In fact, Lawrence streets have become smoother and cleaner over the last few years, in what may be the signature success of Lantigua’s first term. Other major public works projects are planned or underway, including a $16 million upgrade of the water supply system that is replacing every residential and commercial water meter and 45 major underground valves that direct the flow of water. Earlier this month, Lantigua asked the City Council to borrow $25 million more to clean and reline or replace much of the system’s 140 miles of underground pipes.
“If the council approves it, we’ll have $40 million worth of projects on the road and we’re not raising the water rates to do so,” said acting Public Works Commissioner John Isensee.
The city’s water and sewer fund has a $7.7 million surplus, up from a $700,000 deficit four years ago, when the operation was made a separate enterprise fund beyond the reach of City Hall.
Other public works projects have lagged and there is no plan as of yet to catch up on decades of neglect. Lantigua has never proposed a capital budget despite the mandate in the city charter that he submit one annually to the City Council.
One is in the works, but Budget Director Mark Ianello said most of the improvements it will recommend will be unaffordable.
Lantigua “can’t be blamed for the loss of resources,” said Police Chief John Romero, who for 16 years has commanded his force from a crumbling cinderblock police station on Haverhill Street, where the decay greets visitors even before they reach the door. Police tape routes them around the cement front steps, which have disintegrated to the rebar and spilled their debris in chips across the stairway.
Inside the building are other challenges facing the mayor, including a divided police force with a faction that is alienated by the layoffs, by the demotions he imposed to make Bonilla – now indicted – second in command of the department and by his suggestion three years ago that city cops are lazy.