2014-11-06 / Opinion

Post-Election Prospects

By Tom Shevlin

Now the work begins. With Tuesday’s election behind us, city leaders find themselves with a flurry of familiar issues to confront and to ultimately address. From redevelopment of the North End to providing access to quality education and enhancing our waterfront, there will be little time to waste once our new elected officials are sworn into office. Expect to hear more about the following issues over the coming months: Enhancing Public Education

The number of candidates who stepped forward to run for office this year for a seat on the city’s School Committee speaks to the interest surrounding the immediate direction of our schools. Throughout the campaign season, we heard scores of ideas on the central theme of improving our public education system, and to be sure there is a good deal of work that needs to be done. It will be the charge of the new School Committee to build on the progress we’ve seen over the last few years – especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. But it’s also important to note that our schools do not exist in a vacuum, that our teachers and administrators are not independent contractors. Over the next few months, it will be imperative for the School Committee and City Council to mend fences and work together in a collaborative fashion to help our schools meet their full potential. Ultimately, a strong public education system is the heartbeat of a strong and vibrant community.

Innovating the North End

There is a finite number of opportunities for a community to fundamentally transform its economic underpinning. The last time Newport was given the chance was in the 1970s following the decision by the Navy to relocate its Atlantic fleet. At the time, Newport was known primarily as a Navy town. The departure of the fleet meant that the community would need to reinvent itself. It did so by playing to its natural strengths: developing the foundation for what we see today as a robust tourist industry. In the coming years, our civic leaders will be given the opportunity to do the same thing once again. This time, however, we’re not being challenged with the loss of an industry. Rather, we’re being given another shot to diversify and build upon our current economy. The North End planning process has been talked about for years. To developers and city planners, it’s been a bit of a white whale. But it seems now that we’re finally at the doorstep of real change, as plans progress to remake the North End of the city into a high-tech innovation hub. However, this change won’t come easily. From the state level to our local wards, it will take a Herculean effort to ensure that we realize the admittedly lofty goals that our city leaders have set.

Growth Where it Matters

For the last decade, Newport taxpayers have been nickled and dimed. From rising water and sewer bills to years of incremental tax increases, city residents have been in an unenviable position of having to pay more to live here. With little in the way of significant development opportunities on the immediate horizon, it’s likely that we’ll continue on this same path for at least another few years. To counteract that, it’s vital that Newport’s elected and appointed officials look for ways to ultimately grow our tax base. This can be accomplished through any number of ways, most notably by encouraging new and existing businesses to locate here and helping existing companies to expand. Residential development could also help ease the burden facing year-round taxpayers. So too could strategies for encouraging more year-round residents. Discussion has faltered in the past when it comes to implementing a homestead exemption on certain residential properties. However, with home values continuing their upward trend, and a re-evaluation not far off, this might be a good time to revisit the issue and hopefully get ahead of what’s to come.

Communication

Despite years of making communication a top priority, there’s still work to be done when it comes to how the city communicates with the general public. While progress has been made in the form of the city’s Engage Newport microsite and the adoption of social media policies, improvements can still be made. This may ultimately be a task for the new city manager, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for department heads and elected officials to help enhance communication across the city without a wholesale change to the policies already put in place.

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