Town Manager Jim Malloy held a community meeting dubbed ‘Java with Jim’ Wednesday, where he shared local government updates and answered community questions in the foyer of Cary Memorial Building over Dunkin’ coffee and munchkins.
About 20 community members attended Wednesday’s inaugural event. Malloy plans to hold these meetings quarterly and alternate between scheduling them in the mornings and evenings, as well as in person and virtually, to make them accessible to different community members.
Malloy, a self-described introvert and New Yorker in his fifth year as Lexington’s Town Manager, credited Communications Director Sean Dugan with “encourag[ing] me to do things like this.”
Prior to answering community questions, Malloy summarized the status of various municipal priorities and challenges, including recent budget developments, the Town’s strategy to save for construction of a new or renovated high school and ongoing construction of a new police station and other projects.
Malloy noted that he began his career taking over communities in “complete financial distress,” with budget shortfalls amounting to as much as 50% of their total budget requests. He said that Lexington, on the other hand, has been “fortunate” to have “really great financial management for a very long time” despite the challenges of balancing this year’s budget.
The high school project, which is expected to cost between $400 and $500 million, “is like…not even a monkey on our back, it’s a gorilla on our back” in terms of fiscal pressure, Malloy said. The Town hears from a lot of community members “really concerned about how they’re going to be able to continue to afford living in town” with such a large project in the works, even with the Town hoping to receive a partial state reimbursement of about 25% of the total project cost.
For that reason, Malloy has emphasized the need to save new revenue from commercial property taxes, especially in the Hartwell area, toward offsetting the tax burden of the project on residents in the future. “Not that I love parking garages, but boy, do I love parking garage property taxes,” he said.
Separate from the Town’s operating budget, as of Wednesday, more than 1,000 residents had already voted in the Town’s first participatory budgeting cycle, according to Malloy. Though Cambridge has been practicing participatory budgeting for about a decade, Malloy said that Lexington is the only community of its size throughout the state to adopt participatory budgeting.
Stephen Tauber, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, was one of the original residents to submit an idea for a community orchard, one of the final 13 voting options. “It’s kind of exciting for us, because these are things that we would not normally have put into the budget,” Malloy said.
In terms of Town construction projects, Malloy noted that the Center Streetscape renewal has recently been completed, and the Town will soon begin work on the Battle Green improvements. He anticipates that police station construction will be finished by the spring of 2024 thanks to the region’s mild winter. Over the next several months, he cautioned that the project will cut into parking in Lexington Center, even for Town staff.
All projects will be wrapped up ahead of the Town’s momentous 250th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Lexington in 2025, Malloy noted.
Community members asked questions about environmental and quality of life issues such as minimizing idling vehicles, repaving roads and the proper enforcement of Lexington’s tree protection bylaw.
Nancy Page attended Wednesday’s community update because she’s concerned about plans to construct large solar panel structures in her neighborhood around Fletcher Field as part of an effort to maximize the sustainable energy powering the new police station. She praised the Town Manager for holding Wednesday’s event, but expressed concern about the time of day for community accessibility. “It’s a very good thing, but it’s a tough time for someone who’s working,” Page told LexObserver, observing that the majority of Wednesday’s 9 a.m. event attendees were seniors. Page was able to attend because she lives nearby, and works as a freelancer. If she did not have the solar panel concern, which spurred her to make the time, “I surely would not come.”
Town Meeting Member Andy Friedlich (P5) also attended Wednesday’s coffee event, and thanked the Town Manager for his accessibility in holding the event. “Given the old days, communication and transparency have improved so much” especially since Malloy hired Dugan in 2019, Friedlich told LexObserver.