New year, old items on priority list

The new year has arrived mercifully on the weather front at least. There has barely been a snowflake in the sky since October and even though the arctic chill has arrived this week, it beats the heavy white stuff any day.

But the turn of the calendar has been accompanied by gloominess on other fronts. The state was dealt a disappointing setback last month when hoped-for funding for the expansion of the Neponset Greenway— in the form of a federal grant— fell through. Now comes word that the MBTA wants to shut down the Mattapan trolley line on weekends as part of a larger cost-cutting plan.

We all have our work cut out for us this year to push forward a series of important projects that are critical to our neighborhoods’ success. It will take leadership, ingenuity, and some tough bargaining, but here are a few of the important stories that we expect to cover in the new year:

A Pivotal Year for Carney Hospital— This could be a make or break year for Dorchester’s hospital. The new owners at Steward Health Care have promised to make Carney a viable long-term institution by making critical investments. Steward — which is owned by the New York-based investment house Cerebus— started off on the right foot— pumping in $10 million for new operating suites and hiring the well-respected Bill Walczak to run the Carney. But anxieties persist that the new owners are worried about Carney’s position in the local marketplace — and may look past Dorchester as they seek to expand their health care network. It will take bold leadership from Walczak, Carney’s board of trustees and their corporate bosses in the new year to make good on their promises.

Greenway or bust— Getting the expansion of the Neponset Greenway funded and started needs to be a top priority for the Dorchester State House and Congressional delegation. The $17 million plan —including roughly $10 million to build a missing link in the trail out to Mattapan Square — has come too far to get mothballed because a long-shot federal grant didn’t go our way. We need our leaders to get creative and get this project going.

Fix the School Assignment Plan— Reforming the way that the Boston Public School system assigns youngsters to city schools has become the Holy Grail of city government. There are signs that the city council is prepared to tackle this problem anew. We hope that the Menino administration, BPS and the council will join forces to make sweeping changes to the public school assignment plan, including the costly bus transportation system which was so troubled in the fall.

Enhanced crime fighting— The tough race for District 3 council generated some good ideas, including one from Councillor Baker to expand an existing E-lert system to the rest of the neighborhood in the new year. Engaging the community with new technology and close-to-real-time information on incidents is a key step towards making Boston safer.

Casinos— A plan to site a resort casino in East Boston is expected to be formally proposed in the new year. In a general way, a casino at Suffolk Downs would be better than one outside the city, as it holds the promise of much-needed new tax revenues for Boston. But residents across the whole city must have a reasonable chance to benefit from construction and permanent jobs that would accompany any such project. Right now, Mayor Menino’s administration will play the key role in framing any deal with developers. A citywide referendum would be a good way to ensure that the developers include all Boston residents at the table. And our city councillors need to be ready and willing to order such a citywide vote in the absence of a fully transparent and equitable proposal.

-Bill Forry

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