North Adams Water Safe to Drink
Update: Windsor Lake is open as of 12:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 2.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — There are rumors making the rounds about the quality of the water in North Adams. While Windsor Lake (Fish Pond) was closed on Wednesday because of a high bacteria count from runoff from Tropical Storm Irene, the city's drinking water system is safe.
"Berkshire Enviro would have told me [about any problems with the drinking water ] when they told me about the lake," said North Adams Health Inspector Manuel Serrano. "We have a treatment plant and it's doing its job just fine."
The lake was tested on Monday after the near-hurricane dropped more than 5 inches on the city. Berkshire Enviro-Labs Inc. of Lee reported results on Wednesday indicated high counts of bacteria.
Mayor Richard Alcombright immediately announced the closure of Fish Pond to all swimming, fishing and boating. Picnicking on the grounds is still allowed.
The storm also caused some beach erosion and washed out a few roads in the 100-site Historic Vally Park campground, which were being regraded in time for the Labor Day weekend.
Fish Pond is being monitored and tested on a daily basis. Serrano said a high bacteria count isn't unusual after significant runoff and churning. It was hoped the lake could reopen in time for the weekend.
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City Firefighters Get Driver Training
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city will see a reduction in its property and casualty insurance costs following a driving safety course conducted with 21 members of the Fire Department.
Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, the city's property and casualty insurance provider, offered the training free of charge as a membership benefit. Upon completion of this and other MIIA training programs, the city is eligible to receive insurance premium credits through the MIIA Rewards Programs.
North Adams Fire Department members participated in the driving safety simulator course during the week June 6. The state-of-the-art, computer-driven simulator realistically replicates more than 150 driving conditions that operators of police cruisers, fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles may encounter, including snow, rain, fog and darkness. In addition, the course includes one-on-one training for fire, police and other public safety employees on emergency procedures and safe driving techniques. According to MIIA's statistics, there is an average of 10 to 25 percent reduction in accident frequency and costs following the driving safety course.
In fiscal 2010, more than 4,000 municipal employees participated in more than 180 MIIA sponsored no-cost loss prevention and risk management programs. Their efforts yielded more than $2 million of premium credit collectively to the membership, for an eight-year Rewards program total of $12 million.
The Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association is the non-profit insurance arm of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. As a member-based organization, MIIA's only focus is to provide excellent service and quality risk management solutions to Massachusetts municipalities and related public entities. Municipal insurance its only business, MIIA insures nearly 400 cities, towns, and other public entities in Massachusetts. For more information, visit www.emiia.org and www.mma.org.
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New Tourism Director Setting Priorities
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Veronica Bosley, former program coordinator for the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, was introduced as the city's new tourism director on Thursday night at an artist's discussion group at the Beaver Mill.
"We made our decision and we're sticking by it," joked Mayor Richard Alcombright, who with BCRC head Jonathan Secor and Develop North Adams Chairman Brian Miksic selected Bosley from a pool of about 30 candidates. "I think you're going to find her helpful to all of you, helpful in many ways; [she] will continue to drive events in this community and will really involve herself in the arts and culture community and also many other sectors of the community ... I think we need to grow in all sectors."
The town of Florida native is stepping into a post that's become a flashpoint as the city struggles to overcome a $1 million deficit after an override went down in defeat last month. A number of citizens, including a couple of city councilors, have advocated slashing the $51,000 tourism budget — or at least holding off on filling the post for another year.
But Bosley found a warm welcome at Eric Rudd's Beaver Mill as some 40 or so artists and residents lobbed ideas at her for expanding the city's marketing stance and luring more tourists and their dollars to the area.
Bosley said she was flattered to be selected. "It has been really exciting to see the challenges and changes that have happened over the years," said the 2006 Mount Holyoke College graduate. "I'm really hoping to harness that great energy and all of those good vibes and market North Adams for what it really is, which is a great place to live, a great place to own a business and a great place to come and visit."
She worked at Williams College's Sawyer Library for several years and writes a monthly column for the Berkshire Visitors Bureau. Her experience includes organizing and coordinating a number of performances, conferences and dance festivals at Williams; marketing for the Berkshire Museum; managing and marketing the Berkshire Hill Internship Program, part of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts BCRC; and overseeing related websites and social media. She's also appeared in some local plays.
Bosley won't be on the payroll until after July 17 but the group had plenty of ideas to throw at her during the 90-minute discussion that covered topics ranging from passenger rail to artists housing to revamping the website.
Peter May, a local chiropractor, said he could name two dozen things the city could boast about but couldn't understand why it hasn't been "discovered."
"Any town in our economic situation would die for one of them never mind 24," he said. "It's completely dysfunctional that it hasn't happened."
The new tourism director's task will include cultural development and marketing, and building connections locally and statewide to find ways to let the wider world — and the towns next door — know what North Adams has to offer in terms of culture, recreation and natural beauty.
Bosley said the website is one of her priorities, but it's a project limited by the lack of funding. She and the mayor said it should reflect usable information for people visiting, or looking for jobs or to relocate. Attendees said it should have a list of events and suggested using it as a vehicle for "bragging" stories about some the interesting things going on and a place for photographers to display their images of city.
Along with the summer and fall event planning, she'll be working on setting benchmarks to measure progress.
"I imagine it would have to be some sort of combination of people and money spent here. ... which I'm hoping will indicate satisfaction," she said. "I think it's important for us to start keeping track of those things."
Alcombright said it's been difficult to measure the actual impact of tourism or events such as the Solid Sound Festival. "I think the information is there," said local potter Gail Sellers, who suggested retail operations begin tracking traffic and sales as she's been doing to provide Bosley with data. "It's just a matter of putting it in one place."
"Right now we have no baseline ... and we need to be able to measure this," said Miksic. "We need to be able to measure this, economically speaking, to the City Council next year."
Benchmarks may be critical to proving to the council — and skeptical residents — that the position should continue to be funded.
"I fought very hard to keep this in the budget, I think it's one of those positions that can help the community grow, bring revenue to the community and it's what we're shooting for," said Alcombright. Still, he cautioned that Bosley was working without clerical or other support and with a very low budget.
"I'm hoping, really hoping that people don't try dumping stuff that's already being taken care of because we have so many new things we have to do," said Rudd, turning to Bosley to say, "I think you're going to have to say no to some people."
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Prop 2 1/2 Meetings Come To a Close
The final of six public information meetings about Tuesday's vote on proposition 2 1/2 drew a small crowd.
Editor's Note: Mayor Alcombright has informed us that NBCTV encountered difficulties taping Friday night's override session. It was discovered this morning that the audio did not tape. The station will instead rebroadcast just the override presentation the mayor gave at the City Council meeting several weeks ago. The air times are Sunday, June 19, at 9 a.m., and 3 and 7 p.m., and Monday at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., all on Channel 17.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The proposition 2 1/2 public information meetings came to a close Friday night at Greylock School and the decision is now in the hands of the voters.
"I thought the process went very, very well," Mayor Richard Alcombright said of the meeting. "At the first meeting there was this aura of skepticism...Now I see people and they have a focused questions and that's what we're trying to do. People began to understand."
Alcombright hosted six meetings across the city to discuss the override vote on Tuesday. Friday's meeting was the most sparsely attended - drawing a crowd of only a few dozen. Alcombright said he hopes the meetings encouraged residents to vote in favor of the proposition. However, he said he tried to remain relatively neutral – only slightly nudging in favor of the vote – during the meetings to encourage dialogue.
"I really would like people to know that I am available, that the city counselors are available. I wanted people to come out and share their opinions and not be judged," Alcombright said. "I think people, hopefully, see the need for this."
About a dozen people spoke at Greylock School and they were all in favor of the proposition except for Robert Cardimino, who continued his campaign advocating for additional cuts rather than raising taxes. Most who spoke centered around funding for the schools.
"Something has to be done for the long-term goals," Drury High School teacher Melissa Quirk said. "If we continue to think short-term, we will never be able to grow to the potential that this community has to offer. We need to be thinking long-term and in order to do that we all need to make as much as an investment as we can in this community."
City councilor Michael Bloom said that this budget was "unlike" any budget he has seen before and encouraged people to vote in favor of the override.
"There is too much negativity. There are no hidden accounts. There is no hidden agenda," Bloom said. "If you want to make further cuts and take step backwards, you can vote no on this. If you are look to build the community you will vote yes."
Cardimino, however, said the schools will survive without the override vote and said Alcombright had not made enough cuts.
"Let the mayor get out his scalpel and make some cuts," Cardimino said.
Now there is nothing left for the city to do to inform residents about the vote and the city's next steps lay in the hands of the voters.
"I'm hopefully optimistic. I'm hoping, beyond hope, that people rally around this," Alcombright said. "Whether you are for it or against it, vote."
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Students Make Plea to Pass Override
Robert Cardimino, left, and music teacher Chris Caproni were talking outside Drury High School. Cardimino said at the meeting that if the teachers voted to return the one percent raise in their contract, he'd support the override.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Three Drury High School students spoke up for their education on Tuesday night, pleading with voters not to slash school programs to balance the budget.
"I want to leave knowing I can come back here and have a place to be proud of," said Andrew Varuzzo of North Adams, who will be attending Holy Cross in the fall. "I would hate to see this community, this school die a slow death because we could not pass this bill."
The senior and classmates Evan Schueckler and Luke Sisto addressed about a 100 people in the Drury High School auditorium at the second of six planned public sessions on a $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override that city officials say is critical to saving services and school programs.
Schueckler, of Stamford, Vt., is going to Harvard, but hoped to return to the city "to do great things," but not if he wasn't assured his own children would get the same education he received.
Varuzzo said he planned to register to vote on Wednesday "solely for the purpose of voting yes for a Proposition 2 1/2."
Their statements were greeted with applause from an audience that seemed weighted by parents and educators. It was a far cry from last week's City Council meeting, when opponents of the proposal railed at Mayor Richard Alcombright to cut services and use the city's meager reserves to plug a $1 million hole in the fiscal 2012 budget.
"There were more people with different points of view," said the mayor after the 90-minute session. "It felt better to listen a little more.
All presentations begin at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, the mayor repeated much of the presentation he made last week, noting the city has lost more than $3 million in annual state aid since the economic crisis in 2008 and has burned through most of its reserves.
The city had more than $1 million in free cash in 2008 but the account is now at about $165,000. Most of the funds in the land sale account have been used to offset cuts, although the city is hoping to replenish some of that with the sales of about 60 lots this month and some lands it owns outside its borders.
Alcombright said the much talked about $900,000 in school choice funds will be used to retain special education programs for the next two years, with a $100,000 held out as buffer for other special ed needs. But the failure of the override would mean deep cuts in staff and programs, including drama, music and arts.
At least 100 people attended Tuesday's session and more than a dozen, mostly educators, spoke in favor of the override. Drury Principal Amy Meehan wore an oversized T-shirt that said 'Support Our Students.'
"This are things that we discussed that could possibly be cut if the override doesn't pass," he said, adding that any of the programs slashed might not be reinstated for years. "Some people say I'm threatening .. this is no threat, this is reality."
Patricia Wall took the mayor to task for waiting too long to bring options to citizens. She said she would have supported a $600,000 override for the school system but that city should look at raising fees and other measures.
"Unfortunately, the ballots are all printed, this is it. It's black and white when we go to vote," she said. "There should have been more options; it was realy not fair to do it this way."
More than a dozen people spoke on the issue, most with links to the school system including Superintendent James Montepare. Former School Committee member Ronald Superneau recalled how Proposition 2 1/2, when it passed in 1980, had devastated the school system and how it had taken the city years to recover.
"I don't like taxes ... but I don't want to see any of this stuff gone," he said.
But Louis Chalifoux, who spoke against the override last week, said citizens are already being taxed every which way.
"The only tax that any of us have any control over is Proposition 2 1/2. Now why in the world would anybody vote to increase your own taxes when in fact you have the opportunity and the right to control the city's budget," he said to applause. "And that's the key — the buck stops here."
Robert Cardimino, another vociferous opponent of the override, found himself stating he'd support it after music teacher Christopher Caproni, former president of the teachers' union, pledged to vote to give back his one percent raise for next year at the union's Thursday meeting.
"If you do forgo your raises I will vote yes for this proposition," he said, then complained Caproni didn't live in North Adams.
Sisto, the final speaker and president of the Drury Drama Team, said the cuts would "slash the spirit of our school."
"We students are an investment in the future," he said. "Are we not worth $20 a month? For all property owners, are we not worth that extra $20 a month?"
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