North Adams Mayor Alcombright asks residents to take active role, admits budget concerns


NORTH ADAMS -- Mayor Richard Alcombright asked residents to take an active role in embracing growth in North Adams, while acknowledging looming budget concerns in his State of the City address Tuesday.

The speech marked Alcombright's fifth year in office, but first with a brand new City Council that has five first-time members. The council and mayor face a wide range of economic challenges as they look toward creating a budget.

"As we begin to build our fiscal year 2015 budget, I must be certain that this council and residents understand that this will undoubtedly be the most difficult budget this city has seen in recent memory," Alcombright said.

Alcombright warned residents of the consequences of stagnation. "If we don't grow, we will die," he said.

The mayor pointed to a number of ongoing projects as proof of the city's resurgence, including the renovation of the former Silvio O Conte Middle School and the nearly complete 2030 Master Plan.

"As a community, as a city, we should never forget our past and who we were," Alcombright said. "However, we should not hold on to that past so tightly that we diminish the hope of what we can become."

At the same time, Alcombright lamented Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed budget, which would keep unrestricted local aid levels flat in the fiscal year 2015. The mayor has estimated that the city could be looking at a deficit as large as $500,000.

"Without yet getting into the numbers, that announcement will be the inaction that will immediately put our next budget significantly out of balance," Alcombright said.

Despite the grim budget outlook, the mayor reported progress on a number of his initiatives, including the completion of the Hadley Overpass construction scheduled for this summer; the recent bidding out of the Conte School Renovation; and the privatization of Heritage State Park as the Greylock Market.

Alcombright also addressed growing concerns about drug addiction in the city and the crime associated with it, saying that he's helped enhance policing efforts while also praising local nonprofits that aim toward prevention.

"What are we doing about this in North Adams? First and foremost, more policing, more arrests, and more convictions," Alcombright said.

The mayor praised several local groups, including the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's nb21 (not before 21) program, for working to prevent the addiction that has risen in correlation with crime.

"Through these efforts, conversations are finally being had on traditionally hidden and sensitive subjects, Alcombright said. "No one wakes up one day choosing a life of addiction."

The mayor ended his address by asking the community to join him and "pick up the rope of hope" and work toward a better future for the city by embracing a new model for development and moving on from the city's industrial past.

The mayor pointed to a number of goals he has in 2014, including a "re-engagement" of the Mohawk Theater and "selective" demolition of blighted areas in the city, as well as "continued outreach to the private sector" for economic development. The mayor also expressed hope that the Armory building can be transformed into a community center this year.

"If you don't want anything to do with the rope, then please, don't get in the way of those pulling," Alcombright said.

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