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Crime, Finance Return in 2nd Alcombright, Moulton Debate

By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
Richard Alcombright, left, and Robert M. Moulton Jr. shake hands after Wednesday's debate at the WNAW radio studio.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Incumbent Richard Alcombright, seeking a third term, and Robert M. Moulton Jr., a local businessman and former city councilor, traded jabs for an hour over crime, blight and taxes Wednesday morning live at the WNAW radio studio in their second and final mayoral debate.

Megan Duley of WNAW moderated and asked questions along with Tammy Daniels of iBerkshires.com and Jennifer Huberdeau of the North Adams Transcript. The debate was taped for broadcast on NBCTV.

Moulton stuck with his campaign platform of making the community "safe and affordable," saying he would "put together a team that will get North Adams moving again and will make sure that the middle class of North Adams has a voice again." The same statement he made during last week's debate.

Alcombright, however, focused like a laser in on Moulton's prior public comments, asking for specifics of his challenger's "action plan" and "can he say he will not raise taxes and if so, what will he cut from city services to balance the budget?"

Moulton, pressed repeatedly by the panelists, declined to say how he would fund his ideas of more police, expanded inspection services or a charter school other than saying they would have to be "sustainable" and the state could play a role.

Instead, he claimed that Alcombright had been left with $3 million on taking office and had raised fees and taxes. "I'm not the one spending money ... Where's the money? Where's the money?"

Alcombright responded that he'd been left with $1.2 million in reserves and a $2.6 million deficit that's been whittled down to just over $300,000. Taxes have gone up, but they've gone up every year for more than a decade, he said, (pointing out that both he and Moulton had approved increases as councilors) while the budget is up only about 1.5 percent, making it more "a 12 to 14 percent reduction."

"We've raised taxes but cut the budget significantly and not replaced many staffing positions," he continued. "We've downsized where we could, we've created efficiencies where we could."

That was the tempo of the debate, starting when the two clashed over the first question, when Moulton repeated his assertion that crime is up 60 percent in the city and that residents are scared and even feel unsafe their homes.

"We've got to be more proactive than reactive, we need more money for police," he said, adding that the with overtime being spent the police structure could reviewed. "The community has to be part of this and be involved."

He accused Alcombright of failing to fulfill a priority he'd laid out four years ago to address crime in his first run for mayor. The incumbent, however, said Moulton's continued reference to a broken promise was false.

"I did not run on crime, I ran on financial integrity, economic development and transparency, those were my three topics that I ran on," said Alcombright. (His priorities also included housing, according to a 2007 article; in 2009, it was partnerships and economic growth.)

"We do not have a 60 percent increase on crime. .... Crime is up about 25 percent as far breaking and entering are concerned. Other than that most crime is really stable," he said.

The violent incidents involved people who knew each other, he continued, and more police wouldn't have stopped those crimes.

Alcombright said his administration hasn't "had our heads in the sand over this," pointing to increased patrols and support from the district attorney and sheriff's offices and state police during the spike in crime over the last few months, and the closure of a local bar after a stabbing.

"To really bring closure to this, we need to look at the roots of the problem," he said, such as drug addiction and poverty.

The Moulton kept it simple, pounding the incumbent on crime and finances; Alcmbright pressed the challenger for how he'd fund his ideas.

Moulton, however, maintained "this is nothing that just popped up in the last few months it's been ongoing and it's been a problem."

The incumbent called for Moulton to say how he was going to pay for more officers — by raising taxes, cutting services or making the Fire Department volunteer?

The challenger didn't respond to Alcombright's question.

Both did agree that jobs were critical to attracting homeowners and expanding the tax base but differed greatly on how to do it.

Moulton continued to the tout the 20-year-old Hyett Palma report for reinvigorating the downtown while Alcombright pointed to the ongoing master planning process that looks at all areas of the city. Moulton described the master plan concept as "sexy" but not particularly useful despite the state's use of such plans for grant funding and the majority of the current City Council as well as candidates not only backing the process but actively engaging in it.

He also called for the health inspector post be reinstated to crack down on blight.

"It is arguably the strongest enforcement board that we have and that's critical," he said, and inspectors should be walking the neighborhoods to find violators. "Make them responsible for their properties, making your neighborhood safer and more attractive and also it's going to increase your property values."

Alcombright said the post was not eliminated when the building and health departments were combined as Inspection Services to save some $55,000 by not replacing an assistant inspector.

"These guys are out every day they are doing inspections, they are writing citations, they are very, very active and very, very responsive," he said, challenging  Moulton to find the money in the budget for another inspector.

Moulton made it clear where he stood on two issues: for the Conte School renovation and against the planned Greylock Market project.

Moulton strongly backed a petition against the school and lost. "I'd have to support the school, that's what the people wanted," he said, although adding "I think we're spending way too much money for that school."

He would toss out, however, a nearly-completed agreement for the privatization of Heritage State Park that could bring in some $6 million in private investment and look for new proposals. The city has made money on the park, he said, and it shouldn't abandon the non-profits located at the park now.

He also cast doubt that the state would fund it as a new gateway to Mount Greylock. "I don't believe the state has the money for that."

Alcombright said not only the state was onboard, but the Berkshire Scenic Railway was a factor as well.

The park hasn't made any money for the city because it belongs to the Redevelopment Authority, he said. It has for years been "a loss leader as it is," he continued. "We ought to get it out of our hair."

There was also some discussion over the relocation of the school district's central office and student needs into a single location on Main Street. Moulton said it may be costing taxpayers too much money at $70,000; others during the campaign have described is as "hundreds of thousands."

According to the contract, the school district is paying $69,000 a year for three years (with the first year heavily discounted) including utilities, new carpeting and office modules on the second floor of the Berkshire Bank building. Superintendent James Montepare had said at previous meetings that it was costing around $100,000 annually to keep the offices in Conte School.

 

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