HOLDEN, Mass. — TheDailyHolden.com will be profiling the candidates for Holden's contested races for the town's local election. On May 14, voters will head to the polls to decide which two candidates will take seats on the Board of Selectmen, with Mark Ferguson, Jeremy Kurtz, and incumbents Ken O'Brien and Anthony Renzoni vying for the contested spots.
As both a small business owner and an employee of a large corporation, candidate Jeremy Kurtz hopes to bring his unique perspective to Holden's Board of Selectman, and help the town plan for its future.
In fact, one thing Kurts aims to encourage the board to get back to is long-range financial planning.
"Over the course of the next three years, we need to focus on creating an overall town agenda," said Kurtz. "I'm a small business owner along with my wife, we own a bakery here in town, and we need a business plan. We have a forecast for when we want to buy new ovens, or new this or that, and we need to do the same thing here in town."
From taking a hard look at new construction or vehicles, Kurtz emphasized the need for such a financial forecast.
"Do we need to buy three or four new vehicles this year? Can we spread that out? We know what the average lifespan is, why aren't we planning out and understanding where our budget is, and what our long-term plans are so that we can comfortably afford to live in town without always raising taxes," he said.
It was Kurtz' own experience opening a small business in town last year that motivated him to join the race for Selectman.
"18 months ago when I tried to open a business, we had a lot of different issues," he said. "Whether it be the inspectors, or this form or that form, there was really no guiding help. We came close to backing out and having to find a new location that unfortunately wouldn't be in town — and that really wasn't what we wanted to do."
Seeing some of the struggles he had gone through, Kurtz felt that it was time to get involved in the town. While he intended to run last year, even pulling nomination papers, in the end he decided to wait.
"But as the year continued, we started seeing more of the same," said Kurtz. "You know, 'Let's spend some more' or 'we have to raise the sewer fees.' — I understand that we have to raise the sewer fees, but it wasn't an issue that came up today or yesterday. This is an issue that's been brewing for a long time, and what we really needed to do is take a look at all of our departments and all of our funds, and not just plan out next year, but why aren't we looking at 2018, or 2020? And understand what are the expenditures in those areas and what investments are we going to have to make. If we can plan appropriately we can lessen our tax burden."
In his other job, Kurtz works in the IT field, and believes this will allow him to share his insight on technology with the town.
"We need to continue to evolve," said Kurtz. "We recently got new phones, and the website is good, and we need to figure out how to get more out in the cloud and how to reduce some of our overhead.
Kurtz also has some ideas to make himself more accessible to residents.
"We don't do a good enough job of making ourselves available," said Kurtz. "We sit up on the board and talk for two hours, and one person a month maybe comes and addresses the board. We need to figure out how to increase that."
One suggestion is to look at using the open meeting law to see if people can dial in, or have a chat room that's open for people to send in a question.
"We're not there yet, and we need to be," said Kurtz. "It's great that we hold office hours, but many people won't want to come down and see you. Call me, and I'll come to you. Or let me buy you a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts. We just need to find different ways to connect with people."
Furthermore, another experience that Kurtz feels has prepared him for work as a selectmen has been his service on the board of directors of a non-profit company.
"With a non-profit, our books are always open, similar to a town but probably a little more open," said Kurtz, explaining that as this was other people's money, it was vital to be very mindful that any expenses were responsible.
"As you're thinking about a town budget, you want to do the same thing," he continued. "I think they said they wanted to have a capital expense of four or five trucks this year. Can we put four or five trucks off and scatter it along the next four or five years? And instead of doing a 2 and a quarter prop this year, do it at 2, and give everybody back a half a percent. It's small change for some people, but the $18, $20 to $25 for somebody that's retired, or an elderly person that's living on their own, that can be a lot of money — that's groceries for some of them."
One of the most divisive issues facing the town has been the school budget, and Kurtz hopes to work with the board and district to help find the right funding for both the town and the schools.
"This year is unique. The 8 percent increase was sticker shock for everybody," said Kurtz. "The way the chairman went about it this year and tried to pull everybody together is the right approach."
Kurtz also believes these discussions shouldn't just start in January or February, but should be a year-round conversation.
"We need to work with the school district and understand what is the 10-year outline for the school, and how do we get up to spending the appropriate level for our students," said Kurtz. "There's always waste, and we need to find out where that is. At the same time, if we need to find additional resources, we can't always go tap on our residents for another $10 every year."
While Kurtz said that he has two young kids, and wants them to have the same great education he had when he was at Wachusett, he also noted that $80 million is nothing to sneeze at, and that there needed to be creativity in looking at the budget.
"Do we need 60 janitors? If the town is responsible for the school, the town should be responsible to have a custodian," he suggested. "The regional high school is a little different, but can we save money by bringing the the work to the town - possibly. But we need to be creative and offer alternatives to the school board."
Kurtz explained that there are other ways to capture resources, from sponsorships to utilizing different aspects of the school system, adding that "there is a a need to open up and get away from the cross politics, and work together to find the right funding and the right spending for the tax-people."
For more from Kurtz in his own words, click the link to watch a full interview with the Selectman candidate.