City Council OKs Budget, Override Resolution
Councilor Michael Bloom found majority support for his resolution on the Proposition 2 1/2 override on Tuesday night.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council mirrored the divisions splitting the city over the proposed Proposition 2 1/2 override even as it endorsed a resolution supporting the measure and a budget based on the override's passage.
The city's $35.5 million budget was approved unanimously, but the resolution failed to get full backing, passing 7-2 with Councilors Marie Harpin and President Ronald Boucher in the negative.
Voters will decide on Tuesday, June 21, on whether to approve the $1.2 million override and fund the budget as it currently stands. Failure of the override will mean up to $1 million in cuts in services and personnel in city and school departments, said Mayor Richard Alcombright.
Boucher called the introduction of the resolution by Councilor Michael Bloom "inappropriate."
"I don't think the City Council should make a statment for a yes or no vote," he said, suggesting the paper be filed. "I don't think it's the right time and place."
Boucher said the council had already voted last month when it decided to present the $1.2 million override to voters. That vote was even more split at 5-4, with Boucher also voting against because the budget had not yet been approved.
Bloom, chairman of the Finance Committee, disagreed strongly, saying everybody should stand and vote up or down because of the "devastating cuts" that will be made if the override doesn't pass.
"This is the most important time for the council to make the case," he said. "I'm shocked you want to file it. ... I've never seen a budget that's been cut as much as this budget. ... Seriously, at this time of day and at this hour, the council should stand and make a statement."
Most of the councilors expressed support for the override and some publicly stated whether they would vote for it.
"I've heard compelling arguments both for and against the override," said Councilor Alan Marden. "I will be voting yes in support of this resolution tonight and next Tuesday, I'll be voting in support of the override. We need new growth in this community. ... slashing city services, whether educational or general government, public safety or public services, is the wrong message to those who might look to move here and to invest here.
"We have to invest in ourselves if we want other to invest in us."
Councilor Marie Harpin, however, said it wasn't fair to the city's poor and those on fixed incomes.
"I'm totally ... in favor of all the services in the city of North Adams, but on the other hand I have to vote no on this resolution because I feel the people in this community really can't afford to pay any more taxes, not to this extent," she said. " I cannot in all honesty vote for this and I'm going to vote no on the Prop 2 1/2."
Councilor Michael Boland said he was willing to be counted. "If I voted for you, I'd want to know where you stood on an important issue."
Frequent critic Robert Cardimino claimed what the council was doing was illegal, based on his reading of state campaign law and vowed to call state officials and report them.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer noted the council frequently took up resolutions on ballot issues, some of which are generated by the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
"This is our job to have this discussion," she told Cardimino.
Both Marden and Boland said they hoped the community would come together after next Tuesday's vote to work together whatever the outcome.
The review and passage of the budget, done by department with each councilor taking a turn reading it, went fairly swiftly — except when it smashed into the Office of Tourism and Cultural Development.
Councilors and audience members spent nearly an hour debating the wisdom of funding the post of tourism director after Marden moved to eliminate the entire tourism budget of $51,186. There was some confusion later as Blackmer tried to amend a motion to eliminate just the salary and Bloom tried to move the question. In the end, the motion to remove the salary died with Blackmer, Harpin, Boucher and Marden voting for and the entire line item was retained.
Blackmer advocated strongly that the position be put on the backburner for at least a year until a better job description could be formulated making more a "cruise director" position for the city and a cultural development plan put in place. Considering the city's current financial woes, it wasn't a good time to be funding a post whose duties could be filled with volunteers, she said, when it could be focusing on its website or funding an assistant building inspector.
"We need to connect on economic development as a whole, not just the tourism aspect," said Blackmer. "... It doesn't pass the smell test with the community."
Councilor Keith Bona, however, said restaurants and businesses had been sold on the implementation of the meals and rooms taxes with the idea that they would get some return by putting the money toward marketing the city. Councilor David Bond agreed, saying removing the position would save some money in the budget but likely cost businesses down the road: "But I understand where we are financially and why people want to cut it."
Councilor David Lamarre raised his previous objections that the post, at $34,186, was too low to attract quality candidates. He suggesting not filling it until the city was in a position to offer a better salary. Blackmer, meanwhile, was advocating cutting the car allowance of $1,500 should the department budget pass.
Several audience members spoke in favor of filling the job. Gail Sellers, who operates a pottery studio in the Eclipse Mill and sits on the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Commission, said volunteers here are wonderful but they can only do so much. "I see a lot of things hanging by a thread," she said.
Alcombright said filling the post was critical to marketing the city, organizing events and aiding the development of a cultural plan and website.
"If you take it away this year, how are you going to put it back?" he asked. "I think to lose this position for a year would be devastating."
His office had received nearly 30 applications and was in the process of interviewing finalists — all quality candidates, the mayor assured Lamarre.
Resident Trevor Gilman, a member of the Airport Commission, said voters would be making the decision next week whether to move forward or backward; if the override failed, then it was on the table.
"To eliminate this position when there are a lot of people who want to move this city forward is a mistake," said Gilman. "I need you to lead and make decisions to make this city better."
Note that in the resolution below, "administrative assistant" was amended to "administrative officer" in the second paragraph.
Council Resolution in Support of Override
|Tags: override, resolution|