for providing additional funding.
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Streets and sidewalks – those two words evoke a lot of reaction and emotion. We are working full speed ahead to repair our roads and sidewalks, having appropriated $21M over the last three years, and paving 16.5 miles of road this past season alone. That is like paving from City Hall to Battleship Cove in Fall River.
DPW Commissioner Fred Cornaglia, Assistant Commissioner Tony Abreau, and the entire DPW team deserve a lot of praise for their hard work. You will see much more progress on our roads in 2023, along with other major infrastructure improvements
One of those projects will be the first City-owned solar array. This forward-thinking initiative is at no cost to the City, will create a new revenue stream, and offers clean energy to our residents and businesses.
Thanks to Congressman Auchincloss, we will be replacing the East Street Bridge. His Chief of Staff Dana Hanson is here tonight, and we want to extend our deep appreciation to the Congressman for securing $5 million in funding for this project.
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A vibrant economy is another ingredient in our recipe for success. We can see the results of our shared efforts to create economic development and growth in our City.
Developers and business leaders recognize our commitment to being business friendly, and they are choosing Taunton as their destination.
It has been exciting to welcome so many new businesses to Taunton, including Society Coffee Bar, Fun City, Cabo Green Cafe, Maria’s, The National, Grilla, Guchanya Bakery and Deep Pond Farms, to name a few.
We are helping new and existing businesses grow in all of our neighborhoods with our expanded Rent Rebate Program, our STEP-UP technical assistance program, and our new Sign & Facade program. Much credit goes to our Office of Economic and Community Development staff for their efforts and to grant writer TJ Torres for his innovative design of the STEP UP grant.
The heart of Whittenton is being revitalized with a generous grant from MassDevelopment. We are working with committed partners like Pastor Tom Iddings, Mirror Mirror, King’s Court Gaming, the Taunton Redevelopment Authority and others on this community-led initiative. You can feel the excitement in our Whittenton neighborhood.
And there are many upcoming projects on the horizon that will result in new jobs, more housing choices, and additional services and recreation.
While I am proud of our programs, outreach, and economic revitalization that are all so visible on a daily basis, I am equally proud of the extraordinary work by CFO Patrick Dello Russo and our Finance Team to strengthen our City’s fiscal well-being.
Two weeks ago we proudly announced that Taunton’s bond rating was upgraded to AA+, the highest rating the City has ever received.
We were able to achieve this impressive upgrade by streamlining the budget process, developing consolidated financial policies, increasing fiscal accountability, and creating Taunton’s first five-year capital improvement plan. This historic accomplishment places Taunton as a regional leader and will benefit our City financially for years to come.
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Being a leading city also means being a safe city. I’m thankful to Chief Walsh, Chief Bradshaw, and all of our first responders for their unwavering dedication to our community and their commitment to maintaining the highest standards of service.
To keep Taunton safe, our men and women in uniform need the right equipment, technology, and facilities. Four of our five fire stations are over 100 years old, and Taunton has not built a new police station since 1909.
We are incredibly proud and excited to be making substantial progress on our new public safety facility. We know this community stands behind our police officers and firefighters. Together, we will build a modern, cost-efficient facility that supports our first responders in providing the highest level of public safety to our community.
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Our combined efforts to shape a bright future for our City include the revision of our Charter, which has not been updated since 1909. Tauntonians deserve a 21st century government structure that is transparent and accountable, and adapts to the changing needs of our diverse community.
Revisions began in earnest with the Hoye Administration, and we made it a priority to carry the initiative forward.
The proposed Charter is the result of countless hours of discussion, consideration and evaluation. Over the course of more than 20 meetings, Advisory Committee members, City Councilors and Taunton residents developed a blueprint for the changes needed to support an engaged community and a responsive City government.
We thank our state delegation for their support in getting the Charter revisions passed in the Legislature.
Taunton voters now have the opportunity to make history by approving the revised City Charter this November.
2023 is going to be an exciting year of progress.
Helen Keller said: Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."
We are stronger together, and we will continue Taunton’s journey to becoming a leading city for the Commonwealth.
Thank you for the great honor of serving as your Mayor.