Looking ahead to Greenfield’s new year
Katy Saunders, left, Alex Mueller, center left, Rebekka Frank and Arina Motamedi, right, play with sparklers ahead of welcoming in the new year during the 2013 Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations, Scotland, Monday December 31, 2012. See PA story SOCIAL NewYear. (AP Photo/PA,Danny Lawson)UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO ARCHIVE NO SALES
GREENFIELD — While the town continues to position itself to increase its tax base by buying and readying properties for development and cultural events continue to be added to the lineup of things to bring more visitors to Greenfield each year, the mayor and the head of a social services agency are worried about where their operating money is coming from over the next year.
Mayor William Martin said town and school departments will not see any increases in their Fiscal 2014 budgets Martin said to begin with, he will not include the 2½ percent property tax increase allowed by law. So, he said, taxpayers will keep that money in their pockets.
Martin said he wants to ease the burden on taxpayers this year. He said last year he gave back a small amount from the 2½ percent levy, but doesn’t want to take any of it this year.
“I’d give myself a C- at this point,” said Martin. “I’ve done a good job building teams and creating efficiencies in government and bringing in new revenues, but haven’t been able to stay ahead of increasing expenses, stabilize the tax rate and we’ve had limited success in expanding the tax base. These are all things I promised in my first run.”
Martin said he’s tried different techniques and strategies each year as he worked on the town’s operating budget.
“This year I’m going to do something different,” he said. “Every department will receive what they got last year and if expenses go up, they’ll have to find it within those budgets.”
Martin said that means police, schools, fire, central maintenance and all other departments.
“If any of the departments find increases because of contractual obligations, they’ll have to find a way to meet those obligations with what they have, and no more,” he said.
Martin said that might mean reduced hours for some staff.
He said he doesn’t see any layoffs or service cuts in the future, but said he will do “whatever to stay within the budget.”
Martin said he will also be looking at every town employee who has a town-owned vehicle and takes it home.
“That policy needs to be reviewed,” said Martin, who does not drive a town-owned vehicle.
“We’re going to have to see what is really necessary and what is not,” he said.
Martin said he is planning for cuts from the state and increases in mandatory, unfounded items like health care, retirement and pensions.
“It doesn’t look promising,” said Martin. “This coming year is going to be the most difficult yet since I took office.”
Mary Clare Higgins, executive director of Community Action, said she is worried about the year ahead.
“It’s going to be very difficult for poor people,” said Higgins. “This is pretty serious.”
Higgins said inequality will be at the highest it has ever been.
“It’s going to be more difficult for people to get out of poverty and we’re going to see more of the lower-middle class slipping into it,” she said.
Higgins said Community Action does its best to provide programs to get people out of poverty, but is looking at more funding cuts this coming year.
“We’re going to have a tight budget and less resources,” she said. “But, we’ll continue to do what we do to the best of our ability.”
Robert Pyers, the town’s economic development director, said the coming year might be one of the best for economic development now that the town owns both the former Bendix tool factory and Lunt silversmiths properties.
“Lunt will be our number one priority,” said Pyers. “We’ll move forward to get grants and finish cleaning it up.”
Pyers said the town plans to close on the Federal Street former industrial site in March and then begin marketing the property.
He said the town is currently looking for developers to move to the Bendix property and has been marketing it with help from Franklin Regional Council of Governments.
Pyers said building a municipal parking garage downtown probably won’t happen within the next year unless there is all of a sudden a huge need for it.
“We’re prepping the site and we’re going to get it so that it’s shovel ready,” said Pyers. “That way, if one of the grants comes through, we can move quickly.”
Pyers said the town will continue to do beautification projects downtown, will extend the bike path from Deerfield Street to Mill Street along the river and will begin to look seriously at what to do with the former First National Bank building on Bank Row.
Eric Twarog, the town’s director of planning, said the town will move ahead with its revamping of the Master Plan, which will guide officials over the next 10 to 20 years on everything from open space to transportation to housing.
“Residents will be playing a large role as the project progresses,” said Twarog. “There will be meetings and social media outlets and surveys and a new interactive Web site.”
He said the town should have a new master plan by the end of 2013.
Twarog said the town is pursuing park grants, which will allow it to do some renovations on parks and the baseball fields on the Lunt property.
He said the town is waiting patiently to hear what the Housing Court will say about the big box project on French King Highway. Abutters have appealed and if the court rules for them, the project may have to go back to the Planning Board and start the permitting process all over.
“A proposal to build a wood-burning power plant in the I-91 Industrial Park is currently on hold,” said Twarog. “We’re really not sure where that’s going at this point.”
Rebecca George, events manager for the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, said entertainment in Greenfield changes on a regular basis.
“I mean for the good,” said George. “We’re adding new things all the time.”
George said this year, the chamber and Greenfield Business Association will host what was known as the Home Show and Green Fair and will now be known as the Franklin County Little e, which will be held at the fairgrounds.
“We’ll have our more traditional vendors and we’ll have ‘green’ vendors there,” said George. “We’ll also be expanding what we have for kids.”
George said there will also be a brewers sampling tent this year, which will include beer makers, hard cider makers and more.
She said the Fiber Twist event will become part of the Little e, which will be held April 20 and 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
“This fair has been going on for 32 years and we thought we’d like to spice it up,” said George.
She said a constant, the Green River Festival, will be held again this year on July 20 and 21. She said the lineup won’t be announced for a few more weeks.
George said a spring bus tour of the Interstate 91 Industrial Park will be planned and the Creative Economy Summit will be held in Turners Falls this year on March 22 and 23.
The Brick and Mortar international film festival and the Fringe Theater Festival will be held in the fall again this year.
“We’ll also have the ever popular Cider Days, but with more food this year.” She said Yankee Magazine Food Editor Amy Traverso will help.
George said she is also involved in the mayor’s Gateway sculpture project, which will eventually install local artists’ sculptures at each of Greenfield’s gateways, including Deerfield Street, the Mohawk Trail and French King Highway.
“I love this place and have invested a lot of time in it,” said George. “It’s a fun and inspiring place to live.
“The phrase, ‘Franklin County, a Breath of Fresh Air,’ coined by Ann Hamilton, president of the chamber, has always struck me as a real truth,” said George.
She said she likes to hike Poet’s Seat to Sachem Head, shop downtown, and just travel the streets of Greenfield.
“There’s a deep sense of peace and freshness that I experience,” she said.
George said 2013 will bring a bright perspective to the community. She said the year will bring a chance to show and feel appreciation for the people who choose to live in Greenfield and the county, the businesses that people operate here, the projects coming to life, and the creative culture that is exploding all around.
“I see wonderful things happening in Franklin County in the new year.”
Christy Moore, the town’s recreation director, said she couldn’t agree more.
“We’ll start the year off with the 91st Winter Carnival on Feb. 1, 2, and 3.
Moore said she is excited that it seems Mother Nature will cooperate this year.
In the early spring, her department will build a playground at the Academy for Early Learning with a grant it received earlier in 2012. She said the installation should be completed by April.
Moore said she expects to open the Green River Swimming and Recreation Area on time this year and the town will hold its Fourth of July Celebration on Beacon Field with fireworks that night.
The department’s Riverside Blues & BBQ event will hope to draw another 2,000 people or more this year and the town’s triathlon will celebrate 30 years this year.
“This year is going to be an exciting one,” said Moore.