Mayor Richard Alcombright delivered his State of the City address last night during a meeting of the North Adams City Council. The Democrat has held the corner office in the western Massachusetts city since 2010.
WAMC spoke with Alcombright about the progress he says North Adams has made over the past seven years.
Here is a transcript of Alcombright's speech, provided by the mayor.
Good Evening and thank you for this time tonight to bring you some thoughts about our great City, where we are at….and hopefully some thoughts as to where we are going.
AT THE OUTSET…..I want to thank all elected and appointed leaders and board members for their commitment to our City. I want to thank all the hard working and dedicated City and School employees. I want to thank our neighboring communities for the partnerships we have fostered. I want to thank all those who volunteer to help our kids, our seniors, our Veteran’s and others in our greater community…..and I want to thank the residents of North Adams for their commitment to our growth, our wellbeing and our happiness.
I said this last year and I think it remains fitting…..THIS IS A WONDERFUL TIME TO BE AN ELECTED OFFICIAL IN THE CITY OF NORTH ADAMS…..
Beginning my eighth year in office, through years of fiscal discipline, with a seasoned and hard-working staff, a thoughtful and focused City Council, and some great things happening, I am much more able to focus on our growth than I have in the past. However it is imperative that we not lose sight of the important numbers as they continue to get better….since taking office in 2010:
· Our unemployment has gone from 9.8% to 4.2%
· We have gone from a $2.3 million structural deficit in 2010 to three successive balanced budgets
· We have re-built reserves from some $160K in 2010 to $1.8 million currently
· Our audits are very clean
· We are once again on target to close out another year in the black…..
· Several weeks ago, we had our rating interview with Standard & Poor’s. Historically speaking, the City’s Bond Rating from 2006 to 2013 was an A- with a stable outlook…..As you recall and due to the recession and other internal factors, our rating was reduced to an A- with a negative outlook…..Today I found out from Standard & Poor’s that the negative outlook has been removed and our rating has also been upgraded to A with a stable outlook. This does not happen by accident and I thank this Council for their support around our fiscal practices and our Financial TEAM in City Hall for all that has been done to secure this rating…..
THIS YEAR TO HELP FURTHER STRENGTHEN OUR FINANCIAL POSITION, WE WILL BE PUTTING OUR TAX TITLE OUT TO AUCTION WITH HOPES OF COLLECTING A GOOD PORTION OF THE $2.6 MILLION OF UNPAID TAXES AND LIENS CURRENTLY ON THE CITY’S BOOKS. THIS PROCESS HAS BEGUN AND I WILL BE COMING TO COUNCIL WITH PROPOSALS ON HOW TO BEST UTILIZE THIS ONE TIME REVENUE SOURCE. AS ANY DOLLARS RECEIVED THROUGH THIS PROCESS REPRESENT UNPAID TAXES, MY THOUGHTS ARE TO COMMIT SOME OF THE FUNDS TO THE TAX RATE AND OVERDUE CAPITAL PROJECTS.
I will repeat what I have said many times before…..IN MY ADMINISTRATION…..policy always takes precedence over politics and sound business decisions always override special interests….and as we move through 2017….my commitment to fiscal POLICY will continue to be very strong.
We continue to see more private and public sector investment over the past two years ….investment that will help grow our economy, add to and aid in stabilizing our tax base and enhance this new “cultural corridor” that is rapidly growing in this City and region.
· MASS MoCA expansion construction is complete and their Phase 3 “opening” will be happening in May.
· The Town of Adams working with the City received a $2.6 million dollar MassWorks Grant to complete the Scenic Rail project.
· Greylock Mill project continues to move forward with the award of a $2.2 million dollar MassWorks Grant for their phase 1 & 2 parking and landscaping projects.
· The Redwood Motel is moving along and construction continues with a slated opening date in June
· Extreme Model Rail and Contemporary Architecture museum (EMRCA) continues into phase 2 of design with the help of a $250,000 MassWorks Grant
· Proposed “Art at the Airport” is still very much under consideration
· Our Hoosic River Revival project continues to move forward on the South Branch of the river
· Millions being invested by Berkshire Health Systems at BMC North...
· We are well on our way to having connectivity to the Berkshire Bike Path from Williamstown to the Airport as we partner with the Town of Williamstown and MA DOT
· Our skate park, the UNO Center park, playground enhancements and further improvements at Windsor Lake…..are all ongoing
· A couple of weeks ago, the Planning Board approved a business that will be manufacturing “Tiny Houses” right here at space located in the Windsor Mill. I am told there are contracts for 180 units and that this could employ more than 30 tradespeople.
· MILLIONS in public and private investment COMPLETED, IN PROCESS OR IN DEVELOPMENT.
THIS YEAR, We WILL continue working with private investors and government partners to finalize and put into play much of what is happening.
I will continue my support of investment efforts with tax agreements where appropriate. The need to support private investment by providing smart and measured short term tax incentives to projects that promote and promise significant future growth in our tax base…..is a must.
AS I STATED LAST YEAR…..WE CANNOT WAIT FOR GROWTH….WE MUST COURT IT!
Almost three years ago, we all witnessed the tragic closing of the North Adams Regional Hospital. Many….including myself would have never imagined the resurrection of that campus. With the commitment of Berkshire Health Systems and the help of our state government, we have seen what I consider to be an extensive and sustainable restoration of medical services at the campus of Berkshire Medical Center North.
- In addition to the many and full array of services on the campus…..Cardiac Rehabilitation, Berkshire Orthopedic Associates and Northern Berkshire Specialty Practices have all recently opened.
- BHS has invested more than $19 million dollars to restore services since acquiring the facilities
- A great many jobs have been restored
- General Outpatient Surgery, relocation of Williamstown Medical of BMC….from Ambulatory Care Center to new offices at North Adams Campus, Operation Better Start, BHS Community Pharmacy, ALL THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING JUST THIS MONTH
With all due credit to the Administration, Faculty, Staff, Students, and a thoughtful School Committee…..the North Adams Public Schools continue to provide a high quality educational experience for our kids. Under the leadership of Superintendent Barbara Malkas, our district provides great academic offerings, after school programming, summer programming, AP offerings at the high school, and THE most robust arts programs and curriculum in the region.
This year….should be very exciting as the district:
Focuses on using research based instructional improvement strategies, inclusive practices, and data informed decision making.
Strategically focusing resources on early childhood education, specifically improving literacy, high school readiness for increasing the 4 and 5 year graduation rates, and closing the achievement gap for high needs subgroups.
Continued efforts to work with our community partners in law enforcement and emergency response to provide safe schools that support student learning.
The District will submit a “Statement of Interest” to the MSBA for Greylock School
The District will work on a reconfiguration of grades in the elementary schools and the high school.
Infrastructure continues to be a long term problem with no short term answer. Last year, the City Council approved our “Capital Improvement Plan” that outlines ALL capital needs to include buildings, bridges, roads, water and sewer infrastructure, retaining walls, equipment, technology and so much more.
THIS YEAR, AND THANKS TO SUPPORT OF THE CITY COUNCIL AND THE EFFORTS OF STAFF, WE WILL BE MOVING ALL PUBLIC SERVICE FUNCTIONS TO INCLUDE: DPW, PARKS & RECREATION, CEMETERY, WIRE AND ALARM, BUILDING MAINTENANCE, AND ANIMAL CONTROL UNDER ONE ROOF…..INTO THE FORMER ANODIZING BUILDING ON HODGES CROSS ROAD
WE WILL CONTINUE TO ADDRESS SMALL CAPITAL PROJECTS THROUGH THE BUDGET AND IF NEEDED THROUGH THE APPROPRIATION OF RESERVE FUNDS
TO CONTINUE TO GROW OUR TAX BASE AND RAISE CAPITAL FOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND OTHER PROJECTS, WE WILL BE SELLING WINDSOR MILL, NOTRE DAME CHURCH AND SCHOOL, SULLIVAN SCHOOL, THE DPW BUILDING AND PARCEL, AND THE WATERSHED LAND IN POWNAL.
WITH THE PROCEEDS, I HOPE TO BEGIN THE ENGINEERING ON SEVERAL OF OUR LARGER CAPITAL PROJECTS SUCH AS DAMS, RETAINING WALLS AND WATER PLANT IMPROVEMENTS
AS A “COMPLETE STREETS” AND “GREEN COMMUNITIES” CITY, WE WILL EMBARK ON PROJECTS FOR BOTH…..DURING THIS CALENDAR YEAR
WE WILL BE OPENING OUR NEW SKATE PARK
WE WILL CONTINUE OUR EFFORTS ON BLIGHT
WE HAVE RECEIVED A $200K REGIONAL GRANT FOR A NEW ANIMAL CONTROL FACILITY AND WE ARE WORKING WITH ADAMS AND WILLIAMSTOWN ON THIS VERY EXCITING PROJECT THAT WILL PUT A NEW REGIONAL FACILITY IN OUR NEW PUBLIC SERVICES BUILDING ON HODGES CROSS ROAD
ü AND I ASSURE THIS CITY THAT WHILE THERE WILL BE PROGAMATIC CHANGES…..WE ARE NOT ABANDONING OUR PUBLIC PARKS
My administration remains committed to the safety of our residents, our schools and our businesses. With that, I have and will continue my strong support of full time….fully trained….police and fire services for the City. Knowing that we are the smallest city in the Commonwealth is in no way an indicator of how we should determine services. Much like any other city, we have wonderful urban assets and also have certain urban challenges that require professional coverage.
One thing I am very proud of with respect to our first responders has been their ability and willingness to deal with the very human side of the addiction crisis. Our police and firefighters are trained in the administration of NARCAN and 2/3’s of our cops have received Crisis Intervention Training. This has helped them more adequately arrest for drug crimes while at the same time, helping families connect with services.
Since coming into office, I have continually recognized the Harriman and West Airport as one of our most coveted urban assets AND ANCHORS. Many times, we don’t even realize it is there but let me tell you…..IT IS THERE. With great thanks to a very committed and passionate Airport Commission, they have over the past 15 or so years, seen the airport virtually rebuilt. All new ground infrastructure, runway striping and lighting, instrument landing, security fencing…..and because of that…..the air traffic has increased.
THIS YEAR WE WILL BE WORKING WITH AN FAA GRANT TO PURCHASE A HANGER…..THAT WILL BOOST THE AIRPORTS REVENUE
WE WILL CONTINUE TO WORK WITH MADOT AERONAUTICS TO SECURE FUNDING THAT WILL PROVIDE FOR AN ADMINISTRATION FACILITY
I ENCOURAGE FOLKS TO KEEP ANY EYE TO THE SKY ON THE AIRPORT…..I THINK THE OVER THE NEXT 3-5 YEARS THIS VERY REAL ECONOMIC ENGINE WILL BECOME A TRUE DESTINATION….
BRANDING AND MARKETING THE CITY
We continue to work on rebranding the City. Working with the Partnership for North Adams, the North Adams Chamber of Commerce and others, we will focus on additional branding efforts to include the banner program, renewing our wayfaring signage, discussions on more public art projects, pop up retail in the downtown, and hopefully an effort to provide for a new City website.
I AM CONVINCED THAT THROUGH THE EFFORTS OF MANY….THAT NORTH ADAMS IS NOW POSITIONED….. TO BE “THE” PLACE TO BE IN BERSKSHIRE COUNTY, WESTERN MASS AND NEW ENGLAND.
· THE PHASE 3 OPENING OF THE MASS MoCA EXPANSION IN MAY
· THE PRESENCE OF THE SMALL BUSINESS REVOLUTION…….
· THE REDWOOD MOTEL PROJECT
· THE GREYLOCK MILL PROJECT
· THE HOOSIC RIVER REVIVAL
· THE EXTREME MODEL RAIL AND CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE MUSEUM
· THE UNO PARK TO BE BUILT THIS SPRING AND SUMMER
· THE POSSIBILITIES WITH THE BIKE PATH
· INCREASED REAL ESTATE SALES
WE ARE ON THE MOVE!!!!
ST. FRANCIS PARCEL AND PARK
Since the demolition of St. Francis Church began, I have been trying very hard to somehow make lemonade out of the lemons. I have been in contact with the Diocese of Springfield and the realtor in charge of the parcel. My plan is to get the Diocese to deed the “footprint” of the church….not the entire parcel…..to the City with the intent of making that space into a memorial park of sorts. Using certain artifacts, the site could be turned into a beautiful religious and historic remembrance of our past. The park would abut our Colegrove Park and have magnificent views off to the north and west and would be looking directly at our Veteran’s Memorial.
AND WHILE SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED AND THERE IS SO MUCH MORE TO COME….I CERTAINLY HAVE SOME DISAPPOINTMENTS:
1.The MOHAWK THEATER still sits vacant and without any immediate prospect. My hopes of partnerships with educational and cultural venues have not yet come to fruition. I am hopeful however that as development continues across many areas of the City….the Mohawk will find its rebirth.
2.We struggle with the final outcome of the NORTH ADAMS ARMORY. While it is still programmed for youth basketball and a host of other activities, we continue to work to find the right recipe to contain the “Community Center” concept we envision. It needs to benefit the community…most specifically our kidS, our seniors and our Veterans. We will continue to work with partners to make that happen
A very special shout out to our City Councilors who are involved and committed in ways like never before....
ü Driving the NA Exchange and the Small Business Revolution
ü Representing this City at the state level via the MA Municipal Association
ü Bringing us Appalachian Trail Community and working tirelessly on bike path efforts
ü Working to assure the growth and utilization of Windsor Lake and Historic Valley Campground
ü Formulating ideas and working with other communities on how we can expand broadband. And so much more……
At an event several weeks ago, I heard Mayor Tyer refer to Pittsfield as the “capital city of the Berkshires”….While I LOVE OUR FRIENDS TO THE SOUTH…… and while it is the biggest City in this glorious western region…..I am not convinced they can lay claim to that status. The North Adams treasure trove of cultural and recreational assets is second to none….our exceptional urban assets such as MASS MoCA, the largest museum of contemporary arts in the country…..MCLA, a top ten rated public liberal arts university…..BMC North with their significant and still emerging health care services….the Harriman and West Airport …..significant investment happening and in the works….real estate selling at or above assessments…..our unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in 15 years….festivals and joy in our streets….and don’t let ANYBODY TELL YOU THAT WE DO NOT HAVE GOOD SCHOOLS!!!
As a greater North Adams and as THE BEST LITTLE CITY IN THE COMMONWEALTH…..I NEVER want us to be known as the “other city” in Berkshire County!!!
Like very many folks in this City….I have been here my entire life…..I have many friends who own homes and many friends in public housing…..I have friends who eat out every week and friends who visit the food shelter every week….I have friends who are right on course with their lives and friends who struggle with mental health and addiction issues.
I am JUST OLD ENOUGH to vividly remember the days of the mills….the days a bustling downtown….the days when 20,000 people lived here….I have worked in the downtown for the past 44 years….I have LIVED the ups and downs of the Main Street corridor….of seeing hundreds and hundreds of people on the streets…..and I am now living with the PROMISE AND HOPE of all that is happening…..of what is being seen by those coming into our community with FRESH EYES…..I am FEASTING OFF THE GOOD that I see….and hear from MANY who know that we have work to do…..but think that North Adams is a REALLY GOOD PLACE.
During one of his last speeches a month or so ago…..President Obama re-stated the theme of his initial campaign by loudly and proudly proclaiming “YES WE CAN” – Through my campaigns, I have always reiterated “TOGETHER WE CAN”……We have a great core of folks who have committed or RE-COMMITTED themselves to the success of North Adams….and I thank those people….we have many more people “PULLING THE ROPE” then we had 7 years ago!!
IN SEVEN YEARS….WE HAVE GIVEN THIS CITY TO THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE….PEOPLE WHO INVEST HERE…..IDEAS AND ADVENTURES ARE FLOWING…..
THIS WAS SO VISIBLE AS SO MANY PEOPLE CAME TOGETHER UNDER THE PROMISE OF THE “SMALL BUSINESS REVOLUTION”…..WITH THE REVOLUTION, WE SAW THE EXCITEMENT IN OUR COMMUNITY GROW…..THE VISION, HOPE AND PROMISE THAT I SAW ON THE FACES OF SO MANY DURING THIS EXERIENCE…..AND WHILE WE DIDN’T WIN THE “PRIZE”…..THIS CITY WON BIG IN SO MANY OTHER WAYS…..SO MANY PEOPLE SIMPLY WANTING TO SEE NORTH ADAMS GROW…..I HAVE NOW BECOME TOTALLY CONVINCED THAT WITH THE INFUSION OF PEOPLE…..THE INCLUSION OF IDEAS…..AND THE WILL TO GET THINGS DONE…..NO ONE WILL HOLD BACK THE RENAISSANCE Of THE CITY OF NORTH ADAMS
TO ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF NORTH ADAMS….I AM VERY PLEASED TO SAY…..
· THAT OUR CITY….IS NOT VULNERABLE….BUT RATHER IT IS VALUABLE
· THAT OUR CITY….IS NOT DESPERATE….BUT RATHER IT IS DESIREABLE
· THAT OUR CITY….IS NOT POOR….BUT RATHER IT IS RICH…..RICH IN ITS HISTORY, RICH IN ITS ENVIRONMENT, RICH IN ITS AMENITIES, AND RICH IN THE PEOPLE WHO NOW DEFINE WHO WE ARE AND WHO WE WILL BECOME.
This city has so much potential…..so many folks pulling the rope…..so many people investing…..buying homes…..moving here because there is so much good here…..folks who have become the driving force behind so many good things…..they are our hope…..they are the opportunity….they are our future…..they are my inspiration…..and THEY ARE THE ONES STOMPING US OUT OF THE YEARS OF “WOE IS ME” AND PROUDLY MARCHING US INTO THE DAY OF “LOOK AT ME”.
God Bless you all….God Bless this wonderful Country….our Commonwealth….and the City of North Adams…