Letters: Alcombright Right Man for the Job
Letters: Mayoral Opponent 'Slinging the Mud'
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.
Crime, Finance Return in 2nd Alcombright, Moulton Debate
|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.
Alcombright, Moulton Spar in First Mayoral Debate
|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.
They also sparred over Alcombright's most recent initiative, the privatization of Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
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.
North Adams Candidate Forums, Debates Scheduled
• 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