Four Candidates Vie for Three Seats on Wakefield Town Council
Apr 18, 2019 10:12PM
● By Dan Marra
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WAKEFIELD - With four candidates vying for three seats on Town Council, Wakefield residents will have a tough decision ahead of them in the spring town election as they head to the polls on Tuesday, April 23. Running for the board are incumbents Peter May, Ann Santos and Tony Longo, along with challenger Jonathan Chines.
Below are some of the reasons the candidates are running:
Tony Longo first became involved in the town nearly 10 years ago when he was appointed to Wakefield's Recreation Committee. During that time, the Committee brought back “Movies by the Lake”.
While on the council, Longo said his proudest accomplishments include passing the Senior Citizens Property Tax Credit of $1,100 for eligible senior citizens in Wakefield.
“As we see Wakefield become a more desirable place to live, we have seen property values increase across Town,” Longo said. “This will assist eligible seniors with their property tax bill and the cost is minimal to non-seniors property tax payers.”
Longo also highlighted the $125,000 in state funding he helped secure for a new gym floor at the Americal Civic Center, which required the town’s three legislatures to override the governor’s veto. But that doesn’t mean Wakefield isn’t without its hurdles and according to Longo the biggest challenge facing the town is the future of the high school.
Longo highlighted three possible options for Wakefield High – focusing on capital improvements (HVAC, windows, roofing, etc.); renovating the high school or completely rebuild the building, which would cost about $140,000,000 and require the town to be accepted into the School Building Assistance program which would cover 45-55 percent of the costs. Longo would fund the remainder through a debt exclusion override, similar to the Galvin.
Longo highlighted the town’s achievements while he was on the council, and talked about his concern regarding new housing developments coming to Wakefield.
“Over the past three years on Town Council, Wakefield has seen improvements to downtown and Greenwood with new restaurants and businesses opening,” Longo said. “Wakefield has maintained its AAA bond rating, and I have supported not going up the full 2 ½ percent for property taxes, saving hundreds of dollars for Wakefield home and business owners. I have also raised concerns about some of these large-scale developments such as Tarrant Lane and Greenwood Station and how they will impact our infrastructures, First Responders and most importantly [the] school system.”
Highlighting his time on the Town Council was May’s support of the Wakefield dog park, which opened in 2016.
“The towns citizens had been asking for one for 50 years and when I was campaigning, I realized it would be a nice gift to the town,” said May. “I just needed to find town land, large enough and away from residential property. It has fast become another “go to” meeting place in town.”
Similar to Longo, May believes that the future of Wakefield High School is the biggest issue facing the town.
“As Chair I am working closely with the School Committee and both town and school officials to ensure Wakefield is ready to comply with all Massachusetts School Building Authority requirements,” May said. “We all want this year to be the year we are asked to the next stage of acceptance for state funding. Once we are accepted by the MSBA we will have 270 days to move through six more stages and I believe I am one of the most qualified candidates to champion the process because of my relationship with the key people in the Town Hall, School Committee and The Management team in the schools.”
May, along with Longo, has touted the financial stability of Wakefield during the past three years as a key reason for voters selecting him at the polls. He also cited the fact that the Council has been able to keep property taxes lower, consistently avoiding the need to ask voters for a Proposition 2 ½ override.
Additionally, May said that while Town Council allocated $600,000 to the roads and sidewalks last year, he is committed to focusing more money to the infrastructure in town, “ensuring our roads and sidewalks are safe.”
According to May, during his tenure on the council, Wakefield has added new resource officers, new substance abuse program and recovery coaches in order to combat the opioid crisis. He has also worked to bring on a new communications manager as the town works to enhance its website.
Santos, who has been on the board for the past six years, touts the financial policies that have helped make Wakefield financially stable. Wakefield is one of only 10 percent of municipalities in Massachusetts to have a AAA bond rating, according to Santos.
Additionally, Santos championed her work to make Wakefield a more inclusive community.
“I was a leading force for changing the name from Board of Selectman to Town Council,” she said. “This change was not for my benefit, but for the benefit of our young girls and boys who now know that anyone can run and be a part of Town government. I also supported the development of Wakefield’s Human Rights Commission that works so hard to consistently put on programming to recognize the diversity of our community.”
But Santos is concerned about the affordability of living in Wakefield.
“I am committed to supporting projects that our town can afford, while still looking towards investing in the future such that our town is always moving forward to best serve all of our residents,” Santos said. “This collaboration, fiscal management, and commitment to considering the needs of all of our citizens – young families, seniors, and those approaching retirement – has resulted in our Town succeeding without any discussion of an override.”
According to Santos, during her time on Town Council, Wakefield has adopted strategies to keep affordability in town that includes inclusionary zoning which requires new developments to have 18 percent affordable units, which are less dense than 40B projects and require 25 percent affordable units.
Santos also wants the town to “seriously consider” hiring a Director of Economic Development. According to Santos, this position would engage in the development of new businesses to town and supporting those in existence, but also look at ways to keep residents in Wakefield – “work with developers who are involved in producing 55+ communities for middle-income residents and to examine ways to expand availability of lower income elderly housing in town.”
"I am confident that I can continue to work to develop creative solutions for balancing the key issues in our Town – affordability and development,” Santos said. “I know we have moved forward as a town over the past six years that I have served and I believe I can be an instrumental part of continuing that move during the next three years.”
As the only challenger in the race, Chines is running to “improve the quality of life for all residents in Wakefield.”
According to Chines, many residents, including seniors, are struggling with the rising cost of living in Wakefield. Another focus of the Finance Committee member is to “promote greater openness and civic participation in our government, and to invest in our future.”
After knocking on thousands of doors, Chines said that the biggest complaint he heard from residents is that they don’t think their concerns are being heard by town government.
“I believe that the Town Council can play a critical role in promoting better communication from our government by improving the Town’s website and social media platforms, and by exploring other avenues for communicating with residents, such as the inclusion of information in utility bills and the use of the reverse 911 system,” Chines said.
If elected, Chines said he wants to focus on a “standardized and consistent process” to recruit volunteers to sit on town boards and committee.
“I will advocate for public forums prior to Town Meeting to allow citizens additional time to learn about the key issues that will be up for debate,” Chines said.
Chines said that he has policy expertise and experience to move Wakefield forward.
“I understand that progress doesn’t happen by accident, that it takes energized leadership and the positive vision that too often has been missing from the Town Council,” Chines said.
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