The mayor teased a few of her incoming initiatives during the speech.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer wants you to believe.
"Believe that city government is a community partner, a business partner, a good neighbor, and a champion for all our hopes and dreams. One of us cannot succeed without the other," the mayor said as she concluded Monday night's state of the city address.
"Believe that Pittsfield is the heart of the Berkshires and a loved and honored daughter of the Commonwealth. Believe that our destiny awaits us but only if we keep moving forward with innovation, creativity, and confidence."
Tyer delivered her second address at Zion Lutheran Church in front of department heads, city councilors,
School Committee members, the city's state delegation, and a few dozen citizens. Most of the address focused on what she sees as successes from the prior year but she also introduced some of the incoming initiatives she has planned for 2018.
"We are challenged by serious fiscal constraints. Pittsfield is at its levy ceiling and our ability to provide services that the community expects and deserves is impacted by diminished financial resources. This year our revenue growth remains limited and we do not foresee dramatic increases in state aid or local receipts," Tyer said of 2018.
"This is a serious matter that requires a lot of difficult decisions, persistence over time, and sheer determination. It is a condition that was inherited by my administration and I am determined to ensure that we survive and thrive beyond today's challenges. I view this circumstance as an opportunity to sharpen our thinking about the role of government and to access expertise at every level."
An initiative to address that has already begun with the first visit with the National Resource Network, Tyer said. The consortium is in the midst of a study searching for efficiencies in city operations. That report is expected in February.
"It is my belief that combined with the professional experience of our department heads and the recommendations from the National Resource Center we will deliver our third responsible budget that continues to invest in our shared priorities of public safety, superior public education, and the improving the quality of life throughout all of Pittsfield's neighborhoods," Tyer said.
In the last year, the city had already used the state's Community Compact program to develop a new financial forecasting model, which Tyer believes will serve as an important tool in developing the city's future spending plans.
But it isn't just managing a budget for Tyer. That is only a piece of the change Tyer hopes to accomplish during her four-year term.
"In year one, we understood that the city's future success required a solid foundation of smart investments, initiatives, and programs in order to become a modern city that will thrive beyond today. Change is the result of innovation," Tyer said.
"While we love the outcomes that innovation delivers, it is the process that precedes these desired end results that requires us to be steadfast and earnest. It is this diligence and commitment that has infused the work of the past year, testing and validating the strength of our ideas."
When it comes to business the outcomes in 2017 there were 128 jobs were created or retained in 2017 through government incentives; LTI SmartGlass and Modern Mold and Tool were able to expand; and numerous small businesses have opened or expanded — including Red Apple Butchers, Township Four, Hangar of Pittsfield, and Whimsical Floral Arrangements.
The process, according to Tyer, started with changes to the economic development strategy in the city. Particularly, Tyer highlighted the creation of a "red carpet team" of city and state officials and economic development groups to help a business looking to expand or move to the city and a newly formed economic development council.
"My commitment to this agenda was nowhere more evident than in the revitalization of the city's economic development strategy announced in the spring. This significant move forward for attracting and retaining businesses has been made possible through the city's collaboration with the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. Together we are sharing our resources to create new strategies and new tactics that will position us for success," Tyer said.
"Under the guidance of the newly formed Mayor's Economic Development Council, which is comprised of myself, Mick Callahan, the chair of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, and Jay Anderson, the president of the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp., the newly created position of business development manager will promote and foster economic development, job growth, and capital investment by working to retain and grow existing businesses and by attracting new businesses."
The so-called "red carpet team" was rolled out for Modern Mold and LTI SmartGlass — two successes that can be chalked up to the team effort.
"Like many of our businesses, LTI Smart Glass doesn't seek the spotlight so I'm going to shine a light on them. LTI is world-renowned for its specialty glass products. Following the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy, LTI developed School Guard Glass which is installed in the new Sandy Hook elementary school. 500 schools have installed this highly specialized glass in their buildings," Tyer said.
"In addition, LTI glass will be outfitting thousands of New York City Police department vehicles. These are just two examples of LTI's amazing products. Now, to continue innovating and developing new products they needed an expansion of their facility and more employees. The city and state stepped in to help them realize their aspirations. LTI will soon install a new Mappi tempering oven. This oven is by far the most advanced in the world. As a matter of fact, LTI's oven will be only the fifth one ever made."
The company expanded with a $580,000 incentive package the mayor and her team had put forward and in 2017 added 30 new jobs.
Tyer emphasized the building of the Berkshire Innovation Center as a target for 2018. She just recently received city approval to use $1 million of the GE Economic Development Fund to help close a funding gap with the organization and she is now looking for the state to release the earmark to get the building constructed.
"This commitment has opened up more dialog with state officials and I anticipate that soon we will have a complete financing package that will secure all the necessary funding for construction and two years of operations," Tyer said.
The Berkshire Innovation Center will be a state-of-the-art facility with cutting-edge equipment available to our advanced manufacturers for research and development of new products. In partnership with Berkshire Community College, the innovation center will be a place of teaching and learn creating a pipeline of highly trained employees that our company's desperately need."
The BIC would be constructed at the William Stanley Business Park and help to address the need for additional workforce development. Also at the park, the city won a $75,000 grant from the state to perform a subsurface environmental assessment to a Kellogg Street parcel. That study is eyed to help make the site ready for development. That grant is just a portion of the $10,171,894 the city has reeled in during 2017, Tyer said.
The development of the park links to Tyer's focus on Tyler Street and the Transformative Development Initiative through MassDevelopment, which brings a heightened focus to redeveloping a specific area of the city.
"Tyler Street has a history of being a lively, dynamic neighborhood that once supported a bustling GE complex. It can be that again only in a way that reflects today's and tomorrow's community culture while honoring the unique nature of Tyler Street," Tyer said.
She highlighted the Better Block program and the piloting of a LED light project there during 2017 and said the next focus is on a storefront improvement program. That would allow businesses in the area to access funds for exterior improvements to the facades.
"Look for new facades at Hot Harry's including new awnings over the doors, windows visible from Tyler Street for the entire building as well as a new signage for Hot Harry's and Panda Garden lit by gooseneck lighting. Also, look for improvements at Goodwill Industries including repainted trim, repainting the western portion of the building, washing and treating the brick, as well as replacing mortar and sills. And over at Quillard Brothers Garage, you'll see replacement of an older garage door to match the two new doors recently installed on the building and replacing the glass in the windows.," Tyer said of that program in 2018.
The mayor is given a round of applause after the speech.
And the St. Mary's property is expected to be redeveloped into market-rate housing. Market-rate housing isn't just for the young people, Tyer said, but for people of all ages. Nonetheless, it is market-rate housing that was cited in 1Berkshire's Berkshire Initiative for Growth report which identifying strategies for the recruitment of young professionals to combat declining enrollment.
"Millennials want to live in locations with hip housing, convenient access to work, and work-life balance amenities. For investors, this generation provides rich opportunity," Tyer said.
For Christopher Kapiloff, a principal partner in LTI SmartGlass, that housing portion struck a chord. Kapiloff said he was taken back by how forward-looking the mayor is when it comes to growing the city.
"She's the government version of an entrepreneur," Kapiloff said following the speech. "The way she looks at problems and ways to solve them is not something I'd expect from a politician."
Kapiloff said he's been to many similar events and often government is just focusing on what is right in front of it. But, Tyer is looking at things like housing — which is vitally important to the success of LTI's ability to retain highly qualified workers — with a strategic focus on long-term viability, he said.
But Tyer isn't stopping with just rental housing. In 2018, she is looking to roll out a residential housing incentive program.
"Our neighborhoods deserve our efforts too and while we seek new market-rate housing — more on that in a moment — we also want to help shore up our city's older housing stock. Soon, I will be announcing the details of a city-sponsored Home Improvement Initiative. This initiative, in collaboration with Mass Housing, seeks to provide funding to improve the exterior of owner-occupied dwellings who qualify under relaxed eligibility guidelines," Tyer said.
"These relaxed guidelines will serve a broader range of homeowners. The program will allow for the repair or replacement of features such as windows, doors, porches, siding, roofs. Giving our residents the resources they need to enhance the value of their homes and to improve their quality of their life is the primary objective of this initiative."
In last year's state of the city, Tyer outlined her focus on making the city a great place to live for young professionals. She highlighted improvements to city parks such as Durant and Clapp Parks this year as areas that are upping the quality of life. And now the city is currently 75 percent done with the design of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail from the Berkshire Mall to Crane Ave.
"This is great news for many in our community who relish the outdoors and enjoy hitting the trails on foot or on bike. Construction on the path is expected to begin this spring," Tyer said.
She added that the city built dedicated pickleball courts at Reid Middle School for a group of active seniors. She hopes the city can become a hub for outdoor recreation.
She highlighted efforts to bolster the arts such as the Mastheads writers residency program, which place studios inspired by historic authors throughout the city. That project won acclaim from the National Foundation of the Arts. She highlighted a photo exhibit and performance of dancer Eiko Otake at the Berkshire Athenaeum — a partnership with Jacob's Pillow.
"Pittsfield's galleries, museums, performance centers, theatres – and our city's public library – all attest to the artistry and creativity that exists here. The Massachusetts Cultural Council recognizes Pittsfield in this way, too, and approved the renewal of the city's Cultural District designation," Tyer said.
"And, Pittsfield has been chosen by the Massachusetts Cultural Council for another special initiative soon to be announced. Stay tuned for this exciting news!"
In schools, Tyer focused on the After the Bell Breakfast in the Classroom program, which provides every child with a nutritious breakfast and the SOAR MA program which helps Reid Middle School students save for college.
Another focus of Tyer's has been in public safety. She said the Fire Department grew its ranks with eight new firefighters through a federal grant — a move that Tyer says has reduced the overtime budget by 60 percent — and hired the first female firefighter.
"Additionally, we desperately needed to invest in fire department apparatus all while being careful of our budgets. Because of the persistence and diligence of our Fire Chief the department acquired, in late winter 2017, a 2014 ladder truck that was in mint condition at 60 percent of the cost of a new truck. We also secured new hydraulic rescue tools," Tyer said.
The mayor had also invited Lt. Michael D'Avella and firefighter Jarrett Robitaille, who won meritorious conduct honors from Gov. Charlie Baker just a few months ago. The pair stood up to be recognized by applause.
In the Police Department, Tyer said she appointed a chief of police and 14 officers completed field training and six more were recently hired. She said the city brought in ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system, to assist law enforcement.
She credits city employees for much of the successes the city had seen.
"None of the above accomplishments or upcoming goals could be possible without the leadership of our city department heads and the hard work and dedication of city employees. I am exceedingly grateful for the commitment they display every day. Employees matter to me and I encourage them in all of their endeavors so that we can do our very best work on your behalf," Tyer said. "I am extremely proud that through good-faith collective bargaining with our employees we have settled seven union contracts."
The term "partnership" appeared multiple times during her speech — whether it be with the state, private developers, or educational facilities. And that is something that particularly stands out for City Council President Peter Marchetti.
"Mayor Tyer recognizes the importance of developing partnerships and collaboration. Nothing shows that more than the development of the red carpet team with the partnership between the city, PERC, and PEDA," Marchetti said.
"The mayor and I have worked together since we were councilors and have developed our own style of communication between us. We listen to each other and when we disagree, we form a compromise that works without jeopardizing our desired outcome."
Other ways Tyer said her administration has modernized city government includes the implementation of paid parking on North Street, which has created more parking availability and provided a revenue stream for the city. That revenue stream will help make state money available to repair the Columbus Avenue garage, she said.
"Another initiative with tangible benefits to citizens and business is the city's electrical aggregation program formally known as the Community Choice Power Supply Program. The program, which is now in effect, allows local government to combine the purchasing power of residents and businesses to provide them with an alternative to the existing basic service costs offered by Eversource," Tyer said.
"Considering the increases in Eversource's delivery rates, we wanted to ensure that residents had an ability to offset those increasing costs. Beginning this month, the Community Choice Power Supply program will provide city residents and businesses with a collective savings of more than $780,000 over the next six months."
She highlighted a new solar array on East Street and looking to implement a new solid waste collection and disposal program.
"The new system will be user-friendly, automated, offers greater efficiency, allows for environmental stewardship, will increase recycling and provide reduced costs in solid waste disposal," Tyer said.
Overall, her message was one of change, optimism, and teamwork as she moves into the second half of her term.
"On the national stage, we have seen the results of divisions and how it paralyzes the vital work that needs to be accomplished on behalf of the people who have entrusted us with their government. Here in Pittsfield, I am encouraged by our resolve and determination to put the people of our great city first," Tyer said.
"To each of my colleagues, thank you for your commitment to this noble work of ours and for staying the course even when we are confronted by differences of opinion. Collaboration must be the cornerstone of our efforts."
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The School Committee meets Wednesday night at Pittsfield High School.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield School Committee remembered Taconic High School teacher Kevin Harrington on Wednesday night.
Before opening up its meeting Wednesday, the committee members held their typical moment of silence but made a special mention of Harrington who passed just last week.
"We want to remember the very sudden and tragic loss of Kevin Harrington a special education teacher at Taconic," Chairwoman Katherine Yon said. "He was just that: a special man, a special teacher, a special mentor, and a special friend to many."
Harrington collapsed in a classroom at Taconic last week after a medical incident. He was, a special education teacher, was a former Taconic student and was heavily involved in the athletic program.