PITTSFIELD — I have faithfully represented the city of Pittsfield as a city councilor for the last 4 1/2 years. During this time, and especially in the last year, I have come to realize that there is only so much I can accomplish to help the city in this role.
Pittsfield no longer has GE or 60,000 residents and our tax base has eroded to the point where we have limited flexibility in raising funds through taxation due to hitting our tax levy limit. Large projects such as a new police station, and major infrastructure repairs such as dams, roads, ADA compliant streets, sidewalks, and intersections as well as specialized educational needs will be unattainable due to the city's heavy debt burden unless we can can get our fair share of tax revenue from the state.
That's why the citizens of Pittsfield need a stronger voice on Beacon Hill that will put Pittsfield's needs first.
We have many positive projects started such as a new Taconic High School and the Berkshire Innovation Center but we need state assistance to continue our growth. As a city councilor, I have worked very hard on a number of issues and projects to assist the taxpayers of the city.
I have battled with a utility company that was trying to force residents to take down their fences, outbuildings, and pools. Over the last four years, With attorney Darren Lee, I have fought a developer to force his company to complete the roads for the residents that purchased homes from him. I submitted a petition to the council to have the city conduct a tax lien sale because the outstanding back taxes at that time amounted to over $4 million. Last year, as the assistant city solicitor, attorney Lee recouped over two million dollars in back taxes from the sale. That $2 million went into the city's free cash which in turn was used to reduce the tax rate last year.
Also as a councilor, I collaborated with Councilor Melissa Mazzeo in updated the city's parking fine structure to better serve our downtown businesses as well as make our city more customer friendly.
This year, in partnership with Councilors Donna Todd Rivers and Mazzeo, we have undertaken a cost benefit analysis of the Pittsfield airport in the hope of building more revenue for the city and less of a drain on city finances. I have headed a group that just completed a study on the water and waste water departments that was presented to the mayor and city council which outlined the options of possible privatization in the future for these two very important departments in our city.
The bigger picture
What others may see as petty cuts in the budget I have proposed year after year, I have always been looking at the bigger picture of services to support all of the residents of the city, especially those least able to afford it such as the elderly, veterans, and physically challenged on fixed incomes, while also keeping the tax rate sustainable.
I also have been very vocal regarding the deficiencies on our streets and sidewalks concerning proper compliance with ADA standards so that those residents with physical difficulties can still enjoy the freedom walking and shopping in our city.
I have been going door to door since early April and have visited over half the wards and neighborhoods with a plan of completing the rest. During the conversations I have had with the residents, the overwhelming message I have received is a continued disapproval with our state legislature and how politics as usual continues to ignore our needs here in Pittsfield.
My plan as a state representative is to collaborate with the rest of the Berkshire delegation on battling the opioid addiction problem, supporting recovery services, working on bringing needed businesses and employment to Pittsfield and the Berkshires and especially being very aggressive in bringing funds back from the eastern part of the state for needed projects that Pittsfield can no longer fund or borrow for.
I have always tried to think outside the box and collaborate with others to offer alternative ways of doing business and hopefully save the city and taxpayers money. I have worked for over 35 years, often holding part- and full-time positions, to support my family and have given back to my community as a member of several boards around those commitments. I want to take my work ethic, ingenuity, and ability to work with others to Boston for the residents of Pittsfield as your next state representative.
Thank you for your consideration.
Christopher Connell is a Pittsfield city councilor from Ward 4 and an independent candidate for state representative from the 3rd Berkshire District.