An administrator with the Massachusetts Highway Department, Mark Kratman knew his skill set and experience would be valuable, as Tewksbury began the daunting task of getting Route 38 (a state road) paved and improved from the Lowell line to the Wilmington line, some seven miles away.
With that in mind, Kratman made the decision to throw his hat in the ring and challenge incumbent Selectmen Scott Wilson and David Gay (two men for whom he has great respect and counts as friends) in the 2015 Municipal Election.
What could have been a very interesting (and rather entertaining) campaign, fell apart when Wilson made the surprise decision to drop out.
Fast-forward three years —
Kratman has elevated to a position of leadership on the board, serving as chairman this past year. Gay, meanwhile, has opted against seeking re-election, creating a vacancy. At least two challengers have emerged, in the persons of Board of Health member George Ferdinand and former School Committee Chairman Brian Dick.
Kratman has respect for his two opponents. But he’s determined to stay on the board and finish the job he helped start.
“One of the reasons I wanted to run (originally) was to get the infrastructure improvements for the community,” he said. “You’d see the empty storefronts along 38 and they hadn’t been able to get the infrastructure improvements on the main thoroughfare for 25 or 30 years.
“I already had the institutional knowledge of how to get things done.”
Kratman said he has been pleased with the progress made along 38 over the past few years. Two sections have already been repaved and two more projects are scheduled in the near future.
“They’re going to do the area around Salem and South and then from Colonial Drive to Old Boston Road,” he said. “That (second) project will go right through the center of town, which will help because we’ll be putting the (Center) Fire Station there and we’ll be doing infrastructure improvements and some widenings and that will help the traffic get through that much easier.”
Kratman, who also serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee and is a member of the Wilmington-Tewksbury Chamber of Commerce, is confident that the paving and infrastructure improvements along Route 38 will continue to attract new businesses to Tewksbury.
“More business is good for the residents because we can lower the bills for things like water and sewer,” he said. “Right now we pay some of the highest water and sewer bills.”
“We’ve had a lot of businesses come to us and tell us they are interested in locating in Tewksbury,” said Kratman, identifying areas off I-93 and the Woburn Street area as drawing the most attention.
Seeing the Route 38 project through to its completion is at the top of Kratman’s priority list.
“You start projects and you want to see them through to fruition and that’s the reason I’m running,” he said. One recent planning strategy Kratman is not a big fan of is the “mixed-use” village overlay district. The BOS Chairman said he would prefer to keep residential units located somewhere other than along Route 38. “A lot of developers have been wanting to use the mixed use,” he said. But I’m looking for more commercial development along 38. I think we can put residential elsewhere.”
One reason Kratman wants to encourage more high-end commercial development is to create more high-paying jobs in Tewksbury which could, in theory, encourage local high school scholars to return to Tewksbury to work after they earn their college degrees. Kratman’s vision for 38 includes sidewalks from one end of town to the other. The addition of sidewalks all along 38 would be good for local businesses and would improve pedestrian safety.
Kratman is enthusiastic about the “big ticket” projects on the horizon in Tewksbury, including the new Central Fire Station, Regional Dispatch facility, and new elementary school. He says he is also sensitive to the concerns of taxpayers, relative to how these projects will impact them.
According to Kratman, the impact should be minimal.
“We have some new projects coming but we also have some projects that will be coming off the books, so there is a trade-off,” said Kratman. “It would be nice to just take off the projects we are done paying for and give that money back to the town. But in order to get a good credit rating, you need to show that you are investing in your community.
“We can refinance and get lower rates because of getting a better rating. Last year, we saved about $40 million due to refinancing,” he said.
Kratman admits that the “nitty gritty” of how town finances work is one of the things he had to learn when he became a selectman. He credits Town Manager Richard Montuori with being an effective teacher.
Beyond the financial workings of the town, Kratman says he has learned that the most important skill he can have as a selectman is listening to others, both on the board and in the community.
“(In a selectman), you have to have someone who wants the best for the community, someone who has a passion for the community,” he said “I’m out five or six nights a week, sitting in at meetings, listening to what people have to say, what they want, what they are concerned about.
“You can have your own perspective but it’s really about what the people want,” he said, adding that the current Board of Selectmen works together respectfully. “Everyone comes in with different backgrounds. We may not agree all the time but you work together.”
Kratman said he also meets quarterly with Montuori, School Committee Chairperson Krissy Polimeno and School Superintendent Christopher Malone.
In addition to his other positions, Kratman serves as vice chair of the Patriotic Activities Committee and is a member of the Knights of Columbus, the Tewksbury Lions, and the Tewksbury-Wilmington Elks.
He and his wife Denise are the proud parents of three children.