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Mayor's Email Update 2010 October


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October 2010 update from Northampton, MA Mayor Clare Higgins. Topics:
Important Ballot Questions: Please Vote in November
Yes! Northampton Forum
Northampton Tops Commonwealth Capital Scores - Again!
Kudos to NPS Director of Health Services for SPIFFY Award
Green Communities Award - the Big Cardboard Check
Great Police Work Pays Off - Literally
Getting Fresh at Northampton Schools
Growing Food In Northampton
Public Hearing on Refuse and Recycling Regulations
Kudos to Veterans' Services Director for COSA Award
Important Ballot Questions: Please Vote in November

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Mayor's Email Update 2010 October

  1. 1. October 2010 Mayor's Email Update<br />October 2010 <br />There is a great deal of good and important news to report in Northampton these days, and I take great pride in sharing some of this information with you today.  <br /> <br />Important Ballot Questions: Please Vote in November<br />Yes! Northampton Forum<br />Northampton Tops Commonwealth Capital Scores - Again!<br />Kudos to NPS Director of Health Services for SPIFFY Award<br />Green Communities Award - the Big Cardboard Check<br />Great Police Work Pays Off - Literally<br />Getting Fresh at Northampton Schools<br />Growing Food In Northampton<br />Public Hearing on Refuse and Recycling Regulations<br />Kudos to Veterans' Services Director for COSA Award<br /> <br /> <br /> Important Ballot Questions: Please Vote in November<br />It's my hope that everyone is already aware of the election coming up on November 2, 2010.  In addition to the candidates seeking election this fall, there will be 4 ballot questions for your attention.  I want to share with you my position on these questions, and some websites where you can get more information.*<br />Question 1 asks us if we would like to repeal the sales tax on the purchase of alcoholic beverages.  I will be voting No on 1 because I do not believe that alcohol deserves a sales tax exemption - it is not a necessity like other food and beverages that are exempt from sales taxes.  All of the revenue raised through the tax on alcoholic beverages is dedicated to health and substance abuse recovery and prevention programs - important programs that would not be able to provide the desperately needed services if they were to lose this revenue stream.  For more information, please visit  <br />Question 2 asks us to repeal the state's affordable housing law, Chapter 40B, which helps makes homes affordable to seniors and working families.  I will be voting No on 2 because Chapter 40B is one of the only tools we have to encourage developers to create housing that our teachers, small business  owners, construction workers and other working families and seniors can afford and remain in the communities where their jobs and support networks are.  It promotes smart growth, which Northampton has also been committed to.  Please visit for more information.<br />Question 3 is perhaps the most troubling to me of all!  I will be VOTING NO ON 3!  Question 3 asks us to cut the state sales tax rate from 6 ¼ % to 3% - a factor of more than 50%!  This proposal would slash more than $2.5 Billion dollars from the state each year - which would in turn slash local aid to cities and towns and cripple our ability to provide the services that our residents need and deserve.  Northampton could lose over $1,374,000.  After multiple consecutive years of cutting budgets and streamlining services, there is just no way that we could possibly sustain that level of revenue loss.  There remains a common myth that our state should be known as " Taxachusetts" and that is driving many people to consider slashing the sales tax.  The truth is, Massachusetts falls almost exactly in the middle of all 50 states in terms of our individual tax burden.  We are not unduly burdened by taxation in this state, and the high level of services we have available to us as residents of this Commonwealth are worth it.  If this ballot question succeeds, the most vulnerable and needy of our neighbors will bear the highest cost in terms of lost services and support. It's just not sensible and it's just not fair.  Please visit for more information and please join me in voting NO on 3.<br />  <br />Finally, Question 4 is the local ballot question asking the community to support a debt-exclusion override to fund a new Police Station facility.  I appointed a Police Station Building Committee to research and review our community's needs and options.  They have made recommendations, and I agree with their assessment that our current police station is woefully inadequate to the needs of a modern police force.  You can read the full 2003 Needs Assessment study here: and you can take a virtual video tour of the station here:  The police department's website has documented numerous reasons, in words and photos, why the current station is not serving our community on this page: .  I encourage you also to visit to follow the work of the Police Station Building Committee and to view design work related to the proposed new station.  It is fair to ask if now is the right time to take on a multi-million dollar building project.  I will be holding public meetings throughout the city this month to make the case for why I believe the answer to that question is Yes.  For one thing, the long-term debt for the JFK Middle School, the Fire Station and the Northampton High School building projects have been declining each year as we pay them off.  If we approve the building of the Police Station this November, our property tax burden for debt exclusion will revert to the level it was three years ago - and that portion of our property taxes will decline each year as we continue to make payments on our debts.  Second, because of the state of the economy today, construction costs remain the lowest they are likely to be for quite some time, and a project of this magnitude will put a lot of our neighbors to work in good paying  jobs.  There will also be some benefit to some downtown businesses which workers may visit on lunch breaks or after work.  Finally, many of the conditions at the current station are simply not tolerable, and as a responsible employer, the city has an obligation to provide a safe and appropriate workplace.  Our Police Department is one of a handful in the state that has achieved Accreditation - and Re-Accreditation - through a rigorous process, and all of that stands imperiled if our department continues to work in sub-standard conditions.  It has rightfully been asked if it would not be more wise to simply make targeted repairs to the current building to improve the very worst of the conditions until our economic outlook changes.  I have thoroughly explored this option.  I have looked at the piecemeal costs of applying the construction equivalent of bandages, of spending millions of dollars in the short- and mid-term to try to wring another few years, perhaps as much as a decade of service out of this building.  After reviewing the options, I am convinced that will only kick the problem down the road a little way.  We will find ourselves in a position of still needing a new police facility, but we will do so in a climate probably less favorable to our projected construction costs and after having already invested millions of additional dollars in short-term repairs and upgrades.  This will mean the true cost of the needed facility would be multiplied well beyond the current price proposed in Question 4, and that we have also put off millions of dollars in other infrastructure repairs we could have done with those funds that bandaged the outdated facility.<br />I hope you will be able to attend one of the community meetings, and if you have any questions about Question 4, please contact my office ( and I or my staff will answer them as quickly as we can.  This is an important question for our city and I hope everyone will take the time to be fully informed before casting your vote on November 2. <br /> <br /> Yes! Northampton Forum<br />The local organization, Yes! Northampton has planned a public forum for anyone interested in learning more about the 4 questions which will appear on the November ballot.  <br />Ballot Questions 2010:  Their Impact on Our CommunityWednesday, October 207:00 pm - 8:30 pmJFK Middle School Community Room The forum will offer brief summaries of state ballot Questions 1, 2 and 3 and then will focus on Question 4, the debt exclusion override on Northampton's ballot that will decide whether Northampton builds a new police station.  Police Chief Sienkiewicz will offer a presentation, along with Mayor Higgins, and there will be plenty of opportunity for questions and answers. <br /> Northampton Tops Commonwealth Capital Scores - Again!<br />Commonwealth Capital is the state's scoring system for municipal smart growth and sustainability efforts. It is designed to recognize communities which are thinking holistically about smart growth and sustainability, and those communities are given preference in grants for smart growth and sustainability initiatives, in order to ensure that the limited financial resources for these projects are not potentially wasted on projects which are not going to prove viable in the long haul.  Our city earned 135 out of a possible 140 points - the highest score in the state!  This achievement reflects on the hard work of city staff and many of our volunteer boards and committees and the support and involvement of residents as well.  I am very proud to note that Northampton has been the #1 scoring community in this program for 5 of the 6 years of its existence (we placed second one year).  Kudos to the scores of people who helped make this designation possible and who continue to carry forward the work of implementing our vision for a Sustainable Northampton.<br /> <br /> Kudos to NPS Director of Health Services for SPIFFY Award<br />The Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth (SPIFFY) Coalition, recently announced that Northampton Public Schools' Director of Health and Safety is the recipient of its first annual Partners in Prevention Award.  Karen Jarvis-Vance was presented with the award at the Coalition's meeting in September.  SPIFFY is a coalition of over 60 community partners working together to improve outcomes for youth in Hampshire County, working to foster collaboration between schools and communities, promote strong families, support positive youth development, and create a local culture where youth are supported to make healthy choices. You may have noticed their billboards and posters around town, touting the results of parent and youth surveys they conducted with messages like, " 90% of Northampton would be very upset if another adult gave their teen alcohol.  Northampton parents care about their teens."   Spiffy recognized Karen Jarvis-Vance for her exemplary commitment to SPIFFY's mission.  Congratulations!<br /> <br /> Green Communities Award - the Big Cardboard Check<br />It was an honor to join City Council President David Narkewicz, Ward 4 Councilor Pamela Schwartz, the city's Energy Resource officer, Chris Mason,  and Catherine Ratte, who serves on the city's Energy & Sustainability Committee in traveling to Springfield to receive the official notification of our $198,500 Green Communities funding.  Phillip Giudice, Commissioner of the Department Of Energy Resources (DOER) and Ian Bowles, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs came out to Western Mass  with Senator Rosenberg to make the presentations.  I have attached a photo of the $198,500 check, which is currently hanging in the waiting area of my office.  You may remember that earlier this year, Northampton was named as one of the first 35 communities in the Commonwealth to be designated Green Communities.  Like the Commonwealth Capital program, the Green Communities designation recognizes important groundwork we have done as well as our commitment to sustainability moving forward.  These grant funds will allow Northampton to install a large solar-electric array at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School that will do two things. One, support the renewable energy program at the tech school, and two, generate a long-term revenue stream that the City can use to develop energy efficiency programs for Northampton residents and businesses.  With an energy efficiency project now underway to reduce municipal energy use by 20%, the City is starting to shift our sights to programs that will help our residents and businesses do the same.  This grant will help support that effort.<br /> <br /> Great Police Work Pays Off - Literally<br />Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz recently traveled to the US Attorney's office to accept Northampton's $98,000 share in a drug distribution case.  The case that began with the Northampton Detective Bureau ended with the break up of a major marijuana growing and sales ring in Hamden County.  The 650,000 in cash and assets forfeited was distributed to contributing law enforcement agencies including the Northampton Police Department, other local PD's, the District Attorney's offices in both Hampshire and Hampden counties, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the IRS.   The Chief tells me there is also a nice plaque hanging at the police station congratulating officers and detectives involved for (another) job well done.<br /> <br /> Getting Fresh at Northampton Schools<br />If you don't have students in Northampton Schools, you may not have heard that the " Fresh Wednesdays" program is kicking off this month. The program is a fabulous collaboration among the Northampton schools, the Board of Health, the Healthy Foods in Northampton Schools Coalition, and GAINS (Green Action in Northampton Schools) with the support of the School Committee.  The program will serve freshly prepared locally grown food one day each month in all of our K-12 schools.   The goals are to introduce students to new healthy foods and demonstrate that fresh foods can be affordable and tasty. The kick-off lunch will be October 20th, and parents of elementary school students are invited to have lunch with their children on that day.  Thanks to all the volunteers, parents and staff who worked over the summer to help make this program possible and especially for Food Services Director Carol DiMauro for her enthusiastic support of the program.<br /> <br /> Growing Food In Northampton<br />Speaking of locally grown food, a dedicated group of our neighbors has been working tirelessly to raise funds to support the establishment of the Northampton Community Farm to be located on the Bean & Allard properties in Florence, which the city is acquiring for agricultural, conservation and recreational use.  Perhaps you have been following this story in the local media.  As of today, they have raised over $236,000 toward making their dream of a community farm a reality.  Their vision includes a working farm producing locally grown produce and serving the community with educational programs as well.  To find out more about their vision and how to participate if you are interested, please visit  <br /> <br /> <br />Public Hearing on Refuse and Recycling Regulations<br />On October 19th, 2010 from 7:00-7:30pm in the City Hall Hearing Room (2nd Floor of City Hall) the Northampton Board of Health will hold a public hearing on the proposed " Regulations for Refuse and Recycling Collection" . The regulations will require that all waste haulers provide both waste collection and recyclable collection to every customer to " provide for the systematic collection of refuse and recyclables in order to promote recycling, to comply with state-and locally mandated waste disposal bans and for the protection of public health and the environment." At the hearing the Board of Health will listen to comments from the public. Written comments can be sent to the Northampton Board of Health Office at 212 Main St., Northampton, MA 01060 or sent via email to  A full copy of the proposed regulations can be found on the city website, here: <br /> <br /> Kudos to Veterans' Services Director for COSA Award<br />The Council of Social Agencies in Western Massachusetts (COSA) recently presented an award for exemplary service to Northampton Veterans' Services agent Steven Connor at their annual meeting.  The award recognizes his office's success in reaching out to veterans and their families and connecting them with resources.  The award reads in part, " You know the resources, you know what can be done, and you make it happen.You are a model, an advocate, and the epitome of what a great VSO should be."   Congratulations to Steve and to his staff, who are now also serving veterans in Amherst, Pelham, Williamsburg, Cummington and Chesterfield.<br /> <br /> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br />  * The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, in its Interpretive Bulletin number 95-03, has advised that " An elected official or the official's staff may use public resources to produce and distribute information to constituents regarding the official's positions on issues if the activity is consistent with the official's responsibilities."   I take very seriously my obligations to the public to use my time and my office's resources appropriately.  Each of the proposed ballot questions has a direct and significant impact on the City of Northampton - our ability as a community to serve our neighbors with alcohol and substance abuse issues; our ability to maintain and protect housing stock for all income levels; the level of local aid which contributes to our annual budget; and the public safety infrastructure - and a direct impact on how I do the job the voters of this community have entrusted to me.  For these reasons, I share my own positions on these ballot questions and encourage all registered voters to seek out as much information as you can before November 2nd in order to cast an informed vote on election day.<br />