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Cohen Returns

Date: 1/13/2010

Jan. 13, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Mayor Richard Cohen is back at Town Hall and has been firing on all cylinders since his first day on Jan. 4, as if he'd never been off the job.

"It feels great to be back. I truly love the job," he told Reminder Publications on Thursday. "I feel like I never left. I'm so humbled and honored the residents chose me [to be mayor again]."

Cohen explained he's been working diligently to catch up on the goings-on of town business during his two-year absence, in which Susan Dawson was mayor.

He noted his first priority has been to meet with each department head individually to discuss their needs, expenditures and plans for the next fiscal year. Cohen said the first collective department head meeting will take place on Jan. 25, where they will develop "plans and direction" for the town's future.

He said he has yet to make any drastic changes since taking office, with the exception of naming a new city solicitor, Attorney Vincent Gioscia, replacing Christopher Johnson.

Cohen added he's chosen not to appoint an associate solicitor as a cost-savings measure and will "utilize the services of Bacon & Wilson on a part-time, as-needed basis."

"After reviewing the past two fiscal years of expenditures in the Law Department, and seeing that over 60 percent of the professional services account has been allocated since July 1, 2009, I find it necessary to make these adjustments in an effort to be fiscally responsible," Cohen wrote in a memo to the City Council.

He added billable hours since February 2008 total $168,000, excluding stipends for Johnson and the associate solicitor, totaling $41,500.

Cohen noted a top priority during his first week was the current budget for fiscal year 2010 (FY10) as well as preparations for FY11. He said he's instructed department heads to prepare level-funded budgets.

"We'll still have a shortfall in FY11," Cohen said, adding he's unsure how large the gap will be, as the state will not release local aid figures until later in the calendar year.

"We're preparing for the worst [financially]," he said.

Cohen explained his future plans for the town include economic development; bringing new jobs to Agawam; and working with other municipalities to regionalize services and save money.

When asked how he feels after his first week back as mayor, Cohen replied with a grin, "I'm tired! But it's a tired feeling I'm enjoying very much."