City Questions Parking Ticket Revenue
The city councilors passed a study about parking performed by resident Mark Trottier onto the Finance Committee to explore additional revenues.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city will analyze its use of parking meters after resident Mark Trottier did a micro-study of possible ticket revenues.
Trottier walked the city's downtown area for an hour and a half nearly every day for the month of July counting parking violations. He found 3,017 violations that were not ticketed, which he said translated to an additional $22,025 for the city.
While conceding that the study was on a micro-level, Trottier explained that it can be used as a way for the city to re-think its revenue sources.
|Mark Trottier walked downtown nearly every day in July and noted all illegally parked cars that were not ticketed.|
"I believe I have presented enough evidence to warrant an independent commission to be made up of three to five citizens appointed by this council and the mayor to look into not only this issue but all issues regarding fees, fines, permits and charges," Trottier said. "If you have the laws on the books then you must enforce them. If you don't enforce them, then you are losing money for the city. I only did this to show that there is lost revenue."
The city Councilors referred the study to Mayor Richard Alcombright's office to gather additional numbers — which will be forwarded to the Finance Committee. And for the councilors, it will give them a chance to reflect on how they envision downtown.
"I'd hate to have a revenue for the city be the people shopping downtown," said Councilor Keith Bona, who opened by stating his opposition to parking meters altogether because of negative effects on business. Bona operates a business on Main Street. "If anything, I'd like to see the opposite. I prefer it to be more welcoming."
City Councilor Lisa Blackmer said ticketing could discourage patrons from coming downtown and that those revenues Trottier found would disappear because residents will start parking in the free parking lots.
"They would feed the meters, they would move their cars or they wouldn't come downtown. While we might have lost it in the short term, it's not money we'd gain in the long term," Blackmer said.
The ends of the spectrum are getting rid of the parking meters — eliminating the need for a parking clerk — or hiring additional patrols in an attempt to generate revenue.
Trottier said the job would require a full-time officer dedicated only to parking as well as at least one part-time officer to cover the hours needed. The current parking clerk is working additional jobs with the Police Department, he said.
The council also set the preliminary city election for mayor for Tuesday, Sept. 27. Alcombright, Ronald Boucher and Robert Martelle are all eyeing the corner office and the election will narrow the field to two. Wards 1,2,3 and 5 will vote at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center and Ward 4 will vote at Greylock School. The polls will be open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Councilor Marie Harpin proposed opening the polls up at 7 a.m. instead to accommodate early-morning voters but was out-voted by the rest of the council. The other councilors questioned the worthiness of paying the election workers for those extra two hours, which have typically been slow during the state and national elections.
James Canavan was appointed to the North Adams Housing Authority to fill the unexpired term of Jennifer Breen-Kirsch, who recently stepped down. Canavan's term will expire in 2014.
"Jim has a strong background in public housing, management, finance and nonprofit organizations. He will bring significant expertise to this very important position," Alcombright said.
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City Council Agenda for Aug. 23, 2011
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Planning Board to Look at Ordinance Change
Planners are concerned that once-commercial properties are now useless because of a two-year time limit.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board will work on a solution to a vexing issue that's left some properties in limbo around the city.
The board next month will begin discussions on changing an ordinance that limits buildings that were grandfathered under zoning to a vacancy of no more than two years before they revert to the current zoning, which is often residential.
"There are several properties in this city that have defaulted on that status and are nonconforming but no longer in continuous use. Therefore they are kind of in a state of limbo," said Chairman Michael Leary on Monday night. "I want to generate a discussion at the next meeting to see if there are options that we can recommend to the City Council to amend ordinances so we can get those properties out of limbo and help the owners of those properties."
The issues came up earlier this year when the board sought an opinion from the city solicitor as to the fate of the West End Market. The building had been under renovation but owner Barry Garton was running into a two-year deadline that would revert the commercial building to residential use. The solicitor found the renovation could be determined a "substantial" enough use to allow the board to extend his special permit.
Planning Board member Wayne Wilkinson said the most blatant example of the problem is the former NAPA auto parts store on State Road.
"Technically, the building is rendered useless," said Wilkinson. "The only use that's allowed there is residential; for someone to spend the amount of money to develop that proerpty for residential ... I don't even know if you could because of the size of the lot.
"Eventually, it will be taken by the city for back taxes and there will be nothing left at that time but to demolish it."
One option the board will look at is removing the section that refers to a nonconforming structure being "abandoned or discontinued."
The ordinance states: (Section 12, Part 2) Abandonment of a nonconforming use: A nonconforming use which has been abandoned or discontinued for a period of more than two (2) years or has been replaced by a conforming use shall lose the protection set forth above in Section 12.1. (Ord. of 8-14-1990, § 1)
Building Inspector William Meranti said an ordinance change could run into state law.
"We're an old city ... we have some of these properties that seem like they're in neighborhoods but they're commercial, storefront-type properties that have absolutely no use," said Building Inspector William Meranti, who added there is no process for reviving the nonconforming use.
Meranti said changes may run into the state's 40A zoning but "there could be avenues we can take."
The meeting was a continuation of last week's regular Planning Board meeting, which was cut short when Planner Kyle Hanlon fell ill and was taken to the hospital. Hanlon was in attendance last night and said he was feeling much better.
In other business, the board approved:
• The move of pet supplies store Bark 'N Cat from Eagle Street to 28 Holden St. Owner Christa Abel said the business is outgrowing the space it currently occupies with Persnickety toys; she expects to open in late September.
• The development of six artists studio/residential lofts in the Blackinton Mill
• The relocation of J Star Gymnastics to 69 Union St., part of an overall redevelopment of the former automobile dealership by Scarafoni & Associates. Two of the buildings on the property are slated for demolition beginning this week.
• Signage for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts presented by Mick Callahan of Callahan Signs. The signage for the new location for the campus police in what was the Brewer Perkins building at 277 Ashland St. is in line with a re-identification plan for the college. There will also be signage to aid motorists and others in locating departments during the ongoing construction on campus.
• Snoford LLC for property at 76 Union St. was postponed to September at the request of the applicant.
• The reaffirmation the community development plan, which has changed little over the decades. The plan is reaffirmed annually; Leary anticipated that the document will change to align with the master plan currently being formulated.
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Mattress Maker Picks Green Mountain Site
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — According to reports from The Manchester (Vt.) Journal, a New York bedding company looking for a new home has decided on Vermont.
WCW Inc., a manufacturer of speciality mattresses for the hospitality and medical industries had also been eyeing the former Sprague building in the Hardman Industrial Park. The city was prepared to offer a property tax incentive and declare the site an economic opportunity development area to open up incentives from the state. The City Council was expected to take up the matter at its meeting next week.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he had spoken with WCW owner John Wilkinson on Monday morning and Wilkinson seemed to be leaning toward Manchester. However, he had received no notice by late afternoon on Wilkinson's decision.
Alcombright said he had been retooling figures to offer a better benefits package.
The Hoosick Fall, N.Y., company would have brought 100 jobs and a payroll estimated at $4 million to the city with the potential for growth. WCW had narrowed down its new location to either North Adams or Manchester. It was expected to make a decision early this week.
The Manchester Journal quotes Manchester Select Board Chairman Ivan Beattie as saying, "Clearly, WCW's relocation from New York State to Manchester is proof-positive that the town's tax and development policies and new economic development office are paying dividends."
Wilkinson told the Journal that he expects the company to begin operating "marginally" in the 160,000 square foot building in 30 days and be fully operations in 4 to 5 months. The building, known as the Applejack building, is currently occupied by Applejack Art Partners.
The paper said Gov. Peter Shumlin's office was expected to make an announcement on Tuesday after the state offered to provide an incentive package for the company to move there.
The town's community development office gave "no comment" last week on which site WCW was eyeing; the Manchester Journal speculated it was the Applejack Arts building but gave no further information.
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City Still Pursuing Bedmaker
WCW Inc., a New York mattress manufacturer, is reportedly negotiating to purchase the former Sprague building in the Hardman Industrial Park.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A mattress manufacturer eyeing sites in the city and Manchester, Vt., is expected to make a decision early next week on where it will move 100 jobs.
The city and state are continuing to work with WCW Inc., a maker of specialty beds for the medical and hospitality industry, despite the company's legal tangle over property taxes in New York State.
"This will be resolved," said Mayor Richard Alcombright on Thursday. "I don't see it in the way of the city moving forward in pursuing this company and these jobs."
WCW and the town of Hoosick and the village of Hoosick Falls have been in a standoff over the valuation of the company's 1 Mechanic St. building purchased in 2006 by its realty arm, JW Realty.
The town accuses WCW of failing to pay $1 million in taxes and reneging on an understanding about a lowered evaluation. Rensselaer County, which is stuck with the bill that WCW hasn't paid, is asking the court to foreclose on the property.
WCW says the assessment wasn't lowered enough to reflect fair market value and the town hasn't been willing to work to resolve the issue. The owners also say the town's claim WCW has a bad "track record" on taxes isn't true and that it's up to date on its three other properties.
There have been accusations between them of tactical delays, failing to file paperwork, outsized assessments, and useless negotiations. The matter has been tied up in court since 2007; the most recent move is the summary foreclosure judgment requested by the county.
Owner John Wilkinson has been mostly silent on the issue, declining to speak to the media despite numerous phone calls. On Thursday, he sent a response to Alcombright addressing the recent news articles and outlining his side of the dispute.
Wilkinson said the company had purchased the property for $400,000 and had an appraisal done that came up with a value of $1.2 million, to which it agreed. The village has valued the property at $13.3 million; the town has set an assessed value of $2 million. (New York has multiple taxing authorities.)
Alcombright, a former banker, said it was not unusual for such a dispute to take four or five years to resolve. But it has raised eyebrows on this side of the border and fears of a fly-by-night business taking advantage of the city.
Alcombright said the letter was in line with what Wilkinson had discussed with he and Michael L. Vedovelli, regional director for the state Office of Business Development. The city and state are crafting an incentive package to induce Wilkinson to choose the Berkshires over the Green Mountains and the deadline is tight for both the public initiative and the private relocation.
"I'm not seeing this as a huge red flag," the mayor said. "To slow down this process because this has been politicized is insane."
WCW is looking to purchase the empty Sprague Electric building in the Hardman Industrial Park owned Curran Memorial Realty Trust. The city would offer a limited property tax discount, estimated at about $175,000 over five years based on the current assessment of $2.2 million. The valuation of the building has been abated several times and is about the half the value from when Sprague was operating there. Its fiscal 2011 taxes were $70,781.
The City Council will have to approve any agreement.
Wilkinson wrote that a final attempt in June to talk to the town and village was rejected and the failure to achieve a resolution was the determining factor in the decision to relocate.
"At the time WCW/JW Realty determined a new location was essential and would be leaving Hoosick Falls," he wrote.
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