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As she prepares to run for a second term, Macksey reflects on Healey’s visit to North Adams

Jennifer Macksey Jan 23.jpg
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Jennifer Macksey.

Last week, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey made her first visit to Berkshire County since taking office with a stop in North Adams. Flanked by Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll and Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao – who owns a home in Williamstown – Healey announced a major new bond authorization and new Chapter 90 borrowing that will keep money flowing to municipalities. North Adams Mayor Jennifer Macksey was front and center at the event. Macksey is halfway through her first two-year term after becoming the first woman to win the office in 2021. She intends to seek a second term this year. She sat down with WAMC after Healey’s visit to talk about how the Democrat’s policy announcements will impact the city.

MACKSEY: The big announcement, it allows us to continue to do economic development in ways that we probably never could before. And that helps us with our tax base, that helps us bringing more jobs into the community, it helps us expand our residency- And with that comes more kids in our educational system that, you know, we have a declining enrollment here in North Adams, and we really have a great educational system. So economic development helps with jobs and the flow of money, but it also rebuilds our community, and that's what we need to do here in North Adams. And the second part of that, Josh, with the Chapter 90 projects, as you know, our roads need repair. [The American Rescue Plan Act] has been great and we are rolling out some projects, but we have so much to do with infrastructure here in North Adams. Everything from water, sewer, to just filling potholes, to repaving sections of the street. And I'm very focused on rebuilding neighborhoods, and part of that is having safe sidewalks, having safe roads, and just the expansion in the commitment of this administration thus far, two weeks, three weeks, in is humbling, and is exciting as a new mayor. I still consider myself a new mayor. But we need that support coming out of Boston. And for them to recognize us and come to North Adams- It's been just a great morning.

WAMC: Now, they really sort of highlighted you in the announcement today, and I know you just got to sit down for a nice congenial lunch with the new administration. I'm interested in- You know, your overlap with the [Governor Charlie] Baker administration was relatively limited. But just as far as the initial impressions of the tone of this administration, walk me through that. Are you seeing any contrasts?

I just want to say on the record that Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor [Karyn] Polito were wonderful to me. They were always available. The LG was very supportive in any questions that I had. My big push with them was our public safety funding. So, talking to the new governor and working with Kim Driscoll the last year when she was mayor of Salem, I feel confident that they can help us here in North Adams. As far as the change in administration, I don't think they've missed a beat. I don't think they've missed a beat. I think they've taken the ball and they're running. And I feel that they're going to be very helpful. They know about the Berkshires, they know what we can do here, and they've been very supportive. And I think for me, just having that support and being able to call- I have this project, what do you see, what can you do? And Secretary Hao, this was the first time that I met her today, just having some dialogue and giving me some pointers and some access to some resources is wonderful. So, my first view of the Healey-Driscoll administration is an A+, and I look forward to working with all of them, including the Secretary.

Now, with the police station moving to a temporary new location and a lot of questions lingering over the public safety facility, has anything from today in any of these new spending plans shed any light on what potential avenues forward for the city could be about those critical infrastructure investments?

Not so much about what was discussed today publicly, but around the table, I'll tell you, Josh, that we talked about our need to be investing in public safety, as well as all municipal buildings, that communities need some help. And you know, I pitched a program maybe closer to what the [Massachusetts School Building Authority] program looks like, that we maybe need that for public safety buildings, we maybe need that for municipal buildings. But they're very committed to helping me with my public safety needs. So, what exactly that looks like down the road, I don't know quite yet. But every time I see them, and they say, don't tell us, your public safety building. They know it and they're not forgetting. And to me, that's very important. But along those lines, you know, we do have repairs, we need repairs in our schools. We're working great with the MSBA program with the feasibility study for Brayton and Greylock School. But I also need help with my municipal buildings. I need help with the skating rink, which the state owns but we manage. And we've been making slow but steady investments over many years, but it needs to continue. I can tell you, Josh, that I probably have 10 buildings that need new roofs. And that's a big-ticket item to put on the taxpayers and I don't want to do that. So, I'm really pushing the envelope with all this money that's coming down from the federal and state level as far as the infrastructure needs, but I'm also very vocal about what our needs are as a community. Our needs are no different than others, but everything is coming up all at once- You know, the sewer pipes, the water pipes, the failing roofs, equipment needs. North Adams needs a lot, but we need to be very articulate and efficient and effective and wise and how we make our asks.

So, with that in mind heading into your second budget season, when you think about this new access to state and federal funding and you look at the budget – and as you said a moment ago, you don't want to put some of these infrastructure investments on taxpayers – talk to us about that budgeting process. How is that coming along? And how is some of this money impacting that?

So, with the budget, we are just in the preliminary stages of looking at what our needs are from our departments. We just completed a study that we paid for through ARPA as far as what our capital needs assessment is. And from there, we will be doing a long-term capital needs assessment plan, which will look at, what can we attack for grant funding? What do we need to do in borrowing? What can we do through our budget? Our budget is very lean, and I'm very sensitive to what does it cost to operate here in North Adams, not only for our residents, but for our commercial businesses as well. So, we're still in the early stages of our budget, Josh, and I'd be happy to talk to you maybe a month from now about that. But just for us, capitalizing on all of this money that's coming in and being at the table to gain some of that money- I think you may have read that we just got the Strong Communities Initiative grant, $629,000 over five years. It's focused through domestic violence and gun violence and other resources to make us a stronger community. And again, that goes back to building back our neighborhoods and investing in our people. And the reality is, it's not only what you see and what you can touch. It's about how people feel about living in this community. We have people who are very talented, and we have people who are really in need, and my job is to make sure we're targeting all of those populations. So, I'm very excited about the Strong Initiatives grant, and there's a lot of rollout that we have to do. But it will be a true collaboration of the partnerships throughout Berkshire County to help us do that.

Now speaking with Secretary Hao today and covering the Pittsfield political scene, property taxes have been a big topic for some municipalities in Berkshire County. Any forecasting right now about what that might look like for the coming year in North Adams?

At this point, I'm going to say I'm not quite ready to talk about that. But I will say that, you know, people in this community are struggling. Even with the tax rate that was just set- I think you've covered some of that. I wanted to be more of the conservative side and give the residents more of a break, the city council wanted to give the commercial people more of a break. And we're getting a lot of calls about that. But along those lines, we are willing to work with people, we are willing to do more payment agreements than we probably ever did before. But at the same time, we need to balance our budget and we need to keep our service level at an appropriate level. And we need the revenue. So, we are exploring other avenues of revenue. And the easiest thing for us right now is the cannabis revenue. We're hoping that Temescal [Wellness] will be opening and operating very soon. Clear Sky has been very helpful to our budget with the cannabis revenue. And then we have a couple other, you know, cannabis options, but it can't stop there. You know, again, it's about bringing business into our community and reinvesting in ourselves.

I wanted to ask about the conversation around the Northern Tier rail project, this idea of linking Eastern Mass to North Adams. Obviously, it's a huge plan. We've heard a million concepts about East-West Rail. What are your thoughts on this? Do you have a lot of faith in this one? Or is it another idea?

I will say I have faith in this, Josh. I really believe that we need to be connected and part of that. North Adams has a lot to offer, Williamstown, Adams with the Greylock Glen coming in- We need to have that expansion. Transportation is an issue in this area, and I think it really will help bring more people here and I think it's important. It's important not only for residents, but it's important for commerce. It's important for businesses, and it's just- It's, I have faith in it. It’s very interesting, and I hope to be an active partner in that.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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