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First mayoral address happens for West Side

By Erin O'Connor

Staff Writer

WEST SPRINGFIELD "In 2001, state aid was cut and in 2004 West Springfield had a budget deficit of $3 million. Today we have a structurally balanced budget," Mayor Edward J. Gibson said. "Together we have accomplished a lot in the last few year. We have balanced our interests in choosing to hold elected offices," he said.

At a Town Council meeting on Jan. 16, Mayor Edward J. Gibson gave the first state of the town address in West Springfield's history.

In his address Gibson spoke of West Springfield being 80% built-out to its capacity and how its recent designation as an Economic Target Area was important to the city's future growth.

"North West Springfield is the latest to be developed," Gibson said. "West Springfield is unique because, although it is smaller, it has already been pretty much developed."

Gibson said of West Springfield's 28,000 population that 38.2 is the median age and the per capita income is $20,982 but the median income is $50,282.

"Westfield is the same population but they are considered to be a Growth Economy," Gibson said. "The Economic Tool Designation was key because we can look at existing buildings and parcels in different ways."

Gibson said the city had an investment in public safety in the community. He cited examples such as the fast response time of the Fire Department and how the Police Department is handling drug trafficking, assault, domestic abuse and some murder cases as examples.

He said, that compared to Agawam, West Springfield has the same population, the same amount of roads, and a similarity between 2000 and 2007 that the real estate values went up by 72% and taxes by 42% but Agawam's budget is $6 million less than West Springfield's.

"The reason for this is because of high health insurance costs and different budget methodologies," Gibson said.

He said that West Springfield has approximately twice as many apartment complexes and twice more commercial properties than Agawam.

Gibson spoke of recent developments in the city over the past year that included a small addition to Fausey School; a new memorial pool that will be opened in June 2007; replaced and paved miles of sidewalks; and the received Economic Tool designation from Boston awarded last December.

Gibson spoke of where West Springfield is going. " The number one challenge is health care," he said. "We will continue to focus on changes to the health care system at this level and the state level. The Governor [Patrick] has joined the GIC [Group Insurance Commission] and I encourage that."

Gibson said important objectives for the city in the upcoming year are to maintain a structurally balanced budget and to do this by prudence in the fiscal budget from both himself and the City Council.

Gibson spoke of the recent visit from the Army Corps.

"If they decertify our levee system it will be a great burden for our citizens. Fortunately we were given a stay whether it is a month or a year no one knows at this time. We will need the help of the Army Corps, the DEP and a number of Federal Agencies aid," he said. "We will need to pay attention to this matter."

Gibson said that the city is healthy financially, there is money in the stabilization fund, the Health Insurance Trusts have gone up and there are Free Cash Levels that haven't been seen in four years.

"In the next couple months," Gibson said. "We will like to control health care costs; redesign the town web site and include an online bill pay and an option for permit applications; establish a new recycling ordinance for West Springfield and upgrade emergency dispatch equipment."

Gibson spoke of new traffic and speeding mitigation methodology ideal for Route 20.

"Embrace technology it is one of the best ways to get better," Gibson said. "Times are changing the way that we do service."

Gibson said it will be an up-coming goal to build a new library either in the business district of the city or near Mittineague Park.