By Joe Durwin On: 07:40AM / Tuesday October 29, 2013
Incumbent John Krol and challenger Joseph Nichols differed sharply during the Ward 6 at BCC on Monday night.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Incumbent John Krol and former Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Nichols traded jabs during a heated debate Monday over who voters should choose to represent Ward 6 in next week's local election.
The two candidates, who frequently opposed each other on the council during the 2009-2011 term, drew pointed contrasts to each other on issues and governmental philosophy as well as disputing each other's honesty during the sometimes tense 40-minute forum held at Berkshire Community College by the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television.
Sparring began in opening statements, during which Nichols criticized what he called a lack of responsiveness to constituents on the part of the incumbent.
The two were also staunchly divided on the issues of residential property taxes and regulation for homeowners.
Krol defended his role in the council's 7-4 decision last year to amend the shift factor in commercial/residential property taxes from 1.72 to 1.68, altering the distribution of tax increase in fiscal 2013 to rates of $16.70 per $1,000 residential and $34.48 commercial rather than $16.48 / $35.30 ratio proposed by Mayor Daniel Bianchi.
"We live in a competitive market, in a world where businesses are making choices about where to do business," said Krol. "A small shift that makes a few dollars difference on the residential side makes a huge impact on the commercial tax rate."
"It's a shortsighted gesture," argued Nichols, who blamed Krol for imposing too great a burden on fixed income homeowners. "The businessman can write off taxes, and pass on the cost of that expense, but the homeowner cannot do that."
Nichols also blamed Pittsfield's 2010 adoption of the Stretch Energy Code as being a major impediment to a city lagging behind in the recovery of its housing market.
Krol however said that it was that very regulation and code enforcement that was improving their Westside neighborhood, and citing addressing "problem properties" as a significant measure toward reducing crime.
The two candidates agreed on little, aside from both opposing a current developer proposal to build a new big box retail complex at the William Stanley Business Park, and overall approval of the revised city charter that will also be on the ballot next Tuesday.
The debate jumped the rails off its question-and-answer format during a brief but heated exchange after Nichols accused Krol of being non-collaborative in working with the Bianchi administration.
"John says that he collaborates with our mayor" said Nichols. "But I spoke with Mayor Bianchi today and he said that Mr. Krol has not been in his office in two years.
"That's completely not true," Krol interjected, stating he had met with the mayor in his office on several occasions.
"I called Mayor Bianchi soon after the inauguration, I called him several times to get a first meeting in his office, and eventually I did get a meeting," Krol continued. "I have tried to work with Mayor Bianchi and I have continued to try and work with Mayor Bianchi however I can."
Nichols reiterated his statement, and further accused Krol of exaggerating Bianchi's committment to a $200,000 budget item for a sports field at Berkshire Community College.
"I don't think that Mayor Bianchi would lie to me right before a debate," said Nichols. "Again, Councilor Krol has gone beyond what the reality of the situation is, in order to, evidently, make steps toward getting re-elected."
Krol flatly denied this as well, naming several individuals including, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, among whom he'd met with the mayor on the project and had confirmed his commitment to the capital funds.
After briefly allowing the dispute in controlled 30-second responses, moderator David Cachat cut off the argument, while disgruntled whispers echoed through supporters of both candidates in the small audience.
In closing arguments, Krol emphasized a record of what he saw as progressive improvements for the city he had helped accomplish in the his past two terms.
"These take communication and advocacy, and that is what I've done," Krol summarized. "Responsiveness is what it's all about as a ward councilor."
Nichols ended by again challenging his opponent on that responsiveness, claiming widespread complaints that the incumbent councilor had been incommunicative.
"I think it's great to paint a pretty picture at election time," concluded Nichols. "But actions speak louder than words."
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