| Chris Maza
With the amount of time he’s spent at meetings, community events and school functions, regardless of time of day or day of the week, Mayor William Reichelt says some have asked if he has a life.
“I don’t,” he jokingly confessed.
“But seriously,” he added, “this is my life, and I love it.”
The first-term mayor, who recently announced his intentions to run for re-election, explained that as he began his transition from town attorney to mayor after beating state Rep. Michael Finn for the seat that he didn’t want to be the typical politician who is only accessible to his constituents during an election year.
“It’s hard, I would think, to run this city from this office,” he said. “A lot of times you’ll find our problems you didn’t know were there because people will come to you and talk to you.”
Accessibility was the main cog of the five-point plan on which Reichelt ran in his first campaign and carried into his term. One of his first actions was to expand his open office hours to Mondays, 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and Thursday, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., but the old-fashioned boots on the ground has proven most valuable.
“I get very few people who actually come to my office hours because I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of meeting with me and talking with me in the setting of this office where their problem might seem unimportant with everything else going on. But if we’re at a community cookout or something like that, people feel I’m more approachable,” Reichelt said.
If a resident sees him in a coffee shop and has an issue, he hopes that person will tap him on the shoulder.
“I don’t want people to be afraid of bothering me. You’re not bothering me. If I don’t know what you’re concerned about, there’s no way I can fix it,” he said.
His administration has also reached out to the community with an expanded social media presence and a recently updated website to assist with the flow of information.
“These are some important steps I took in that part of my plan,” he said. “I’ve tried to touch on at least one or two things in every point.”
The other four points on which Reichelt has focused were augmenting community safety, strengthening schools, encouraging business development and fighting blight.
In addressing public safety, Reichelt noted the upcoming budget calls for the addition of eight new police officers, a growing need, not only due to the upcoming opening of MGM Springfield, but also the increased responsibilities of the Police Department.
“Since the 80s, we’ve had 62 police officers,” Reichelt said. “Thirty years later, we’re doing four times the number of service calls with the same number of officers.”
Officers will also be carrying and trained in the use of Narcan, the drug used to treat opioid overdoses.
West Springfield is also investing in the completion of its Complete Streets Plan.
“We’re continuing to look at and evaluate all of our inventory – all of the crosswalks, all of the crossing signals, where we don’t have sidewalks, where we need to improve our sidewalks, and where we can begin to look at safe bike lanes,” Reichelt explained.
The town recently spent approximately $200,000 to improve the intersection of Union, Park and Elm streets, which he called “a huge crossing section for the Merrick section to access the Town Common.” The town will also soon improve signaling and crosswalks and install bump-outs near Garden Street.
West Springfield schools, Reichelt said, were continuing to provide high-quality education and he opined that the schools get “a bad rap.”
“It’s tough to have the leveling system that the state does. You really have to dig into the numbers,” he said. “The average student in West Springfield ranks incredibly high, but when we have a large refugee population and a large population of non-English speakers. Some students have been here a week and have to take the MCAS. Some are still getting over the idea of having running water and they have to take a test, We struggle in that section and we struggle in high needs when it comes to testing, but overall, our schools, and especially the high school, are exceptionally high performing.”
He also noted the advancements made at Memorial Elementary School, which was recently reclassified by the state as a Level 1 school after receiving Level 3 marks previously.
Coburn Elementary School, long overdue for renovation or reconstruction, recently received funding from the MSBA for a study to rebuild. Reichelt said he hoped the project would be completed in the next couple of years.
He also pointed out the past two budgets have included investments in hiring more teachers.
“That’s in order to push an inclusionary process to bring special education and regular together in order to not only cut down on out-of-district costs, but also to have a better teaching environment,” he explained.
In dealing with business development, Reichelt, who served nearly nine years on the Planning Board, said he was aware of some of the challenges facing those who wish to invest in the town and his administration was working on altering some zoning regulations.
He also said the town has adopted a practice he first learned during his time working for the town of Agawam in which department heads and his office meet with developers to exchange ideas and get questions answered on both sides.
“It’s been a huge success,” he said.
He added he’s stressed with his staff a policy of being “friendly, flexible and fair” with business owners.
“You don’t want to break the rules, but you don’t want to say, ‘No,’ just to say, ‘No,’ “ Reichelt said. “Sit with them and talk with them and explain that if they can’t do it one way, they might be able to do it another.”
The Reichelt Administration has also razed five blighted homes during his short tenure thanks to a partnership with the Attorney General’s Office.
“We have five department heads and inspectors who make up the Blight Task Force and they take our list every month and review the status of problem properties,” Reichelt explained.
While some abandoned properties require a complete demolition and rebuild, the program has also allowed for the renovation of many other properties that otherwise would have remained unattended.
“A lot of times they’ll take a house that was off the market that needed work, it gets fixed up, and then it’s back on the market,” Reichelt said. “Not only is the owner back paying taxes but it’s also making sure the value of the rest of the neighborhood isn’t destroyed.”
The advances being made are taking place despite the fact that taxes will not be raised for the second straight fiscal year,
“We’re looking at things in a way that is good for the town now and keeps taxes as low as possible and also isn’t going to kill the next generation, “ he said.
He credited a commitment by the Baker Administration to share increased in state revenue, a review of existing systems to identify inefficiencies and re-evaluation of duties for positions that become vacated. The administration also regularly meets with department heads to review the progress and use of monies allocated to funded projects.
Reichelt also noted the town no longer bonds for capital projects.
“A project that costs us $100,000, bonded for 20 years, costs you a quarter million,” he explained.
Reichelt said he’s proud of what he’s been able to accomplish thus far in a very limited amount of time, something he said was aided by his familiarity with the workings of the office before taking over.
“We were able to do a lot last year heading into this year and that’s because I was here and I didn’t have to get to know everyone,” he said. “I used to sit in a cubicle right out there and I got to be a part of a ton of stuff.
“A lot of things were already in the stream and I was able to finish them off – and took all the credit for it,” he laughed.
With that said, Reichelt noted he was happy to be running this time around for a four-year seat.
“Two years goes by crazy fast. The general shift across the state is going to four years. It’s a huge relief,” he said. “For me, coming in as mayor, the first six months was crazy and I was here for a year and a half, so I knew all of the big projects that were happening, I knew the general outlay of the budget, I knew what [former Mayor Edward] Sullivan’s priorities were and what my priorities were going to be and I knew everyone here, so it was a smooth transition. You have those six months and you’re immediately into your first budget cycle. Imagine the curve for someone who wasn’t here and had to learn everything.”
On the other end, a four-year term allows a mayor to spend more time focused on being mayor and less time on staying mayor, he said.
“Every two years – or realistically every 18 months – whoever is in this chair is going to have to be out there knocking on doors, standing on corners waving and holding fundraisers and that’s time they’re not doing the job,” Reichelt said. “You can do both, but having your job on the line, that’s what you’re primarily focused on, so you’re not making decisions the way you would be if you had more time to do the job.”
He added the four-year term would allow other parts of government to expand its scope when it comes to planning and long-range vision for departments and services.
“Even talking with department heads about plans and budgets, we can actually develop a real five-year plan,” he said. “In West Springfield, we had four different mayors in four different terms. A four-year term is going to put us into more of a routine of looking at the long-term and figuring out what’s going to be best for West Springfield.”
Uncertain as to whether or not he’ll be opposed in the upcoming election, Reichelt said he knows one thing for sure – he’ll be out there.
“I love this job and I love working for this town,” he said. “You’re definitely going to see me working.”
Posted on 9/21/2017
Posted on 9/21/2017
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Posted on 8/25/2017
Posted on 8/25/2017
Posted on 8/25/2017