Mayor Mitchell On New Bedford’s Future
After celebrating his re-election to a fourth term Tuesday night, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell returned to the WBSM airwaves Wednesday afternoon with an eye toward the future.
Mayor Mitchell told host Barry Richard he sees a need to continue to focus on schools and public safety in his next term, as well as continuing the restoration of the city's parks, and historical preservation.
Mitchell said he is working on a number of new initiatives on the economic development front, and a lot of them "have to do with the water."
"I've been convinced since I stepped foot in this office that we have to make the very most of our water connections," he said. "That's what's going to make this place succeed in the long run."
However, the mayor says the biggest challenge the city faces is financial, and the City Council will need to adopt Section 21 of the Municipal Healthcare Reform Law of 2010 to allow the city to negotiate the health plan with its employees, in order to keep providing services residents have come to expect.
Currently, the city pays 75 percent of employee healthcare costs, and Mitchell contends even taking one or two percent off that could save the New Bedford big money overall.
"Otherwise, we're going to have to resort to cutting, and to cutting things that really aren't fluff, that really aren't fat in the budget but really are bone, and we don't want to get to that point," he said.
Mitchell also said he wants a continued focus on improving schools, as well as public safety. He said the police department is undergoing a review that will look at how to get more police on the street and utilize resources more effectively.
"There will be some technical things, a lot more we can do with data. There will be some new technology, like cameras in certain places," he said. "Some of it has to do with manpower. We've seen recently a leadership change in the North End (with the promotion of Lt. Amos Melo to captain) that's already paying dividends. We're trying to have a police department that is more responsive, more community-oriented and has a better understanding of where crime might occur before it happens, with the data the police department has available to it."
WBSM broke the news this week that the 7-Eleven store at 1499 Acushnet Avenue in the city's North End will be closing November 27. An employee at the store confirmed the closing, stating it was because "people keep on stealing." Mitchell noted that store has had a number of robberies and other crime issues, including being fined for trash on the ground and open dumpsters. However, the mayor says even if there has been problems, he doesn't want to see any business leave the city, but he doesn't expect the spot to stay empty long.
"It's a busy corner. I think you'll see something else go in its place. That's a commercial corridor that has a lot of foot traffic, and it's a desirable corner for any retailer, including 7-Eleven," he said. "Why 7-Eleven is closing, I have no idea."
Still, Mitchell acknowledged the need to continue to crack down on crime in that area.
"There is an issue in that neighborhood, and we're committed to dealing with it," Mitchell said. "One of the big obstacles was making that leadership change in the North End which I think was long overdue, and that's going to have a direct effect. We need to deal with some of the impediments to public safety, and one of the biggest ones happens in the courtroom."
Mitchell point to an instance last year where a man who robbed several convenience stores was let out on bail while awaiting trial, and the next day, robbed another store.
"That's not a story I'm making up, that's not a hypothetical. That happened last year," Mitchell said. "It's things like that which not only cause the public to lose confidence in the judicial system, but also cause well-grounded concerns about the safety of our neighborhoods."