Morocco Retiring to Ease Budget Crunch
Finance Committee members Alan Marden, Chairman Michael Bloom and David Bond reviewed the fiscal 2012 budget with Mayor Richard Alcombright and department heads. Also in attendance were Councilors Marie Harpin, David Lamarre, Michael Boland, Lisa Blackmer and President Ronald Boucher.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco will retire at the end of the fiscal year to "take pressure of the budget" it was announced at Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting.
The disclosure came during discussion of the Public Safety Department's budget in which the commissioner's salary was slashed to $21,000.
"He knows the plight we're in ... he will be retiring at the end of the fiscal year," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, who added that the commissioner had approached him about retiring within the last week or so. "I want to keep the commissioner on for at least six months to work on the transition, then he can offload the things he does to other people."
Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco will stay on for six months to help the department transition. He said it would be difficult for the fire and police directors to take over his duties.
The Department of Public Works union is also cognizant of the tough times, said Alcombright. "They voted as a body to forgo their fiscal 2012 raise."
Union members were slated to get 1 percent (they received a 1 percent retroactive raise for this year), which the mayor figured would be a savings of around $7,500.
"These are people who unfortunately do not make a lot of money," Alcombright said. "They do a lot for the city. It makes a difference if the average guy made $300 a year [with the raise]; if the 2 1/2 override passes, they're probably going to get hit with $250."
The mayor halted contract negotiations with some of the other unions; he said the teachers, who have settled, have indicated they may reconsider their contract as well.
The City Council submitted a home-rule petition to the Legislature last year to extend Morocco's tenure two years past his mandated retirement age. At the time, city officials were considering whether to dispense with a commissioner. Keeping Morocco on was to give them a two-year buffer to research the matter, although little progress has been made in that direction.
Alcombright said the Morocco's leaving did not indicate a change in the public safety structure and the commissioner's position would remain active until the city determined what to do. The mayor said he didn't think the savings of eliminating the position would be significant.
"You're going to go away from the commissioner but nobody knows what I do," said Morocco. "I've brought in $5 million in grants; someone has to maintain those."
The police and fire director jobs would have to change, he said. "Call them what you want, they still have a job to do so to say they're going to their job and do what I'd do managing grants and budgets and stuff ... ."
Morocco's partial departure reduces Public Safety's administrative budget by $63,000. The rest of the departments are for the most part level-funded and there are no increases for department heads with the expectation of the assessor, whose salary reflects the position's change from four days a week to five.
The mayor defended hiring a new tourism director, saying it would be a source of revenue.
The administrative officer position is funded for a half-year, with hopes it can be filled by next January. An assistant information systems director has been added at $50,000 but an assistant inspector of buildings will be left vacant as will two posts in the library — the assistant director and an office clerk.
The Finance Committee recommended slashing stipends from city boards, including the City Council, on Wednesday but voted 2-1 to keep the tourism director position after nearly a half-hour of discussion.
Committee member Alan Marden called for all volunteer boards to have their stipends slashed and the City Council to accept $1 each this year, a $27,000 cut, "just for one year to send a message."
Alcombright said some of the stipends may be required by state law. "They may be mandated but there's no reason they have to accept it," said Marden.
The mayor vigorously defended keeping the tourism director position and department, a cost of about $51,000 total, in the budget.
"I think this is a vital position for the city of North Adams," he said, comparing it to the Megan Wilden's work in Pittsfield's Cultural Office. "I think that this position has the ability to generate revenue, I think this position with the right person has the ability to generate grants, that it has the ability to reach out and in a sense be the face of the city.
"I really think this is a very, very important part of us moving forward."
Councilor David lamarre wondered if it would be better to wait a year to offer a higher salary and attract better candidates for the vacant post; Alcombright said the eight people to be interviewed, including "five who are spectacular," had been told the $34,000 salary and indicated it was acceptable.
Councilor Marie Harpin asked if the Develop North Adams and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, or staff at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art could coordinate city events. The mayor and Finance Committee members Chairman Michael Bloom and David Bond said it would be difficult and unlikely.
"If they were to bring in a half-million, the $34,000 would be money well-spent," said Bloom.
Bloom and Bond voted to recommend the position; Marden voted against, adding "this is the hardest vote for me."
A public hearing on the $15.6 million school budget will be held Tuesday, June 7, and presented to the Finance Committee the next day. The city budget will be presented at next week's City Council meeting.
The draft budget is below and can be found on the sidebar. The document was created horizontally but, unfortunately, appears vertically on Scribd. We will try to find a way to post it so it's easier to read.
|Tags: budget, Finance Committee, tourism, public safety|
North Adams Honors Former Tree Commissioner
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Alma Benedetti was honored on Friday morning for her many years of making the city beautiful with the planting of a lilac tree at the entrance of Windsor Lake.
The longtime tree commissioner and retired art teacher was joined by family, friends and city officials (and a very busy woodpecker) as the Tree Commission celebrated Arbor Day in the city. Drury High School freshmen Catherine Record, Allison Meehan and Morgan Michaels provided musical selections under the guidance of music teacher Christopher Caproni.
The former chairman of the commission has helped to honor others on Arbor Day, but commission member Erica Uchman described her as "the most deserving honoree."
Fellow Commissioner Christine Petri spoke of Benedetti's other activities, including teaching art to so many residents who had been educated in the North Adams school system.
"For 35 years, she was not only on the Tree Commission but also the Garden Club and is currently on the board of the Friends of the Library," said Petri.
Alma Benedetti, right, poses with her brother-in-law Louis Zocchi and nieces Mary and Louise Zocchi.
Uchman said she and Benedetti had worked on many projects over the years and while she had been surprised to learn Benedetti's age, she joked she wouldn't reveal it now. (Benedetti graduated from then North Adams State Teachers College in 1937.)
Reading from a large card she'd made for her friend, Uchman said, "serving with you quite a few years gave me the opportunity to find out what a special lady you are ... I admire so much how you devoted yourself to be the ideal chairperson; how you pursued all responsibilities as diverse as they could be ...
"In my book, you will always be the lovely, contributing, so-devoted chairperson of the North Adams Tree Commission."
Benedetti, after posing for some "shovel photos" by the already- planted tree, said she'd worked with some very dedicated people over the years. "We've planted over 200 trees," she said and, as a member of the Garden Club, helped install the garden on Union Street at the entrance to the city.
Her walks take her up by Fish Pond so she'll see the now-budded lilac coming into bloom.
"I wanted something flowering," said Benedetti. "So this was a good choice."
Mayor Richard Alcombright read a proclamation declaring May 13 as Arbor Day in the city and that called for residents to "support the effort to protect our trees and woodlands."
"Thank you so much for your service and dedication over the years," he said to Benedetti. "You set a true example of volunteerism and what is really meaningful in our community. It's really what makes a community like ours succeed."
Parking Wars on Main Street
There was a quite a kerfuffle across from our office this afternoon. There were three cruisers and a tow truck to deal with one thing: a parking ticket. The car's owner apparently had a few outstanding tickets and ran down to City Hall to pay them to prevent the vehicle from being towed away. Parking Officer Mary Ann King got quite an earful — at least from what we could see — but the whole thing was settled within 30 minutes. It was an interesting afternoon diversion for our office.
North Adams School Committee Has Open Seat
A vacancy is opening up on the North Adams School Committee. Committee member William G. Schrade Jr. sent us this statement on his decision not to run over the weekend at our request and it got buried in our email, as so many things do, before we had a chance to post it. Our apologies to Mr. Schrade.
Schrade told us he wanted to spend more time with his family and focus on his job as a program manager with the North Adams Housing Authority. He wanted to get the word out early that he would not stand for re-election to give time for other interested citizens to decide if they would like to run.
The School Committee is made up of six four-year elected positions and the mayor, who is automatically the chairman. There has been little changeover in the committee in the past decade. Schrade's stepping aside offers an opportunity for a new viewpoint on the board, something that the three-term board member encourages.
Schrade writes that:
|While I have enjoyed my 12 years with the North Adams School Committee, I have decided not to run for re-election. This is a decision that I do not take lightly after so many great years in this position.
There comes a time when a new and fresh perspective would be welcome to the School Committee. I encourage people to think about the contributions and ideas for the N.A. school system that they might bring to the table and consider running for this office.
My decision is both personal and professional. My intention is to more fully invest myself in my work with the North Adams Housing Authority and to have more time with my family. I would like to thank everyone I have worked with including two mayors, two superintendents, many School Committee members and most importantly the staff of the North Adams Public School System.
April 28, 2011, 3:36 p.m.: Updated to correct length of terms
Boucher Testing Mayoral Waters
Councilor Ronald A. Boucher presiding over his first meeting at president in 2009. Boucher is considering a run for mayor.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — City Council President Ronald Boucher confirmed on Monday that he's "looking into" a run for the Corner Office.
"I've been approached by a lot of people ... a lot of people," said the six-term councilor.
Rumors of Boucher's possible mayoral candidacy have been circling for several weeks but he said on Monday he had not made a decision yet. He did say he had spoken with Mayor Richard Alcombright and told the mayor he would let him know when he made a decision.
Alcombright is finishing his first term as mayor and announced his re-election bid a couple weeks ago. He and Boucher served as councilors for several terms together before Alcombright successfully ran against the state's "dean of mayors," John Barrett III, in 2009.
Along with the change in the Corner Office came several new (or returning) councilors and the election of Boucher for the first time as the council's president.
Boucher has not, at least publicly, differed significantly with Alcombright during the past 16 months.
|Tags: Boucher, mayor, election|