ATTLEBORO - Yeah, times are tough. But, Mayor Kevin Dumas said it didn't stop progress last year, and his aim is to soldier on again this year.
"These are challenging times, but we will push forward," Dumas said in a year-end interview. "We're in the trenches now, but we can't lose sight of where we want to go and what we want to do."
The mayor said one of the city's most significant accomplishments last year was maintaining service levels, despite huge losses in revenue.
There are vacant jobs through attrition, but Dumas said there would have been many more and fewer services if city workers, including himself, didn't make a big sacrifice in pay.
Cityside workers took a 4 percent pay cut to prevent layoffs and save jobs.
"Those jobs equate to services," Dumas said. "And we've been able to keep all the services our residents have come to know and love."
Vacancies added work as pay was taken away, but employees endured, he said.
"The work load has been incredible, and every single department has been taxed to the max," he said. "I appreciate everything they've been able to do."
There are many unknowns for the upcoming budget, but the aim is clear.
"Our goal is to continue to be able to maintain the level of services through the worst of economic times - maintain our progress and not fall behind." Dumas said. "I don't expect things to miraculously change, but it's not going to stop us from trying to do the things we did (last) year."
When more money becomes available, all departments have jobs that need to be filled, the mayor said.
To make the best of bad times, the city had to help itself. Sacrificing pay was one way, but it also had to be ready to move when opportunities arose, Dumas said.
The high school got a new roof thanks to a commitment of cash from the city and the state's School Building Administration. And there are plans to replace five other school roofs, thanks in part to the bad economy, which resulted in a lower than expected costs for the high school roof and a surplus in loan cash that can be used for the other schools.
A branch of the Registry of Motor Vehicles moved into the Shang Building thanks to successful lobbying by Dumas and state lawmakers, including state Rep. Bill Bowles, D-Attleboro.
And the downtown beautification plan known as Streetscape Phase I, which had its origins years ago in the administration of former Mayor Judith Robbins, was completed with state cash.
Meanwhile, the first ever Expo for the Senses, a one-day grant-funded downtown summer festival was held and attended by thousands of people from throughout the area.
"Despite the worst of times, we did accomplish a lot, and that's something we can all be proud of," Dumas said. "And it's not just because of me or my leadership. I've got a great group of employees and a great group of community volunteers. We have a true sense of community, and that's what we will continue to build."
Meanwhile, Dumas intends to expand on some of last year's accomplishments.
Next month, the city will hold its first annual Attleboro Winter Night Festival.
Dumas said a local business has donated funding for a portable ice rink and plans are moving fast for ice sculptures, a soup cooking contest, a bonfire and other entertainment.
As with the Expo, volunteers are planning it and donations are being raised to fund it.
"It's very exciting. It's something to bring the community together and celebrate the season," the mayor said.
Planning for Streetscape Phase II will take place this year. The Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority will work with the city on the project, including funding, Dumas said.
Phase II construction is scheduled for next year with $2 million in state money already earmarked for the project. While the project is intended to beautify downtown with new lights, sidewalks and trees, it's much more, the mayor said.
"It's not just for aesthetics," he said. "It's to help us bring a different business climate."
And while aesthetics are important, so is money.
The city has invested $250,000 of federal Community Development Block Grant dollars into downtown pushing to get new businesses like Park Street Pizza, which opened last year, and Scorpio's Italian Eatery, which is expected to open in the spring, Dumas said.
And, the city is seeking more downtown projects.
It has about $100,000 in block grant money it wants to invest in new downtown businesses in the coming year.
Community Development Director Sal Pina said he's hoping for two to four projects.
And one of last year's biggest debacles, the financial crash of the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority, which threatens two major city projects, is high on the priority list and one of this year's biggest challenges, the mayor said.
But as in other areas, the aim is clear.
"We will continue to help (ARA board members) Judy Robbins, Rick Correia and Benny Keene with the (industrial business park)," Dumas said. "It's our goal to sell more lots and to get the intermodal project (downtown revitalization) back on a forward moving path."
And while the city is keenly focused on preserving services and building business, Dumas said it hasn't forgotten about those in need.
While there's not much money, human services, such as those provided by the veteran's department, will get the cash needed to continue to help people without.
"We are mindful of those less fortunate, despite what's going on," Dumas said.