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Thoughts: City Council, Schools, Taxes, Historic Cemeteries

Four Thoughts For Salem Government

Or Four Pipe Dreams For Salem Government

By William Legault


As we approach the end of the year in Salem city government I’m taking a few moments to consider few things of interest in the year gone by and the year that approaches.


The City Council chambers featured a lot of drama and theatrics this year. The council was clearly fractured. It was the first year that I can remember where some councillors actually said publicly that they did not like another councillor. You can place blame for that as you wish. The blame belongs to the whole council not just to one or two. Those who should have been the leaders in an effort to avoid this situation, the more senior councillors and the Council President, fell short, albeit in exceedingly difficult circumstances.

As the council moves forward in 2020 it’s time to put personal feelings aside and start fresh. Focus on the issues themselves and not on agendas. I can only think of two councillors in 2019 that, in my opinion, did that consistently. Some on the council seem to be trying to keep all sides happy. That needs to stop because in the end, despite any elaborate contortions designed to appease all, no matter the decision on a given issue, some will still remain unhappy. That’s the way it is. Consider the facts, gather opinions, make your decision and live with it. Forget about the next election. If a councillor is making decisions designed to help win the next election, they are wrong. Making the best decision for the ward or the city, not the best decision for the next election should be the priority every day, all day,

Whoever takes the gavel as Council President this year (I believe that the situation calls for Bob McCarthy) would be well advised to get the council under control as to speaking during meetings. There are rules governing that in Cushing’s Manual. It’s time to follow and enforce those rules. Having councillors rise time and time again to remake or belabor the same point is a fruitless waste of everybody’s time. The Council President, like the rest of the body, is only allowed a limited amount of times to descend from the rostrum and speak as a councillor. Stop with the long and excruciatingly circular discussions that everyone knows are going nowhere. If a consensus isn’t there send it back to committee where the those discussions belong.


Our schools seem be in good hands with Interim Superintendent Kathy Smith. She has taken charge and shown an impressive energy in her efforts to visit with and learn from the teachers and students in her charge. Leading our school system out of the morass will not be easy, regardless of how deep or shallow you or I believe the problem to be. Empowering both the teachers and the students to be the best they can be in this world of standardized testing would be a good course to steer. Kathy Smith seems to be have the steady hand needed to do just that.


The 2020 tax levies will be set tonight during the city council meeting. Every year we see our taxes, both private and commercial rise by just about 2%. That 2% will be will be argued about by those who defend it and these who assail it. The defenders will say that it is just under 2%, and that it’s not the taxes that go up but the assessments. Those on the other side will argue with their math that the increase is over 2% and that maybe the assessments shouldn’t always go up.

I am of the opinion that it is time for Salem to consider a way to hold the line on taxes at least once every four year cycle, preferably twice every four years. Hold the line  private property taxes one year (the odd year 2021),  and commercial property taxes in the other year (2023. Growth is good and a healthy city and it’s budget have to grow, but slowing it down in order to provide a break for those who live here does not seem unreasonable. If the taxpayers have to be imposed upon on a regular basis, then city government should find a way to impose on itself. The old “Make The Plan. Work The Plan” can be applied for this as well as anything else. Let’s find a way to make it work for both the taxpayer, and city government.


I’ll close by once again saying that it is long past time for Salem to separate it’s four oldest cemeteries from the Cemetery Commission. The Burying Point on Charter Street, Howard Street Cemetery, Broad Street Cemetery, and the Quaker Cemetery should be under the purview of a separate and independent commission similar to what Boston has done with it’s https://www.boston.gov/education/historic-burying-grounds-initiative. This group should be empowered to operate cemeteries, and  raise funds and  oversee the maintenance and refurbishment of the cemeteries as needed.








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