|Richard C. Howard, Winchester’s new town manager, comes to the town after 16 years as mayor of Malden. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Many challenges await Winchester’s new manager
When Town Meeting members convene Monday, they will help to set the agenda for incoming town manager Richard C. Howard, who anticipates starting in his new post after New Year’s Day and brings a history of building schools from his 16 years as mayor of Malden.
Although Winchester, with a population just over 21,000, is less than half the size of Malden, it shares a common desire for top-notch schools. In Malden, workers are completing a $70 million renovation of Malden High School, the final project in Howard’s career-long effort to rebuild the city’s public schools. In Winchester, voters earlier this year approved a temporary tax increase to fund $17.98 million of the cost of building a new Vinson-Owen Elementary School. Next up: a comprehensive renovation of the town’s aging high school.
“One thing that Mayor Howard has a solid track record on is the schools,’’ said Robert P. Joy, chairman of the Town Manager Search Advisory Committee. “He transformed the Malden public schools and made them first-rate. Winchester prides itself on its public school system. Going forward, the question will be, ‘How do we preserve our top-notch school system?’ ’’
Selectman Roger Berman said he is hopeful Howard’s experience in Malden will prove to be an asset in Winchester as the town moves forward with its school projects. “Mayor Howard brings some unique insights,’’ Berman noted. “As chair of the School Committee in Malden, he’s dealt with the Massachusetts School Building Authority on design and funding challenges.’’
That kind of knowledge may benefit Winchester, where school maintenance projects are being deferred because of tight fiscal constraints. Capital Planning Committee chairwoman Helen Philliou said several projects will go unfunded this year, including window replacement at the Muraco Elementary School and heating system upgrades at the McCall Middle School.
“The fiscal constraints that every city and town in Massachusetts are laboring under will be [Howard’s] greatest challenge,’’ said Joy. “He will have to figure out how best to carry out the priorities of the board [of selectmen] with limited resources.’’
Among the town’s most pressing issues are perennial flooding and the fate of Winchester’s last remaining farm.
Town Meeting members will be asked to give the Board of Selectmen permission to enter into an agreement with the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy Inc. to lease a 7.6-acre parcel for a minimum of 30 years in order to give the nonprofit control of the land long term, making it easier to secure funding to preserve the farm’s historic structures. There also will be votes on whether to fund several capital projects, ranging from upgrades to the town’s Geographic Information System, to work to help mitigate flooding in the Squire and Mayflower road areas.
In a telephone interview on Sunday evening, Howard said he was looking forward to embracing the challenges of overseeing the small suburban town. Howard was among four finalists for the town manager position, ultimately besting officials from Saugus and Belmont who had also been vying for the job.
At press time, Howard and Winchester officials were still working out the details of his contract, which will guarantee the longtime public official a pay raise. The town manager position had been advertised with a salary range of $130,000 to $160,000; Howard earned $114,400 as mayor of Malden in 2008, the most recent year for which salary figures are available.
Howard, who has served as Malden’s mayor for 16 years through periods of growth and the recent economic downturn, said he believes his leadership experience will help him guide Winchester as it faces its own fiscal challenges.
Voters last year rejected a $1.44 million permanent property tax increase. The outcome of that vote may force local leaders to curb town services as spiraling costs for health care coverage and special education services continue to outpace revenue.
“Cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth are experiencing the same kinds of fiscal issues,’’ said Howard. “The challenges in Winchester will be similar to those in Malden.’’
Howard said he would spend the next few months “getting to know Winchester and becoming as familiar as I can with all corners of the community.
“I will be staying on top of any issues that come up in the town and keeping an eye on any budgetary developments at the state level to see how they will impact Winchester.’’
Town Meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Winchester High School auditorium on Skillings Road. Town Meeting members will consider 15 warrant articles.
Brenda J. Buote may be reached at email@example.com.