NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee on Monday night voted to recommend a tax classification that will see residential taxes rise 10.8 percent this year, the biggest hike in the last decade.
Committee member Alan Marden, however, objected that the public hadn't had a chance to really weigh in on the issue.
"We're ramming it through. We were going to be a more open government ... I think you've ignored the public," said Marden, who wondered "where the public was going to get this information."
"Where did they get it the last 10 years?" responded Mayor Richard Alcombright. "I've been saying there's going to be a 10 percent increase since March. This just established it into a rate that's approved."
Chairman Michael Bloom said the committee had worked on the budget all year long. "Here we are a month and half ahead of last year; we've got documentation we've never seen before and last year we waited to the last minute ...
"None of us want to raise taxes but we have to do this is in a responsible manner ... I don't know how more open we can get."
The increase is in large part because of the economic collapse that occurred two years ago that dried up state revenues and caused property values to drop. The city has relied heavily on reserves to balance the budget over the past few years.
"This financial collapse was like a tsunami or hurricane," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, which has left municipalities and the state struggling through the aftermath. "Our chaos right now is a 10 percent increase to keep our services alive and next year it may be a $2 million cut to survive. ... It's gut wrenching, it's painful but we'll get past it."
The classification rates to be presented to the City Council on Tuesday night are residential, commercial, industria and personal. Open space is also included but with a zero value because the city has no guidelines or ordinances to value it.
The bulk of the $12,854,065 in taxes to be raised comes from residential. Adopting a "shift" of 1.75 toward commercial will lower the burden on residential from 77 percent to 60 percent of the total taxes. Commercial will pick up 25.7 percent, for a tax rate of more than $31; industrial will be apportioned just over 6 percent and personal property, 8.
The average tax increase has been 6 percent over the past four years and taxes overall have increased by half over the past decade. The owner of an average home in North Adams, at about $136,000, should see her taxes rise about $200.
If the Super Walmart or Lowe's comes in, commercial revenues will increase. That will allow the city to reduce the commercial burden by decreasing the shift but shouldn't affect the residential rate.
The city will come within $776 of its levy limit.
"Last year, we left $800,000 on the table, this year we're picking it all up to balance the budget," said the mayor.
In response to a question from resident Robert Cardimino, Business Manager Nancy Ziter said the city's property valuations had only declined about 2 percent — compared to 20 percent in some parts of the country — because they had not risen as quickly either.
"In all fairness, even though the increase is 10.8 percent, the impact could be worse," said committee Chairman Michael Bloom, considering the commercial/residental split.
Although voting with Bloom and member David Bond to recommend adoption of the classification, Marden wondered if it City Council approval couldn't be put off a bit longer.
The mayor said it was a matter of getting the final numbers to the state (the city's valuation has already been certified) and then setting up billing. Ziter said bills had to go out before the first of the year and that the process is time consuming — printing alone takes two days.
"You don't have to approve it tomorrow night but the sooner the better."
The City Council will be asked to approve a tax classification shift that sets rates of $14 per $1,000 for residences and $31.49 per $1,000 for commerical businesses.
The rates will be determined by the "shift" between commercial and residential tax classifications approved by the council on Tuesday. The recommendation is a residential factor of 77.8041 percent.
In a communication to the council, Mayor Richard Alcombright say that in setting the shift, "you will be approving an increase in the tax rates for both the residential and commerical taxpayers."
The issue, he reminds them, has been discussed at length and the new rates are necessary for the city to provide expected services in light of continued reductions in state aid.
"As we set this rate tonight, we are assuring our community that we will be able to provide services that they have all come to expect," he contines.
The Finance Committee will meet Monday at 5 p.m. at City Hall at the mayor's request to review the calculations and ask questions. However, it is unlikely the council will vote against the recommendations; the council approved the fiscal 2011 budget with expectation of an increase in property taxes.
The residential rate will jump a $1.46, or 11 percent. Compared to previous years, the residential tax rate will still be lower than in both 2003 ($14.69) and 2002 ($14.33). A home valued at $150,000 would be assessed $2,100.
The commercial rate will also jump 11 percent, making it the highest in the past decade. Prior to this, the highest year for the commercial tax was 2006 at $28.98.
If a singe tax rate were chosen, the tax rate for all property would be $17.99 per $1,000.
In documents provided to the council, the amount of residential and commercial property value has decreased since fiscal 2010 by nearly $13 million, 85 percent of which was residential. Commercial value dropped nearly $1 million; the rest was industrial and personal property at another million.
In his communication, the mayor stressed the difficulties the city will have in the coming fiscal year. "I am predicting a $2 [million to] $3 million dollar budget shortfall in FY 2012. This will certainly result in very difficult decisions with respect to pontential losses in programming and services throughout the city."
Also on the agenda for Tuesday's council meeting is a (hopefully clarified) ordinance for licensing waste haulers; Judy Grinnell with an update on the Hoosic River Revival and a communication from Councilor Gailanne Cariddi on the request by local historian Paul Marino on honoring a former resident of the city, Lue Gim Gong.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday night approved a $1.18 million reduction in the city budget to be offset by use of the land-sale account.
The transfer will balance this year's budget but Mayor Richard Alcombright warned there were "serious decisions" to be made for next fiscal year because the city has a $1.2 million structural deficit that will be exacerbated by possible state cuts of up to 12 percent.
"It's going to mean ugly, painful cuts for next year," said the mayor. "In the best case scenario, we're hearing 5 percent cuts in state aid next year; reality is, a couple of candidates in the election this year were talking about 8 to 12 percent."
The city had requested special legislation earlier this year to allow it to take nearly $900,000 from the land-sale reserves (most from the sale of watershed lands in Vermont) to pay off the Medical Insurance Trust debt to balance the budget. North Adams has been struggling with a budget deficit caused by declining revenues and state aid; much of the city's free cash has been used over the past few years to staunch the bleeding from the loss of education and municipal aid.
"Three years ago you had close to $4 million in reserves and the last two fiscal years particularly, about $2.8 million of that was used to reduce the budget and to balance the budget," Alcombright told councilors. The mayor had asked to use the watershed money to limit dependence on the disappearing free cash. He said about $45,000 to $50,000 was left in the land-sale account. "The increase in taxes, water and sewer was necessary to balance the budget along with the use of the land-sale account."
Frequent commenter Robert Cardimino said he hadn't heard of the legislation and wanted to know why taxes were raised if the city had $1 million to spend. Alcombright countered that the council and the Finance Committee had discussed the use of the land-sale account numerous times and that it had been part of his Power Point presentation to citizens in May.
"All this was done months ago," he said. "All I'm asking for now is we go through the formality of moving this $1.2 million so we can set our tax rate in two weeks."
The mayor asked the Finance Committee to meet Monday, Nov. 22, at 5 p.m. at City Hall to review the tax rates being proposed. Committee Chairman Michael Bloom asked how the city looked going into the next fiscal year.
"There is no crutch to fall back on; there is no million dollars to pull out," he said.
Alcombright said it would be tough because the city had already raised fees and is taxing to its levy limit. In addition to state candidates, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and the Massachusetts Municipal Association were forecasting cuts of at least 8 to 10 percent across the board.
"A 10 percent cut on our general aid and school aid would be about $1.4 million," said Alcombright. "That coupled with a $1.2 million deficit ... do the math."
He suggested the Finance Committee begin meeting almost immediately after the tax rate is set to begin reviewing next year's budget. On the plus side, he expected the city to get back $400,000 to $500,000 this year from Blue Cross Blue Shield; if those numbers continue, it could mean the city reducing its debt obligation regarding the Medical Insurance Trust fund in two or three years, less than half the time allowed.
The council passed the reduction unanimously by voice vote, although Councilor Marie Harpin questioned whether the mayor could confirm the home-rule petition allowing the account's use had been passed.
"I think when we do these home-rule petitions, that we should have something," said Councilor Marie Harpin. "We should really have something in front of us knowing it's approved."
"We've done other home-rule petitions and I've never seen the administration send it out to councilors to review," said Bloom. "I trust the mayor's word."
Council President Ronald Boucher asked if the mayor would provide copies of the final legislation from now on and Alcombright agreed.
In other business, the council postponed an ordinance change that increases the permit fee for waste haulers from $85 to $100 annually for each vehicle. Health Inspector Manuel Serrano told the council that the permit applies to any commercial hauler who transports waste through the city, whether they use the city landfill or not.
However, the language in the ordinance continued to contribute to confusion last meeting about the amendment because it referred to a "commercial business" to be permitted at $85 and additional vehicles as costing $45. Serrano said the Board of Health's intent was to charge $100 per vehicle and that most haulers used one truck; larger ventures, such as Allied Waste, permitted only those trucks that would enter the city. The ordinance will be taken up again in the first meeting in December with appropriate language changes.
The mayor said he will be interviewing six or seven candidates for city assessor; one is from Southern Vermont and the rest from Northern Berkshire. He also said most of the road and bridge work will be completed this fall, with the exception of the Hadley Overpass, where repairs below the deck will continue.
The City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 12, will be asked to authorize the borrowing of $650,000 to complete the airport project and $150,000 to renovate and construction bathrooms and a concession stand at Windsor Lake and its campground.
The Finance Committee heard both issues at its meeting Thursday. The committee has recommended adoption of the borrowing order for the airport and, while not formally endorsing the lake spending, reacted favorably to it. The lake spending had not been presented to the council nor referred to the committee to act on.
The council will also be asked to call a joint public hearing of the council and Planning Board at the behest of Planning Board Chairman Michael Leary. The city is pursuing a state Green Community designation that will require "by-right zoning" for certain green businesses. Leary said the city has by-right in three zones but still requires a special permit if a site plan approval is needed. New language would clarify a site plan review is not part of a special permit process.
Christopher Lamarre quit as chairman of the Board of Assessors to become the chief assessor in Great Barrington last month. In a letter to the council, Mayor Alcombright said that the qualifications for assessor made the position difficult to fill.
He is asking that the residency requirement for the full-time, chief assessor be removed. "It will always be my preference to hire a resident, if qualified," he wrote. The residency requirement would not change for the two part-time assessors.
Mayor Alcombright and Donna Bernardi-Briggs took a bucket ride to hang the ribbons.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Today at noon, Mayor Richard Alcombright and members of the American Cancer Society marked October Breast Cancer Awareness month by hanging pink ribbons from a period light fixture on the south side of Main Street.
Among the participants were Traci Heath and Laura Baran, community executives of development for the American Cancer Society, New England Division; North Adams City Council Vice President Lisa Blackmer, whose mother died of cancer earlier this year; and survivors Donna Bernardi-Briggs, Shirley Wolfe and Bernice "Red" Alcombright, the mayor's mother.
Quadlands and Mount Williams Greenhouse donated bows for North Adams; The Flower Gallery and Zepkas donated bows for Adams.
"I encourage people to visit cancer.org for breast cancer information and want to stress the importance of mammograms," said Heath. There are local programs such as Look Good Feel Good and Reach to Recovery for breast cancer survivors, she said.
Heath also invited the public to attend the second annual Making Strides Toward Breast Cancer Walk, to be held on Sunday, Oct. 17, on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Adams. The walk begins at 11 a.m.; for more information contact Heath at 413-493-2127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to the American Cancer Society, by the end of this year some 207,090 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women. About 54,010 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be found in American women (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer). This year, some 39,840 American women will die of breast cancer, second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women.
The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is a little less than one in eight. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about one in 35. Breast cancer death rates have been going down, probably due to finding the cancer earlier and better treatment. There are more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Laura Baran, left, Lisa Blackmer, Traci Heath, Shirley Wolfe and Red Alcombright.
:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
:: General Election: Deadline to register is Tuesday, Oct. 18
Registration can be completed at the city clerk's office at City Hall.
Absentee ballots are now available at the city clerk's office for the Sept. 27 preliminary city election. Voters may come in between the hours of 8 and 4:30 weekdays. Written reguests for mailed ballots can be sent to City Clerk's Office, 10 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Deadline for absentee ballots is Monday, Sept. 26, at noon.
The preliminary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 27, to narrow the field of three mayoral candidates to two. The general election to select nine city councilors and a mayor will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8.