By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration has designated Peabody as a “Gateway City,” opening it to a variety of state programs.
The action should give the city access to a larger share of state aid and grant programs. Officials are not clear on how significant those additions might be.
In order to gain Gateway status, cities need to have “a median household income below the state average ($65,981) and ... a rate of educational attainment of a bachelor’s degree or above that is below the state average,” according to a press release.
Also required is a population between 35,000 and 250,000. Peabody has slightly more than 50,000 residents.
The state’s decision came as a surprise to Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who noted that the city never applied for this.
“I am pleased we’re going to be in a much smaller pool of applicants for grants,” he said, adding that he will meet with state officials on Thursday for a discussion of precisely what will be made available to Peabody.
The grants now in reach are the kind already helping to transform the downtown with new sidewalks, greenery and lighting, the mayor said. Nearby Salem and Lynn also are among the 26 state communities benefiting from the Gateway title.
The mayor downplayed any negative connotation to the news.
“Any program that gives us more access to grants is a good thing,” he said. “I’m a positive person. I always try to find the good in whatever comes along.”
“We have some issues,” City Council President Tom Gould said about the city’s trailing numbers on household income and education.
While he said he is pleased with the benefits coming to Gateway Cities, he cautioned, “There are a lot of details we have to look at.”
The Patrick administration explained that Peabody won the title, along with Attleboro, after a review of “five years’ worth of applicable data.” According to the press release, the designation gives Peabody access to a portion of a state grant of $3.4 million. Among other things, the money is intended “to support targeted English language instruction and early career education for students.”
In addition, the Gateway Cities program donates to city parks needing some refurbishment. A variety of specific state programs now available to Peabody are meant to increase housing and to support economic development — sometimes in “brownfields,” areas tainted by long-ago pollution.