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North Adams Council Candidates: Keith Bona
08:20PM / Tuesday, October 29, 2013
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Bona is running for third term on the council after previously serving in the 1990s. He is a graduate of McCann Technical School and owns Berkshire Emporium and Bona Marketing & Printing on Main Street. He holds a bachelor's degree from  Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology in graphic design and communications and he and his wife, Anne-Marie, have two children, Alexander and Elizabeth.

"I bring experience of serving on the City Council and many local health and human service boards, business groups, school boards, and other community organizations. The more a councilor is involved in throughout the community the more they can bring to the table, including voices from the many people they serve with."

1) What do you consider the city's greatest challenge?
Bringing in new businesses and fighting drugs. This isn't unique to most communities. Who doesn't want more jobs? Who doesn't want to eradicate crime? To solve these issues goes beyond the control of City Council, and we need to rely on state and federal laws, incentives and programs to help do both. The last large company that looked at North Adams went to Vermont because the state offered a better package. There was nothing more we could have done as a city to attract them. But we keep on trying, market ourselves, and good things will come eventually.

2) How do you perceive the taxation question: Do you think they are too high/too low/just right? If the city has a spending problem, what should it cut? Should the commercial rate ($32.95, second highest after Pittsfield) be raised again?
This is where I go against my personal opinion when I vote on this. The commercial rate is too high. Over the last 20 years the spread between the commercial and residential increased more than it should have. Now it's near impossible to convince residents that they should pay more to help decrease the amount for businesses. Residents have spoken they don't want that to happen, but at the same time they want us to be attractive to businesses. It's a challenging puzzle. When it comes down to it the majority of the voters make the call and we need to listen.

3)There are a number capital needs on the horizon, not least a new fire station and police station. How should the city address these needs? Should it forge ahead or wait until better economic times? If it waits, how can it manage in the interim?
We apply and hope for funding to become available for such a project. Meanwhile we do what needs to be done to keep the building operational. It would be nice to set reserves aside for these kind of projects, but that’s difficult with the current economy.

4)The North Adams landfill has been operating without a permit for years and needs costly upgrades. Should the city fix it or close it?
That's still to be determined. I am neither an engineer nor a conservationist. I don't believe we should close it. Studies are currently being worked on to present us with costs of different options.

5) Education: The design for the Conte renovation project is nearly complete. What do you think of the project? Should the city reconsider?
I serve on the School Building Committee. That group has had triple the meetings for a school compared to other communities. I've been fully supportive of it since we decided Conte would be the choice. At first Conte was not the choice, but the architects and engineers showed us the costs of renovating the other schools, and building new schools. Conte made the most sense. We wanted to do Conte and Greylock, but the state would only allow us to do one. I expect in several years we will do a new school at Greylock.

6) City Council candidates often talk about improving the school system but the council has no control over the schools other than voting on the budget. Should the council be more involved? How?
No. The school committee are elected officials and that's what they get elected to do. That doesn't mean as a citizen and parent of a student we can't offer suggestions.

7) Housing: As a councilor, what measures would you support to prevent or remediate blight? Some residents feel there is too much low-income housing that is making the problem worse. If so, how could the council address that?
We don't need more low-income housing. Unfortunately, there are property owners that board up their homes and leave them there to rot, and there is little the city can do. The city takes them to Land Court and many times the courts side with the owner saying they did the minimum. Chipped paint, boarded up windows, and long grass, overgrown shrubs are an eyesore, but not illegal. The more attractive the rest of the city can be, will attract people who will hopefully purchase these homes and turn them around. The Porches Inn is a perfect example of that happening. I've seen it with many private homes too.

8) Public Safety: The city has suffered through a number of high-profile crimes this summer. What can be done to make the city safer? Would you support spending more to hire more officers? Are there other ways to make it safer without spending?
I support spending more on a personal level but it's not that easy when it comes to convincing voters to spend more. We could cut something else to pay for it, or the people pay for it, or hope for a grant or state program that funds it.  Grants aren’t guaranteed. Taxpayers don't want to pay more on taxes and most places that have been cut are cut.

9) Resident question: Would the councilors be willing to help organize public meetings with police or other city employees to discuss municipal issues?
I have in the past and would assist again. I am a co-founder of the United Neighborhood Organization. I am working now with another group in my own neighborhood.

10) City Council: The city has a "Plan A" government with a strong mayor and limited council. How do you see the role of the council in the city's government? Should it be more proactive or more questioning of the mayor? Or should it focus on more of an advisory role as the voice of constituents? Can it be both? Or should the city's government be changed?
By law under our charter the mayor can do a lot without our input. This is where the current and past administration differed. Currently the council is asked to participate and offer input much more.

11) The council instituted limited speech from citizens as a way to prevent disruptions. Do you agree with the rules or should they be revisited? If the council allows more speech, how can it prevent disruptive behavior?
I'm satisfied the way it is.

12) Business: How can the council help to attract and retain businesses? Should it allow or limit the number tax-increment financing (letting businesses phase in property taxes) agreements? What realistically do you think the council can do in terms of ordinances and other measures?
There shouldn't be a limit. We give out very few, and they are to businesses making large investments in their properties or adding a lot of employees. Either way it's beneficial to the community, and pays off in other ways. The dilemma is taxpayers don't want their taxes raised, and the commercial properties are carrying a much heftier burden. Commercial tax rates are 2.5x residential rates. That's not attractive to prospective businesses. Until taxpayers are ready to share some of the difference, the businesses will continue to pay much more. If the city is more attractive to businesses financially then more businesses would come making more jobs. More workers living here, spreads out the taxes and we each pay less.

13) Should the city create an economic development department, similar to Pittsfield and Adams?
The Franklin County CDC is setting up an office in North Adams to assist small-medium businesses. The office of Community Development is working with them.

14) A national drugstore chain has shown interest in the former St. Francis Church. The council passed an ordinance that would delay any demolition of older buildings until plans could be reviewed. Do you agree with that? Or should the city allow historic buildings to be demolished after a certain time? Should the city attempt to save St. Francis for other uses?
I voted in favor of it. If CVS filed the demolition forms when we passed this rule, it would be free and clear to do what it wants now. At no point has the city held up the purchase of the church. Personally, I will hate to see a CVS on that historic corner. Chain stores bring jobs and taxes, but have little loyalty to the communities they are in. People who were around in the '60s complain about how the city lost half of their downtown to urban renewal. Once a building comes down, it's gone for good. The ordinance is only about demolition of historic landmarks and does nothing more than force a business to think before changing our historic landscape forever.

15) The Redevelopment Authority is considering a long-term lease with private developers to turn Western Gateway Heritage State Park into "Greylock Market," an artisan studios and residences. Do agree with the plan?  Should the city actively help the current nonprofits in there - the local museum, theater company and television station - relocate?
The city has been helping those two groups for a long time by giving them very discounted rent. The taxpayers could have been receiving revenue from those spaces. Do people want to spend more money on police or a historic museum? Those are decisions we face every budget. Both the groups you mentioned are private organizations. What's to say those groups are more worthy of city financing and assistance than the many other groups in our area? At some point the private organizations have to stand on its own two feet.

16) Resident question: Do you think municipal employees salaries should be posted online like the state employees are? Why or why not?
Yes. It's public information.




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