PEABODY — A proposal from Mayor Ted Bettencourt to supplement city revenue by leasing land for two billboards led to an unusually sharp exchange with City Councilor Anne Manning Martin last night.
Billboards are a sore subject in Peabody, with some feeling the city is being forested with massive signs up to 90 feet tall. Nonetheless, Bettencourt told the council that leasing two new billboards on city property along Route 128, out of the sight lines of any residences, could give a significant boost to city revenues. That boost, he indicated, was made more vital following the recent release of Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed budget.
It includes “a 2.78 percent decrease in aid to Peabody,” with the cuts hitting Chapter 70, the section of the budget devoted to education, Bettencourt said. “The governor’s proposal makes it important for us to pursue revenue.”
To do so, the city has already sent word out to billboard companies that they could bid on leasing land near the Route 1 exit and near the Fisheries International Building. All responses are expected to be in by the end of January. He predicted that the leases could generate up to $700,000 per year. Moreover, he stressed that the city would have access to the boards to alert drivers to things like flu clinics and other public services.
The mayor asked the board to approve the leases, “so we can continue to make investments on important projects.”
“We would be making a huge error,” Manning Martin said. She cited the widespread dissatisfaction with billboards, including a massive one built on Lowell Street, which is now the subject of a court action. “I have heard nobody tell me they like these billboards. ... People don’t want them. They don’t want them near their houses. They don’t want to drive by them.”