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MacDonald Explains Strategies for Cost-Cutting, Collaboration
By: MacDonald Campaign On: 10:08AM / Friday September 03, 2010

ADAMS, Mass. — Edward MacDonald , candidate for state representative in the 1st Berkshire District, released a statement Thursday that explained several key ways to reduce budgets and work collaboratively with other communities:


“My experience as town administrator in Chester can serve as a good example of how a city or town can address its own financial and other problems, within the framework provided by existing state law. When I started in Chester in 2009 the town was having severe financial difficulties. An audit determined that the town had an approximate deficit of just under $380,000, the tax rate was still not set six months after most other towns had set their tax rates, the then-town accountant had made errors that concealed other problems, and the financial picture looked bleak.

Our first step was to achieve efficiencies within town government, by trimming hours of operation, reducing utility usage and ensuring all employees were working efficiently and effectively. The selectmen then decided to ask the town if it wished to raise its own taxes through a Proposition 2 ½ override. Chester is not a wealthy town and does not have a strong history of passing overrides, so the voters declined, and we didn’t pursue the option of adopting local lodging or meals taxes because the town has too few of these establishments to make it worthwhile. We then had to make the hard choices on how to further cut the budget. We laid off employees, made other cutbacks, found a less expensive town accountant who could properly perform the accounting functions, and were finally able to cut the budget and eliminate the $380,000 deficit.

Chester, like many other cities and towns in the Bay State, isn’t out of the woods yet. Additional state aid cuts are looming and operating a municipal government is not becoming less expensive. Some items, such as employee health insurance, fuel and utility costs and road maintenance materials continue to increase in cost. In the face of all these challenges, I am committed to helping municipalities thrive.
 
Working with a neighboring community is not new to Massachusetts, but the strong emphasis on more formal regional arrangements is new. During my time in Chester I have assisted in creating an arrangement with Becket for lower-cost vocational education transportation and I have worked with various regional agencies on infrastructure improvements and regional waste disposal. As a state representative, I will play a key role in facilitating such arrangements between and among the cities and towns in the 1st Berkshire District. We can do this without giving up our local community identities, a source of pride for most of our citizens. And by doing so, we turn our tax dollars into smart dollars, stretching our limited resources in sensible ways that maximize their spending power, without putting an undue burden on our property taxpayers.
 
The other important step in helping cities and towns is the Municipal Relief Act. Passed by both the state House and Senate and subject only to a joint conference committee and final approval by the legislature and governor, the new law will allow cities and towns to cut costs by capping municipal pensions at $125,000 per year, offering early retirement incentives and tax amnesty programs and using email for tax billing. It would also allow school districts to share school superintendents and cities and towns to create joint tax assessing agreements. Other provisions would extend local pension funding schedules, increase the threshold at which cities and towns must require bonds by private contractors working for the municipalities, and establish many other measures that will provide financial relief to cities and towns.
 
As your state representative, I will work with other legislators who want to assist municipalities by helping to pass such additional measures and by reducing expensive burdens imposed by the state through laws and regulations that unnecessarily constrain municipal operations. I would also work to revive the dormant Municipal Incentive Grant Program and the Circuit Rider Program. The MIG program provided small grants to cities and towns to allow them to try innovative solutions to common municipal problems and the Circuit Rider Program provided financial incentives to very small towns to hire professional administrators. Both programs were very successful in the past, but were foolishly eliminated as part of prior state budgets cuts. These programs cost relatively little for the state, but provided significant boosts to cities and towns.
 
Cities and towns can only go so far in helping themselves, both in the revenues they can raise and by adopting efficient and effective practices that can save them and the property taxpayer money. After that, it’s up to the state legislature to provide additional tools for success and to eliminate legal barriers to good governance at the local level. If cities and towns are to survive these difficult times, they need all the help they can get, through utilizing best practices to achieve efficiencies, implementing promising recommendations of the regionalization commission, taking advantage of new measures in the Municipal Relief Act and by insisting on additional programs and assistance from a state government that too often treats its municipalities like after-thoughts.
 
The government that is closest to us must be strong and vibrant and provide the critical services that our families need to thrive, because our communities are where we live, work, and play and educate our children. As your state representative for the 1st Berkshire District, there will be no stronger an advocate for the cities and towns of Massachusetts.  I ask for your vote on September 14."



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Bowler Proposes New Program For Children of Incarcerated Offenders
By: Bowler Campaign On: 10:30AM / Thursday September 02, 2010

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Tom Bowler, candidate for Berkshire County sheriff, on Wednesday proposed expanding existing programs at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction in a comprehensive new effort to assist children whose parents are inmates at the jail. The new initiative is aimed at breaking the cycle of incarceration.

The program would feature collaboration with social service and mental health agencies, as well as a strong emphasis on existing youth and recreational agencies. The focus of the expanded programming would be on both the offender and their children.

"The older I get, the more I realize that the greatest gift given to me during my life was the foundation established in a loving home where both parents were actively involved in raising responsible children," Bowler said. "The children of some of the offenders at the jail will never know the value of this kind of family foundation."

According to national statistics, the children of incarcerated parents are at least 2.5 times more likely to be incarcerated themselves. The statistics also reveal that children of incarcerated parents tend to have more arrests and more problems with behavior, relationships, school and substance abuse.

"We need to stop this cycle of crime and to do that, we have to expand existing programming to address at-risk youth," Bowler said.

Statistics from 2009 at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction indicate that 1,059 individuals were booked at the facility and of that number, 833 of the incarcerated men and women each had an average of two children.

Bowler said there is already a full range of programs at the jail that address the significant issues that led to an individual's incarceration, including drug and alcohol addiction, or a lack of education or vocational training.

"But all too often, these offenders are also parents of little kids, and it is their children who are the most vulnerable victims of their crimes," he continued. "I want to expand on existing programming to include courses on how to be better parents. I want offenders to see a much bigger picture  — that their obligation to the community must expand beyond improving themselves and also include providing a better life for their children."

The second emphasis of the expanded programming would be on the children of offenders by collaborating with social service, mental health and local recreational agencies to help fill the gaps in their lives while a parent is incarcerated.

"All kids need to be involved in good activities that help them gain confidence and find positive role models. When a parent is in jail, kids desperately need the involvement of other adults in their lives," Bowler said. "There are so many youth and recreational agencies in our community that can have a lasting impact on a child's life if we make a better effort to connect the kids of incarcerated offenders with the leaders of these agencies."

Bowler and his wife, Dayle, are the parents of four children.



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GOP Candidates Detail Goals for 2nd District
By: Tammy Daniels On: 03:23AM / Tuesday August 31, 2010

The Republican candidates for the 2nd District debated Monday night at Berkshire Community College.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Republican candidates for the 2nd Berkshire District debated before a lighter audience but differed more sharply on several issues than their Democratic counterparts.

Michael F. Case of Washington called for a Western Massachusetts caucus while Rosanne Frieri of Richmond suggested hiking the sales tax at the second of three debates held Monday night at Berkshire Community College.

The debates, which also included one for Berkshire County sheriff, were sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and hosted by BCC. Jenn Smith of The Berkshire Eagle was the moderator.

Case and Frieri are both veterans. Case did two tours in Vietnam with the Air Force, joined the National Guard and served with peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and a year in Iraq. Frieri is a 20-year veteran of the 104th Air National Guard and veteran's service officer for Pittsfield.


Michael F. Case

Both pointed to their military careers as proof of their leadership capabilities. Case is also retired Pittsfield Police officer and holds a master's degree from American International College. Frieri said she overseees a $600,000 budget in the veterans office and ran a photography business for more than two decades while working in GE corporate.

Frieri said property tax reform is an imperative, along with developing answers to high utility rates. "We have lost business and jobs because of high energy costs." She also advocated for more transparency in government, limiting lobbying and ensuring the state's laws apply to lawmakers as well as citizens.

Case said he push for a Western Mass caucus if elected. "Boston has an inordinate amount of influence over policy; we need a bigger voice." He also said he would lobby for the Federal Communications Commission to change the region's placement in the Albany, N.Y., market to get more channels and more news about what's happening in Boston.

Case said the state needed raise revenue but on the backs of businesses. It should start cutting from the top to field more police, fire and inspectors, he said. "The head of the BRTA makes $450,000 a year — that's more than the president of the United States."

"The business climate is terrible out there," Case continued. "Everybody wants to tax business, tax business, tax business; business is not going to expand and hire people by increasing their taxes."

Frieri said residents and commercial operations would both benefit from property tax reform. While not going into to detail, she's taken up the cause of Williamsburg attorney Patricia Quintilian who has spearheaded a group of homeowners fighting what they says is illegal overassessments.

"We have to look at our property taxes and really hold small-town assessors accountable," said Frieri. "If we could take the property tax and level or reform it and boost our sales tax, I think we'd have more opportunity for small business and getting them to come here."

But while Frieri suggested the sales tax was more equitable, citing the example of North Carolina, Case was adamantly opposed.

"I think we need to reduce the sales tax. We're making it much easier for our citizens to go out of state and buy products in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and even Connecticut," said Case. "We need to reduce the sales tax so our business can be competitive against our neighbors."

Rosanne M. Frieri

Both agreed that it was important for the state to encourage small business, particularly niche businesses, in the region. They also supported casino gambling in Western Massachusetts but didn't think it would be a "good fit" for the Berkshires region, and broadband expansion as an economic driver.

In response to if they would support a comprehensive, single-payer health care plan (a group in 2nd District is gathering signatures in support of that issue), Case said he wasn't a fan of single-payer but said the state had to do a better job in controlling costs.

"We're subsidizing people whom we really shouldn't be subsidizing," he said. "I think everybody deserves the right to emergency care but that's where it should stop."

Frieri said costs even for affordable plans were out of control. "I think we really have to take a real hard look at our health care," she said. "I think we need to cross state lines and be more competitive and I would support that legislation."

The primary is set for Sept. 14. The Republican winner will take on the Democratic primary winner and independent Stefan G. Racz, a Buckland selectman, in the November election.

The debates were televised by Pittsfield Community Television; check the schedule for repeat showings.



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Democrats Talks Job Creation For 2nd District
By: Tammy Daniels On: 01:06AM / Tuesday August 31, 2010

The Democratic candidates for the 2nd Berkshire District met Monday night at Berkshire Community College.

 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Democratic candidates for representative for the 2nd Berkshire District tried to distinguish themselves for voters before the Sept. 14 primary.

In two debates held Monday night, candidates for the nomination in both parties talked jobs, health are and broadband at Berkshire Community College. Jenn Smith of The Berkshire Eagle was the moderator for both representative debates, sponsored by the Pittsfield Gazette and hosted by BCC. The candidates are seeking to replace outgoing Rep. Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton.


Thomas S. Szczepaniak

In the first debate, Democrats Paul W. Mark, Noreen P. Suriner and Thomas S. Sczczepaniak agreed in substance that the state needed to do more to aid small business and took aim at Verizon for failing to deliver broadband.

"The best thing the state can do is to start funding new opportunities for new jobs like high-speed rail, like green-energy jobs and by bringing high-speed Internet to Western Massachusetts," said Mark, of Hancock. He'd like to see more effort put into bringing broadband into the region to aid small business and promotion of green jobs.

The region's hope could be the return of high-speed rail, said Mark, which would boost the toursim industry and reduce emissions along with creating jobs. "I think it's something realistic that needs to happen."

Sczczepaniak, a three-term selectman in Dalton, was more down to earth, believing wood by-products had the best chance of success in the heavily rural district. The development of a biomass industry would not only provide alternative heat and electricity, "it gets all the junk wood out of the woods ... It's like a garden; we need to get all the weeds out so the forest can breathe."

"It's a win-win situation all around," he contined. The owner of a local trucking company, Sczczcepaniak said small business would also benefit from relief from red tape and mandates from Boston.

Suriner, a Middlefield selectman, Episcopal priest and a teacher, agreed with both but added agriculture as an important element in the development of small business in the district. "We've been blessed because we've gotten some of the stimulus money that has prevented job loss ..." she said. "We're in relatively decent shape but the state has much to do in job creation and to deal with the unemployment issue."

Noreen P. Suriner

Farmers should have direct access to the market as well as have easier access to the school lunch programs, she said, adding that Guyer's recent announcment of a "production kitchen" for agricultural concerns in a planned mixed-use development "might be an incubator for the creation of new jobs."

All three strongly supported broadband expansion in Western Mass. "It's a job creator ... not only to the installation but for the telecommunicating for people who want to raise their children here," said Suriner, who represents her town on the WiredWest broadband collaborative. She took a swipe at Verizon, saying its mandate was "to create a profit."

Mark, an attorney and former Verizon technician, was also harsh on the telecommunications giant, referring to his own town's woes. "I'm the only one who knows the difference between the 'last mile,' the 'middle mile' and any other mile."

Sczczepaniak said he would "support any and all" broadband initiatives.

All three also agreed that more consolidation wouldn't serve the district's school systems and that education funding would be a priority. The forum was generally lively but low-key, until the closing statements, when Mark took issue with Suriner's claim that she would focus all her attention on the district and not be distracted running a business like her opponents. "I don't know where that's coming from," said Mark, who added he would quit his job.

Paul W. Mark

The candidates tiptoed around recent revelations about Szczepaniak's past troubles with the law, including jail time for drunken driving, some 20 years ago. Mark's campaign has denied allegations of spreading the old news.

"The things we've been reading about the last week is a distraction," said Mark. "It's the reason why people don't like politics."

Suriner said many families are affected by substance abuse. "I think we want to focus on the issues and not on personal lives."

For his part, Szczepaniak said he's not the man he was back then. "You look at the person and what's he's done and what is he doing for the community," he said, to loud applause.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will face off against the Republican primary winner and independent Stefan G. Racz, a Buckland selectman.

The debates were televised by Pittsfield Community Television; check the schedule for repeat showings.



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Bissaillon: Regionalization Deserves Close Look
By: Bissaillon Campaign On: 10:32AM / Friday August 27, 2010

ADAMS, Mass. — Dave Bissaillon, candidate for state representative in the 1st Berkshire District, believes that regionalization can save money and improve the quality and effectiveness of services.

In a statement released Friday, the candidate said that if elected, he would advance any such efforts that district communities pursue.

"I experienced firsthand the benefits of combining efforts when I served as Berkshire Chamber of Commerce CEO," Bissaillon said. "I led the merger of
smaller chambers of commerce and launched the Berkshire Blueprint initiative to develop a strategic plan to advance the regional economy."

For municipalities, regionalization's benefits include cost savings, greater access to basic and specialty services, and helping cities and towns more easily meet mandated responsibilities, he said.

Bissaillon noted that 1st Berkshire District communities have a history of working together to both serve the public good and steward limited municipal dollars. For example, North Adams and Williamstown's Hoosac Water Quality District have processed both communities' wastewater since 1977. The Franklin Regional Council on Governments offer a variety of services, including a cooperative purchasing program that can save towns money by volume discount buying.

"Regionalization offers a strategy for municipalities trying to maintain public services in an era when local revenues are threatened if not reduced," Bissaillon said.

"We just witnessed a small, but important example of how regionalization can help. North Adams, Adams and Williamstown recently hired a single Veteran's Agent to assist residents of all three municipalities," Bissaillon said. "This joint effort will ensure consistency in the delivery of services and meet an important need they all share."

The candidate strongly recommends that municipal officials read the report produced by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray's Regional Advisory Commission (RAC). The report chronicles the history of regionalization in the state, cites the pros and cons of this type of collaboration, illustrates recent successful examples, and amasses a range of technical information on the subject. The report is available here.

"I encourage leaders in the 11 First Berkshire communities to investigate areas in which regionalization could work to their benefit," Bissaillon said. "I recognize there can be concerns about giving up some independence, especially when jobs and longstanding ways of doing things are on the table. But greater good can result."

Bissaillon said the data presented in the regionalization study prompts questions such as:

Does our school administration model best serve our children and our budgets?

Do we have in place the most efficient system for caring for and transporting the elderly in our communities?

Is municipal finance handled most adequately town by town?

Could we do a better job with regional energy and green strategy plans?

What might be the most efficient ways to handle housing authorities in a region?

Do our local libraries take advantage of regional opportunities?

Are public health issues better addressed in a regional manner?

Bissaillon said local leaders might also consider attending the second annual regionalization toolkit conference, "A Practical Guide to Sharing Municipal Services," on Thursday, Sept. 2. Information is at www.mapc.org



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Where to vote in Berkshire County

State Election
Tuesday, Nov. 4

Voting is from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Deadline to register or change party affiliation was Oct.15.


Candidates on the ballot in races for state office; all others on the ballot are unopposed. Links will take you to their campaign websites.

U.S. Senator
Edward J. Markey, Democrat
Brian J. Herr, Republican

Governor/Lieutenant Governor
Charlie Baker & Karyn Polito, Republican
Martha Coakley & Stephen Kerrigan, Democrat
Evan Falchuk & Angus Jennings, United Independent Party
Scott Lively & Shelly Saunders, Independent
Jeff McCormick & Tracy Post, Independent 

Attorney General
Maura Healey, Democratic
John B. Miller, Republican

Secretary of State
William Francis Galvin, Democratic
David D'Arcangelo, Republican
Daniel L. Factor, Green-Rainbow

Treasurer
Deborah B. Goldberg, Democratic
Michael James Heffernan, Republican
Ian T. Jackson, Green-Rainbow

Auditor
Suzanne M. Bump, Democratic
Patricia S. Saint Aubin, Republican
MK Merelice, Green-Rainbow

Municipal Elections

The cities of Pittsfield and North Adams will hold municipal elections for mayor, city council and school committee in 2015

You may vote absentee: if you will be absent from your town or city on election day, have a physical disability that prevents you from voting at the polls or cannot vote at the polls because to religious beliefs.

2010 Special Senate Election Results

Election 2009 Stories

Election Day 2008

 

 

 



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