WEST SPRINGFIELD – The voters in West Springfield again had the chance to hear the two mayoral candidates discuss the major issues the town faces. The West of the River Chamber of Commerce hosted a mayoral forum at the high school between state Rep. Michael Finn and Town Attorney Will Reichelt on Oct. 6.
The first half of the event was a forum, in which the moderator, Bob MacDonald of the Chamber of Commerce and Ryan Walsh of 22News, asked questions of the candidates. The second half was a Lincoln-Douglas debate, where the candidates asked each other questions.
The moderator’s questions included ones regarding economic development, public safety and protecting natural resources.
A point of contention throughout the forum was an increase in town spending and taxes on residents.
Finn said, if elected, he would use 25 percent of the free cash fund to give a tax break for residents. Later on, he questioned Reichelt’s promise to “continue the progress” made in his campaign ads and whether that meant remaining at a Level 3 school district, raising taxes and increasing spending.
“I do want to continue the progress and keep us moving forward. A lot of those increases, unfortunately, were to correct what was done before Mayor [Ed] Sullivan came, to repay some of the health insurance, to repay some of the free cash that was used as an incentive instead of as a savings account,” Reichelt said. “So no, my plan is not to continue progress as in raising taxes year after year after year. My goal is to continue what we started.”
Reichelt also questioned the content of Finn’s ads. Though Finn has praised the work of the Sullivan administration in the past, Reichelt said, his recent ads ask voters to “change the status quo.”
This means “changing the current situation,” Finn said. He criticized the administration for not getting the schools to Level 1, as promised, and that two years as mayor is not enough time to make effective change.
“I will admit, Mr. Sullivan has done a very good job of addressing the issues that he had time to address. Unfortunately, in two years you can’t come in and change everything that needs to be changed,” Finn said.
Responding to a question about economic development on Route 20, both Reichelt and Finn agreed that there was a need to attract more businesses.
Reichelt said he wanted to get new businesses on Westfield Street, as well as in other areas of town. To do so, he said he wanted to create a “playbook” to help streamline the process and create consistency.
Finn said the town needs to bring small businesses back to West Springfield and that other communities are “doing a better job” of attracting stores.
Later in the debate, Finn returned to Reichelt’s playbook idea, asking why he has not already started to work on this plan as Mayor Ed Sullivan’s “key advisor”
Reichelt said he has already been working on it, but “unfortunately, that’s not what my full-time job is.”
Finn rebutted by saying,“The reality is that Mr. Reichelt has had the opportunity to implement a lot of the changes that he’s telling you he’s going to do as mayor, and they haven’t been implemented. That’s not to say he’s not capable of it. It’s just saying it hasn’t happened.”
Finn continued to push this in his next question, referring to his campaign pledge to review policies, especially in regards to a study of sign and parking regulations.
“If you haven’t been successful as the town attorney or as vice chair of the Planning Board, why should we believe you will accomplish this as mayor?” Finn asked.
“I think there’s a misunderstanding of how much time I have in a day,” Reichelt said.
Both candidates were asked to name three priorities of their term. Reichelt said he would implement the playbook for business and create a business advisory board, create a Prevention Education Treatment (PET) program to work with the CARE Coalition in fighting substance abuse and work on traffic flow to maintain safe crosswalks and roads.
Finn pointed to his plan to control spending and reduce taxes for the residents, improving public safety and protecting public spaces, like Bear Hole Reservoir with programs like the carbon sequestration that was recently brought in to West Springfield.
he forum was the first since the preliminary election, which eliminated former Mayor Greg Neffinger from the race. The election will take place on Nov. 3.
Local officials in attendance included Mayor Ed Sullivan, Town Council President John Sweeney, Town Council Vice President Brian Griffin, School Committee member Jose Irizarry, Town Councilor Bruce Gendron and Agawam City Councilor James Cichetti.