PITTSFIELD — In the Berkshires’ biggest city, the population is aging quicker than it's growing. While the population of young people in Pittsfield has shrunk in the last decade, the over-60 population has continued to increase, according to the most recent data available from the federal American Community Survey.
An aging population brings new challenges for the city’s transportation, social services and economic systems — challenges that have often been invoked by the Pittsfield City Council in budget debates.
Either City Council President Peter Marchetti, 55, or former council Vice President John Krol, 45, will become the next mayor of Pittsfield after the election on Nov. 7. In a recent sitdown with the candidates, The Berkshire Eagle asked Marchetti and Krol to articulate what they’ll do to help support the city’s aging residents.
To watch a full video of the meeting, visit tinyurl.com/tcbc5tr5. More questions and answers from The Eagle’s final sit-down with the candidates will be published in the coming days.
Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
THE EAGLE: Seniors make up about 28 percent of the city’s population — on the rise from five years ago when they made up 25 percent. Would you say Pittsfield is an easy or difficult place to live as a senior? What would you do to improve the lives of senior citizens in the city?
KROL: That's a wonderful question and having worked in the senior care industry for many, many years, I have to say that we do better than some communities as it relates to transportation for seniors, but we have a lot of work to do to enhance accessibility and allow seniors to be able to enjoy all the great things in the Berkshires.
Accessibility is an issue, but also socialization is an issue. When you have limited ability to get from one place to another — even though in some cases transportation is OK — socialization and being able to meet and be with people is a big deal for emotional ability, for people to be able to enjoy themselves and to have a good feeling about life. I think that's a key thing. I think the city of Pittsfield with our [Ralph J. Froio] Senior Center, they do a tremendous job, but we have to grow some of that to get into different sectors of the senior community that we're not reaching.
MARCHETTI: So I think the answer to that question is both depending upon where that senior happens to be. We have a senior who is living in one of our senior housing facilities that may be easier to live. If we have a senior who is struggling on a fixed income — or as our dear friend Bill Sturgeon would continue to say, a shrinking income — it's probably more difficult for them to live here.
I concur that the senior center is a wonderful opportunity and a place that probably doesn't get as much play as it should with our seniors. Part of it is how do we get there? And the other part is: Do we even know that it exists and what are the services that are being provided?
But we need to really take a hard look at our budgeting process, and as we go through the budgeting process, we need to be able to streamline and minimize expenses, while not cutting the quality of services that will assist those seniors living on their own in their childhood homes [with] the ability to spend the rest of their life there.
KROL: Seniors on a fixed income is a critical issue and that's exactly why we are going to bring a new internal auditor to the city of Pittsfield to revamp the budget process, to make sure all of our dollars are going in the right place. Having a new external auditor that we haven't had before and a director of finance that’s not establishment Pittsfield politics — that's really critical in finding long term solutions to saving money over time, like sharing services among school districts. Those kinds of things. Because taxes on the status quo are skyrocketing and that's not good for seniors or anyone.
MARCHETTI: So we've talked about the budgeting process. Our budgeting process for years has been this is what a department is allotted, this is the percentage increase of what we're going to do. We need to go back to square one and pretend that we've never had a budget before and really make every single line item and every single expense put through the wringer to determine if that's what we really need, if that's what we really want. I don’t need an outside finance person to be able to do [that]; my 35 years in the banking world and my budget experience will help me lead the way in developing a budget.
Up next: In the final installment of The Eagle’s sitdowns with mayoral candidates, we ask Marchetti and Krol to make their final pitch to the voters on their qualifications and their predictions for election day, Nov. 7.
Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at email@example.com or 413-496-6149.