Election 2018: With Public Safety, Senior Housing As Top Priorities, DiRocco Seeks 6th Term On BOS
Apr 25, 2018 04:35PM
● By Bill Gilman
Dracut Selectman Joseph DiRocco
Joe DiRocco would be the first to admit that 15 years after retiring as chief of the Dracut Fire Department, he is still a firefighter at his core.
According to DiRocco, a commitment public safety and a desire to serve a town he’s called home for 72 years is fueling his bid for a 6th term on the Board of Selectmen.
“Public safety was my biggest interest,” he said. “That’s what I grew up with. My father was a firefighter and I became a firefighter.”
While DiRocco was chief, he oversaw the restructuring of the town’s fire districts and helped get the Jones Avenue station built in 2000 Central Station built in 2002.
“Once we did that, pretty much the whole town was on the same response time. It saved lives,” said DiRocco, who has served on the Public Safety Committee for his full tenure on the board.
With that in mind, DiRocco is enthusiastic about construction of a new Collinsville fire station.
“I’d like to be involved in the finishing of the Master Plan that was started 20 years ago. The Collinsville Station would do that,” he said. “The gentleman that owned the land we’re purchasing now (for the station) came to me and we discussed it and I brought it to the (Fire) Chief and the Town Manager. “So now it will end up going on Nashua Road. Originally it was going to go on Lincoln Street, but this is a much better set up.”
DiRocco is being challenged in his re-election by by Philippe Thibault and John Joyce.
While public safety issues are at the top of DiRocco’s priority list, he feels he gets a bad rap from those in town who claim he is “anti-education.”
“I support education. I know that our future is with our kids,” he said. “I voted for the high school (project). I didn’t support the $2.9 million override. But before that they had a $750,000 override and I supported that but then they came back and said they wanted 2.9 and I didn’t support that.”
Another challenge DiRocco sees Dracut needing to confront over the next few years is a shortage of senior housing, especially for low-income seniors. He says the town missed out on a golden opportunity when the Dracut Housing Authority rejected project proposed for Lewisburg Square back in 2009.
“The town had approved $2.65 million and the state came up with $3 million. But then it became a whole political issue and (DHA) turned it down and gave back the $3 million to the state and we ended up with no housing. Who does that? Who says no to $3 million from the state? And who gets hurt? It’s the senior citizens. It would have been all low-income.”
With state funding streams dried up, DiRocco says it will take a cooperative effort of local, state and federal officials to come up with a plan and the funding needed to get a senior housing development built.
DiRocco admits that during his years on the Board of Selectmen, he had made mistakes, or cast votes that he later regretted. But he says he believes that his reluctance to just “go along with the crowd” and willingness to take unpopular stands from time to time has earned him the respect of Dracut voters.
“We all make mistakes. I do what I feel is right for the taxpayers,” he said. “And I think that’s why I get elected all the time, because people know that’s what Joe DiRocco is.”
DiRocco said he believes Dracut is headed in the right direction and praised the work of Town Manager James Duggan, especially in the area of economic development. He said he was happy to see a resolution to some of the challenges plaguing the Police Department in recent years but believes that some of the procedural problems could have been addressed without a finger of blame being pointed at specific officers.
DiRocco and his wife live in a home his father built and that he has lived in since he was a young child. The couple has two grown children, five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.