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Dawson spotlights change

Mayor Susan Dawson looks at a table at the opposite end of her office, which is piled high with the fiscal year 2009 budget proposals. She said she has included Agawam's most pressing needs within the FY09 budget. Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
AGAWAM Life for Mayor Susan Dawson has been a constant juggling act since taking office in January.

She has three children, a 90-hour per week job and is responsible for 30,000 constituents. The heavy bags under her eyes say it all she's a 21st century working mother.

On inauguration day, Dawson walked into a dark walled, dimly lit but fully furnished office. Today, the mayor's office at Town Hall is vibrant and warm. Floral curtains frame the windows, a fresh coat of bright paint has sealed over the previously drab walls and a large crystal bowl of candy entices visitors.

In an interview with Reminder Publications, Dawson said, "I love being mayor! It has been primarily a positive experience. I love having situations that need to be resolved and finding peaceful, amicable solutions. I go home feeling very good that I did the best possible job I could for the people of Agawam."

Dawson explained that upon entering office, the previous administration had left her with several pressing matters such as signing the bond for the new Senior Center on Main Street and eight unsettled union contract negotiations.

"I walked into office and was almost given the option not to build the Senior Center because the [building] contracts and bond were not signed," Dawson said. She added that she ultimately decided to sign the $6 million bond because "the seniors of our community are deserving of a center that can meet their needs."

Dawson noted that the new, significantly larger, Senior Center will also have adequate space for town meetings, such as the Planning Board and Conservation Commission.

Dawson said she has been focusing on many key issues facing Agawam over the past four months, including economic development, improvements to public education, capital improvement and the fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget.

She noted that the grand opening of Steve & Barry's in Agawam Towne Square last month was a "huge" step to stimulate the ailing shopping center.

"Economic development has taken on a new face in Agawam," Dawson said. "What we've done [at Town Hall] is streamline the process for the creation of [new] businesses so that it's easier for businesses and developers to get through the permitting process."

She noted the difficulty Six Flags personnel has had with town and state ordinances to increase pedestrian safety around the park and their failed efforts to build a new indoor coaster. Dawson explained that despite their frustrations, "we've developed a nice working relationship."

Dawson said she has been working diligently on the FY09 budget, while emphasizing fiscal responsibility to all town department heads. She explained that she has already cut costs by downgrading the size of municipal vehicles for fuel efficiency. Dawson noted that she refuses to use the mayor's vehicle on a daily basis and uses her own. "I can't justify the amount of money it takes to use that car," she said.

Dawson said funding for capital improvements is vital to maintain a safe and connected infrastructure. She noted that funds allocated within her five-year Capital Improvement Plan for a sidewalk on School Street will connect the community to the new park and Veteran's Green and also allow for an entire bus route to Phelps Elementary School to be eliminated.

She said other proposed capital improvements include a classroom for students with autism at the high school. Dawson explained that while the classroom will cost $80,000, the cost to send students with autism out of district for their education is $125,000.

She said that since taking office she has been focusing on the tasks at hand and also looking toward Agawam's future.

"People need to be reminded of where we've come from and where we've come to," Dawson said. "I want to continue to be mayor [beyond this term] because I believe that there is a positive energy that has been given to the community. Two years is not enough time for me to do the things that I want to do for this community."