Live chat: Ask Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse ...
 
1:40
Mandy Hofmockel: 
Hi all, join us at 2 p.m. for a live chat with Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. Reader-submitted questions will be taken from the box below.
Thursday March 14, 2013 1:40 Mandy Hofmockel
2:00
Mandy Hofmockel: 
We'll get started in just a few minutes. There are already a number of great questions in our queue, but there's still plenty of time to submit yours to the question box below.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:00 Mandy Hofmockel
2:05
Mayor Morse: 
Welcome everyone!
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:05 Mayor Morse
2:05
[Comment From rose91rose91: ] 
What are your plans to improve the decaying Suffolk Street garage?
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:05 rose91
2:06
Mayor Morse: 
Timely question. We will be demolishing the entire garage this summer and constructing an entire new 2-story parking garage in it's place. This is an important project to have more, quality parking in the Downtown to support business growth. We also just finished up improvements on the Dwight St. garage - no more leaking, new lighting, and new signage coming soon. Thanks for the question!
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:06 Mayor Morse
2:06
[Comment From ConcernedConcerned: ] 
I have lived in this city for about 10 years now. I have always found dirty syringes on the ground, and recently have seen a decrease in the number of needles I come across. I believe this is thanks to the Needle Exchange program. I often see workers from the program with ID tags walking around and picking up needles. I heard this program is being threatened to shut down because one person in particular, Kevin Jordain, city councilor. What is the status of the lawsuit? Will this program be shut down and will we be doomed to finding more dirty syringes on our streets, playgrounds and all throughout the city?
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:06 Concerned
2:09
Mayor Morse: 
Thank you for your positive comments on the needle exchange program. Since its inception, the program has collected more needles than it has distributed. Furthermore, we are actually connecting addicts to treatment. In addition, the staff of Tapestry Health is working hand in hand with CEPA and the Holyoke Health Center to have a community wide strategy around syringe clean-up in the City. We know where the hot spots are and we have been effective in keeping needles off our streets, out of our parks, etc. All research shows that needle exchange programs are the most effective harm reduction tool to decrease HIV and Hep C through injection drug use. The court case is still pending. The City Council's attempt to seek a legal injunction to stop the program failed last year, and I'm happy that the program is still operating.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:09 Mayor Morse
2:10
Mayor Morse: 
Please remember that the work is ongoing, and no program is perfect, but this is a step in the right direction.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:10 Mayor Morse
2:10
[Comment From JamesJames: ] 
I'm sure you saw the recent jobs report for MA that showed the Greater Pittsfield and Springfield regions as the only regions in the state LOSING jobs. What, in your opinion, is the most important thing that officials at the local and state level can do to reverse this and really get the Western MA economy going?
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:10 James
2:16
Mayor Morse: 
Great question - and there is no silver bullet. I think it's important to continue making investments in infrastructure and transportation. For example, with the upcoming construction of our CanalWalk, passenger rail platform, Veterans Park renovation, Holyoke Catholic Rehabilitation, we will see hundreds of construction jobs in the City of Holyoke. This is just a start. I think overall, it is the government's role to catalyze private investment and business growth, which would increase private hiring. Government can't create jobs on its own, but we must create the economic conditions where people want to invest, thus creating jobs. We are doing that here in Holyoke through our Urban Renewal Plan and our expansion of local business tax incentives. We have seen the expansion of many existing businesses as well as new businesses coming into Holyoke. Other strategies include focusing in on Dean Vocational High School to make sure our students are getting trained in those sectors that are struggling to find qualified and skilled employees - technology, health care, IT. For example, Veritech, a new IT company is moving their HQ to Holyoke in September, yet they are struggling to find skilled mid-level engineers. Therefore, we are working with HCC and other regional stakeholders to make sure we have a pathway that is training people to fill these positions. I think we are on the right path - but we need to continue supporting investments in infrastructure, transportation and education. We also need to foster entrepreneurship and help create and grow small businesses in our community. Thank you for the question.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:16 Mayor Morse
2:16
[Comment From rebeccarebecca: ] 
Is there anything to be done with vacant lots that are bare and become overgrown in summer months? Can residents take it upon themselves to clean them up for use or is it up the city or are there actual property owners who should be caring for the neglected, empty spaces? There are plenty of these spaces that would make nice additional neighborhood garden spaces or little park areas.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:16 rebecca
2:20
Mayor Morse: 
Good question. It depends. We regularly take private property owners to court to order them to clean up their vacant lots. We often win on these, but it shouldn't take a court order for a property owner to upkeep their lot. Our Board of Health works hard, and they respond to such calls. I ask that residents call the BOH or my office to report trashy lots, etc and we can respond appropriately. In terms of vacant city lots, it is the City's job to upkeep those and we do that on a regular basis. We always encourage civic involvement and would love to see more residents and volunteers come together to help beautify the city. It is not legal for the City to go on privately owned land without permission or a court order, so we have to be careful, as many people assume that the City can just go clean up or cut the grass on vacant land. We enforce our ordinances and address these issues in a legal and timely manner. If you have particular lots, please let me know. In terms of community gardens, we are able to work with private land owners who often let community groups plant gardens. Again, let me know if we can help facilitate some of these connections.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:20 Mayor Morse
2:21
[Comment From DanDan: ] 
The shooting of a 5 year old seems like a new low. It seems our police are stretched thin and do the best they can with what they have. How can you guarantee the safety of all Holyoke neighborhoods?
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:21 Dan
2:25
Mayor Morse: 
We never want to see a child injured or shot. It's important to note that almost all such crimes in the City of Holyoke are drug dealer on drug dealer - and they are contained. The "Flats" - the area in which this incident occurred, is not the City's highest crime neighborhood, it's actually relatively calm and quiet. In this incident, the child was shot in the knee by a bullet intended for his father. I applaud the HPD and the Chief for quickly arresting the man responsible for this incident and we are doing everything we can to keep this element out of our neighborhoods. The day after the shooting, we parked our Mobile Community Policing unit at that intersection, and have followed up with constant patrols ever since. It is important to know that we have expanded many of our police work over the past year. We have opened 3 community policing substations, launched a K-9 unit, launched the Mobile Community Policing Unit, increased bike and foot patrols, implemented tasers, and other strategies that are paying off. Violent crime in Holyoke is at a historic low. Even so, things are not perfect but we are certainly headed in the right direction.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:25 Mayor Morse
2:26
[Comment From concretepillowconcretepillow: ] 
Former Mayor Pluta publicly stated stated that over 40% of taxable properties pay no tax because they are non profits, leaving 60% of us paying 100% of the bills. No one is stepping up for 'payment in lieu of taxes.' As I drive around town, I see that many of the non profits house themselves in some of the more desirable properties-the victorians. Those should be left open for development. Can you find a way to start merging/moving non profits so more DESIRABLE properties can be made available? Surely there are offices/storefronts that could serve the same purpose. Not as comfortable but lots cheaper for us. Even Holyoke Health Center has empty space-use them. Holyoke will remain forever poor due to the overwhelming number of non profit organizations holyoke taxpayers have to carry in addition to their ever increasing tax burdens.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:26 concretepillow
2:30
Mandy Hofmockel: 
There's still a half hour for questions this afternoon. Submit yours to the "Send questions or comments" box below.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:30 Mandy Hofmockel
2:31
Mayor Morse: 
Thanks for addressing this important issue. We are working on it. When I took office, I initiated the conversations with the Computing Center around a PILOT and we are making progress on this. Currently, the City received a PILOT from HG&E, the Housing Authority, ISO New England, and the Holyoke Medical Center when they make an annual profit. We are taking very specific steps to contain the expansion of tax exempt properties in our City. For example, in April, we are having the city's 1st public property auction since 1976 - of property that the City has taken for tax title. We have put language in our auction properties that whoever is the winning bidder, including a nonprofit, will have to pay 100% of what the taxable amount would be, ensuring that moving forward the City is getting the taxes it needs. Furthermore, my administration is preparing to send all nonprofits in the City that own their building a request for a PILOT. Other than that, it's important to note that over time the "market" can help solve this issue. Assuming property values go up as the economy improves, we will see an expansion of for-profit entities in the most fitting locations in the city (storefronts for example), and nonprofits will no longer afford prime real estate. The City, through policy, can capture more funds on the short term, but in the long term it remains important that we continue to strengthen the economy and create the conditions where people want to invest private dollars in Holyoke.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:31 Mayor Morse
2:32
[Comment From Supporters from Ward 7Supporters from Ward 7: ] 
Please would you consider having a city-wide or ward by ward trash collection of all or most all unwanted household goods, furniture, junk, clutter and trash? Mayor Taupier had such a collection in the 70’s and it allowed citizens to throw away whatever they wanted to. In addition, if pickers are permitted to look thru the items, and take whatever they want many of these items could be recycled and reused. Not everyone has the physical ability or the access to a truck or vehicle that can carry items to the refuse yard/ garage. When we hired our lawn service man to bring some unwanted items to the refuse yard, with our permit and my husband in attendance, and his truck, they were turned away. Reason: citizens are not allowed to hire a commercial business/ truck to bring in our refuse .
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:32 Supporters from Ward 7
2:34
Mayor Morse: 
Yeah, this seems like a simple request and I'm sure we can make this happen. I know this has occurred in the past and I'm happy to help plan an event of this kind. It is in our best interest as well, as too much illegal dumping occurs in the City. On another note, we are introducing a new policy that allows landlords to have access to the city dump, as to decrease the amount of refuse (mattresses, TVs) in alleyways around apartment buildings. I will talk to DPW about planning such an event and you are also welcome to contact my office to inquire. Thank you!
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:34 Mayor Morse
2:34
[Comment From holyokerholyoker: ] 
Your first term has appropriately focused on economic development, public safety, and civic pride and look forward to seeing that work continue in a robust way but if you are elected into another term? What will some new priorities be? What have you learned needs more attention and focus?
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:34 holyoker
2:38
Mayor Morse: 
Thanks for the question - my priorities won't all of a sudden change in a second term. While we have made unprecedented progress in a little over a year, more time is needed to see substantial changes in our education system and in our economy. I will continue focusing on improving schools, and plan to have a more active role with incoming Superintendent Dr. Sergio Paez, who promises to be an active agent of change in our community. I will continue promoting economic development - implementing the urban renewal plan, finishing up the many infrastructure projects happening in Downtown, continuing to promote the creative economy. A second term will allow me to continue this important progress and build off the momentum we have created. To be specific, I want to begin to tackle blight in a more aggressive manner in a second term. I will work with department heads to identify key areas of the city that need to be cleaned up, buildings that need to come down, areas that need a shot in the arm. I think we need to see tangible, visual changes in many of our neighborhoods. Making these investments will only improve our City and make people want to come here. I look forward to a second term, as we have much more work to do.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:38 Mayor Morse
2:40
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
Downtown will never be viable until we get it cleaned up. What are you going to do about all of the abandoned buildings?
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:40 Guest
2:41
Mandy Hofmockel
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse answers MassLive.com reader questions on Thursday, March 14, 2013
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:41 
2:43
Mayor Morse: 
We are working on it. I would encourage you to visit www.holyokeredevelopment.com and check out our urban renewal plan. There is a list of many properties (most of them abandoned or vacant) that the City plans to take, demolish, or preserve for a particular use. These properties would either go to the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority for redevelopment, or they would be auctioned off at a future public auction. As I said, in April, we are having our 1st public auction since 1976 - and auctioning off over 15 public properties that we have taken for tax title. This will get properties back on the tax roll in an efficient manner. On the other hand, some of our vacant buildings are privately owned and the owners are paying the taxes on these buildings, and waiting for the right time to begin investing. We are constantly working with these people and pushing them to move on their properties. Also, as I said in my previous answer, it's also time we do an inventory of those buildings and areas of the City that can use increased investment, and or take down those buildings that are unsafe or beyond repair and preservation. We are making progress and have more work to do.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:43 Mayor Morse
2:44
[Comment From Ken Ken : ] 
Why should the people re-elect you after you first were against the casino coming to the city, then you change your mind and invited them, and then go back against it?
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:44 Ken
2:46
Mayor Morse: 
You are entitled to your opinion. I encourage you to check out this Republican article on my consideration of a casino in the City of Holyoke: http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/01/documents_trace_holyoke_mayor.html. I was very honest, transparent, and forthcoming about this situation, and I am certain that my ultimate decision to keep a casino out of Holyoke was the correct one. Leaders have to make difficult decision - this was one of them. It has only made me a better mayor. Thank you for your concern.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:46 Mayor Morse
2:47
[Comment From Guest Guest : ] 
Mayor Morse, what do you think about the fact the Holyoke Housing Authority board will only be interviewing a single candidate tonight? Do you feel that a search committee similar to the recent school superintendent opening should have been put together to identify the best possible candidate? If so, are you willing to ask the board to postpone the interview and appointment until such a committee can be formed? Thank you.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:47 Guest
2:48
Mandy Hofmockel: 
We've got time for a last couple questions. Submit yours below before our live chat ends at about 3 p.m.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:48 Mandy Hofmockel
2:50
Mayor Morse: 
Thanks for bringing this up. I am Chairman of the Holyoke School Committee, and sit on the Committee with 9 other elected members, therefore it was important to us to have a transparent selection process. While the HHA is a quasi-municipal organization, I do not manage the HHA nor can I dictate how they manage the agency. I can certainly encourage them to be more transparent and inclusive, but at the end of the day, it is up to them. Like any public body, I would urge the HHA to publicly post the position - and I think it would be in their best interest to have the community involved as much as possible - be it a search committee, survey as to what qualities they'd like to see in a HHA Executive Director, and other things. I am not involved in this search and I am not up to date on who their finalist(s) are.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:50 Mayor Morse
2:51
[Comment From Guest Guest : ] 
Mayor, will you be marching in the parade this Sunday?
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:51 Guest
2:54
Mayor Morse: 
Of course! This is a great time of year! We will have over 400,000 people in Holyoke on Sunday, and it's a great time for us to showcase all that is great about the City! I have marched in the parade the last 3 years (2011 as a candidate, and last year as Mayor, and many years before that as an alto-saxophone player in the Holyoke High School Marching Band). We have a great weekend coming up - we will have close to 7,000 runners in the Road Race, and on Saturday night I, along with the Parade Committee, will be honoring Doris Kearns Goodwin with the JFK Award, and she will also be marching in our parade. It is also important to note that the St. Patrick's Day Parade pumps over $20 million dollars in economic activity into the Western Massachusetts economy (2012 Donahue Institute at UMASS). Enjoy your weekend and hope to see you Sunday!
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:54 Mayor Morse
2:55
[Comment From Lee Lee : ] 
We know there is a heroin problem here in Holyoke. The cheap price is brining unwanted guests into the city and increasing the number of overdoses. What plans do you and police have to curb this problem? I appreciate the police and your efforts thus far but this issue is taking a huge toll on the city. In the drug world it's referred to as "Heroin Holyoke," any ideas?
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:55 Lee
2:56
Mayor Morse: 
Link to economic impact study: http://www.donahue.umassp.edu/publications/Holyoke_Parade_econ_contribution
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:56 Mayor Morse
2:59
Mayor Morse: 
Many strategies are being used. We are regularly doing "drug busts" in the City, as you may see in the media, and typically, most of the people we arrest do not live in Holyoke. We just welcomed our first K-9 officer, who will be in the narcotics division, and we are soon to get our second K-9 in the HPD. We have also established a traffic unit in the HPD to focus on drugs coming into the City via vehicles on 391 or 91, in collaboration with the State Police. We have seen an increase in collaboration with city residents on helping us solve drug crimes, as a result of our community policing efforts and the improvement of community relations. We are working hard to send the message that Holyoke is not a place to buy and sell drugs, nor a place to commit crime. We are lucky to be working closely with the FBI, State Police and other agencies to crack down on drug trafficking, and we are doing all we can to get these people off out streets, with much success.
Thursday March 14, 2013 2:59 Mayor Morse
3:00
[Comment From Tony Montana Tony Montana : ] 
Do you anticipate any budget cuts in the future or do you just plan to continue to raise taxes on homeowners and business to support continued spending?
Thursday March 14, 2013 3:00 Tony Montana
3:03
Mayor Morse: 
Great question Tony. I do anticipate budget cuts this year. I have already reviewed the Fiscal Year 2014 requests from my Department Heads and have already cut millions from those requests. I am working hard to decrease this year's budget, as to provide tax stabilization and relief to both homeowners and property owners. One item which I have been working on for months is health insurance, as to reduce the cost of health insurance to the City, and we are making progress on this. Other cuts include reductions and savings through attrition in several departments, as to not automatically fill positions when someone retires. Unlike last budget year, I do not anticipate a huge increase in debt service payments or a big increase in our obligation to our retirees. I am working hard to control spending and will be working with my department heads to keep this budget as conservative as possible, as to mitigate any potential tax increase. I will keep you and the public informed on this. Thank you.
Thursday March 14, 2013 3:03 Mayor Morse
3:04
Mandy Hofmockel: 
That about wraps it up for this afternoon's live chat. Thanks for all your great questions!
Thursday March 14, 2013 3:04 Mandy Hofmockel
3:04
Mayor Morse: 
Thank you all again for joining me this afternoon, and have a great parade weekend in the City of Holyoke! As always, feel free to contact me here at City Hall if you have any questions, follow up, or if I can be of assistance with anything. Take care!
Thursday March 14, 2013 3:04 Mayor Morse
 
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