By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer
(March 26, 2020) Berlin election District 2 resident Jack Orris, 38, officially filed to run for a town council seat in February on a platform of government transparency, a slower and more visible approach to annexations, and greater community involvement.
Orris, who works for the Worcester County Health Department, moved to Berlin in 2006 and first ran for council in 2016, only losing by a few votes. His community involvement includes his continuing service as the vice chairman of the Heron Park committee.
“I’m running on pretty much the same ideas as back then (his first candidacy),” Orris said. “We need more transparency with the council and the mayor. When I say more transparency, I mean more [specific] information needs to come out in regards to the [town’s] budget.
“We establish a tax rate before the budget,” he continued. “I would like to reverse that and work with the mayor and council in looking at areas or opportunities to save first … establish and/or fund our reserve and capital budget and then present the budget with the corresponding tax rate.”
To Orris, it makes more sense to “see where you can save first, then set your rate as opposed to setting your rate and trying to achieve it.”
Orris said he believes Berlin is coming into its own in the 21st century, but needs some “tweaks” here and there, as opposed to wholesale changes.
He is also interested in collaborating with the mayor and Town Council to design a budget newsletter to keep the community up to date regarding on budget-development progress.
“It would give a snapshot at the time of where we are in the budget, where the expenditures are going and [show] where are our tax dollars being spent,” Orris said.
He also wants to continue promoting the town’s social media outreach to provide as much information as possible, citing the importance of keeping the residents be informed, especially during an election.
When it comes to slowing down the use of annexation, Orris said he wants the process to be more transparent as well, as many residents may not be fully aware of what’s occurring.
“It’s not that [Berlin’s] going and gobbling up property — you have to ask,” he said. “It goes through a process, planning and then it goes to the council. It’s not that annexation is bad … sometimes people don’t know that it’s happening.”
Orris is interested in helping to find a solution to the town’s limited parking situation, and in assessing the public’s viewpoints on townwide concerns.
For instance, regarding the recent issue of short-term rentals, Orris said he would want to visit residents in R-1 and R-2 districts, where the proposed ordinance would have the most impact, and gain their insight on the matter.
Orris liked Councilman Zach Tyndall’s suggestion at the March 9 council session that residents should be able to speak in a less formal setting than an official public hearing when communitywide matters are involved.
“A town hall might be the best way to go on that,” Orris said. “Where it’s just residents and council members and Planning Director Dave Engelhart to just talk officially, but not as intimidating as a public hearing.
“Everything’s [still] public and everybody needs to be informed,” he continued. “But I think it’s just a little bit more relaxed than a formal public hearing.”
Orris also said he wants to be a council member who is not afraid of asking the difficult or uncomfortable questions.
“I’m not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions, like why do we do things this way, where can this be changed and would it benefit the town to change anything,” he said. “Residents should vote for me because I also I would scrutinize the budget line by line. Last fiscal year 2020, I emailed the mayor and council almost $100,000 worth of savings that could have potentially been included … unfortunately, they did not go with any of them except for one.”
The election will take place on Oct. 6.