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Tyer Delivers State of the City Address
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
01:04AM / Tuesday, January 08, 2019
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Mayor Linda Tyer delivers her third state of the city address on Monday. The mayor chose the new Taconic High School as the location for her address.


All city department heads were on hand for the address.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer believes her administration is "designing our home" for the future.
 
The mayor delivered a 45-minute state of the city address at Taconic High School on Monday night, emphasizing some of the successes seen in 2018 and introducing a couple new initiatives for the coming year.
 
It was the mayor's third address and Taconic High School was chosen to host it because "the very existence of this new school is a reflection of perseverance, resilience, and determination."
 
"It is the flagship of our future. Some of you have already experienced firsthand how magnificent this school is and what it means for teaching and learning," Tyer said.
 
The address emphasized the work of various departments, and senior leadership from all aspects of city government were on hand and stood to be recognized, and wove into topics of business, public safety, state and federal partners, and the city's finances.
 
She kicked off the speech by reaffirming support for efforts to support downtown, including the hotly debated vote to forgive debt to facilitate a sale of the Beacon Cinema.
 
"Our downtown corridor is anchored by businesses and residents that reflect the unique and diverse fabric of our city. In the midst of lively eateries, distinctive boutiques and shops, and world-class cultural attractions, and hip, urban apartments, is the Beacon Cinema, a place for everyone. Pittsfield is the envy of many Gateway Cities because we have an independent movie theater right here in our downtown," Tyer said. "We had to stand strong when the threat of foreclosure was upon the Beacon."
 
The debt forgiveness paved the way for Phoenix Theatres to purchased the building and keep the cinema operating. The theater was a key component of the push over the last 20 years to improve the city's downtown. The mayor said, "we must remain watchful, always, to ensure a spirited, vibrant experience for all who live in and visit our city."
 
Now, the mayor is looking to turn the corner and bring the same playbook to Tyler Street. The Morningside neighborhood had been designated as one of the state's Transformative Development Initiative zones and the city is rolling out a plan to redesign and reconstruct the street through a streetscape program.
 
"It's time to take the successes we realized as part of the North Street revitalization and focus attention and resources on Tyler Street. Transforming the historic artery rooted through the Morningside neighborhood has the promise and possibility to reinvigorate this part of our city," Tyer said. "My grandmother, who just turned 95, grew up on Tyler Street. She has fond memories of sitting on the front porch, getting an ice cream, and walking to North Street with her sisters to buy fabric at Newberry's. Tyler Street can be that again but with a modern twist."
 
One of the key properties on Tyler Street is the former St. Mary's complex. Tyer highlighted the efforts of the city and the state to support CT Management's plan to rehab the buildings into market-rate housing. A state grant is going to upgrade the water line, and restore both the terra cotta roof and the bell tower. 
 
"This is how we preserve our past and design our future," the mayor said.
 
Another push is for outdoor recreation. She highlighted a number of community events that took place in city parks and the support of private donors who helped build a pavilion at Durant Park and restore the basketball courts at Lakewood Park. She praised the Buddy Pellerin Foundation and the Rotary Club for a fundraising effort to make "meaningful investments" in Clapp Park.
 
She had taken a tour of city parks with Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton to discuss further ways to enhance the city's outdoor recreation economy. But that wasn't the only state and federal official to visit the city. Tyer recognized visits from Secretary of Elder Affairs Alice Bonner, Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie  Pollack, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal bringing a grant to upgrade the airport's master plan, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Rosalin Acosta, Secretary of the Office of Public Safety and Security Daniel Bennett, and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey who joined the effort to restore cable programming. 
 
Tyer also touched on the upgrades to the wastewater treatment facility, another hotly debated topic. The mayor said she understands the cost impacts but at the same time "this is exactly what government is supposed to do. We are supposed to invest in infrastructure for those of us that are here now and for 50 years into the future."
 
"The EPA was not going to excuse our obligation to improve the quality of the wastewater that Pittsfield discharges into U.S. waterways," Tyer said. "After 10 years of attempting to avoid this massive undertaking and at the expense of ever-increasing costs we are now underway with this essential infrastructure upgrade."
 
She praised the work of the designers, engineers, and third-party reviewers for building a project that is $13 million less than anticipated. The council had approved borrowing up to $74 million for it and the contract was awarded for $51.4 million. 
 
Also for infrastructure, she highlighted the administration's use of a pavement management plan to pave 10 miles of roads -- all milled and paved after residents fought the use of chip-sealing. She highlighted the Community Preservation Act, which led to $580,000 in appropriations for 11 different programs in the city.
 
Tyer thanked those in the Fire Department and Police Department for their efforts to provide safety. 
 
"Crime and its impact on community life keep me awake at night and I know it keeps you awake too. We cannot allow the erratic criminal element that walks among us to steal our joy and our confidence in one another. Overcoming these challenges requires us to fight back together. Every day our highly trained police officers make a hundred decisions and take a thousand actions that often go unnoticed. It's understandable. When violent crimes sweep into view it can feel like criminals are holding us hostage and terrorizing our city," Tyer said. 
 
The mayor teased the opening of a police substation in the West Side in the offices of Habitat for Humanity. She highlighted the multi-agency effort in November and December when local and state police, the sheriff's office, and the state Alcohol Beverages Control Commission ran a high visibility operation that led to 32 arrests and the seizure of about 340 grams of cocaine and $34,000 worth of illegal pills. 
 
She noted the community policing efforts with Operation Copsicle, shop with a cop, and back-to-school high-fives.
 
Meanwhile, the Fire Department responded to 9,761 calls in the last year, including 98 structure fires. She said, "we will forever be grateful to you for protecting life and saving homes on this dark and frightening night" when an arsonist set multiple fires throughout the city. 
 
The mayor boasted of increased community engagement efforts. She highlighted the citizen's academy and the Police Department's community academy to provide residents with great insight into city operations. She highlighted the work city employees did in cultural competency training and the initiation of a diversity and inclusion program to recruit and sustain a diverse workforce.
 
"To become more responsive and sensitive to the plight of poverty in our city, every member of the senior management team participated in a day-long Bridges our of Poverty workshop hosted by the Berkshire Bridges Working Cities. A second session will be held later this week. It was an eye-opening experience that centered on economic disparities and the way this impacts the lives of our neighbors," Tyer said. 
 
Meanwhile, Tyer raved about the financial turnaround. When she first took office, the city was faced with stagnant property values and rising costs. She city was butting up against the tax ceiling, leaving little capacity to raise taxes to pay for the increased costs.
 
"We got busy and created our own pathway that included several strategic initiatives to get us moving in the right direction. Building a five-year capital plan, implementing debt management practices, cutting budgets, negotiating fair three-year contracts with our employees, developing a long-range forecasting model, and a good faith collaboration with the city's Public Employee Committee to create a brand new health insurance program, thus saving the city $1.5 million in fiscal year 2019," Tyer said. 
 
The housing market is now on a rise, coupled with increased state aid and a strong level of new growth, the average tax bills are likely going to see the first decrease since 1993. She continued to say that the administration is helping residents with personal expenses too through the municipal aggregation program, which lowered the electricity costs for some 16,000 residents.
 
Economically, Tyer highlighted Len, VidMob, and Lymphedivas as "thriving businesses" and welcomed Wayfair, which plans to bring 300 new jobs to the city with the opening of a service center. She credited the reeling in of Wayfair to the "Red Carpet Team" she had put together earlier in her term and the hiring of Michael Coakley to serve as the business development manager.
 
"They wanted to make sure that our community culture aligned with Wayfair's culture. Now, because everyone at the  Red Carpet team tables loves Pittsfield and believes that our greatest strength is our quality of life, we began telling our story. They visited three more times, stayed overnight, enjoyed downtown, toured potential properties, and learned about our labor force. That's how we landed Wayfair. We've got bragging rights," Tyer said.
 
Wayfair will move into the city in the coming year and the Berkshire Innovation Center will open. The research and development center is eyed to be a key piece of workforce training and helping small and medium-sized businesses expand.
 
"The innovation center will change the landscape for advanced manufacturing research and development and build a pipeline of highly trained workforce so desperately needed by our advanced manufacturers," Tyer said. 
 
This coming year will also feature the switch to LED street lights, the development of the Westside Riverway Park, and the rollout of both an entrepreneurs program and a program to provide financial assistance to residents who make improvements to the exterior of their properties. 
 
"Pittsfield is the heart of the Berkshires and we've hit our stride. Our city is bursting with promise and possibility. Meaningful alliances have been formed. It is our shared responsibility to ask each other "how can we" so that our dreamers and doers can maximize their talent and realize their highest calling right here at home in Pittsfield," Tyer concluded.
 
The event was attended by state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, District Attorney Andrea Harrington, Sheriff Thomas Bowler, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard, City Clerk Michele Benjamin, City Councilors Helen Moon, Kevin Morandi, Nicholas Caccamo, Donna Todd Rivers, Anthony Simonelli, Peter White, and Earl Persip, School Committee members Katherine Yon, Daniel Elias, and Joshua Cutler, Matt Russett from Neal's office and Patrick Carnevale from the governor's office. 
 
 
Mayor Tyer's remarks as presented for delivery with minor edits for style: 

Pittsfield – A Place of Promise and Possibility

Introduction
 
Thank you, President Marchetti for your kind words and heartfelt introduction. I am inspired by your steady leadership and I cherish our long-standing friendship. It is an anchor of consistency in flourishing times and in challenging circumstances.
 
Taconic High School
Look at this place! A brand new state-of-the-art high school. It is the flagship of our future. Some of you have already experienced firsthand how magnificent this school is and what it means for teaching and learning. This fall, the very first class of students crossed the threshold into a world of wonder. The very existence of this new school is a reflection of perseverance, resilience, and determination.
 
Beyond the obvious glimmer of the exterior and interior, Taconic High School possesses an intangible characteristic. This school brims with promise and possibility for our young learners. Math, science, technology, art, athletics, languages, AP courses, vocational programs. All of it happens right here, under this roof, preparing our kids for a global economy. 
 
Who knows what our brilliant students may achieve in their lifetime! What we do know is that the Pittsfield Public Schools educates every child. Some struggle and some soar but every one of them matters to the people of Pittsfield and that's what this school represents. You know what's really inspires me? Our English Language Learners, those kids whose first language is not English, are the students who show the most improvement on the state's comprehensive assessment tests.
 
If you're here for the first time I encourage you to take the student-led tours following my remarks. Our student ambassadors are proud of their school and want to show how your investment in their future will pay off. You'll also see excellence on full display with the students and teachers of the school's culinary arts program. They've prepared tonight's refreshments. A special thank you to Principal Matt Bishop for hosting us tonight.
 
State of the City
 
Honorable members of the City Council, School Committee, State Delegation, and fellow citizens: welcome. It is my sincere pleasure to present to you the 2019 State of the City.
 
When I stood before you in 2017 for the first-ever State of the City address, I highlighted a year of initiatives and decisions that were necessary to keep us moving forward. Since that time, I am pleased to report that we have steadily kept the wheels of change, growth, and advancement in full motion.
 
I, along with the city's senior management team, have been guided by a set of principles that I first introduced at the start of my administration. We cultivate an organizational culture that encompasses shared responsibility, asking "how can we," proactive long-term planning, dynamic communication, professional development, and small things. My philosophy around this is simple: when we make decisions that affect the people that we serve these principles must be in the forefront of our minds. 
 
Big, bold initiatives and small wins collectively produce transformation in our organization and in our city.
 
Small things — like making the special events application available online to create a better user experience or providing daily updates on road work so you can plan accordingly or, bold initiatives — like transforming economic development strategies, it all comes forth with these grounding principles.
 
It is my absolute privilege to work with dedicated, seasoned professionals who are truly committed to each other and to their city. They show up every day ready to make tough decisions, mentor their staff, and to deliver for the rest of us. I'd like them to please stand and be recognized.
 
Designing Our Home: Today and Tomorrow
 
Our downtown corridor is anchored by businesses and residents that reflect the unique and diverse fabric of our city. In the midst of lively eateries, distinctive boutiques and shops, and world-class cultural attractions, and hip, urban apartments, is the Beacon Cinema, a place for everyone. Pittsfield is the envy of many Gateway Cities because we have an independent movie theater right here in our downtown. We had to stand strong when the threat of foreclosure was upon the Beacon. I am grateful that the City Council stood with me, despite significant community reaction, and supported the negotiated sale. It was the right decision. 
 
Now, with a laser-sharp focus on customer experience, the new owners, Phoenix Theatres, have refreshed the interior, added more show times, enhanced the reclining seats with a heated option, all the while keeping prices affordable. Downtown is Pittsfield's front porch. We must remain watchful, always, to ensure a spirited, vibrant experience for all who live in and visit our city.
 
Tyler Street
 
It's time to take the successes we realized as part of the North Street revitalization and focus attention and resources on Tyler Street. Transforming the historic artery rooted throughout the Morningside neighborhood has the promise and possibility to reinvigorate this part of our city.
 
My grandmother, who just turned 95, grew up on Tyler Street. She has fond memories of sitting on the front porch, getting an ice cream, and walking to North Street with her sisters to buy fabric at Newberry's. Tyler Street can be that again but with a modern twist.
 
Anchored by Berkshire Medical Center and General Dynamics and with the William Stanley Business Park in the heart of Morningside, the unique character of Tyler Street is ripe for a renaissance.
 
Yes! Together we saved St. Mary's from a horrible fate. With the design now finalized, the conversion of St. Mary of the Morningstar Church to market-rate housing will begin this year. My gratitude to Senator Hinds and Representative Farley-Bouvier for securing $125,000 in state funding for infrastructure improvements to support the conversion. The city will administer the grant intended to upgrade the water line on Plunkett Street and restore the terracotta roof on the church and bell tower. This is how we preserve our past and design our future.
 
A special thank you to David Carver. He is the visionary willing to make a significant private investment in this neighborhood. He believes in Pittsfield.
 
Tyler Street is designated by our state and local partners as a Transformative Development Initiative neighborhood. As such, Tyler Street has been privy to key support from the state to keep this corridor thriving. In May, the Baker-Polito administration extended its support for Tyler Street by awarding Pittsfield a $30,000 grant to support small businesses in the neighborhood. The funding will be applied to Pittsfield's Storefront Enhancement Program. This is vital financial assistance for businesses to make façade improvements to boost visibility, attractiveness, and ensure accessibility.
 
Beginning last summer, work began on the Tyler Street Streetscape Design Project. Much like its counterpart on North Street, the objective is to create a curated throughway that addresses the needs of pedestrians and bicycles, improves lighting and landscaping, identifies dedicated bus stops, preserves on-street parking, and elevates public spaces. The completed design work is expected to be unveiled early this year.
 
Outdoor Recreation
 
Our parks and open spaces is where we gather together to celebrate life, enjoy special events, cheer for our young athletes, row a kayak, hike a trail, fish in a lake These are the places where memories are made. Many of you enjoyed "Cars on the Common," Berktoberfest featuring local and regional craft beer from 16 breweries, and food from Otto's, Flavours of Malaysia, and Hot Tomatoes. Maybe you settled in your chair under the stars and enjoyed Shakespeare in the Park – they'll be back in 2019, or brought a picnic and listened to music at Live on The Lake. Our children play, learn, create, and make friends in the annual summer playground programs held at city parks, families gather together for the ever-popular Berkshire Mountain Bike program held at Springside Park.
 
Countless local partners have generously supported activities and improvements in our public spaces. This past year, the pavilion at Durant Park was erected, thanks to a gift of funds from Greylock Federal Credit Union. They have been an unwavering partner for the resurgence of Durant Park. Berkshire Bank's contribution facilitated the renovation of the basketball court at Lakewood Park.
 
Along with the many volunteers and organizations that make our outdoor spaces robust and lively, the Buddy Pellerin Foundation and the Rotary Club are making significant and meaningful investments in Clapp Park for the enjoyment of all.
 
I'd like to extend a very special thank you to Pittsfield Beautiful. Every single summer in places all around our city containers and gardens bloom with glorious color. Thousands of volunteer hours are given by so many to bring us these cheerful displays making Pittsfield's outdoor spaces spectacular.
 
State and Federal Friends
 
Tantamount to the work that we do is the care and attention that city receives from state and federal officials.
 
In April, Secretary Alice Bonner, of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, visited in support of an Age Friendly Berkshires initiative. The following month, Stephanie Pollack, Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation toured the Columbus Avenue parking garage (it's finally coming down this year!) and the Pittsfield Municipal Airport. The airport was also the location for a special announcement by Congressman Richard Neal regarding an allocation of federal funding for the airport's master plan which is underway. 
 
During the summer, Matthew Beaton, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, accompanied me on a tour of Springside House and Onota Lake. Secretary Beaton noted his enthusiastic support for projects that enhance our outdoor recreation and the stunning natural assets he found here Pittsfield. In the fall, we welcomed Rosalin Acosta, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development to celebrate the MassHIRE rebranding, and Daniel Bennett, Secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, for a conversation on funding resources for our badly outdated police station.
 
Senator Edward Markey visited Pittsfield, joined by Berkshire elected officials, to introduce proposed federal legislation to restore access to Massachusetts television programming to the Berkshires. Joint advocacy for winter overflow sheltering delivered $150,000 to provide the crucial funding to ensure that our homeless shelters and service providers would be able to support our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. Pittsfield is being noticed in many ways and we remain grateful for these strong and vital partnerships.
 
I recently had a conversation with Billy Keane. Billy is a real estate professional. He told me that he had spent the day with a real estate investor from Boston looking at several properties in Pittsfield totaling about $1.5 million. This investor was encouraged to explore Pittsfield by Governor Baker. The governor told him that Pittsfield is a rising star and has a cooperative local government. The word is spreading!
 
Investments in Infrastructure
 
This past year, I and the City Council had a hot debate over the EPA mandated upgrades to the city's wastewater treatment plant. Many points of view and perspectives were expressed during this time but one thing remained consistent – the EPA was not going to excuse our obligation to improve the quality of the wastewater that Pittsfield discharges into U.S. waterways.
 
After 10 years of attempting to avoid this massive undertaking and at the expense of ever-increasing costs we are now underway with this essential infrastructure upgrade.
 
I understand and sympathize with the anxiety about the cost and the impact to residents. At the same time, this is exactly what government is supposed to do. We are supposed to invest in infrastructure for those of us that are here now and for 50 years into the future. After all we've been through environmental stewardship ought to be our new legacy. Estimated costs for the upgrade was in the range of $74 million and that's a heartstopping figure. Fortunately, outstanding design, engineering, piloting technology, and an independent third-party review resulted in a final construction cost of $51,423,287 dollars — $13 million dollars below estimates.
 
To ensure responsible rates, we conducted a comprehensive rate study to plan how to phase in the rates to cover the costs of the upgrades. We successfully applied for and received a 2 percent low interest rate loan from the Massachusetts State Revolving Fund. Yes. These types of infrastructure investments are very expensive.
 
Yes. We are responsible for enabling improvements for future generations. Yes. My team and I have worked diligently to mitigate the impact on rate payers.
 
This year, we paved 10 miles of roads. All of it mill and pave, not one inch of chip seal, thanks to the advocacy of Councilor Moon and the support of her City Council colleagues, we will approach our pavement management plan with a better quality of road surfaces. 
 
2018 was the first year of Community Preservation projects. A 1 percent surcharge on property values a distribution from the Community Preservation Act Trust Fund resulted in a $580,000 appropriation of funds for investing in historic resources, and open space and recreation.
 
Eleven projects were funded including the preservation of the Melville Art and Artifacts collection housed in the Berkshire Athenaeum, the Arrowhead stone wall, restoration of the Springside House, siting and designing pickleball courts, the Berkshire Community College turf field, and the Pellerin baseball field infield restoration.
 
A Safe City
 
Each and every day, Pittsfield's firefighters and police officers devote themselves to our safety. This September our firefighters worked around-the-clock fighting back-to- back blazes started by an arsonist who fled to Canada. We will be forever grateful to you for protecting life and saving homes on this dark and frightening night.
 
Firefighters responded to 9761; 98 were structure fires; 4,632 emergency medical service calls; and 5,031 other types of calls like fire alarm activations, outside fires, elevator emergencies, water calls, hazardous conditions, and, of course, kittens in a tree.
 
Crime and its impact on community life keeps me awake at night and I know it keeps you awake, too. We cannot allow the erratic criminal element that walk among us to steal our joy and our confidence in one another.
 
Overcoming these challenges requires us to fight back together. Every day our highly trained police officers make a hundred decisions and take a thousand actions that often go unnoticed. It's understandable. When violent crimes sweep into view it can feel like criminals are holding us hostage and terrorizing our city.
 
In the wake of several tragic incidents, I listened to Westside residents at a community conversation. They expressed their fears and shared their ideas on ways to enhance the work of the police department, and they tried to understand police protocols. One idea, embraced by many, to establish a Police Department community outreach office in the Westside, is becoming a reality. With a generous offer of free space the Community Outreach Office will share space with our respected community partner Habitat for Humanity. Powerful things can happen when we come together.
 
In conjunction with the opening of the Community Outreach Office, a series of high visibility patrol operations were conducted in November and December. This law enforcement operation led by Pittsfield Police Department's uniformed patrol and Anti-Crime Unit, brought in reinforcements. On the evening of December 8, the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office, the Massachusetts State Police, and the state Alcohol Beverages Control Commission joined Pittsfield Police for "One Team, One Mission." 
 
In total, all four operations netted 32 arrests, including the seizure of approximately 340 grams of cocaine with an estimated value of $34,000 and a variety of illicit pills. Having strong, cooperative relationship among our state and local agencies is a vital ingredient in keeping Pittsfield safe.
 
The Pittsfield Police have made a high number of significant arrests in some of our city's most devastating crimes. When I am briefed by Chief Wynn my pride swells because I know that we have the bravest, smartest, men and women on our side. And, it is remarkable how many more citizens "see something and say something." This is how we fight back.
 
While we tackle the complex issue of crime, our police department has established a strong philosophy of community policing. Operation Copsicle, hosted three free movies; two in the Dower Square neighborhood and one in the April Lane neighborhood, Welcome Back to School high-fives, Shop with a Cop — all of these interactions create trusting relationships that will endure with our kids, their families, and our police officers
 
Community Engagement
 
Connections with each other are enhanced by those who take a risk, get involved, learn about the issues, and take action to make a difference. This year, 15 citizens from diverse backgrounds participated in Pittsfield's first-ever Citizen's Academy. Held this fall over a span of 10 weeks, the academy immersed participants in the composition of local government. Likewise, citizens who participated in the police department's Community Academy gained insight into the operations of our police department and learned about patrol operations, motor vehicle stops, crime scenes, and K-9 pursuits. Equipped with a deeper understanding, our neighbors will have informed opinions on municipal government, city initiatives, government's role in community life, and share what they've learned with their networks.
 
Strengthening our community also means seeking ways to strengthen ourselves as an organization. Just like a business, or a non-profit, or a financial institution, or a hospital, the City of Pittsfield is a compilation of employees with assigned tasks and set of expectations. We ought to reflect the community that we serve and share their values. We can only evolve through intentional and specific effort. This year, 200 employees participated in cultural competency training to build an awareness of cultures, other than one's own, and the related practices and traditions that come with them. When it comes to our hiring practices, we initiated a Diversity and Inclusion program to recruit and sustain a diverse workforce inside the four walls of City Hall.
 
To become more responsive and sensitive to the plight of poverty in our city, every member of the senior management team participated in a day-long Bridges out of Poverty workshop hosted by Berkshire Bridges Working
Cities. A second session will be held later this week. It was an eye-opening experience that centered on economic disparities and the way this impacts the lives of our neighbors. Professional development such as these are vital for creating a more meaningful connection with our friends and neighbors throughout the city.
 
Building on that concept, I left my office at City Hall and went the "On the Road" to meet with residents, community leaders, and business owners right where they live and work. In these conversations, I gathered insightful and varied perspectives on the issues weighing on the minds of constituents, ranging from ways to best support the homeless, listening to the workforce needs of Pittsfield's business leaders, and learning how our girls, especially those from under-resourced backgrounds, are engaged science, technology, engineering, and math. I am grateful for these powerful conversations and thank those community leaders who welcomed me into their worlds.
 
Financial Stewardship
 
It is our humble duty to be good stewards of your money. At the start of my administration in 2016, we inherited a decade of declining property values and rising fixed costs — all without a plan to turn the situation around.
 
So we got busy and created our own pathway that included several strategic initiatives to get us moving in the right direction. Building a five-year capital plan, implementing debt management practices, cutting budgets, negotiating fair three-year contracts with our employees, developing a long-range forecasting model, and a good faith collaboration with the city's Public Employee Committee to create a brand new health insurance program thus saving the city $1.5 million dollars in fiscal year 2019. All of this hard work and dedication by every person inside this organization has stabilized our fiscal crisis.
 
The results of that work in combination with the city's robust housing market, increased state revenue, and $52 million of new growth in one year resulted in our ability to lower tax rate for residential and commercial taxpayers while we continue to provide vital municipal services. For the first time since 1993, the average single-family homeowner is expected to see a decrease in their tax bill.
 
Let's go back to that $52 million in new growth for a minute because this is important. What is that exactly?
 
In the course of one year's time, the city realized $52 million in new growth — that is tangible things that didn't exist the prior year. Everything from a new deck on your neighbor's house, to the completed U-Haul facility on West Housatonic Street, to SABIC adding $9 million worth of new equipment at their polymer processing facility — it all adds up. What does it mean for tax collections?
 
It's $2 million of new tax revenue. We haven't seen this level of new growth since 2009. This is how we provide tax relief for every taxpayer.
 
We're committed to actively seeking ways to help you save in your personal and business expenses, too. The city's municipal aggregation program allows us to leverage the power of group purchasing to negotiate a lower fixed rate for electricity for residents and businesses. At the close of the year, the city's program was on track to deliver a total of personal savings of $565,000 for the nearly 16,000 residents and business owners. We anticipate that with the city's rates remaining the same — and coming in much lower than other supplier rates — the total projected 2019 winter savings, from January through June, will be $1.3 million.
 
Lightning Round
 
Let's do a quick lightning round:
 
  • $3,424,029.86 in grants and awards.
  • 3.6 percent — Pittsfield's low unemployment rate.
  • 21,828 in the Pittsfield's labor force, 21,048 are employed.
  • Gregory Crewdson — the internationally renowned photographer spent several weeks in neighborhoods around Pittsfield with a huge crew taking epic, cinematic photos; people who gathered to watch this creative endeavor brought their lawn chairs and had pizza parties.
  • Berkshire Force girls' softball and Pittsfield American Little League All-Star Baseball made us proud this summer with their outstanding victories and sportsmanship on and off the field.
 
Our Economic Future
 
When we think about our economic future, our city is alive with the hum of thriving businesses that employ people, contribute to the economy, pay taxes, and bring products to the global marketplace. Lenco builds Bearcats for law enforcement operations all over the world. VidMob is a technology company that uses a platform where brands can create social video ads with expert teams and, using Vidmob's analytics, to see what worked and why, and apply those insights to make better ads.
 
And then there's Lymphedivas. They design and manufacture elegant and comfortable compression sleeves for treating lymphedema, a side effect of breast cancer treatment that can cause permanent swelling in the arms. They sell their sleeves in national and international marketplaces. 
 
And now, Pittsfield welcomes Wayfair to our unique roster of successful businesses. Wayfair is creating 300 new jobs in the City of Pittsfield with the opening a sales and service center. The addition of Wayfair, founded by Pittsfield High School graduate Niraj Shah and the fastest growing e-commerce home décor company in the world, is a game-changer. These jobs will offer many in our community a pathway to personal prosperity, providing promise for the future. Wayfair's presence is
also a signal to other major employers that success happens in Pittsfield.
 
Wayfair choosing Pittsfield wasn't happenstance.
 
Rather, the foundation was set with the alignment of the city's economic development strategy. The city joined forces with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp.
 
Together, we created the Red Carpet Team, the Mayor's Economic Development Council, and a new position of Business Development Manager. Hyper-focusing on developing business in Pittsfield, as well as strategic alliances with former Secretary of Housing and Community Development Jay Ash and 1Berkshire, has achieved our shared objective of expanding the city's business portfolio.
 
Here's what's interesting about Wayfair. We've had a fair number of conversations with business prospects around the Red Carpet team table. Several of those continue to evolve. Most of the time, the prospect is interested in knowing what kinds of financial incentives are available to them for their business aspirations. When we first met with Wayfair, we were competing with other Western Massachusetts communities, but we've got something they don't: the Pittsfield economic
development fund. So, we prepared our presentation assuming that Wayfair will want to know what incentives we might be able to offer them. We can do more than other communities because we have this special fund. 
 
As the first session got underway, Wayfair's representatives say that they're not yet interested in the financial incentives. They'd rather learn about Pittsfield's lifestyle, our schools, our neighborhoods. They wanted to make sure that our community culture aligned with Wayfair's culture. Now, because everyone at Red Carpet team table loves Pittsfield and believes that our greatest strength is our quality of life we began telling our story.
 
They visited three more times, stayed overnight, enjoyed downtown, toured potential properties, and learned about our labor force. That's how we landed Wayfair. We've got bragging rights.
 
Now, I am equally jazzed about what the future holds for all of us with the Berkshire Innovation Center at the William Stanley Business Park. The innovation center will change the landscape for advanced manufacturing research and development and build a pipeline of highly trained workforce so desperately needed by our advanced manufacturers. In September, the groundbreaking ceremony was held for this state-of-the art, 20,000 square-foot facility that will support and advance the work of small and medium companies in the life sciences, advanced manufacturing, and technology. The event attended by Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito, a host of state and local officials, and business leaders, signified the
beginning of many good things to come in our community.
 
I am exceedingly grateful to the Baker-Polito administration, Jay Ash, former Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, and Travis McCreedy at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for their unwavering support and commitment to furthering an endeavor that will spur growth in a powerful and rising sector of our economy.
 
Charting the Course
 
2018 was an outstanding year and 2019 will be starting on a bright note — and I mean that literally. After much anticipation, the LED street light conversion gets underway and will be complete by this spring. Once in full swing, the project will replace an estimated 5,300 street lights. Our streets will be brighter and our utility budget will be lighter.
 
The Westside Riverway Park along the west branch of the Housatonic, extending from Wahconah Park to Clapp Park, will showcase amazing natural resources within the heart of the city, and will serve as a place that can be enjoyed by the surrounding community and beyond. The vision and design of this brand new outdoor space is being driven by Westside residents.
 
Paying attention to what's happening within our neighborhoods continues to be a primary focus. And our efforts are paying dividends. Pittsfield has a hot housing market which results in increased value for all of our homes. Properties in the range of $150,000 to $250,000 are highly prized. This good news means that more people are choosing Pittsfield to call home. As homes and neighborhoods continue to improve, we remain vigilant against decay and blight. Business and neighborhood blight diminishes the well-being of our community. This fight remains a top priority in my administration. We must do more.
 
We have cataloged about 100 problem properties. The city's Code Enforcement Team tries to identify and exercise all viable options. Our objective is always to preserve as much as possible. Sometimes, demolition is the only option. We continuously balance the cost of demotion against the very real gains that come with keeping our city appealing.
 
What we have learned is that some of our neighbors struggle to maintain their homes. It just gets beyond them. In a few weeks, I will be announcing a new initiative that we're calling "At Home in Pittsfield." The city along with our steadfast partners, Mass Housing and several local lenders, will launch a financial assistance program to encourage exterior home repairs and to foster increased homeownership and investment in under-resourced neighborhoods. In addition, will explore, in partnership with MassDevelopment, the feasibility of building new residential housing throughout the Tyler Street TDI District.
 
This week, I'll be in Boston convening a session with the Gateway Cities Initiative to release a new report that Pittsfield played a significant role in developing. "Building Communities — a State and Local Blueprint for Comprehensive Neighborhood Revitalization" will guide our decision making, policy making, and resources for stabilizing our neighborhoods.
 
In 2018, we joined Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation to study how we might advance an entrepreneurial spirit as part of our economic future. In 2019, we will explore the Entrepreneurship for All program and bring it to Pittsfield. By their own account, EforAll is accelerating economic and social impact through entrepreneurship in mid-sized cities. EforAll believes that the best way to revitalize mid-sized U.S. cities that have fallen into decline, and suffer related high rates of poverty, is to fuel the dreams and ambitions of entrepreneurs who live in and near these cities. EforAll believes that those residents understand their city and its problems and have ideas and solutions with the potential to make their city prosper while they create their own pathway out of poverty.
 
We will actively seek ways to take advantage of private investment in the city's two Opportunity Zones — North Street and Tyler Street. This is a market-driven incentive matching investors with projects located in the Opportunity Zones that need a capital infusion. Alliances with local and state representatives, financial institutions, and developers will spur capital investment and job creation.
 
I'll be representing the City of Pittsfield in two important ways this year. At the invitation of Lt. Gov. Polito, I have been appointed to the MassHire State Workforce Board. I view this as an opportunity to participate in the establishment of policies that will respond to workforce challenges that exist in Pittsfield and around the Commonwealth. Workforce, along with
housing, are the two biggest obstacles confronting Pittsfield's growing business community.
 
At the invitation of Stephanie Pollack, Secretary of Transportation, I am a member of the East-West Rail Study Advisory Committee. I cannot express my absolute glee that Pittsfield and the Berkshires is represented in this vital, forward-thinking endeavor. Can you imagine! A train that travels from Pittsfield to Boston and back again
 
Conclusion
 
Pittsfield is the heart of the Berkshires and we've hit our stride. Our city is bursting with promise and possibility. Meaningful alliances have been formed. It is our shared responsibility to ask each other "how can we" so that our dreamers and doers can maximize their talent and realize their highest calling right here at home in Pittsfield.

 

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