Mayor Thomas Bernard gives is state of the city address from the corner office this year.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mayor Thomas Bernard touched on long-festering infrastructure issues in his annual state of the city address on Monday night.
The status of the city's hydrant system and the deteriorating public safety building came to the fore early in the new year. Firefighters were stymied at two fires by nonfunctioning hydrants and the police union raised health and safety concerns about the 60-year-old police and fire station.
"Over the past several weeks we have confronted some difficult realities about our infrastructure, in the city of North Adams," Bernard said in his speech given over YouTube and Northern Berkshire Community Television. "We all agree that the safety of our community and those who protect and serve us every day is of paramount importance. ...
"We have for too long focus too much on cost control and not enough on service delivery and infrastructure investment. We have asked dedicated city employees to do more with less. As a result, important work has been left undone."
The mayor said the hydrants, in particular, were an "urgent call to action for me and for our community."
He outlined plans to identify and "bag" broken fireplugs (as explained to the Public Services Committee last week) and to explore federal programs for a hydrant replacement program. Budget considerations for fiscal 2022 will include staffing and funding to meet the department's needs.
"We know that our first responders operate out of a building with significant maintenance and accessibility issues. We agree that we need a new public safety building," Bernard said. "We have applied for local technical assistance funding to help us conduct preliminary assessments of potential sites for a new building, including the potential of the juvenile court building on Center Street, as the site for a police station."
The mayor said he will continue to advocate for the release of $1.2 million in the 2018 capital bond bill for engineering design for a new public safety building.
"As mayor I am responsible and accountable for moving forward on these priorities," he said. "The fire hydrant system and the public safety building are part of a much larger interlocking and interdependent series of challenges that are a call to action for the work on which we all must focus."
Among those challenges is maintaining key assets of the city, getting city-owned properties back in the hands of the private sector, and look critically at budget building, which he said needs to be done more transparently and collaboratively between city leadership and residents.
"The challenges we face have been years and decades in the making. We won't solve solve all of them in 2021, working together. However, I know we will make progress and set an agenda to get us back on track," Bernard said.
While the city was able sell off a number of properties, including the Notre Dame property, the proposal to turn Sullivan School into housing was emphatically rejected by the City Council and the Kemp Avenue neighborhood.
The mayor noted that a housing assessment last year found the city "lacks a supply of adequate and affordable housing across a broad range of income levels."
"The recent discussion regarding the Sullivan School property demonstrated that it can be challenging to boil down terms like adequate, and affordable housing to concise soundbite definitions," he said. "I also regret that important questions and legitimate concerns about a particular project inspired rhetoric that reminds us how fragile our commitment to being an inclusive community can sometimes see."
The mayor noted the "unprecedented challenges" of the past year that had sidetracked a number of economic development efforts and so significantly impacted the community.
Normally, his annual address would have been given at City Hall with the City Council rather than on video from the corner office. But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a public health crisis that has closed buildings and kept people apart.
"Last year, the idea that so many of us would have learned new ways of working, and would be using different methods to communicate with the community would have seemed nearly unimaginable," he said. "This has been our shared reality. And like every change it has its share of pluses and minuses."
He thanked the City Council and city and school employees for their efforts during the pandemic time, and pointed to the collaborative efforts that kept the school system functioning, fed the city's children, provided grants and donations to local businesses, helped those in need of housing and food, and is now vaccinating the area's population.
"I am so profoundly thankful to you, the people of our great city of North Adams. I appreciate everyone who has adapted to new requirements regarding face coverings and social distancing. I'm grateful to all of you who have endured months of cliches from leaders like me, who have encouraged you to dig deep. Hang in there, look out for each other. And of course, to wear a mask."
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