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Mayor delivers State of the City Address

By Erin O'Connor

Staff Writer

AGAWAM - Mayor Richard A. Cohen gave his State of the City address on March 7 in a speech that was broadcasted live on the local public access cable channel.

In the speech, Cohen highlighted areas he said to be of Agawam's "best interest" to maintain. He included the aging Baby Boomer population, escalating health care costs, overbuilding and economic development as points of priority. Cohen warned the community to be aware of threats from the environment and the need for infrastructure built with the help of Federal and State Government funding to help with that cause.

Cohen, in his seventh year in office, said, "The facts show economic growth and improvement of continued city services."

He expressed his commitment to improving public schools, the quality of teaching, creating strong school leadership and maintaining small class sizes.

"However, education is not only a local responsibility," he said. "It is also a state and national obligation to help us meet our educational standards."

In his speech, Cohen said that the School Department budget had increased by over $1.3 million and this included the replacement of all positions vacated by retirees and the creation of four new teaching positions. He went on to state that the capital improvement budget included $195,000 for the purchase of approximately 120 computers for the middle and junior high schools; five new computers for the Early Childhood Center and 40 new computers for the elementary schools. He said that a capital budget project for $1.6 million for modular classrooms at Granger, Phelps and Robinson Park Schools had been approved.

He went on to highlight the installation of surveillance cameras, intercom systems, magnetic door releases at eight school building entrances. He said these installations were for the purpose of insuring safe schools for students and staff.

Cohen spoke of the creation of a District Wide School Safety Emergency Handbook that was developed in collaboration with the Police and Fire Departments and the Emergency Management Director and the development of a new District and School web site.

"Our tax rates remain the lowest of the surrounding communities, and our commercial tax rate remains business friendly," Cohen said. "In fiscal year 2007, our total commercial tax levy actually decreased by two percent ($296,940) from the previous fiscal year of 2006."

Cohen reminded of the Department of Public Works' recent relocation and various other projects that the city completed in that year. Some of these included expanded access at Robinson Park School; a new walk constructed for the Veterans' Memorial at Veterans' Green; and various repairs of sidewalks within Agawam.

He spoke of upcoming projects that would include improvements at the Feeding Hills Center; finding a pipeline location on Route 57; the creation of a handicap accessible public access trail at the area known as Pynchon Point; and the future opening of the new Agawam Senior Center.

He said that Agawam has a 26 percent recycling rate and challenged everyone to increase their amount of recyclable materials put into blue boxes whether at home or at work.

Cohen closed his speech by thanking the people of Agawam for their support and thanking all the City Department Heads.

"Agawam is a much better place because of the choices we have made to take care of the basics and tackle the possible," Cohen said.