[Amelia responded earlier to the first of nine questions I posed to candidates for town council. Here she answers the remaining eight.]
2. Would you seek to reduce the town budget? In what areas? How?
I realize that this is hard to do, because there are so many fixed costs involved in running a town. That being said, our current setup seems like it's built to eschew any form of accountability in terms of cost containment. The town's budget and the tax rate are set six months apart from each other, with a local election between them. Ken, I would support your proposed by-law for requiring projected tax rates during budget season.
I know many towns of our size have a Finance Committee, and I'm not sure why we don't. If I were involved in local politics back when we made the transition from a Town Meeting to a City Council form of government, I would have advocated for a Finance Committee to remain a part of our organization. We ask our Councilors to serve as our policy board, our legislative body, and ask them to watch the bottom line as well. Clearly this is an area where we could use some help.
One thing that I haven't seen a lot of debate about within the town is the growing discussion within Massachusetts concerning the potential benefits of regionalizing municipal services. There may be some opportunities here, and this is an area I would definitely want to explore. Governor Patrick's administration awarded $5 million in grants to cities and towns around Massachusetts this year to pursue regionalization and government efficiency projects. (See Boston Globe, 3/17/12, "State awards regionalization grants." Link: http://articles.boston.com/2012-03-17/metro/31202025_1_regionalization-competitive-grant-p rogram-grant-money) I would love to see Southbridge get involved with these efforts.
Overall, I don't have a large laundry list of proposed line item budget cuts to impress you with. I don't think the town needs to have a paid recreation director. I wouldn't have bought a street sweeper we couldn't afford without getting creative with the water and sewer enterprise funds. In my own personal life, I know the value of being thrifty, saving money, and avoiding debt. I will bring these values to my service to the Council.
3. What would you do to increase employment opportunities in Southbridge?
I tend to take a holistic view of economic development. If a town is a great place to live, with good schools, safe neighborhoods, a healthy real estate market, and a functional municipal government that looks out for the general well-being of the community, then it's a good place to invest. Companies don't want to move in to an area where their employees wouldn't want to buy houses and send their children to public schools.
That being said, I think it's folly to pin our hopes on outside investment as being the key to turning around our local employment situation. If you look at the direction of our increasingly globalized economy, blue collar jobs have been flying overseas for decades now. Perhaps we should look at ways to promote entrepreneurship within the community as a way to foster organic growth. The Master Planning process we're about to undertake will be influential in terms of how we move forward in the coming years, and I hope we take full advantage of it.
Relating to my previous question, I see the area of economic development as something that might be a particularly suited to a regionalization process. Our local economy is part of a regional economy, and Southbridge doesn't operate in a vacuum.
One final note: I believe there are some land uses that are more desirable than others, and as much as I value the idea of Southbridge jobs for Southbridge residents, I would not be in favor of projects that would be otherwise detrimental to the community. (i.e. constructing a prison, or expanding the dump)
4. Would you act to replace the current town manager? Why?
Not at this point. The Manager's job is to do the day-to-day tasks of running the town government, as directed by the Council. Although I have by no means agreed with everything the Manager has done this year, if you look at the voting record of the Council, it would seem that he's doing his job in that respect.
That being said, there's less than a year left on Mr. Clark's employment contract, and it's a very expensive contract.
In general terms, I have some reservations about the Town Manager position as it currently operates under our Charter. I think the Town Manager's office is an area we could really take a hard look at in terms of potential cost savings to the town. There is no town in the area that spends as much money as we do on executive administration. Perhaps there's a way we could restructure this area of the town's operations to run more efficiently, at a reduced cost.
5. How would you make the town website more useful?
The town's website should be overhauled to run on a content management system, so town hall employees can perform updates themselves, without having to go through an off-site web company.
6. What is your position on current trash and recycling regulations?
I'm opposed to the way the Town has handled the trash situation this past year, after the Smart Cart proposal failed to pass a council vote for the second time. I support the idea of enforcing the by-law, but the by-law needs to be rewritten for clarity. The language requiring clear bags should be removed, and the fine should be reduced.
I am particularly opposed to the way the Council voted to use the money that formerly went to the RecycleBank program towards a $36,000 trash consultant and an overtime fund for the Police Department to write trash tickets. That money is contractually obligated to go towards recycling education and incentives, and I think it's a violation of the conditions of the Site Assignment to use it for additional enforcement personnel. The Landfill Extension Agreement provides for Health Department employees to do these functions. If RecycleBank is truly not an option, then we need to come up with some other education and incentive program, such as something along the lines of what was proposed to the EHS Subcommittee on May 15, by local resident Kevin Buxton.
7. What would you do to increase opportunities and activities for the town’s youth?
Ask them what they want, and then figure out how to work with them to achieve it. There's a Youth Summit scheduled for the end of August, and although the municipal government isn't all that involved with the planning process, I'm hoping some local officials attend the event with their ears open.
8. What, if anything, should be done with the “industrial park”?
In all honesty, as long as the industrial park access road is occupied by the heavy truck traffic associated with hauling 492,960 tons per year of MSW and recyclable materials to the landfill and processing facility, I don't see it as a competitive site for business development. Perhaps this will change once the landfill has been capped. For the time being, a potentially more viable strategy would be to use the site for solar and wind energy production. There was a large amount of interest when the Town solicited bids for solar energy production on some of the unused land belonging to our municipal airport, which leads me to believe there could be additional opportunities for renewable energy on other Town-owned lands.
The "industrial park" is not as big a priority for me as our struggling downtown area. Quality of life issues for the residents of our community are my first priority, and as such, in terms of economic development I would prioritize Main Street revitalization over the tract undeveloped land between the airport and the dump.
Of course, we've also got the other industrial park on our hands, and I have some issues with the way that property is being maintained. Some of the buildings down at the old AO complex are actively decrepit, the once-beautiful wrought iron fence is missing in places and rusted everywhere else, and for some reason, there's a building in the complex that's been discharging water directly into the Quinebaug River. Franklin Realty Trust, I've got my eye on you.
9. Why are you the most qualified candidate in this race?
I don't think there's one particular set of qualifications that make for an ideal councilor; there are people with lots of different skillsets out there in the community that would be good at the job.
I think I would be particularly good at the job of serving on the Council because I genuinely love the community and its residents, I have a strong moral compass, I'm good at working with a wide variety of people, and I have a lot of intellectual curiosity. Municipal government is fascinating to me, and as a private citizen, I take great pleasure in thoroughly researching issues that come before the Council. If elected, I'm sure I'd be one of the most consistently well-read people up on the dais, no matter the issue at hand.
I would also like to state that I'd like to think I'm in this race for the right reasons. While I certainly have strong opinions on a wide variety of local issues, and I don't like the direction things have gone in the past year, I don't have a particular agenda in running. I just generally want to contribute my time and talents to the betterment of our community.
One more thing: if elected, I'm committed to fostering a good professional working relationship with every single person on the Council. I don't take contentious political disagreements personally; When I disagree with someone about an issue, it's about an issue. I am sure I can contribute in a positive way to the culture of our local government.