By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — Leaders from several local communities came together yesterday for a morning of laughs, ideas and celebration of towns without borders.
Ten town managers, city managers and mayors gathered at the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mayors & Managers Breakfast Forum at Andover Country Club yesterday.
Moderated by Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company Publisher Al Getler, the event put the community leaders in the spotlight to tell the regional business community how they fared in the past year and what is coming next for their towns.
“The economy of one community doesn’t stop at that border, but continues throughout the Merrimack Valley,” Joe Bevilacqua, MVCC president, said.
The event brought the following local leaders: Andover Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski, Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini, Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni and North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor.
Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua did not respond to an invitation to the event and was not in attendance, according to Bevilacqua.
The following regional leaders also spoke at the event: Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer, Lowell City Manager Bernard Lynch and Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday.
At the event, Bevilacqua urged the leaders to support not just their local communities, but the region at large.
“If a community is not able to host a business as it grows and expands, and it goes to the next community, work together to support that,” he said. “The employees live in your region. You don’t want them to travel to another state or outside the region.”
Reading written-in comments from a recent citizen survey, Stapczynski said many Andover residents refer to other communities in the region when explaining how they want their town to change.
“One that struck me was, ‘Use Newburyport as a model for the perfect downtown,’” he said. “And then someone said, ‘We want a cinema like they have in the Loop [in Methuen].’ And then somebody wrote in, ‘Keep taxes down, or we’re going to move to North Andover.’”
When describing what their towns accomplished in the last 12 months, the leaders gave examples ranging from passing zoning changes to building new projects that saved the town money.
“2012 was a pretty good year for the city of Haverhill,” Fiorentini said. “We were able to rezone our downtown, eliminate the red tape and regulatory barriers, change our parking requirements.”
Through that work, “what you saw in the western end of downtown was a bunch of abandoned shoe factories that many people had forgotten about on streets that most of our residents didn’t even know the names of,” he added.
Zanni spoke of $1 million in savings the town incurred from redesigning its employee health care offerings, an accomplishment that many other town leaders also bragged about. He also talked about the high school renovation project that faced him when he took office a year ago.
“When I took office, Methuen’s planned $100 million renovation of the high school was off schedule, running off budget and in need of a new contractor,” he said. “Working close with the School Building Committee, my administration has successfully changed contractors, we put this project back on budget and we’re now on schedule.”
Maylor said North Andover also saved money through an overhaul of its health care offerings. But how the work affected his town far exceeded other communities.
“As I see health insurance numbers come out from the different bureaus and managers, we recently completed a deal with our employee unions that will save $3.5 million in health insurance costs,” he said.
The event also recognized MVCC Vice President Will Carpenter for 25 years of service to the chamber.
“Continuity is very important to our members, knowing that someone will be there for them to answer questions,” Bevilacqua said. “He is an invaluable member of the chamber.”