Thanks for checking out our elections coverage. We try to cover at least one race a year in an in-depth, meaningful way, and 2019 finds us at it again. The only difference is that James Kennedy, artist and founder of the much-loved “Unsung Eats” column here at the Glass, has wrested control of the interview-ometer away from the editors this time around. In an act of tremendous ambition (or lunacy) he committed to interviewing ALL the candidates for North Adams City Council (assuming they all got back to him). We hope you enjoy this campaign season series, brought to you as a service to the democratic process and the peaceful transition of power.
Editor’s Note: This conversation has been abridged for space and clarity. No information provided by the candidate has been checked for accuracy.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Roger Eurbin and I am a graduate of North Adams State College with a BS in Secondary Education and minors in English and History. I served in the U.S. Navy for 8 years with a final rank of Lieutenant. I was responsible for as many as 40 enlisted men and I served two tours in Vietnam and received a commendation for saving over 250,000 dollars on a ship overhaul project. Formerly employed by a Fortune 500 company, I was responsible for developing and managing budgets of up to 3 million dollars and the hiring, training and managing of 30 people. I have also served on the North Adams Cemetery Commission as a Veterans Graves Officer and I am the founder of the Hillside Cemetery Restoration Project.
2019 Elections — North Adams City Council,
Why did you decide to run for North Adams City Council and what is it that you think separates you from the other candidates?
First of all, I want to run for city council for the same reasons I did the last time. I think that a strong city council will help this city grow and help the people get what they need; jobs and better schooling. This is one of the reasons why I want to do this. Also, I think it’s important that we have a city council that is responsive to the people. I’m not saying that the council doesn’t; some do, some don’t. I will be responsible to the people and responsive to them. I have no problem with any resident calling me up in the middle of the night and saying, “Hey, I’ve got this problem and I can’t resolve it.” I want to be a problem solver on the city council if I can.
I also have some other ideas that I would like to bring forward if elected to council, some of which are relatively new that have a trend back to problems we’ve had for a while in North Adams. One of the things I think we need is more jobs in this city and I’m not talking about minimum wage jobs (and I’m not demeaning the people that work for McDonalds) but I’m talking about good paying jobs and in order to do that we need some solid businesses to come in and I’m not talking retail either. Not the factories that we used to have and not the plants that we used to have, but instead, light industry, technology, electronics and perhaps medical. One person can only do so much but I would be willing and able to go to the mayor and discuss these things with him and to see what’s happening, and also with the city manager Mike Canales. I am familiar with these folks and I know them well.
What do you regard as the most important issue facing North Adams today and do you have a particular issue that you will be running on?
I think this goes back to the original question. I think that by providing stable jobs for people will draw in more population. Our population is starting to decline. Our population declined by almost half after Sprague closed and I think if we got light industry, electronics, healthcare, and things of that sort it would help boost the population. I think we have a beautiful city and a great place to live here, and I think this would help as a draw for bringing in more people and industry. Right now it’s almost a 50/50 split between homeowner’s taxes and business taxes but I think if we got some of this industry in and they build their workforce, much like Crane Paper has done. They’ve done a great job. That will build a tax base that’s strong, and we would have to rely less on the homeowners to pay the bills.
A couple more things that are relevant to the job situation is our declining population. When kids graduate from school here and when they graduate from college here they leave. Why? There’s nothing for them to speak of. The other thing is crime. I don’t think we have a major crime problem but like all other cities and towns, we have a crime problem. Part of that is due to the economy. People just don’t have enough money. Some of the storefronts in town are dying because the local population doesn’t have the money to shop here. So I think that’s an issue that drives almost everything else that people say is wrong with the city. Our declining population is part of that. What keeps people here? They have to have an economy that’s growing, a place for other folks to move in and take good jobs and buy houses.
If we can do this and do this in a responsible way, I think we would see a lowering of the property taxes, and no matter what anyone has said before, taxes are the major issue facing our residents today. They don’t want to pay these taxes. If we look at Lanesbororough for example, they took a heck of a hit when the mall closed. The tax base had to be picked up by somebody and the residents picked it up. Businesses coming in will bring people in. People coming in will bring money in, and money coming in will alleviate the burden of the homeowners. Everything is intertwined. To go back to the crime issue; the other problem we have is drugs, like any other town or city in this country today. We do have a task force for this, and it’s operated by the state police, in conjunction with the local police department, and I think they do a pretty good job but I think where we’re let down to a degree is in the courts.
The city is doing a great job of beautifying itself. We’ve got such a great little city and in so many ways we can all make a difference. At Hillside Cemetery we started repairing and restoring old headstones around four year s ago that had fallen down for whatever reason and we raise them up and we’re about halfway done now. We’ve even re-poured many of their crumbling foundations and we are about halfway through the project. It’s all volunteer work and we get nothing out of it but the satisfaction.
What is your opinion about the pros and cons of gentrification and what role do you see it playing today and in the future of North Adams?
I’ve got no problem with gentrification. I’ll give you a quick example of that. My son lives in a small town in Texas and gentrification has taken over his town there, but it’s made the town a better place. Some of the people, especially low income people, worry that they nothing for them, no place for them, but I disagree. If you get people coming in for whatever draw there may be, and I had mentioned light industry before, it will raise all boats. People may want to buy a new home themselves, or at least fix up the one that they have. I don’t have a problem with that. I see it as a good thing if properly managed. I see a little bit of gentrification here in North Adams in certain areas of the city, yes, but others no. Downtown, some of the lofts and condos are renting for a very high price, but they were empty buildings before and are now contributing to our tax base.
Whether real or imagined, there is a perception that there is a water quality issue in North Adams. Do you believe there is a water quality problem, and if so, what solutions do you offer?
I would say no, there is not have a water quality problem now. I think it was maybe two years ago, about the time of the last election, we did have a problem for a short period of time with the water system we have at the treatment plant, but it’s been completely redone. We’ve got newer equipment there now so, no, we don’t have a water quality problem. I know that there is a perception though, but the city reports say it’s all okay.
In order for many municipalities to balance their budgets, oftentimes larger infrastructure projects and investments get kicked down the road rather than raise property taxes. What is your plan for a balanced budget?
We’ve had businesses come in here, and what the city has done is offer them what they call a TIF. A TIF is a deferment of taxes over a period of time until they get on their feet and are actually producing and profiting. This hasn’t hurt us. We’ve done this with a few places. Crane Paper is a good example. They’re hiring people and doing well. And these TIFs don’t take a bite out of the homeowner either. Some people think it does, but it does not. It just means that these taxes weren’t there to begin with, and now they could be so we’re deferring their taxes a little bit until they can get up and running.
If businesses weren’t coming in, and people weren’t making money here, this place would be a ghost town. We’ve seen it all over the country, like when GE left Pittsfield, or when the mall closed in Lanesborough. Ask them about their taxes. Those were big parts of their tax base, so when those places died, who had to pick up the taxes? The taxpayer did. If that happens, you either have to reduce your services or raise your taxes. There’s no other way.
I think we have to take a look at what we’re doing now, what’s working and what isn’t working as far as income for the city, and look to the future. We have to be bringing something new in to add to the tax base. The homeowners can’t support the city growth if there’s nothing to assist them with it. so, everything that makes the city grow helps reduces the burden on the homeowner tax base.
I think it is the duty of each city councilor to examine the budget extremely carefully. See if there are any areas we can cut without hurting the infrastructure of our city or city services. We will all have to bite the bullet to a certain degree. We have to be very careful in how we spend our money. I don’t want to say this in a negative way, but I think there are things that we’ve spent money on in the past that didn’t pay any dividends or the homeowner had to pick up the slack. Naturally, you’re going to get some homeowners complaining that their taxes have gone up and their assessments have gone up. People have to understand the role that the assessors play. If you have a home that’s 40 years old and it’s in fairly good shape and somebody builds a brand new house next to you, the assessment on your home is going to go up and that is part of the gentrification thing we talked about.
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