|By G. Michael Dobbs
Mayor Michael Bissonnette (left) Former Mayor Richard Kos (right)
Reminder Publications submitted photos
CHICOPEE – Reminder Publications asked the two candidates for mayor the same five questions. The following are their answers.
Question: Specifically, what are your top initiatives if you are elected?
Bissonnette: After the completion of the cleanup at Uniroyal, the next thing to do is redevelop the site. The senior center is almost finished, and that’s a great start. We’re already accepting proposals from developers, and some day in the future, I know that site will be home to a brand new neighborhood with small retail, residential property, and office space. Making that happen is a priority.
Looking toward the near future, we’re in the planning stages of a project that will turn the old Chicopee High into a new middle school. Getting this done, and getting it done right, is so important. I want to make sure students have access to up-to-date technology in an modern learning environment, so they can compete in the new economy.
Kos: Implement a balanced economic development plan to create jobs now utilizing Chicopee’s Gateway City designation to foster an identity for the downtown, use public dollars to stimulate private investment, and coordinate education and workforce development. Continue my history of strong financial planning and fiscal responsibility.
Balance the roadwork schedule with the impact on our neighborhoods to minimize the quality of life issues through coordination and scheduling and an attention to detail.
Most importantly, however, complete an independent, transparent review of the police department and have the police department pursue a Massachusetts Police Accreditation whose standards as a way of doing business are considered best practices for police departments both administratively and operationally throughout the Commonwealth.
Question: Chicopee has a stable tax rate, two new high schools, is working on finishing a new middle school, no layoffs of police or fire in years, no trash fee and a feeling of safety. Considering that, what are the biggest challenges facing the city in the near future and what do you intend to do to address them?
Bissonnette: The scheduled closing of the landfill in 2016 may not seem like a looming issue to some, and it’s certainly not glamorous – but we need to address this now.
Speaking of things that aren’t glamorous, completing the sewer overhaul program and working with the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to stabilize sewer rates. We’ve come a long way since I was first sworn in, but we’re not done yet.
On another note, we also need to do more to make Chicopee a welcoming place for young families. Kids who grew up here shouldn’t feel like they need to move away as adults when they’re ready to start a family, and folks from other communities should know that this is a great community for them to come to. The city’s first-time homebuyer loan program is just the start of this.
Kos: I am concerned about the vitality and safety of our city. In neighborhoods across the city, break-ins and burglaries are occurring too frequently. As stated earlier, full implementation of best practices have to be initiated in our police department. Increased emphasis on crime watches, neighborhood policing, and published police logs are needed.
Balancing mandates and infrastructure improvements with our ability to pay has to happen. Sewer rates are among the highest in the valley.
I would accelerate the renovation of the old Chicopee High School into a new middle school. I am not going to implement a trash fee nor would I privatize our municipal ambulances.
Question: Both of you have had contentious relationships with the City Council. If elected, would you undertake any different strategy in working with them?
Bissonnette: The most contentious issues before the council are the most complex ones. These issues need extensive conversation and debate, and disagreement isn’t bad – it’s part of democracy. Listen, I’m serious about facing our challenges, and I get passionate about it. When the council pushes back, it gives me a chance to make my case, and to address concerns. While some councilors and I may argue regularly, I know that they’re acting on what they believe is best for Chicopee, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Kos: I think I enjoyed a successful relationship with the City Council except for my elimination of one position, the assistant City Messenger. Other than that, we worked together to address the Municipal Home closing, funded school repairs for $6.6.million, a new Chicopee High for $54 million, a new Chicopee Comprehensive High School for $72 million, a new library for $9 million, and a new Fairview fire station for $2.2 million and cooperation in adding $10 million to our stabilization fund. I found that they responded to information, logic and respect and plan on continuing that approach. Noteworthy, I have enjoyed much of their support during this election campaign.
Question: Chicopee’s stability has been in part due to the utilization of the industrial park land near WARB, which is nearing full occupancy. Do you have any specific plans about developing the Technology Park shared with Springfield?
Bissonnette: A while ago, we had WestMass [Area] Development [Corporation], which owned that land, change its designation from a technology park to a business park. They were then able to sell it to a private company, Harvey Industries, which owns it today.
Harvey Industries intended to develop the property, but their plans were put on hold during the national economic crisis. Now, though, as the private investment economy improves, you’ll start to see things happen out there.
Meanwhile, we’ve been working with Menck USA and Prima Electro to add new, good-paying manufacturing jobs in Chicopee and revitalize once-vacant industrial spaces.
Kos: I will work with the WestMass [Area] Development Corporation (WMDC) to market the property, formerly the Oxford Country Club, to attract new investors to land, which has been fully permitted since I left office 10 years ago when we secured a $4.2 million grant. The Chicopee River Business Park represents the single best development opportunity to create new jobs now.
There is an estimated 65 acres of developable land, up to 500, 000 square feet of potential building development, more than 400 potential jobs, approximately $40 million in projected private investment and $1 million estimated in new tax revenue.
Right now, there is only one company, Prima Electro in the park. This business moved here during my administration over 10 years ago. There are no other tenants. Unfortunately, there has been no attempt to work with the WMDC to partner with them to bring new businesses and jobs to the Park.
I am committed to securing the public dollars needed to leverage the private investment to make this park a success.
Question: Downtown development is an ongoing issue. What are your plans for the future?
Bissonnette: With over $50 million in improvements to roads, sidewalks, and bridges, downtown redevelopment is on the right track, but we still have a lot of work to do. Coming soon, a $12 million renovation of Ames Privilege apartments will add more residential space there. And with commercial space like AM Lithography, and new restaurants and coffee shops coming to Market Square, Chicopee center is starting to come to life.
In the west end, giving new homebuyers the support they need to fix up and move into unoccupied, run-down properties will expand and strengthen all of our downtown.
Finally, working with the state’s Gateway City Initiative and the Environmental Protection Agency, we’ve begun to focus on cleaning up brownfield sites and establishing new locations for future development.
Kos: Developing an identity for our downtown is a must. Drive in to our downtown from the Bosch and what has been done in the last 10 years? The Bosch is a parking lot. My administration worked with Sheriff Ashe to locate the Women’s Correctional Facility on Center Street. But that is it until you come to Market Square Billiards, where a building was torn down and a parking lot is being built, an over-budget parking lot. Instead of costing $200,000, it is now priced at nearly $1 million for approximately 23 parking spaces.
We need to provide incentives in an attempt to spread health care industries from the city line into our center. We need to explore re-introducing the arts into the downtown. I am committed to allocating public dollars to our city’s entrance and as a catalyst for future private investments. Working with landowners and existing businesses, we need to market the strengths of our downtown, as the weaknesses are obvious. These options and initiatives need to be presented with public incentives for private investment to generate business, jobs and tax revenue in our downtown.
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