North Adams Budget Slashed Again
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayor will present his "Plan B" budget to the City Council next week that includes nearly a half-million in cuts from the already passed fiscal 2012 budget.
That brings the fiscal 2012 budget to $35,074,495, down nearly $900,000 from last year's budget and $50,000 less than fiscal 2009.
"We know that the Prop 2 1/2 was defeated; by virtue of that, the voters challenged me, and us, to come back with a document that meets the needs of the city without an override," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the Finance Committee on Monday evening. "We've made significant progress but not without pain."
The committee will recommend a further fiscal 2012 reduction of $457,011 that includes $250,000 in cuts passed last week by the School Committee. That still leaves the city with a structural deficit of $423,739 that the mayor is hoping to close with an increase in anticipated state aid and by dipping into the city's depleted reserves.
The mayor had pushed for a Proposition 2 1/2 override of $1.2 million to balance the fiscal 2012 budget. Over the past three years, the city has lost $3.2 million in state aid and was carrying a structural deficit of more than $1 million heading into the fiscal year. The school department has cut some $4 million over past few years that included the closure of Conte Middle School.
But voters, already pinched by property tax hikes and sewer and water fees instituted last year, rejected the override last month, forcing city officials to find more cuts.
Still, property owners can expect an increase of up to 41 cents per $1,000 valuation as the city taxes to the full levy capacity. Alcombright said the increase comes to just under $60 more a year for a home valued at $150,000.
Included in the cuts is a reduction in seasonal workers for highway and parks and not filling one highway position; the transfer of $38,500 in police salaries to a Verizon 911 grant; a reduction of more than $20,000 in pensions approved by the Pension Board and based on recalculating the funding schedule; elimination of funds for the Historic, Human Services and Youth commissions; $5,000 from the tourism department and $10,000 from insurance.
That is on top of the 10.5 teaching positions and elimination of a curriculum director included in last week's school cuts.
Finance Committee members expressed concern over the cuts being made in the school system, with Chairman Michael Bloom questioning the loss of a kindergarten teacher and curriculum director.
"We cut 10.5 teachers, if you figure each teacher interacts with 20 kids, we have to do something differently with 200 children," said Superintendent James Montepare, who noted school choice funds are being used to cover underfunded salary and residential placement accounts. "But if you look at what we had to cut to get where we did, we had to cut bodies."
He said ideas had been floated about instituting fees for sports or for full-day kindergarten, for which parents are being charged anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 a year in other communities. But the task of collecting the money, and the fact that the city's high poverty level would make most students eligible for discounted rates, made the cost savings questionable, Montepare said, at this point.
"We have substantial enough reserves now to get into our budget cycle," said Alcombright, who is hoping the proverbial "pennies from heaven" will appear from the $65 million more alloted this year to cities and towns by the state. "Let's say they level fund us ... that could be another $175,000, another $200,000 that could reduce this deficit ... I think we're in a good place with this budget."
The city's reserves, once in the millions, now total about $530,000 not counting free cash - the funds left in accounts from fiscal 2011. Those funds cannot be touched until the state certifies the accounts this fall. The city will also be closing out the $800,000 medical insurance trust fund, which could bring another $50,000 or so.
Alcombright said his contacts with the state Department of Revenue have been positive and encouraging.
"We are doing all the right things," he said. "In December of 2009, the council — and I was one of them — moved $1.8 million from reserves to lower the budget, to pay debt; last year, we used $1.2 million in reserves to pay debt. This year, we're going to use $423,000 in reserves and we may not have to if we get additional state aid. ... We've made tremendous progress."
|Tags: override, Finance Committee|
'Plan B' School Budget Reduced By $250K
The School Committee on Wednesday voted to reduce the school budget by another $250,000.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Wednesday approved a pared-down fiscal 2012 budget that includes another $250,000 added to nearly a quarter million in cuts and the loss of a director of curriculum.
Superintendent of Schools James Montepare presented a budget of $15.29, nearly a half-million below last year's budget, at the noontime meeting.
The most recent cuts are on top of $233,000 in reductions in the budget approved by the City Council on on June 14, a give-back of a 1 percent salary raise by the teachers and the use of $360,000 in school-choice funds to ensure programming.
Superintendent James Montepare said the reductions include the elimination of a director of curriculum.
That budget was built on hope that a Proposition 2 1/2 override would be pass; it didn't and Mayor Richard Alcombright will have to present a "Plan B" budget to the council on July 26 that covers a $1.4 million deficit.
"[The school reductions] all comes out to about $1.3 million worth of cuts this year because when we start this process and put everything in, we topped out at about $16.54 million," said Montepare. "So to get to ground zero, we cut about $700,300."
The school system could only cut about $340,000 this round before running afoul of state-mandated minimum spending. "We're right on, we wouldn't want to go any closer," said Montepare of further reductions.
Some $36,000 has been cut out of the operational side, including automobile expenses for the superintendent and business manager and reducations in contracted services and maintenance.
The bigger hit was in salary reductions, with the elimination of the curriculum director ($66,752), a tech teacher at Drury ($58,182), Sullivan kindergarten teacher ($45,000), and a science post ($45,000) at Brayton. Added back in are a Drury High physical education teacher and a speech pathologist.
Committee member Mary Lou Acetta expressed concern about taking resources from Brayton School. "It's the largest population and a population that needs a lot of services."
Montepare said when the budget review started, "we really tried to make sure that all of the bases were covered, and I think we juggled some positions around to accommodate some of the higher-number classrooms."
Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said the budget he will bring before the Finance Committee on Monday shows a lot of compromise.
The budget reflects the loss of 10.5 teaching positions, three administrative positions, four teaching assistant posts, a custodial job and a half-time tutor. Some of the posts are being left vacant because of retirements, some staff members are being moved into grant-funded positions or having hours reduced, and about six are losing their jobs.
At the same time, the schools "are bursting at the seams," said Montepare, despite a state study that forecast a drop in enrollment.
"I don't see it going down," he said. "They said we'd have 1,300 kids three years from now; we're at 1,600. We're not going to lose 300 kids in three years."
Committee member William G. Schrade Jr. noted that Montepare was taking on yet another role with the loss of a curriculum director; he's down three administrative positions.
"I appreciate everything you've done and support it ... but you're wearing about 17 different hats as superintendent," he said, adding the schools will have to start refilling those positions because "at some point you're going to want to retire."
Editor's Note: We had our amounts backward and have fixed them.
North Adams Setting Out Future Goals
A range of city residents — from natives to newcomers — participated in Monday's master planning process at All Saints Episcopal Church.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Some 40 residents came together on Monday night to brainstorm priorities and set goals to transform the former mill city into a modern, forward-thinking community.
Among the priorities identified were capitalizing on the city's history and natural resources; sustaining and encouraging the local arts community; updating the city's 50-year-old zoning; reviving the Hoosic River; supporing local agriculture and community gardens; making the city more accessible and pedestrian friendly; improving signage; promoting healthy lifestyles and preserving the hospital; changing its mill-town attitude; pursuing green ideas and technology; and holding landlords and property owners accountable for blight.
Participants discussed the city's needs then broke into groups to determine priorities in categories ranging from health to natural resources to energy.
It's the first time in decades that North Adams has developed a long-range blueprint; it will be used to guide the city over the next 20 to 30 years. And this time, it's taking into consideration a far wider variety of resources and more progressive goals.
"I think people know this planning process was a passion of mine as I came into office and even beforehand," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, who participated in the visioning session along with City Councilors Keith Bona, David Lamarre and Lisa Blackmer, among others. "It's been 40-plus years since the city had a formal document that kind cast it's future out there. ...
"I think this is really important and I'm really glad we have such a great representation here tonight."
The master planning process is being done in conjunction with Sustainable Berkshires, an updated countywide plan being led by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Over the next three years, the city and Great Barrington will follow closely the county plan's timeline and "piggyback" on its workshops.
"There is a better turnout here than for the entire region workshop, which is great," said BRPC senior planner Amy Kacala, who facilitated the meeting. "It speaks well for the city and how much interest there is behind this effort."
She said there is some truth to the saying that plans just gather dust but they can be effective if used.
"If everyone is aware what's in it and wants to see the things implemented that are in the plan, there's more support and momentum behind it to make sure things happen," said Kacala.
The planning started last year with the appointment of a steering committee representing a broad range of interests and built on a once-dormant Community Development Advisory Group. While the plan will be three years in the making, implementation of certain elements could begin as early as next year.
Several questioned the absence of education in the visioning process. Kacala said improvements in standardized scores and other benchmarks had lowered education as a priority but a number of participants said that education connected many of the goals and should be included.
While the groups mostly outlined broad goals, there were several specifics mentioned. For instance, Phil Sellers, a local potter and community activist, said his group thought the development of an artists' district and incentives for artists to buy homes here would spur growth.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, a believer in the planning process, sat in on the visioning session.
Michael Bedford, who attended last week's county session, said residents should think twice before sending money out of the city through big-box stores and national chains. "We need to feed our local enterprises with local money," he said.
Alcombright said a few things on the priority list are getting close: the city's just a couple steps away from being designated a state Green Community and a couple years away from having the most solar power per capita in the state. "We're working on those contracts right now," said the mayor.
But the city won't reach its goals overnight. "I think we got a strong start ... we need to know that the public sector moves very, very slowly," he said.
Residents will have more chances to comment as the process continues; information will be added to the city's website.
Steering Committee: Lisa Bassi, Jonathan Secor, John Greenbush, Donald Pecor, Steve Green, Joanne DeRose, Brian Miksic, Michael Nuvallie, Paul Hopkins, Alan Marden, Glenn Maloney, Michael Boland, Judith Grinnell, David Willette and Mayor Richard Alcombright.
North Adams Planning Priorities 2011
|Tags: master plan|
City Seeks Public Input On Master Plan
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city begins work Monday night on its first master plan in 40 years.
The public is encouraged to attend and participate in the session on July 11 from 7 to 9 at All Souls Church (St. John's Episcopal). The session is being facilitated by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
The work so far is being done through two grants from the BRPC. The first was used for the BRPC to map out a long-range planning strategy; the second will move the public input, or "visioning" sessions, along. The city will seek a federal grant to begin implementation.
"We're looking for just thoughts and ideas," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "It will really highlight on the six or seven things, the economy, sustainability, and all the other things we've been talking about."
The plan is being developed in conjunction with Sustainable Berkshires, a new long-range regional plan that will take a more comprehensive look at the county by including health, environmental, education, economics and other concerns.
The first visioning session for Sustainable Berkshires was held Wednesday at All Souls Church; companion sessions are set for Tuesday and Wednesday in South and Central Berkshires.
"I hope people are going to come with ideas and just open this up and see where we're going to go from here," said the mayor.
|Tags: master plan|
Coal, Truck Business Sparks Noise Concerns
A proposal to put a coal stove and truck parts business at 456 Ashland St. drew concerns over noise and traffic from neighbors behind the property.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A Florida couple's plan to open a coal stove and truck-parts business on Ashland Street ran into opposition at Monday's Planning Board meeting.
The board voted to continue the special permit application of Kennard and Janet Sherman for property located at 456 Ashland St. and to schedule a site visit after neighbors complained the operation would disrupt the neighborhood.
Ken Sherman said his business is selling bagged coal and coal stoves and performance parts for light diesel Ford trucks, some of which will be installed on the site. All materials and work would be done inside the building, he said, and the hours would be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., although the business is not expected to be open regularly that late. A waste-oil burner is going to be installed that would take care of any oil drained from vehicle work.
"Right now it's out of our house on Florida Mountain and it's just starting to grow bigger than what we can do up there," said Ken Sherman. "So we're looking to move to an area where we can start the business up. ...
"Three years ago, we had one truck of coal, now we've got 10 trucks of coal and we haven't advertised yet, we haven't been down here."
The Shermans plan to buy the property from Mark and Natham Braman if the permits are approved. Sherman said he planned on putting new windows in and cleaning up and painting the building, and cleaning up the old container wall and area with the expectation of having it either removed or restored.
But neighbors on nearby Corinth and Davenport street listed concerns about lighting, traffic and noice.
Alice Cande of Corinth Street said her outdoor space was a major consideration of her home and understood the train was a trade off when she moved there.
"I have the train a couple times a day and I have a nice, quiet, rural atmosphere," said Alice Cande of Corinth Street. "I'm now faced with a 7 to 8 o'clock business, which by his own estimate, is too big for his house, so it's going to be busy.
"We're talking about trucks, we're talking about coal, we're talking about floodlights on all night. ... if this is a rural community I should have quiet enjoyment of my house."
Ann Marie Belmonte's gallery sign didn't get any love. (The editor thinks it's creepy cool).
Former Mayor John Barrett III, who also lives on Corinth Street, said he, too, was concerned about noise but also the site improvement and traffic safety because of the proximity of the trestle underpass.
"That's an entrance coming into the city and there didn't seem to be any plan put forth for cleaning up the property," he said. "There's no plan before the board tonight and I'm very concerned about trucks going in and out ... It's a very dangerous corner.
"I know this is zoned for this particular area but at the same time, I'd ask the board to go down there and take a look at the site. ... it's just not right for this business from what I can see."
The board approved two applications submitted by Moresi & Associates for the operation of an early intervention program for children at 26 Union St. and the storage and production of theater supplies at 1470 Massachusetts Ave.
David Moresi said his company was representing the owners in both cases, although he is working toward the purchase of the Union Street property, better known as the Wall-Streeter shoe mill.
The long-vacant first floor is being renovated as space for United Cerebral Palsy programs. UCP Executive Director Christine Singer said the organization was seeking space to work with families with infants and toddlers during the day and for life and employment skills later in the evening with adults.
United Cerebral Palsy is expanding into the former Wall-Streeter Shoe Co. building.
Singer said the classes are small, highly supervised and would not go past 8 p.m. (Planner Donald Keagan abstained from dicussion and vote because he is a member of the UCP board.)
Also approved was a special permit for Galo Lopez, operating as Espana Inc., to open a Spanish restaurant at the former Isabella's at 896 State Road on condition that screening be installed around the trash container in the back. Lopez, who also owns Coyote Flaco in Williamstown, expected to open later in the summer.
Board members gave the OK for Ann Marie Belmonte to sell handmade items such as soap, jewelry and "coffin furniture" at 28 Eagle St. but a couple balked at her Warped Gallery's bizarre sign.
"I think it looks kind of ghoulish," said Vice Chairman Paul Hopkins, which made Belmonte laugh. She said she wasn't opposed to just putting Warped Gallery on the outside; the windows were large enough to let passers-by know what was inside.
Chairman Michael Leary, too, said he preferred something "a little plainer," but Planner Brian Miksic said, "I would not like you to get very plain with your signage; this is going to reflect what's inside your store ... but if you could find something that can balance [the taste of the board]?"
"Let me rephrase," said Leary. "More plain."
In other business:
• An application of Dana Ritcher to open an automotive garage at 537 Ashland St. was denied without prejudice. The matter had been continued from last month pending Ritcher's written withdrawal. "Everyone here knows it is not going to go forward at the applicant's request; we just don't have the letter," said Meranti, but the letter had yet to arrive.
• A request from Yaling Wang of the Sushi House at 37 Main St. to put tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant was continued because Wang was not present.
• An application of BVS 5401 Investors LLC for property located at 1519-1525 South Church St./Curran Memorial Highway (the Super Walmart) to move a subdivision line was approved. The area has no frontage and is not a building lot.
|Tags: Planning Board, restaurant, Eagle Street|