Richard Alcombright: Pulling the rope in North Adams
As a 60-year resident of the city of North Adams, I feel very fortunate that I am just old enough to vividly remember a vibrant and bustling mill town. I like many other people in this community have seen significant changes over many years. We have seen our city and greater region transformed and in most cases for the better.
The city of North Adams is a re-emerging microcosm of post-industrial America and we are struggling financially due to a variety of economic factors. I made a comment several weeks ago comparing us to another city and it seemed to garner a lot of local attention. My comment was in a sense inelegant, but did create an intended awareness regarding our city's economic condition. Nonetheless, be certain that we continue to make progress due to the strong nature and character of our residents. We also have strong community, anchor and business partners as well as the commonwealth. We have a bright and promising future if we continue to "pull the rope" in the same direction. A recent commentary has pulled the rope in the other direction with falsehoods that I must address.
It was reported that the previous administration left me with more than $3.5 million in reserves in 2010. What was omitted was that I was left with a budgetary deficit of $2.6 million. It was further stated that I gave Crane a $350,000 tax break and yes I did give them an incentive, because we have to encourage businesses to grow here and STAY here to increase our tax base. I think one should only ask the well over 150 people who took advantage of the new manufacturing jobs at Crane if the "incentive" was not warranted.
Another misrepresentation talked about $800,000 in pay raises and the truth is that salaries in the city have grown at less than 1 percent per year since I took office. Addi tionally, it was stated that health insurance costs have risen by $1 million annually. Health insurance costs in the FY 2010 budget were approximately $3.5 million and the budgeted number for FY 2015 is $4.5 million, an increase of $1 million over "six" years.
Finally, it was stated that I increased the city share of health insurance premium costs to 75 percent which I did in 2010 as part of a settlement with employees when audits proved that their health insurance trust fund had been mismanaged for years.
At the end of the day, people can write what they want and say what they will. The simple truth is that I made a point that we must address our financial situation. How ever, I know I am not alone when I say the city of North Adams is a great place to live. We are rich in tradition and enjoy a natural environment not found many other places in the country. We have all the attributes of a much larger city with the feel of small-town America. We can welcome 8,000 visitors for a Wilco concert at MASS MoCA or simply stretch out for a concert at Windsor Lake. We can watch the SteepleCats or we can go to a Little League game. We can walk in the downtown or hike through endless miles of trails. We can go to the Clark Art Museum or we can go to DownStreet Art (courtesy of MCLA).
The city of North Adams and our greater region continues to thrive in many ways. We have seen resurgence in the community optimism of many who see the promise our city holds. We have solid anchors in the city, in MCLA and Mass MoCA and we are seeing the rebirth of our medical services thanks to our new partner, Berkshire Health Systems.
Let's think about what has and is happening -- the Solid Sound Festival, Fresh Grass Festival, Beck Concert -- all brought here by Mass MoCA, bringing thousands of visitors to the city and greater region. The Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation at MCLA has been completed and with this comes more students and a greater chance for STEM-related entrepreneurial opportunities. The Clark Art Museum just reopened giving our greater region yet another significant economic boost. We have more events than ever with things like Motorama and Parties at the Park (courtesy of WUPE and WNAW). Soon, we will be opening a Community/Youth Center at the former North Adams Armory.
We have seen fair economic growth as our unemployment rate has come down since 2010 with the growth at Crane, Wal-mart and many small-to-medium businesses investing and expanding. We have attracted national and regional chains with Ocean State Job Lots, Tractor Supply, Bond Auto and Cumberland Farms. We are literally watching our historic Conte School being renovated and transformed into the state-of-the-art Colegrove Park Elementary School. We continue to negotiate with the principals of Greylock Mar ketplace towards the re-birth of what is now Heritage State Park. We will see the Berk shire Scenic Rail Museum soon providing exciting train connectivity between here and downtown Adams. We have seen millions in investment from the Holiday Inn, Big Y, Carr Hardware, Inn on East Main Street and others.
We have made a lot of progress in this city. The City of North Adams has a bright and promising future and there are many who are "pulling the rope of hope" towards socially and economically sustainable results. I, and many others, have made a commitment to this city and this greater region and I am proud of what we have accomplished and proud to be the mayor of the city of North Adams.
Richard Alcombright is the mayor of North Adams.
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