PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Candidate for the four a-large City Council seats participated in a forum Monday at Berkshire Community College as they made a push for votes before election day.
Seven candidates fielded questions at a forum hosted by BCC, in partnership with the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television, which recorded the forum. The moderator was Shawn Serre, executive director of PCTV.
After some opening statements, the candidates were asked to pick a number that prompted a question. After three candidates answered the question the next candidate in line chose a new number. At the end of the session, candidates were given two minutes to answer questions they did not get or to expand on the answers they gave.
One of the first questions brought forward was about Mayor Linda Tyer's proposed home improvement plan that would have allowed qualified residents to apply for money from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to make small improvements to their homes.
Incumbents Earl Persip and Peter White both supported the program, with Persip saying home improvement is truly economic development. White, in a followup statement, said the city really needs to reconsider the program, which was defeated by one vote.
"It is one of the most vital programs that we need to pass for our city, and we need to make sure we are improving housing stock across the city," White said. "To make sure when anyone comes into the city, they are given the chance of quality housing stock. A city is only as strong as its weakest link."
Candidate Yuki Cohen agreed that the program was beneficial and said it could improve family homes that can become assets passed down through generations.
Political newcomer Alexander Blumin disagreed with the program and said city funds or taxes should not go toward people's home improvement projects.
Newcomer Auron Stark took a question regarding renewable energy and zoning and was aked if concerns of residents should outweigh possible benefits from these energy projects.
Stark said it has to be a balance.
"I think the concerns of the citizens should obviously be heard but I don't think they should take completely away from possible renewable energy that would, in the long run, benefit the city," he said. "It could decrease our tax burden."
Persip and incumbent Peter Marchetti both agreed that residents need to be listened to and some projects are just not good fits for neighborhoods. Marchetti said the City Council has to make sure it passes effective zoning.
Candidates were asked about City Council procedure and if all residents' petitions should be heard at council meetings. White said he thought there was nothing wrong with the status quo and noted all petitions do make it to the agenda and can be discussed if a member sees fit. Marchetti agreed and said he has only turned down one petition because it was filled with personal attacks and profanity.
Blumin, who has brought forward a number of petitions, disagreed and alleged that the City Council has buried petitions.
"I disagree with Article 27 of City Council rules [that] give him the power to disregard anyone's petition without bringing it to the floor and," he said of Marchetti, who is council president. "He just disregarded one of mine just one week ago. ... Rule 27 is unconstitutional."
He added that he also disagreed with City Council limiting public comment to three minutes.
Candidates were asked about school consolidation and Persip said this is something the city has been talking about for some time now and with population decline, it is time to really start looking at it.
Candidate Jay Hamlingagreed that deferred maintenance has worsened the issue of some of the city's buildings but was hesitant to consolidate and close schools when it could lead to laying off teachers and employees.
"I do think we need to take a look at the buildings and decide what buildings need what the most and look into fixing them or consolidating if that needs to be done," he said. "Or put them back on the tax roll and find another use for them but I do fear taking away jobs."
White said any decision should be in congruence with the School Committee and Stark added that if the city needs to lose a few employees to downsize and provide a better education, it is the right thing to do.
Marchetti drew a question about the wastewater treatment plant and a costly federal mandate to upgrade it. He said the city should have addressed the $61 million project earlier.
"The discouraging part for me is that it sat on a shelf or on someone's desk for a decade in order for it to move forward," he said. "If the city took the bull by the horns in a time frame the permit was issued ... we could be talking about a $25 million project ... the decision needed to be made today. We can't waste any more time."
Persip agreed and said construction projects only go up in price every year. Stark also agreed and said the city can't follow this same pattern for future projects.
Cohen took the next question and was asked about the city's unlimited trash collection program that she said could be improved but noted she supported anything that kept the city clean and increased recycling.
"I think anything that helps the city increase the recycling and takes into account the visual quality of life in the city by collecting garbage is good," she said. "But we need to do it efficiently and cost-effectively."
Marchetti said he did not support the program because it was not equitable and White added it should have been kicked to a subcommittee for debate.
Persip also did not support the program and said it is costing the city too much money.
"When we were discussing this everyone was looking for a solution that worked for everyone which is not realistic," he said. "We need to find a solution that works for most citizens. I think trash needs to change but it is an uphill battle."
Hamling agreed and said the city should adopt a policy that benefits the most people and increases recycling rates.
Toward the end of the forum, the candidates talked about road conditions and White said although roads could always be better, he was confident in the city's Road Management Program. He said he did think the city had to do more to improve roads before they got too expensive to fix.
Marchetti agreed but said the city has to do a better job managing unapproved roads.
Stark said he was not happy with the conditions of the roads. He referred to them as "disgusting" and suggested using less salt. Blumin suggesting decreasing the education budget to address roads.
Candidate Richard Latura did not attend the debate.
Voters can cast four votes for at-large candidates on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 5.
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