District 6 Boston City Councilor Matt O'Malley held his 2nd Annual Town Hall Meeting at the West Roxbury Public Library yesterday evening. The room was packed with about three dozen attendees.
O’Malley was enthused by the crowd and eager to share his synopsis of the year. For him, these meetings are valuable and telling of his performance for the year.
“I get enormous value out of meetings like these,” said O’Malley. “I always say your vote is a hiring decision, so I use this type of town hall meeting as my evaluation.”
O’Malley opened up by highlighting some key events and initiatives from the past year. In addition, he brought attention to future plans and developments – specifically the Casey Overpass Project in Jamaica Plain - which is expected to affect the Roslindale and West Roxbury communities.
Some neighborhood highlights included the environmental impact of and funding for the Arborway Yard, the Silver Alert system, pedestrian safety, dog park advocacy and redistricting due to an increase in Boston neighborhood populations.
O’Malley has always been vocal about supporting local business and reminded attendees that for every $100 spent locally, $68 dollars comes back to the community, verse $40 when spending at big box stores. He brought attention to the new businesses that opened up in the neighborhood this year, citing Porter Café’s recent victory in the Burger Wars competition hosted by West Roxbury Main Streets and briefly shared his recent lunch experience at Leanworks, a new healthy fast food restaurant in West Roxbury's Shaw's Plaza.
Changing gears, he informed attendees that Mayor Thomas Menino's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 came out this past Wednesday. The city’s operating budget was proposed to increase by $60 million, totaling $2.45 billion for the year. The main revenue expenditures came from mainly property taxes, accounting for 67 percent, state and excise taxes, respectively.
Pertaining to the budget, one of the most encouraging factors for O’Malley was an agreement made by the city and municipal unions around health insurance costs. The city was able to actualize $26 million dollars in savings.
“It may not seem like a lot when you’re talking about a $2.5 billion budget, but with medical costs and health insurance costs skyrocketing across the board, the city and the unions should be commended for coming together and saving some money.”
O’Malley’s opened up the floor for discussion. The dominating topics were the upcoming MBTA fare increases and service cuts, as well the construction around the Casey Overpass.
The Needham Line’s weekend service, which goes through West Roxbury and already does not run on Sunday, has been cut as part of the effort to shrink the MBTA’s $185 million debt for fiscal year 2013. That was a general concern for some commuters in the room. O’Malley shared that raising fares and cutting service may seem like more damage to the wound, but fare increases are needed.
“Going forward, there needs to be some talk about debt restructuring,” said O’Malley.
Ted Stober of West Roxbury rarely, if ever, takes the T, even though he owns a Charlie Card with a year’s worth of subway and bus rides. However, he believes that cutting service will only decrease customer confidence in the system.
“Every morning I see people streaming down my street to use the MBTA,” said Stober. “There’s no question that transportation is the life’s blood of the city of Boston.”
While on the subject of transportation, the conversation quickly shifted to the Casey Overpass Project in Jamaica Plain. O’Malley clarified that the bridge’s demolition will likely begin next spring and that the construction process is expected to take approximately five years. As of now, there are no plans to replace the bridge.
The construction, as well as the project’s end result, is an issue of concern for several Roslindale and West Roxbury residents. They include displaced rodents, increased road traffic on-site and in nearby neighborhoods and delayed MBTA busses. O’Malley recently addressed some of these concerns in a letter to the Department of Transportation, identifying five specific areas of concern for the community.
Frank O’Hara of West Roxbury is against the bridge not being replaced. He’s afraid the city is spending millions on a project that may not work.
“I’ve used the bridge for years and I think it works well. I don’t see problems with it,” said O’Hara. “Traffic has historically been a problem down below, which is why the bridge went up in the first place. Why reinvent the wheel?”
O’Malley encouraged residents to attend the community meetings and join the Design Advisory Group (DAG).
On a more lighthearted note, while on the subject of redistricting, O’Malley expressed his belief in keeping neighborhoods whole. West Roxbury resident Bill Downey politely requested if he could present a map. In his hand was a municipal map of West Roxbury from 1924.
“My grandfather told me ‘I’m going to give it to you Billy because someday, somebody is going to come out to West Roxbury and try to straighten everything out,’” said Downey. “I think we found our man.”
He then gifted the map to O’Malley and the gesture was kindly followed by a round of applause and laughter by the crowd.