Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Franklin Candidate Interview: Matt Kelly

I sat with Matt Kelly recently to discuss the following questions regarding his candidacy for the Franklin Town Council.

Some of you will recognize the questions as these were collected from the survey we shared in August. While many submitted questions were similar, I tried to select 6 for each Town Council and School Committee candidate that would help to present them to you all, my fellow voters.

As I have shared in prior years, the candidates do get to review the output before it is published but I retain final editing rights. Interviews with candidates are not an exercise I take lightly; it matters greatly to our community to get accurate information from our candidates to enable voters to make an informed decision to run our government.

For the following FM presents the question. MK represents Matt's response.

FM = There are and have been many opportunities to volunteer within the community, the various groups. Have you taken advantage of any of these? In which ones and why did you do so?

MK = It's a great question. I think that anybody who is going to be on the Town Council in particular, should have a lengthy volunteer background. I started with being the president of the Red Brick School Association. Moved on from there to volunteering on the School Committee. I am also a member and past president of the Franklin Rotary Club.

Everyone should have an opportunity to volunteer. It's very easy for people to say and I can say the same thing. I've been on the Downtown Partnership. I've been part of the Chamber of Commerce. Oh, great. You've been part of that. We all pay to be part of that. But what are you really doing to make an active difference in your community is the question that should be asked?

For me, it was really the Red Brick School and the Franklin Rotary Club, because those are both groups that give back to our community. I think any candidate that is coming forward today that doesn't have a record of volunteering in the past should be something that's looked at. Why are you here today? Are you here for your business? Are you here for your own personal gain or something else at the end of the day? You should have a lengthy volunteer record. Those are just some of the things I’ve done in Franklin which keeps me in touch with the needs of our community.

FM = Where do you get your news about Franklin?

MK = My news comes from different sources. I read the paper, the Country Gazette and the Milford Daily News have some interesting pieces. The Local Town pages is a great publication too! Social media is important and especially being part of as many Franklin groups as you can.

I get most of my information between the paper and Facebook groups. I read Franklin Matters, and “All about Franklin” both are huge place to get news. Also, I go to the coffee shops. They are places to get news too!

There are multi-generational groups of people in town and you need to be able to communicate with all of them as a councilor. The Senior Center, the police and the fire department, the list goes on.

For me as a town councilor, I've always said, my door is open. And when I talk about getting news, not only do I go out to get it, but I also ask people to come in and give it. On any given week, I have four to five visitors to my office, whether it's town employees, or citizens, people want to talk to me about what's going on, what they'd like, and what they don't like. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree. But at the end of the day, they know they're going to be heard. My news comes from multiple sources. And it's not just my little circle of friends or a group with a set agenda.

FM = For all those running for Town Council: We are in a constant water shortage. We are adding to our population and increasing out need for water. Given that all those who live in Franklin draw their water from the same aquifer, do you support a ban on using water for what I will call cosmetic use (lawn watering) during water shortages, even for those with a private well? If not, why not, considering that those with private wells are still dangerously affecting our water level for uses other than vanity? Or put simply: Do you support the private use of wells for lawn irrigation at times when the town's aquifer is dangerously low for use by the community for essential use in homes and fire prevention?

MK = That's a really important question and it should be discussed over the next two years. We have had in the last four elections a conversation about water. Yet every election, nobody wants to talk about it publicly.

Franklin, Massachusetts, is on an aquifer along with the surrounding communities, and we are fortunate to be on a very plentiful aquifer. What we need to educate our citizens about first and foremost, is that we are required to file a water permit with the state. That water permit allows us to pull so much water out of the ground per day.

We have to keep in mind that many residents are upset because they can't water their lawn. The reality is we have a water ban because it's part of our water permit and that's called water conservation.

Right now, I understand people are upset because they can't water their new lawn. I had a new lawn too. I didn't water it and I wasn't happy about that either. You have the option to put a well in and not be taxed on that water usage.

We have to continue to look, especially as a Town Councilor at the future of Franklin. I don't know when that water, or as we call it “straws in the ground” will come up empty. What we have to do is continue to have water conservation.

So, the first part of our conversation we have to have with our citizens is why aren't you allowed to water? Because that's per our water permit. The next conversation is what can we do to sustain water in our aquifer, to maintain our ability for years to come? Once we take care of water conservation, then we can talk about educating folks to keep the water conservation going.

Most people don't realize that we have been able to get massive amounts of additional water out of our system. The state won't let us. Again, that straws in the ground, that's a conversation that has to come up. This is less of a conversation about not having water and more of a conversation of whether or not we need to chat more about conservation and our water permit. Once we have those two items discussed, we can talk about water being here today, tomorrow, next week.

People are mad about not having water for the wrong reason, I think. More importantly, we have to discuss that it is not only our water supply. What people really are missing is the big X factor out there; which is our sewer interceptor that runs from Beaver Street down to Pond Street. We need to be talking about the plan for replacing that. The town got a huge break three years ago under my leadership as chairman; we were able to negotiate with the State through our representatives, and with the MBTA which allowed Franklin to put in a sewage line patch that would have cost us millions, if we had to do it when it failed.

FM = What degree of development do you feel is appropriate for Franklin and how would you balance the need for affordable housing with the need to avoid congestion, some of which we already have?

MK = Development is probably one of the key issues for me. Mostly because people misunderstand my job and my position. I take my job very seriously as a Town Councilor. Development is not a priority for me as a Town Councilor. It's not really a priority to me as a real estate agent either. There are over 12,000 homes in our community and very few new developments, I would much prefer no more development but no one can ever promise that.

The reality is the conversation goes back to education. We have to educate our citizens. I hear it time and time again. I agree that we should slow down growth, but how is the question.

I have a plan for that and I plan on introducing that just like I introduced it earlier this term. I hope my fellow councilors agree with me to move it forward this time. That being said we are living with ‘suburban sprawl’. People who bought their house in Newton or Wellesley 40 years ago, their kids cannot afford a house in Newton or Wellesley today. So where are their kids moving to? Franklin, Bellingham and Medway. And why are they moving here? Because we made this an attractive town with great schools, great police, great fire, and a great community.

This is a great town. We have a 4th of July celebration, a Memorial Day parade, and more. They're going to settle out here because they want to live in a great town. Where are they going to move to? A community that is fantastic? Franklin! I think that the conversation is a couple of topics that we need to first educate and then talk about how we're going to solve the issue. The question is, how do we slow it down? The first thing is, we need to slow growth down to a rate that keeps us above our 40B housing number, most people don't realize that. I would charge our planning department to first and foremost, do a study which they can do, that can determine the rate at which housing can grow to keep us over the 40B limit based on based growth numbers. It is not going to cost our citizens anything for the Planning Dept to tell us.

Once we have what the growth number is and that we need to do each year in order to stay above our 40B limits we can start to make our plan. Let's say that growth is building seventy five homes per year, then we would have what we need to stay above our 40B.

Next if we want to slow down, we have to make housing more expensive to build in Franklin. I'm not talking about housing prices, I'm talking about making them more expensive to build and construct.

My plan which I introduced in 2018, again in 2019, and I will introduce it again in 2020. In the past I gave this information in meetings at the EDC level and in other committees, I will now make it public. Every home that's built after 2021 should have sprinklers installed (Interior sprinklers) that will slow growth and make it much harder for us to continue the growth of single families. The second thing I would do is I would set up zones where it would take more land area to build a new home. Right now, our downtown has seen an influx of building. The question now is no longer the influx of residential apartments to the downtown. The question is how are we going to provide support for them with downtown infrastructure.

With the new apartments we need to stop focusing on residential housing and get more people downtown, figure out how we're going to get the businesses to take advantage of that, and how we're going to get new lively businesses downtown. We already have some great businesses there but we need more. We have a hairstylist, a manicure place that's been there for years, we have even seen some new restaurants down there, but we need to make it even bigger. We need to make downtown a destination, so people want to walk there.

There needs to be continued pressure on our state representatives to put a parking garage at the downtown MBTA station. There needs to be a continued pressure for building owners downtown to make new space affordable with long term tenants, and to be able to increase the current businesses. Next our citizens have said they do not want anymore apartments? We need to make multifamily zone housing by special permit, this is the only way to design the housing we would want.

Then we work out in a radius from our town center to increase zoning. By the time you get out to Washington St, they should be 2 acre lots. Sheldonville did this and it worked for them years ago. We need to start working on these items, the solution isn't hard, it's a hard conversation to have. There are a lot of people in town, and many moving parts.

That's why we need a Residential Housing Development Subcommittee. We have an Economic Development Subcommittee for commercial, why not something for Residential? A housing development subcommittee should be able to look at what's going on in town and review the plan. It could be a made up of citizens and members of the ZBA, Planning Board, and the Town Council. It's our town’s future, people want growth to slow down, we need to plan for it. You're not going to stop the traffic. No matter what you do, it's a good economy and everybody has two cars, some even have three or more. We just need to focus on how we better control that.

FM = The Town Administrator has suggested that Franklin needs to pass an override measure. What actions will you take to support the passage of this measure?

MK = So I'm on the budget subcommittee and I'm probably one of the more vocal people on the budget subcommittee. I know I didn't make any friends with the School Committee when I told them that I didn't necessarily agree with their budget. Councilor Mercer and I are the only two that were on the School Committee prior to being on the Town Council. I wish there was a prerequisite so that everybody would have to do that because I think you learn a lot.

Looking at the budget, I don't think we're ready for an override yet and there's a number of factors for this. I don't see that the budget has all the fluff cut out of it and I don't see any clear projection of numbers. I agree, that our administration is telling the truth when they say that it's getting tight, but I also understand that a lot of people out there are getting tight on their budgets too. We need to look at what our plan is, is it a reduction in our budget, and an override? Who knows right now and now isn’t the time to ask our citizens either. We have to consider what this going to do to our senior population. That has increased tremendously for people in our town. People on fixed incomes, we need to look at what it will do to them as well. There needs to be a conversation with our town’s people before you start talking override.

That's the business side of it. The human aspect is that times are too good for people to believe that we need an override. We're adding firefighters, adding police officers and there's no visible pain. You might see that we need more DPW workers or your road isn't getting done fast enough, but people don't want to vote for things until there's pain, number one. Number two, when the people complain that they're going off to pay for high school parking, then town council comes running to their rescue and says, “oh, no, we're going to give you that money in the budget.” It's not the time for an override. We should be able to say to our citizens, we can't find any money before we say override.

The reality is, I am going to be very, very stingy when it comes to saying we need an override because I'm going to pay for it just like you are.

FM = What do you say to the voter who asks: Why should I vote for you?

MK = Well, I think if I'm a voter, I think it's an easy decision. I'm investing in our town. I am a resident. I'm a business owner, which means I care about the economics of our town. I'm a father of two and a husband of a wife who is a fourth generation Franklin person.

I came here in 1993 before the big development, so to speak. I fell in love with this town and Franklin is my home. More importantly, why you should vote for me is because I have the experience. I'm not afraid to go out on my own and say how I feel. I have done a tremendous amount of work for our town when it comes to our ambulance, police and fire department vehicle funds. I established funds to save for them and make sure we weren't just buying them like we were in years past.

I have longevity which plays a role in this. I know people might say we want somebody new. Remembering that we did something 10 years ago is really important because there's a reason why we did it 10 years ago. I have a multiple business in the town, and I'm invested in our community. I bring a unique opportunity to the town. I have my doors open to my office every day. My first meeting with the Town Council when I was elected, I sat and said, I'm going to have office hours. That doesn't mean you can't stop in to see me every day. Every day since I have opened my doors to our public to allow them to come in and see me. I'm not going to say I respond to everybody because sometimes an e-mail doesn’t get through. I feel awful about that, but I respond to people.

When I was chairman, I updated them on our storm activities constantly. I take my position as Town Councilor very seriously. I take it not as a job as in I'm going to work, but as a duty to give back to our community and that's why I think people should vote for me. I'm committed to our community, I've shown that commitment in the past, and I will continue to show that moving forward. And whenever the people of Franklin need me, I'm here.

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