Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Gulag That Is Southbridge

Ken O’Brien

How did things get so bad?

As a Worcester blog recently said, “Southbridge is where you move when you’ve hit rock bottom in Webster.”

For at least twenty years Southbridge has had its contingent of community boosters who have proclaimed that all of our problems stem from negative attitudes. As a result, their response has been to apply so many layers of makeup that we now reside in one of the most attractive pigs in Massachusetts.

As we’ve reported not only does Southbridge have the highest rate of unemployment in Worcester County, but when controlled for seasonal factors, it is fifth in Massachusetts in that regard.

Drive down Main Street and you’ll see numerous store fronts that are populated by social service agencies.

For decades we have been home to the local outlet for the State’s Department of Transitional Assistance. As a result we have become a magnet for low income residents in this part of the Commonwealth.

Our Housing Authority provides elderly and Section 8 housing to accommodate the needs of this demographic.

And now we find that while school choice has resulted in large numbers of students attending out of district schools at our expense, we are now seeing an influx of developmentally disabled students from outside of the district.


The fact, whether we want to face it or not, is that Southbridge has gone in fifty years from being the industrial and commercial hub of Southern Worcester County to being a gulag for the poor, the elderly and the disabled in the region.

And what has our government done in response?

We got the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center which ended up being a bust for the community. Not only did it fail to deliver promised employment, it received a significant downward adjustment in its taxes.

A local community college campus that sees people come into town and then leave.

We have become the largest dumping ground for garbage in the state.

And now we’re selling our water to facilitate the development of Charlton.

In the meantime our community leaders have distracted us with softball and football games. We have an Economic Development department that has overseen the migration of numerous businesses out of the community. Its primary activity has been to provide CDBG money to put up signs, aid social service activities and put out flower planters. Oh yes, and let’s not forget their latest expensive dust collector – the Master Plan.

We have a School Committee whose Superintendent told us last year that money was not a problem. This year the Acting Superintendent tells us we need a 10% plus increase in funding.

We are selling off our resources as a matter of survival while we are catering to the various special interest groups who care more about their interests than those of the whole community.

Regrettably, I don’t see any prospect for improvement.

What are your thoughts?

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