|By G. Michael Dobbs|
HOLYOKE – Mayor Alex Morse believes he has made headway in his three main priorities during his first term as mayor: public safety, improving education and economic development.
“There have really been changes in the perception of Holyoke,” Morse said of Holyoke in an interview with Reminder Publications. “Inside and outside of Holyoke you can feel the energy.”
Morse, who is running for re-election, said that during his term there are more jobs in the city, less crime and civic pride has been boosted.
When it comes to greater economic development Morse said he and his staff have been seeking ways to leverage private and private investments. He noted that new tax incentives have helped the effort.
Gateway City Arts has bought an additional building, Morse said and U.S. Tsubaki has made a $6.5 million investment in their facility in the city resulting in the additional of 30 jobs.
Among other investments are the Amtrak train stop, the second phase of the Canal Walk, the completion of Veterans’ Park and the installation of the new skate park. Much of this has been accomplished with grants rather tax payer dollars, Morse said.
One of the projects that will be coming in the near future is the “complete historic renovation” of the former home of Holyoke Catholic High School, Morse said. The school building will be converted into 55 apartments, which will “diversify the business base” in downtown Holyoke.
Morse said of economic development “you have to come at this work from many different angles.”
Morse said, “ I embrace my role as chairman of the School Committee” and added he appointed a literacy coordinator to assist the school district’s literacy efforts and hired a new superintendent of schools.
“I’m more optimistic about the future of public schools than I’ve been in a very long time,” he said.
Morse said that success of the city’s schools equals better jobs in Holyoke.
Without increasing the Police Department’s budget, Morse said there have been new two sub-stations established as well as a mobile community policing van. The city has added canine units and is now utilizing a combination of walking, bike and walking patrols to decrease crime.
Morse said that he and Police Chief James Neiswanger had had an “incredible partnership over the last two years.”
The mayor aid he believes his administration in his first term has “laid a very strong foundation for a renaissance” of the city.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last two years and there’s lot more work to do,” Morse said. He added that he would like to be mayor for eight to ten years.
Morse said that he supports a four-year term for the mayor’s position.
“It’s essential. We need stable leadership. The private sector wants to be sure the mayor has the right tools.”
One of the challenges Morse faces is the city’s budget. He said now the city has $4.5 million in free cash and $12 million in its stabilization account.
“We’ve been very aggressive in seizing properties for back taxes,” he added. Holyoke had its first public auction of such properties since 1976 and will have another auction in December.
Understanding that much of the city’s property is nonprofit, Morse is working on agreements for payments in lieu of taxes. He cited the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center as an example of this policy.
He noted that Holyoke is nearing its property tax levy limit, a situation that “didn’t happen overnight.” He believes that if the right kind of businesses can be attracted to the city, property values will increase, which combined with other steps, will address the problem.
The largest disappointment he has had involves local politics.
“Common sense is common sense,” he said. “Personal agendas get in the way.”
This election season has been sprinkled with references to “old Holyoke” and “new Holyoke,” something Morse dismisses.
“There is just Holyoke to me. I was born here, raised here and went to public schools here. This is an incredible community. Whether people have lived here one year or all their life they have a deep love and pride for the city of Holyoke.”
Morse said, “I came into office incredibly optimistic and I remain just as optimistic as the first day I walked in.”
His campaign website is www.morseformayor.com.
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