Students Make Plea to Pass Override
Robert Cardimino, left, and music teacher Chris Caproni were talking outside Drury High School. Cardimino said at the meeting that if the teachers voted to return the one percent raise in their contract, he'd support the override.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Three Drury High School students spoke up for their education on Tuesday night, pleading with voters not to slash school programs to balance the budget.
"I want to leave knowing I can come back here and have a place to be proud of," said Andrew Varuzzo of North Adams, who will be attending Holy Cross in the fall. "I would hate to see this community, this school die a slow death because we could not pass this bill."
The senior and classmates Evan Schueckler and Luke Sisto addressed about a 100 people in the Drury High School auditorium at the second of six planned public sessions on a $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override that city officials say is critical to saving services and school programs.
Schueckler, of Stamford, Vt., is going to Harvard, but hoped to return to the city "to do great things," but not if he wasn't assured his own children would get the same education he received.
Varuzzo said he planned to register to vote on Wednesday "solely for the purpose of voting yes for a Proposition 2 1/2."
Their statements were greeted with applause from an audience that seemed weighted by parents and educators. It was a far cry from last week's City Council meeting, when opponents of the proposal railed at Mayor Richard Alcombright to cut services and use the city's meager reserves to plug a $1 million hole in the fiscal 2012 budget.
"There were more people with different points of view," said the mayor after the 90-minute session. "It felt better to listen a little more.
All presentations begin at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, the mayor repeated much of the presentation he made last week, noting the city has lost more than $3 million in annual state aid since the economic crisis in 2008 and has burned through most of its reserves.
The city had more than $1 million in free cash in 2008 but the account is now at about $165,000. Most of the funds in the land sale account have been used to offset cuts, although the city is hoping to replenish some of that with the sales of about 60 lots this month and some lands it owns outside its borders.
Alcombright said the much talked about $900,000 in school choice funds will be used to retain special education programs for the next two years, with a $100,000 held out as buffer for other special ed needs. But the failure of the override would mean deep cuts in staff and programs, including drama, music and arts.
At least 100 people attended Tuesday's session and more than a dozen, mostly educators, spoke in favor of the override. Drury Principal Amy Meehan wore an oversized T-shirt that said 'Support Our Students.'
"This are things that we discussed that could possibly be cut if the override doesn't pass," he said, adding that any of the programs slashed might not be reinstated for years. "Some people say I'm threatening .. this is no threat, this is reality."
Patricia Wall took the mayor to task for waiting too long to bring options to citizens. She said she would have supported a $600,000 override for the school system but that city should look at raising fees and other measures.
"Unfortunately, the ballots are all printed, this is it. It's black and white when we go to vote," she said. "There should have been more options; it was realy not fair to do it this way."
More than a dozen people spoke on the issue, most with links to the school system including Superintendent James Montepare. Former School Committee member Ronald Superneau recalled how Proposition 2 1/2, when it passed in 1980, had devastated the school system and how it had taken the city years to recover.
"I don't like taxes ... but I don't want to see any of this stuff gone," he said.
But Louis Chalifoux, who spoke against the override last week, said citizens are already being taxed every which way.
"The only tax that any of us have any control over is Proposition 2 1/2. Now why in the world would anybody vote to increase your own taxes when in fact you have the opportunity and the right to control the city's budget," he said to applause. "And that's the key — the buck stops here."
Robert Cardimino, another vociferous opponent of the override, found himself stating he'd support it after music teacher Christopher Caproni, former president of the teachers' union, pledged to vote to give back his one percent raise for next year at the union's Thursday meeting.
"If you do forgo your raises I will vote yes for this proposition," he said, then complained Caproni didn't live in North Adams.
Sisto, the final speaker and president of the Drury Drama Team, said the cuts would "slash the spirit of our school."
"We students are an investment in the future," he said. "Are we not worth $20 a month? For all property owners, are we not worth that extra $20 a month?"
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Alcombright Dedicates City Report To Longtime Clerk
Mayor Richard Alcombright surprised longtime City Clerk Mary Ann Abuisi on Tuesday morning when he announced that the city report is dedicated to her.
Abuisi shared stories of her 28 years as city clerk for about an hour Tuesday morning.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When it comes to city records nobody knows them better Mary Ann Abuisi, longtime city clerk.
Now the annual report will be dedicated to her nearly 30 years overseeing the city's paperwork.
"I think it's wonderful. It's an honor. I've seen many dedications but I never thought it would be me," the retired clerk said after being surprised with the announcement Tuesday morning.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he was pouring over records for his first report when he made the connection. It was fitting for Abuisi to be honored this way, he said.
Abuisi started as assistant city clerk in 1975 and worked under former Mayors Joseph Bianco, Richard Lamb, John Taft and John Barrett III. She retired in 2003.
"My fondest memories of Mary Ann goes back to my dad," Alcombright, whose father, Daniel Alcombright, was a longtime city councilor, said. "For me this is gratifying. I think my dad would be happy that we are doing this."
Abuisi's husband helped provide a photo and a short biography for the inside page of the annual report and then on Tuesday brought her to the mayor's office without telling her about it. Abuisi sat with Alcombright and members of the press for about an hour reminiscing of her time in City Hall.
The aspect she misses the most of the job is watching people grow. Abuisi, also a justice of the peace, said she would marry a couple, then issue a birth certificate to their baby. Later that child would come to her for various licenses and paperwork and eventually to her for their own wedding.
"It's like you know everybody but they don't know you," Abuisi said. "To watch these people grow. It's a fun thing."
Abuisi married more than 500 couples and is still a justice of the peace until 2013, when she will give up the post.
Alcombright gave Abuisi a hardbound copy of the report with a special note on the inside thanking her for her time.
"The most exciting thing was the elections," Abuisi said. "It's like being the mother of the city."
After making sure all registered voters' information was up to date and in the correct ward, Abuisi would hand-count ballots until the sun came up. The ballots would be tallied at a City Hall that would be packed with people.
Alcombright added that men would be dressed up in suits and smoking cigars while Abuisi would write vote totals on a large chalkboard.
"It was just a different time," Alcombright said.
Abuisi's biggest challenge came in 1979 when the city population dropped and city officials had to drop from 12 to five wards. While officials were perplexed at where those boundaries would be outlined, Abuisi had figured out a way it would work. However, it involved moving Ward 7's voting to Ashland Street, which triggered outrage in the ward's Italian neighborhood near Walnut and Furnace streets.
When the first election was held with the new districts, Abuisi said one of the boxes of supplies randomly fell from the top shelf and she joked it was an old Italian ghost upset with the new districts.
"The biggest change I've noticed is population," Abuisi said. "But I think the city is coming around."
Since retiring, Abuisi has been filling her time with her family and spends time in Florida.
"I'm very, very busy doing nothing," Abuisi said. "Once you retire, you wonder how you ever found time to work."
Abuisi was given a hardbound copy of the report with an inscription from Alcombright on the inside thanking her for her work. The report will be presented to the City Council on June 14, Alcombright said.
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Veterans Plaque to Be Dedicated Monday
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city will dedicate on Memorial Day addendum honor roll plaque listing more than 30 veterans inadvertently left of the rolls.
The project to identify missing veterans was spearheaded by Richard McCarthy, the city's former veteran services officer.
"This was one his big pet projects so he really initiated everything and really was an advocate for getting it done," said David Robbins, the current veterans service officer. "So as long as I've been in office, he's been helping with the project to make sure the names were there and spellings are correct."
Robbins said his office posted fliers and advertised in the paper and on local public access television to reach out to veterans whose names weren't listed for some reason or their families. "We were really pushing to get this done for Memorial Day."
The result is a bronze addendum plaque with names of veterans dating from World War I to Vietnam attached to the larger Vietnam War list a week or so ago. A separate plaque for veterans of the more recent Middle East wars will be added once those conflicts are concluded, said Robbins.
In a statement, Mayor Richard Alcombright said McCarthy was also assisted Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie.
"Dick's persistence, compassion and dedication, undoubtedly was the impetus that led to the creation of this new addendum plaque," he said. "With the help of Dave and Mike, this has truly been a job well done to recognize those veterans."
McCarthy will be this year's keynote speaker at the annual Memorial Day ceremonies. The line of march and program are as follows:
Stepping off at 9:30 a.m. from the American Legion (participants are asked to arrive by 9); along American Legion Drive, north on Main Street and down Eagle Street to the Veterans' Memorial
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 996
Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 54
American Veterans (AMVETS) Post 100
American Legion Post 125
Parade Marshals; Al Domenichini, VFW; Thomas Lussier, American Legion; Michael Chalifoux, VVA; James Lambert, AMVETS
Richard McCarthy, keynote speaker; Mayor Richard Alcombright; Emma Waryjasz, Gettysburg Address; Joseph Cariddi, parade coordinator; Mark Sprague, Memorial Day Committee chairman
Sons of the American Legion Squadron 125; Members of the VFW, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans, AMVETS, United States Navy Armed Guard Association and any and all veterans who wish to participate. You do not have to belong to any veteran's organization.
Members of VFW, American Legion and AMVETS Auxiliaries
Drury High School Band; Chris Caproni, director
Girl Scouts & Brownies; Donna Senecal
Boy Scouts & Cub Scouts; William Meranti
Trolley for transporting veterans, etc., courtesy city of North Adams
North Adams Fire Department Ladder No. 2
North Adams Ambulance Service
Master of Ceremonies: Michael Chalifoux, president VVA Chapter 54
Opening Prayer: Louis Floriani, chaplain, American Legion Post 125
Pledge to the Flag; Luke Grant, Troop 88, Stamford Elementary School
Drury Band: "Star-Spangled Banner"
Mayor Richard Alcombright
Introduction of parade marshals & nonspeaking dignitaries
Keynote Speaker; Richard McCarthy, former veterans service officer, city of North Adams
Drury Band: "Let There Be Peace On Earth"
Gettysburg Address: Emma Waryjasz, daughter of Michelle and Ed Waryjasz of North Adams. She is in Grade 8 at Drury High School and the recipient of the George Angeli Award.
Presentation of the George Angeli Award by the North Adams Police Department
Closing Prayer: Louis Floriani, chaplain, American Legion Post 125
Sounding of taps, Anuj Shah and Max Quinn
Thanks to Randy Wood and the Sons of The American Legion Squadron 125 for passing out flags.
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Mayor Presents Case for Prop 2 1/2 Override
Louis Chalifoux calls on councilors to adjust budget expectations to residents' resources. 'You work for us; we don't work for you.'
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mayor Richard Alcombright laid out a Plan B strategy on Tuesday night of layoffs, furloughs and "devastating" line item cuts that would affect almost every service in the city and wipe $1 million from the budget.
Using the City Council meeting for the first of six planned presentations to convince voters to pass a Proposition 2 1/2 override, the mayor listed some $500,000 in reductions and some 30 full- and part-time job cuts already made from the city and school budgets for next year.
He warned that if the override didn't pass, the city would have to institute two-week unpaid furloughs for nonunion workers, eliminate another 15 positions (including eight teachers) and cut programs such as drama and the Juvenile Resource Center, and implement fees for preschool and athletics. (The full list of reductions totaling $1.13 million are in the mayor's presentation below.)
The city has seen its costs rise even as its state aid has shrunk from 53 percent of its revenues to 45 percent, said Alcombright, or $3.2 million less than four years ago.
"We held this problem at bay with our reserves; our reserves are gone," said Alcombright, summing up with "we need to fix this before we can go forward."
But if the crowd packed into City Hall was any indication, the mayor will have a tough time convincing voters to raise taxes to plug the $1 million hole in the fiscal 2012 budget. A police officer was stationed in the chambers at the council president's request, prompting regular critic Robert Cardimino to accuse the administration of intimidation — especially when he wasn't allowed to bring a sign stating his opposition to the override into the room.
Calls to use what little is left in the city's reserves sparked applause in the council chambers while explanations of the 1 percent raises for city workers met with groans.
Louis Chalifoux urged the City Council to do more research, saying the city had lost population and half of what was left weren't homeowners, putting more of a burden on those who were. "The mayor and the council should go back to work and take look at the resources we have and put together a program based upon that."
The city should assess the larger nonprofits like North Adams Regional Hospital and get payment in lieu of taxes from them, he said, and Alcombright should go to Boston plead for funds.
Others spoke of neighbors who couldn't afford bus fare or medical prescriptions; Ron Gardner said his water bill had already doubled because of recent hikes and the city's services were terrible.
"The people in this city who pay taxes have no incentive to be here anymore," he said. "My personal taxes have almost doubled ... now if this passes, that's an extra $400 a year on my taxes."
Alcombright countered that even with the override passing, North Adams would remain one of the five lowest-taxed communities in the commonwealth.
"It's like paying your mortgage with your savings account, sooner or later you have to find more income or sell the house," he said. "I'm telling you right now I'm doing this because I don't want to sell the house."
Spending down the half-million left in reserves would not restore the millions spent balancing budgets the last few years, he said. "My goal is to build reserves, not to reduce reserves." There's little expectation of more aid from the state this year because Beacon Hill is concentrating on replenishing the "rainy day" it's had to use to get through the recession, said Alcombright.
The mayor and his predecessor John Barrett III continued to play out the 2009 campaign over spending policies. Barrett, who spoke against setting the vote on the override, appeared within minutes of Councilor David Bond saying his administration "mismanaged" the medical insurance trust fund, leaving the city to pay out an $800,000 settlement to clean it up.
Tuesday, May 31, Drury High School
All presentations begin at 7 p.m.
Barrett vigorously defended himself but the debate between he and Alcombright swiftly turned to "no, I didn't; yes, you did" over various actions taken during Barrett's tenure.
The former mayor said Alcombright hadn't been tough enough with the unions and that it was "unconscionable" to talk about cuts in the school programs when he'd handed the teachers raises.
"If you took all steps to reduce the spending as much as possible I'd be the first to say let's have a Prop 2 1/2 override," claimed Barrett. "However, what I don't understand is why you can give out pay raises and then say, 'let's increase it.'"
Alcombright countered that it was easy to balance a budget when Barrett had millions in reserve at the time. "It's not so easy to cut, but it was very easy to spend these monies down," he said, calling it a "philosophical difference."
"I'm not going to argue but we cannot continue to fund with reserves."
A Kemp Avenue resident said people had to think outside the box.
"It's become way too personalized, you need to think bigger," she said. "I'm on a fixed income, I'm a homeowner, I'm a taxpayer, but I'm willing to pay for someone else's kid to get a good education because that's the most important thing."
In other business, the council passed a compensation plan for a 1 percent retroactive raise (about $9,000 total) for Department of Public Works employees but not without reiterating some of their objections from two weeks ago. The plan passed the second reading 8-1 with Councilor Marie Harpin voting against.
"It's very hard for me to vote for increases when we're laying off people in the city and we're asking the people of the city to vote for an override," she said.
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Registration Deadline Set for Override Vote
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The deadline to register to vote in the special election on Tuesday, June 21, is Wednesday, June 1.
The election will decide whether the city will approve a Proposition 2 1/2 override for the 2012 fiscal year.
Registration will be taken in the city clerk's office at City Hall from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 1.
To vote in the election, you must be:
•18 years of age or older on or before election day, June 21, 2011
•A a citizen of the United States
• A resident of North Adams
Voters in Ward 3 are reminded that their polling station has been moved to St. Elizabeth's Parish Center on St. Anthony Drive with Wards 1, 2 and 5. Voting for Ward 4 remains at Greylock School.
The polls will be open on June 21 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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