Letters to the Editor On: 10:00AM / Monday November 04, 2013
To the Editor:
Mayor Alcombright understands what it takes to manage and promote our city and provide the services that people expect. He is deeply concerned about our cost of living, economic development and keeping North Adams an affordable place to live. He is dedicated to enriching our schools and developing the teaching infrastructure we need to better educate children.
The mayor is very proactive about resolving crime, blight and poverty in our city and has the fortitude and courage to acknowledge the problems that drug and alcohol abuse have on this issue, locally and nationwide.
His challenger, Bob Moulton, has made many negative and untrue statements about our mayor and city. It is true that the mayor has allowed for salary increases to certain city personnel as departments are streamlined and workloads are increased on individuals. However, Bob should remember from his years on the council that these raises pale in comparison to those given out during the previous administration. During those years from 2000 to 2009, the administrative officer went from $45,500 to $71,000; the MIS director went from $41,400 to $71,010; the commissioner of public safety went from $41,400 to $70,132; fire director went from $44,217 to $61,295; police director went from $44,217 to $63,016 and finally the mayor's salary went from $57,000 to $84,470, where it remains today, four years later.
Bob should also know that his allegations of property taxes being worse now than ever before are simply not true. From FY 2005 to 2010, while Bob was a councilor, the tax levy in the city increased from $7.8 million to $ 11.6 million or 67 percent - an average increase of 6.09 percent annually. Under Mayor Alcombright, from FY2011 to 2014, the tax levy in the city increased from $11.6 million to $14.2 million or 22.9 percent — an average increase of 5.75 percent annually.
And Bob should also remember that while those taxes were being increased annually prior to Mayor Alcombright taking office, the FY2005 to 2010 years had the luxury of state aid being increased $698,000 per year on average. From FY2011 to FY 2014, Mayor Alcombright has had to deal with an average reduction in state aid of $336,000 annually.
Bob also seems to be unaware that North Adams taxes are less than our neighboring communities and others outside of our area. The average singl-family home value in North Adams is $135,328 which results in a combined water/sewer and property tax bill of $2,667. Meanwhile, in Adams the same home pays $2,791 per year (with no sewer fee); Clarksburg pays $2,800 a year (without full-time fire department); Pittsfield pays $3,331 per year; Gardner pays $ 4,113 annually and Greenfield pays $4,439 per year.
Regarding unemployment, Bob would have you believe the situation is getting worse when the truth is that the North Adams unemployment rate has gone from 10.2 percent in 2010 to 8.1 percent today, a drop of 2.1 percent. Around the region and state, current unemployment in Adams stands at 8.8 percent; Gardner is at 9.9 percent; Fitchburg 10 percent; Holyoke 11.7 percent; New Bedford 13.1 percent; and Lawrence at 14.9 percent unemployment.
A quick Google search of the words "North Adams Crime rate" will take you to the same large list of websites that Bob probably got his crime information from. What he fails to tell us, however, is that these websites show our city has reported above the national and state average consistently, for over 10 years.
At the McCann debate, Bob criticized Mayor Alcombright for not "extorting" money, through a "linkage" account, from the new Super Walmart. Bob also made another anti-business statement by criticizing the mayor for last year's, ever so slight, reduction in our commercial tax rate that still remains the highest in the state.
I've seen a lot of change in our city having served as a city councilor the past 24 years. And the last four years have been the most positive for North Adams.
Mayor Alcombright is the right man for the job. He has given the city council full transparency to the budget process. He has listened and implemented ideas of citizens and has given the respect that is deserved to our hard working city employees. Mayor Alcombright is an honest man who will keep North Adams an affordable, attractive and safe place to live. He has earned my vote and I encourage you to vote for Mayor Alcombright.
Nov. 4, 2013
Bloom is the current president of the North Adams City Council.
By Dick Alcombright On: 09:35PM / Friday November 01, 2013
Many weeks ago, I spoke with Bob Moulton when he informed me he was going to run for mayor. Bob assured me that he would run a clean campaign and that he would respect our long term friendship and that of our families.
The campaign until this week has been very quiet and Bob has been an admirable challenger debating his points of view. At this 11th hour, however, he has decided or has been told to begin to degenerate this campaign by unfounded lies.
Two recent flyers that came to my house and I am certain to most households stated the following:
1. "I gave out tax deals to influential friends."
For those of you who know me, I have spent my entire adult life building my integrity. I have NEVER given one penny to any friends in tax deals.
2. "By shifting the tax rate, I gave Walmart, Time Warner, National Grid, Verizon and others tax breaks." Not one of those entities received a tax break ... they paid their fair share.
3. "I gave out more than $700,000 in pay raises."
That number is the total of additional contracted compensation to all city and school employees over the past four years. That represents less than 1 percent increase each year. I trust you value our teachers, firefighters, police, DPW and office workers enough to understand that these increases were earned and were among the lowest in the state. Mr. Moulton only needs to do the math.
4. "I entered office with nearly $3.5 million in reserves."
That could not be further from the truth ... he fails to mention that I also entered office with a $2.6 million deficit in the budget and an unfunded and mismanaged insurance issue amounting to $800,000 left me by former Mayor John Barrett.
5. "Bob's priority will always be what is best for the forgotten middle class of North Adams."
We have a population consisting of 17 percent poverty, 60 percent low to moderate income ... what about them? I have acted on behalf of and in the best interests of all of our residents.
6. "$80,000 a year will be spent on swanky new school administrative offices on Main Street when space could have been found in a city-owned property."
The School Department leased office space for some 35 administrative workers for a three-year lease at $69,000 annually with the first year heavily discounted to under $50,000. All city buildings including City Hall were considered with none able to accommodate that many people. The School Department was spending over $100,000 annually at Conte and two other buildings to house administration. This move saves the district more than $30,000 annually.
7. "Invest in a state-of-the-art curriculum starting in Grade 1."
Mr. Moulton is so uninformed that he only needs to look online at the school website to see that we have a curriculum for each Grade K-12, that is mandated by the Massachusetts Frameworks and the Federal Common Core.
It is very unfortunate that Mr. Moulton has resorted to "slinging the mud" this late in the race. He has not proposed ONE idea that has substance. He says he has an action plan: what is it? He will hire more police: how will he pay for them and will it be on the back of a volunteer fire department?
The city voted to do the Conte School renovation project: he has yet to clearly answer whether or not if elected, he will scrap Conte. He told the MCLA Beacon he would, WGBY Public Television "everything was on the table" and during the radio debate he claimed he would support it. Which is it?
He has said that he will stop the privatization of Heritage State Park ... a project that I have been working on for three years that promises over $6 million in investment and will put the park back on the tax rolls.
I simply don't get it, saving all of these lies and empty promises for the 11th hour. I am fully convinced that collectively and transparently, we have moved this city forward over the past four years. Please read the information that you have received from both of us very carefully and make an informed decision.
Richard Alcombright is running for a third term as mayor of North Adams.
By Tammy Daniels On: 08:02PM / Wednesday October 30, 2013
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."
"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."
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.
By Tammy Daniels On: 12:18AM / Thursday October 24, 2013
Robert M. Moulton Jr., in red tie, and Richard Alcombright shake hands after a debate at McCann Technical School. The moderator was retired Adams Town Clerk Paul Hutchison.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayoral candidates spent 90 minutes sparring in a debate Wednesday that was to focus on economics but turned on crime and the incumbent's record.
Richard Alcombright, running for a third term, said he had "made tough decisions that didn't always make me popular" over the last four years, but vowed to continue efforts to revitalize the city.
Challenger Robert M. Moulton Jr., a local businessman and former councilor, repeatedly attacked Alcombright's record and said he "will get the city moving in the right direction again and make sure the middle class of North Adams is a voice again."
The debate, the first of two prior to the election, was held at McCann Technical School with an audience of about a 200 and was sponsored by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
Moderator was Paul Hutchinson, retired Adams town clerk. The candidates were allowed an opening and closing statement; questions were asked by a panel of media — Gabriel Kogel of the MCLA Beacon, Jennifer Huberdeau of the North Adams Transcript, Megan Duley from WNAW radio and Tammy Daniels, editor of iBerkshires. The candidates were given 2 minutes to respond, 1 minute for rebuttal, and then 30 seconds for more.
The candidates agreed on little other than that the city should do more to partner with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and that repeat violent offenders should be jailed, not let back on the streets.
They disagreed on virtually everything else, including how to manage the wave of break-ins and violent behavior that's hit the city this summer.
"We need more police, we need more police, we need more police," said Moulton.
"Four years ago when you ran, it was your No. 1 priority, since then it's gotten drastically worse, drastically worse," he said to his opponent. He said the city's violent crime rate was 40 to 45 percent higher than the state's and that 1 in 218 residents had a chance of being a victim of violent crime, but did not say where he got the statistics.
Alcombright said he recognized the fact that crime has gone up. "The biggest thing we've done since April is engage with the district attorney's office and the state police," he said, which has resulted "in many more arrests."
Putting officers on the beat isn't the only answer, he said, because the city has addiction, social and mental health issues that must be addressed. "Crime has grown because of many social factors," said Alcombright. "The root cause of these problems is addiction, is poverty and is joblessness and we're working all of those issues."
Moulton said he'd "failed miserably." "I walked the streets and I thought taxes would be No. 1," he said. "Overwhelming, overwhelmingly, 2 to 1, it was crime."
Alcombright said pointed to the jobs he'd brought in or helped keep here, including the 120 jobs at Crane & Co. that were set to leave four years ago but which have now doubled, the nearly 100 new jobs at Walmart and the low vacancy rate in the downtown.
Moulton said more needed to be done to bring in jobs and increase the tax base. He did make clear that he would not stand in the way of the demolition of St. Francis' Church, which has been eyed as a site for a national drugstore chain.
Alcombright has opposed the church's destruction as a historic building and an iconic view integral to the city, backing an ordinance that would delay demolition for historical review. But he pointed out that the proposed buyer could have applied for a permit in the past three years and, at this point, have taken the building by now.
The incumbent touted the recent agreement with developers to invest some $6 million into the park, including a MassWorks grant, and a flat lease payment of $750,000 for 20 years.
Moulton said the original proposal 20 years ago failed. "Economically it wasn't feasible and I think the economy is worse now," he said, and thought the another request for proposals should be issued since only two had been received. "It's kind of a one-shot deal and we might want to this right the first time."
He also called into question how much the lease agreement would mean since the city used $150,000 to buy the Sons of Italy.
Alcombright said he had been working for 2 1/2 years to bring private development into the park.
"The public sector should not be operating a retail establishment," he said. The city had been able to get $1.6 million investment to leverage nearly $4 million — and a total of $10 million when the Berkshire Scenic Railway comes in — to get the park back on the tax roles, he continued, and the $150,000 had been from a Redevelopment Authority fund and had nothing to do with the project. (The money had initially been approved for repairs.)
"I don't live in the world of what happened 20 years ago, I live in the world of what will happen now," said Alcombright. "It's a different economic climate."
The inevitable albatross of mayoral elections — the fate of the Mohawk Theater — was again brought up.
"We have wonderful plans, we don't have money," said Alcombright. Standalone theaters, he said, "are not a sustainable model."
He has been in talks with the college to take over operation of the Mohawk as part of its fine and performing arts department, which will also further connect the downtown to the school.
Moulton said the city should find an investor for the theater and take advantage of credits and grants.
In fact, he saw grants as a possible solutions for many of the city's issues, including the looming capital projects such as the police and fire station and the water and sewer infrastructure, saying that "millions of dollars" could be available.
"Economically where we are right now, I think we're bumped up the ladder because of our economic situation," he said.
Alcombright said if there was a grant for building a police station they would have found them by now. "Take a ride folks, look around, there is so much to be done here," he said. "The only way we're going to get capital projects is to borrow."
The city's borrowing debt will fall significantly in 2019, said Alcombright.
The two also differed over the master planning process, with Moulton touting the nearly 20-year-old Hyatt Palma downtown report as perfectly suitable while Alcombright pointed to the ongoing North Adams 2030 master plan as being more inclusive and modern.
As for taxes, Moulton accused Alcombright of reneging on a promise not to raise taxes or shift the commercial rate lower; Alcombright denied he had ever made such a promise.
Alcombright said Moulton as a councilor had voted in the past to raise taxes, which had averaged a 6 percent increase a year as state "Taxes have increased because basically we needed to fund things," he said. While the city's budget has increased about 1.5 percent the last four years, state aid had dropped
Moulton said Alcombright had been left with a $2 million reserve: "the money you were left with is not there anymore."
Alcombright said it was because he'd also been left with a $2 million deficit, which has been whittle down to about $300,000. He defended again his attempt for a Proposition 2 1/2 override two years ago, saying the city would have been better off in balancing the budget for the long term rather than "mercilessly" cutting school programs.
"This is still the cheapest place and least expensive place to live" in the Berkshires and compared to similar communities, he said. "The average tax bill is a little over $2,600."
Moulton said the middle class was hurting because of the fees but at one point in the debate described the tax rate as "pretty affordable" in terms of buying housing here.
The two agreed of the importance of the MCLA to the city, with Moulton suggesting a liaison to City Council and Alcombright describing his frequent communication with its leaders. In answering how can the city attract college students downtown, Alcombright said it had been a topic for years and Moulton asked Kogel, the questioner, "What are you looking for?"
Moulton said there was nothing downtown except for dinner and a movie; Alcombright that there were clothing and sports stores but the they needed to stay open later.
Both were cautious about medical marijuana dispensaries, agreeing they need to be very regulated. Moulton said needed to do more research; Alcombright was going to ask the City Council for a six-month moratorium to review the issues.
The debate was taped by Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp. for replay on daily on Thursday through Wednesday, Oct. 24-30. The candidates will also debate on Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 9 to 10 live on WNAW radio.
Staff Reports On: 11:25AM / Wednesday October 16, 2013
Please check back as schedules will be added and/or updated through the next few weeks.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — iBerkshires is hosting a City Council candidate forum on Thursday, Oct. 17, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Mingo's Sports Bar & Grill at Greylock Bowl & Golf.
At least nine candidates have confirmed their attendance at the forum, which will include opening and closing comments and a conversation on city topics. Editor Tammy Daniels will moderate and those in attendance will be able to submit questions in writing as time allows.
The forum is open to the public and will be recorded for later broadcast on NBCTV.
The first debate is being sponsored by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Oct. 23, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at McCann Technical School. Local media, including iBerkshires, will ask questions through the moderator of the candidates, who will have two minutes each to respond with opportunity for rebuttal. The public may bring in questions on note cards and, if time permits, some of those questions may be asked. It will also be taped by NBCTV and televised several times before the election.
The debate will be business-focused and moderated by Paul Hutchinson, retired Adams town clerk. Questions have been developed by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the media, including the North Adams Transcript, iBerkshires, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' student newspaper the Beacon and WNAW.
"The Berkshire Chamber is pleased coordinate and host the only public mayoral debate in North Adams this election season," said Michael Supranowicz, president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. "It is extremely important that the community has a chance to become well informed. We encourage businesses to send representatives from their organizations to this event, as there will be business-specific questions asked."
The second mayoral debate will be held at the WNAW radio station for live broadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 9 to 10. iBerkshires will also participate in this debate with media partner Berkshire News Network as well as in the half-hour morning forums with council candidates to be aired live beginning Thursday, Oct. 24, at 8:30. The radio sessions are usually rebroadcast the weekend prior to the election.
The schedule for the radio council forums, as of Oct. 16, are as follows:
• Thursday, Oct 24, 8:30 a.m.: Blackmer and Bona
• Friday, Oct 25, 8 a.m.: Breen and Bullet
• Monday, Oct 28, 8:30 a.m.: Buddington and Cardimino
• Tuesday, Oct 29, 8:30 a.m.: Hernandez and Lamb
• Thursday, Oct 31, 8:30 a.m.: Merrigan and Moran
• Friday, Nov. 1, 8:30 a.m.: Wilkinson
A set of candidate forums for councilors may also be in works at Northern Berkshire Community Television; a schedule will be posted as soon as that is confirmed.
Informal meet-and-greets with council candidates have also been held at Luma's Muffin and Mug and other venues around the city.
A final "meet the candidates breakfast" is being sponsored by the North Adams Elks at the hall at 100 Eagle St., on Sunday, Nov. 3, from 8 to 11 a.m.
We have linked to the Facebook fan pages we found and profile pages being used for the campaign; candidates who have FB pages or websites we missed should send us the links at firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Adams: Candidate forums are being broadcast live by WNAW at 8:30 a.m. daily Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 except Wednesday, when mayoral candidates Richard Alcombright, the incumbent, and challenger Robet Moulton debate live from 9 to 10.
Meet the candidates at the Elks Lodge breakfast on Sunday, Nov. 3.
The cities of Pittsfield and North Adams will hold municipal elections for mayor, city council and school committee on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
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.
Absentee ballots are available at city clerk offices until noon on Nov. 4.
Voter registration: The deadline to register or change in voter information for the November election is Wednesday, Oct. 16.
The North Adams city clerk's office will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 16.