Just 44 days into his term, the new mayor of Chicopee, Massachusetts offered a somber assessment today in a State of the City address delivered to a business group.
Mayor Richard Kos said he would pursue an agenda to improve education and to create jobs, but warned Chicopee is facing challenges including a threat to future economic development because of skyrocketing expenses on a major public construction project.
" While we deal with the difficult challenges before us, we are a city that will prevail. We can not and will not quite. We are Chicopee and when all is said and done the state of our city will be strong again."
Kos said he would seek an independent audit of the construction of a new senior center. The project, which started last year on the site of a former textile plant, was expected to cost $9 million, but is now estimated at close to $20 million, according to the mayor.
" Each day we seem to be finding more expenses, such as water mains that need to be added. So, going forward we want to know where we are."
Chicopee borrowed $5 million from the federal Community Development Block Grant program to fund the senior center construction. The loan must be paid back over the next 20 years. Kos said roughly $400,000 of the $1 million the city expects to receive annually from the program will go to pay off the debt.
" That really encumbers you and your opportunity to make changes. Whether it be neighborhood improvements or money to boys' clubs or soup kitchens. It really restricts it."
Kos, who defeated incumbent Mayor Michael Bissonnette last November, praised members of his transition team and pledged more transparency in city government. The mayor has started to hold weekly question- and- answer sessions on the cable television local access channel, and has expanded Chicopee City Hall’s presence on social media.
Kos said he planned to get a new generation of Chicopee residents involved in city government.
" I've already appointed two people under the age of 24 to boards and committees and hired one for my office. They will have the opportunity to bring fresh ideas and involve a new demographic to improve our city."
Kos said the key to creating more jobs in Chicopee is to support career development initiatives and vocational training in the city’s public schools.
" I am a strong supporter of extending career and technical education and the concept of using our high schools beyond four years as well as the concept of working closer with our community colleges."
This is the second time Kos has been mayor of Chicopee. He left office a decade ago to build a private law practice. He delivered the 10-minute speech to about 200 people at the annual meeting of the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, which has become the traditional venue for the State of the City address.
The new president of the chamber, Eileen Drumm, said she is bullish on the business climate for 2014.
" We've got a couple of brand new businesses opening downtown. We have a bridge that just reopened. So we have a lot going on and we are very encouraged and very excited."
Drumm said the Chicopee Chamber has 365 members who employ more than 12,000 people.