The Herald News, Thursday, December 31, 2015 – Page B3

By Carole Fiola, Represents the 6th Bristol District. Email Carole-Fiola@mahouse.gov. Or call 617.722.2460

The holidays are a time to reflect on the past year, and, while I prefer to look forward most of the time, I can say that 2015 was certainly busy, and I’d like to share with you some of our accomplishments throughout the 6th Bristol District and the Statehouse.

I have continued my “Coffee and Conversation” and “Walk and Talk” series, which have been wonderful opportunities to reach out to my constituents whom I always invite to bring their concerns or suggestions or just to chat. The follow-up to help solve these issues and concerns keeps Peter Daley, my legislative aide, and I quite busy. While “Coffee and Conversation” allows us to patronize the many great restaurant establishments in our area, our “Walk and Talks” have been informative and entertaining, including touring many of the district’s places of interest.

The biggest newsmaker in our region this year was the Amazon project’s getting a green light for construction in Fall River and Freetown and arriving with the prospect of hundreds of jobs with decent wages and benefits. Most projects of this magnitude don’t happen easily, and I made a point to be a staunch advocate for the Amazon site since its inception. I worked closely with city and state officials to help troubleshoot the issuance of state project-specific permits, such as MEPA modifications and storm water, sewer, and Section 61 permits to facilitate a construction start date in the fall of this year and a fall 2016 grand opening.

My other legislative initiatives included a bill that provides an economic development tax credit incentive program for the substantial rehabilitation of mill properties for market rate housing. This is in addition to my advocacy for the $1.9 million in Housing Development Incentive Program tax credits for Commonwealth Landing, which the developers are utilizing to create 103 beautiful market rate rental units at this signature waterfront site.

This area links to the renovated boardwalk section at Heritage State Park. Since I entered office, I have been closely following and helped to secure the release of $3.2 million to replace the boardwalk from the Cove Restaurant south to the Heritage State Park parking lot. These projects “bookend” our developing waterfront nicely, and they are just part of the great things happening in the future at that location.

I am proud to have introduced two other meaningful initiatives this year focused on substance abuse and housing in the city. As a member of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, I see firsthand the devastation that this epidemic is unleashing upon all levels of society. As a means to further understand the issue on a local level, I began “A Community Conversation on Substance Abuse,” and it has brought together many individuals, organizations, and families from around the city, region, and state that confront the issue of substance abuse daily. This will be one of our legislative priorities in 2016.

On the issue of increased subsidized housing, in September, I requested that the city consider placing a moratorium, with an exception for funding for elderly, veterans, or disabled housing developments, on the issuance of Fall River Housing Authority and Community Development Agency funds and any re-certification of expiring low-income housing tax credit developments until such time the city can fully understand its public rental assistance program and its impacts on public safety, education, the economy, and overall quality of life. While all of the programs offered by the state and federal government are well intentioned, an overabundance of these programs in any community is not healthy. It is unfair that only a few certain communities like Fall River should shoulder this responsibility.

Toward this end, I have convened a working group of community leaders and advocates to work with the UMass Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis to put together a housing plan designed to inform the development of a new housing policy for the city of Fall River. It is hoped that this plan will provide the city valuable information as to the actual number of low-income and rental assisted public and private housing units in the city and how much more, if any, public funding should be set aside for housing programs that continue to facilitate low-income housing.

In Freetown, we have begun to meet regularly with stakeholders and community leaders who have a vested interest in the State Forest and the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve. I filed a bill that seeks to restore the Rattlesnake Brook section of the forest, as its maintenance is important for its natural beauty and our recreation. I have also brought together Freetown and Fall River officials, along with my colleagues in the Statehouse, to help facilitate necessary next steps on the property in Freetown that was once slated for Meditech and now offers potential for future employment in the region.

To address the concerns of the growing elderly population in our city, our local delegation and I invited state Rep. Denise Garlick, House Chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, to host “Community Conversations with Seniors.” This was a successful event, hosted at Government Center, which provided a trove of information, including state budget highlights focusing on senior programs such as protective services, nutrition, the prescription advantage program, senior housing, and senior home care. Bringing Beacon Hill to Fall River will continue to be a priority.

There are a number of other legislative issues that will likely arise in 2016. In order to effectively address them, I need your help and input. Please contact me with your thoughts and ideas, and I will continue to make myself available through my office hours, coffee hours, and activities throughout the district.

We have much to look forward to in the new year, and I am ready to continue to work tirelessly for the constituents whom I represent. I hope you have a happy, health and productive 2016. Thank you.