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Chris in Action!

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Chris' Tidbits

Reflections on growing up in Southampton

Examine ways to better coordinate across town departments to minimize duplication and maximize efficiency and cost-effectiveness so budget cuts are less necessary. Simple things can save money eg: having a photocopier and computer maintenance/software update contract across all departments.

Continue the planning and establishing of a staggered schedule for vehicle replacement for the police, fire and highway departments based on age, mileage and repair costs.
Ensure written procedures exist and are followed for soliciting price estimates and carrying out an open bidding process so we as taxpayers, get the best value for our dollar.

Investigate the possibility of shared services with neighboring towns. Could there be something with the board of health for example or, now that we will be purchasing a new dispatch console, could that be of service to another town (and possibly some revenue ?
Foster collaboration across departments and if one has a savings in their allocated budget because of timing of a purchase or hiring of staff, offer it back to the town for re-allocation to another department that may be struggling.

Invest wisely in education, particularly looking to the diverse learning needs and long-term preparation for our students at Norris. Support programs to keep them in town rather than paying for school choice. As long as there are clearly analyzed and articulated needs and a justifiable long-term strategy, I am in favor of fully funding our school.

Actively lobby our State Representatives - the State is not living up to its commitment to provide adequate resources to rural schools like Southampton and others in the district.

A few months ago I was appointed to be an ‘at-large’ member of the newly reconstituted Master Plan Implementation Committee. The Plan addresses several topics of importance to the town and was endorsed by the residents in 2013. It resulted from a lengthy process where citizens’ views of the future development of Southampton were incorporated and action strategies were articulated. This Plan should serve as a useful guide and tool for decision-making by the various town committees. It is often easy to tackle many things and achieve nothing. While effort is appreciated, for me, results are what counts.

Two areas of particular interest are affordable housing and economic development.
Over the past decade there have been several new residences built in town and new people welcomed. I question however whether some of that development has been done in a thoughtful way. The reality is we have an aging population. Some of our longer-term residents don’t have family nearby and as their own economic or health situation changes, they may not be able to remain in a house that has always been home. It would be a shame for them to have to leave Southampton because of a lack of affordable housing. Much of what has been built is also far beyond the means of a young, first-time home buyer. The Master Plan envisioned more affordable house options. We need to examine, change and enforce zoning by-laws to ensure such units are built. We also need to devise incentives for developers to do so.

As for economic development, I believe the townspeople need to have a voice in such decisions that will directly affect them. A short survey would be appropriate to have you tell the town leaders what type of business is missing, is wanted in town? What criteria might there be to choose those that best ‘fit’ our rural character? What types of business opportunities do we want to court, and which ones do we want to keep at arm’s length until we are convinced of their good intentions? A seemingly lucrative deal may not be the best match/partnership for us. With answers to these kinds of questions, we can better plan and pursue potential business. Peebles department store will soon be closing and the area across from JPs has vacancies so, the time is now. Let’s get on it!

My 30 year career has involved guiding rural communities in Africa to determine priorities and make the best choice of income-generating and small enterprise activities. I believe my skills and experience in this area are very transferable to Southampton.

I am a strong supporter of open space and land conservation efforts. The open fields are part of the natural charm of Southampton and a legacy of agriculture that was so important to our town’s development and existence over the years. Some lands are of critical importance as witnessed at this week’s annual town meeting with the proposed land acquisition to protect our drinking water recharge area. It is a delicate balance to provide for town growth and at the same time retain our rural character.

Deciding to preserve open space needs to be strategically analyzed to understand and rank its value to the town residents. Some parcels may not be worth the investment and we should not jump to acquire a property without first doing our homework; that might be an environmental study to determine what exists for wildlife habitat or historical artifacts as an example. Its possible to think something is a good idea but unless we openly and honestly discuss the pros and cons, we can easily miss a golden opportunity or, end up with a white elephant that will be a burden to the town.

Landowners who have put their property under Chapter 61 regulations have benefitted from tax relief that provides an incentive to NOT develop their land. The Select Board needs to regularly consult a list of such people and be aware of potential changing circumstances where the landowner is likely to make a change in the status of that property. By being PROACTIVE and acting in a timely fashion, following the law and adhering to a transparent process, the Select Board should decide whether to recommend exercising the town’s right of first refusal on such properties.

There is tension between developing land or conserving for open space. We have been told that housing developments are better investments. That is questionable as we have also been told that every tax dollar of revenue collected on residential property actually costs us somewhere around $1.30 to provide town services. Community service/land use surveys done by UMASS have shown that for a town of comparable population size, open space lands only cost around 32 cents in terms of town services as related to a dollar of tax revenue. We have a responsibility to be the best possible stewards of our town’s natural resources and must thoroughly examine the consequences when deciding whether to develop or conserve land.

As we look to 2025 and beyond, we need to determine who we want to be as a town—a mini Hadley, an extension of Easthampton or…? The kind of infrastructure needed will depend on the kinds of businesses wanting to come to town. We know we are limited by our public water access and lack of a sewer system but many types of small businesses don’t require such infrastructure.

I think its extremely important we don’t assume that investing in the cost of a sewer system will necessarily be cost-effective. We need to be cautious about a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. Research and solid analysis need to confirm whether revenues generated from larger businesses will outweigh the costs of services they require. Would costly infrastructure pay for itself over time? Location studies would also need to be done to inform us about potential environmental impact, storm-water runoff and the like.

As we think of welcoming new business, let’s not forget the center of town. We have the old town hall/police and fire department buildings that do not represent a safe and healthy work environment. Assuming a new public safety complex will be researched and sited elsewhere, what can be done with these historic buildings? Are they worth renovating, what role does the town want regarding their maintenance? Could we find a public-private partnership or grant monies to support the cost? With the re-purposing of the old factories in Easthampton, would it be possible to find an investor to convert those buildings to artist studios for example? This could promote tourism in town and capitalize on our heritage.

We need to start thinking outside the box, determine from the townspeople perspective, what kinds of business we want and then actively develop a plan to pursue that, not let it drift away. As a resident returning to town with fresh eyes, it seems that we’ve lost out on grant monies that were within reach for lack of follow-through or delayed decision making. As successful as the ad hoc open space committee has been this year in bringing in grant monies, perhaps we need to encourage an ad hoc enterprise de

Qualifications

My 40-year career as program director for the African Development Foundation and as a teacher for the Peace Corps in Africa has given me strong management skills, leadership experience, budget and financial management expertise and the ability to work effectively to advance the interests and address the needs of children and adults of all ages. I will bring this experience to the challenges and opportunities facing Southampton.

I have always brought a strong sense of ethics to my work, and I will continue to do so in serving the people of Southampton. The citizens of our town deserve the highest level of openness and transparency in their government.

Those who represent the people are accountable to the people. I will listen to your ideas on community issues, and I will share mine with you regularly. Importantly, I will follow through on decisions made, and keep you informed about pending issues.

Much of my professional work has focused on economic development. We in Southampton can also manage our resources to strengthen our economy and services in a way that both benefits us and protects our rural environment. We must preserve and learn from the past while planning for the future.

I was born and raised on a dairy farm in Southampton. The Fowles family has a legacy here dating back to the 1800s. Though I traveled the world for my work, I always felt that my roots were here, and I returned often to visit. Now I am back in Southampton permanently, and I want to give back to the community that I love.

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Committee to Elect Chris Fowles
P.O. Box 36
Southampton
Email: Chris4Southampton@gmail.com

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