By: Andy McKeever On: 10:17PM / Friday June 17, 2011
The final of six public information meetings about Tuesday's vote on proposition 2 1/2 drew a small crowd.
Editor's Note: Mayor Alcombright has informed us that NBCTV encountered difficulties taping Friday night's override session. It was discovered this morning that the audio did not tape. The station will instead rebroadcast just the override presentation the mayor gave at the City Council meeting several weeks ago. The air times are Sunday, June 19, at 9 a.m., and 3 and 7 p.m., and Monday at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., all on Channel 17.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The proposition 2 1/2 public information meetings came to a close Friday night at Greylock School and the decision is now in the hands of the voters.
"I thought the process went very, very well," Mayor Richard Alcombright said of the meeting. "At the first meeting there was this aura of skepticism...Now I see people and they have a focused questions and that's what we're trying to do. People began to understand."
Alcombright hosted six meetings across the city to discuss the override vote on Tuesday. Friday's meeting was the most sparsely attended - drawing a crowd of only a few dozen. Alcombright said he hopes the meetings encouraged residents to vote in favor of the proposition. However, he said he tried to remain relatively neutral – only slightly nudging in favor of the vote – during the meetings to encourage dialogue.
"I really would like people to know that I am available, that the city counselors are available. I wanted people to come out and share their opinions and not be judged," Alcombright said. "I think people, hopefully, see the need for this."
About a dozen people spoke at Greylock School and they were all in favor of the proposition except for Robert Cardimino, who continued his campaign advocating for additional cuts rather than raising taxes. Most who spoke centered around funding for the schools.
"Something has to be done for the long-term goals," Drury High School teacher Melissa Quirk said. "If we continue to think short-term, we will never be able to grow to the potential that this community has to offer. We need to be thinking long-term and in order to do that we all need to make as much as an investment as we can in this community."
City councilor Michael Bloom said that this budget was "unlike" any budget he has seen before and encouraged people to vote in favor of the override.
"There is too much negativity. There are no hidden accounts. There is no hidden agenda," Bloom said. "If you want to make further cuts and take step backwards, you can vote no on this. If you are look to build the community you will vote yes."
Cardimino, however, said the schools will survive without the override vote and said Alcombright had not made enough cuts.
"Let the mayor get out his scalpel and make some cuts," Cardimino said.
Now there is nothing left for the city to do to inform residents about the vote and the city's next steps lay in the hands of the voters.
"I'm hopefully optimistic. I'm hoping, beyond hope, that people rally around this," Alcombright said. "Whether you are for it or against it, vote."
By: Andy McKeever On: 02:49PM / Wednesday June 15, 2011
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Outside the iBerkshires office Wednesday a group of students marched by holding signs in favor of Proposition 2 1/2.
A friend of the students started the awareness campaign at 10 a.m. and was later joined by the Drury High School students - who suggested making more signs. The group spent the day walking all around the city attracting attention from passing cars.
One sign lists possible cuts to the school that the students would "lose" if the override is voted down. The other signs pleaded for people to vote for the students that are unable to vote.
By: Tammy Daniels On: 11:51PM / Tuesday June 14, 2011
Councilor Michael Bloom found majority support for his resolution on the Proposition 2 1/2 override on Tuesday night.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council mirrored the divisions splitting the city over the proposed Proposition 2 1/2 override even as it endorsed a resolution supporting the measure and a budget based on the override's passage.
The city's $35.5 million budget was approved unanimously, but the resolution failed to get full backing, passing 7-2 with Councilors Marie Harpin and President Ronald Boucher in the negative.
Voters will decide on Tuesday, June 21, on whether to approve the $1.2 million override and fund the budget as it currently stands. Failure of the override will mean up to $1 million in cuts in services and personnel in city and school departments, said Mayor Richard Alcombright.
Boucher called the introduction of the resolution by Councilor Michael Bloom "inappropriate."
"I don't think the City Council should make a statment for a yes or no vote," he said, suggesting the paper be filed. "I don't think it's the right time and place."
Boucher said the council had already voted last month when it decided to present the $1.2 million override to voters. That vote was even more split at 5-4, with Boucher also voting against because the budget had not yet been approved.
Bloom, chairman of the Finance Committee, disagreed strongly, saying everybody should stand and vote up or down because of the "devastating cuts" that will be made if the override doesn't pass.
"This is the most important time for the council to make the case," he said. "I'm shocked you want to file it. ... I've never seen a budget that's been cut as much as this budget. ... Seriously, at this time of day and at this hour, the council should stand and make a statement."
Most of the councilors expressed support for the override and some publicly stated whether they would vote for it.
"I've heard compelling arguments both for and against the override," said Councilor Alan Marden. "I will be voting yes in support of this resolution tonight and next Tuesday, I'll be voting in support of the override. We need new growth in this community. ... slashing city services, whether educational or general government, public safety or public services, is the wrong message to those who might look to move here and to invest here.
"We have to invest in ourselves if we want other to invest in us."
Councilor Marie Harpin, however, said it wasn't fair to the city's poor and those on fixed incomes.
"I'm totally ... in favor of all the services in the city of North Adams, but on the other hand I have to vote no on this resolution because I feel the people in this community really can't afford to pay any more taxes, not to this extent," she said. " I cannot in all honesty vote for this and I'm going to vote no on the Prop 2 1/2."
Councilor Michael Boland said he was willing to be counted. "If I voted for you, I'd want to know where you stood on an important issue."
Frequent critic Robert Cardimino claimed what the council was doing was illegal, based on his reading of state campaign law and vowed to call state officials and report them.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer noted the council frequently took up resolutions on ballot issues, some of which are generated by the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
"This is our job to have this discussion," she told Cardimino.
Both Marden and Boland said they hoped the community would come together after next Tuesday's vote to work together whatever the outcome.
The review and passage of the budget, done by department with each councilor taking a turn reading it, went fairly swiftly — except when it smashed into the Office of Tourism and Cultural Development.
Councilors and audience members spent nearly an hour debating the wisdom of funding the post of tourism director after Marden moved to eliminate the entire tourism budget of $51,186. There was some confusion later as Blackmer tried to amend a motion to eliminate just the salary and Bloom tried to move the question. In the end, the motion to remove the salary died with Blackmer, Harpin, Boucher and Marden voting for and the entire line item was retained.
Blackmer advocated strongly that the position be put on the backburner for at least a year until a better job description could be formulated making more a "cruise director" position for the city and a cultural development plan put in place. Considering the city's current financial woes, it wasn't a good time to be funding a post whose duties could be filled with volunteers, she said, when it could be focusing on its website or funding an assistant building inspector.
"We need to connect on economic development as a whole, not just the tourism aspect," said Blackmer. "... It doesn't pass the smell test with the community."
Councilor Keith Bona, however, said restaurants and businesses had been sold on the implementation of the meals and rooms taxes with the idea that they would get some return by putting the money toward marketing the city. Councilor David Bond agreed, saying removing the position would save some money in the budget but likely cost businesses down the road: "But I understand where we are financially and why people want to cut it."
Councilor David Lamarre raised his previous objections that the post, at $34,186, was too low to attract quality candidates. He suggesting not filling it until the city was in a position to offer a better salary. Blackmer, meanwhile, was advocating cutting the car allowance of $1,500 should the department budget pass.
Several audience members spoke in favor of filling the job. Gail Sellers, who operates a pottery studio in the Eclipse Mill and sits on the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Commission, said volunteers here are wonderful but they can only do so much. "I see a lot of things hanging by a thread," she said.
Alcombright said filling the post was critical to marketing the city, organizing events and aiding the development of a cultural plan and website.
"If you take it away this year, how are you going to put it back?" he asked. "I think to lose this position for a year would be devastating."
His office had received nearly 30 applications and was in the process of interviewing finalists — all quality candidates, the mayor assured Lamarre.
Resident Trevor Gilman, a member of the Airport Commission, said voters would be making the decision next week whether to move forward or backward; if the override failed, then it was on the table.
"To eliminate this position when there are a lot of people who want to move this city forward is a mistake," said Gilman. "I need you to lead and make decisions to make this city better."
By: Tammy Daniels On: 05:11PM / Tuesday June 14, 2011
McCann School Committee Chairman Daniel J. Maloney Jr. and Superintendent James Brosnan, both at right, presented the district's spending plan to the Finance Committee last week.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire Regional Vocational District is assessing the city $890,353, a decrease of $37,867 over this year, for fiscal 2012. The total budget is $7.97, up .19 percent over this year.
The city's amount includes $91,000 for transportation and $42,169 toward the gymnasium renovation. The city had 176 students enrolled at McCann Technical School this year out of a total enrollment of 526.
The city has seen a decline in the number of students — 214 were enrolled in 2005 — because of the general ebb of the region's population and, more recently, from the eighth grade being moved to Drury High School.
The opportunity to pursue sports and stay with their friends has affected some students' decisions on whether to enter McCann in the ninth grade, Superintendent of School James Brosnan told the Finance Committee at its meeting last Tuesday, and the school is looking at more ways of reaching them. "Most of the other communities have pretty much stayed the same."
The school district has seen revenue losses in some areas, including from the end of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, and has had to absorb some of those costs.
Most of the line items have been level-funded, although the school district has seen increases in contracted services in a number of departments. Over the past four years, membership dues, including for SkillsUSA, has increased significantly, from $2,290 in 2008 to an estimated $20,000 for next year.
Brosnon described the SkillUSA membershiop as "absolutely priceless." The Massachusetts group has 23,000 students, the largest in the nation, and offers competitions and professional development. "What it does for students, it's just a phenomenal association and our students do very, very well."
School Committee Chairman Daniel J. Maloney Jr. noted the school doesn't offer a lot of the extracurricular that others do. "Skills is our activity; we don't have band, we don't have a lot of clubs, so if you look at athletics that's what we have, and Skills."
The school switched from heating oil to gas at the beginning of fiscal 2010, and that has resulted in some savings. Professional salaries are down because of two retirements, and costs for the media center are down from the reduction of an instructional aide.
Employee benefits and insurance continue to rise, up more than $25,000 over this year and $100,000 over fiscal 2008. The school district splits the cost of health insurance 75/25 with staff and retirees.
The assessment is included in the city's $35.5 million budget being presented to the City Council on Tuesday night.
By: Andy McKeever On: 10:33PM / Monday June 13, 2011
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Sprague Electric is not coming back and the city needs to focus on the future, Mayor Richard Alcombright told a crowd gathered at Greylock School to debate the Proposition 2 1/2 override vote.
Residents badgered Alcombright for nearly two hours Monday, citing a lack of business growth and declining population as reasons for additional cuts to the $35.5 million budget. One resident accused the city of inflating its payroll since Sprague Electric left the city more than 20 years ago.
"The woe is me about Sprague has to end," Alcombright retorted. "There are 40 to 45 percent less people in City Hall now."
A major boon to the area like Sprague, which employed thousands more than two decades ago, is not going to come back and the city will need to find ways to encourage other industries, he said. As for the city's payroll, he said many, many jobs have been cut over the years and not just in City Hall. The Department of Public Works decreased from 42 to 16 employees in that timeframe, he said.
However, Alcombright added that he is "not giving up on light manufacturing just yet." There are opportunities for green jobs — such as building and installing solar panels — that the city will try to reel in, he said.
Residents pleaded that he "trim the fat" out of the city budget and mentioned ways to do so. One idea was to cut the police budget because of the smaller population. Alcombright, however, said he would not be comfortable reducing that staff more because the city has the same type of urban crime as any other metropolis.
While the crowd debated the similarities to a city like Holyoke, City Councilor Lisa Blackmer researched the Holyoke Police Department on her cell phone and said there are at least 100 more officers employed there. Holyoke has 26 superior officers, 97 officers and 12 reserves while its population is only around 44,000.
"If anything we are underfunded in the Police Department," Blackmer said.
Alcombright contested that the city has reduced its budget by $600,000 and is continually chipping away at the amount the city will need above the 2 1/2 percent levy limit.
While the override vote is for $1.2 million, it is looking like the city will need only about $966,000 of that to set the budget, he said. He reiterated that since the $1.2 million figure was set — in order to provide enough time for the regulated hearings and notices — the city was able to reduce the deficit by level-funding pensions, eliminating the commissioner of public safety position and by the teachers giving back their 1 percent raise.
The newest version of budget — which includes the school budgets — will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday. Monday's meeting was the fourth in a series of six public meetings on the override vote scheduled for June 21 and, despite the anger showed by some residents Monday night, most of the attendees seemed in favor of the override.
Those in favor said it was a move that would better position the city for the future.
But the golden days of manufacturing was not the only past brought up. One resident angrily accused Alcombright of putting all the blame for the financial situation on former Mayor John Barrett III. Alcombright was part of the City Council and therefore has to shoulder some of the blame, the resident said.
"Since day one, I have stayed clear of blaming the past mayor," Alcombright said. "The blame is on the loss of revenue from the state."
Alcombright added that he voted against using reserve funds to balance the budget in prior years and that disagreement was a reason he ran against Barrett in 2009.
"I ran for mayor because I didn't like using reserve funds. I am not pointing at the mayor — that was the way he managed. I manage differently," Alcombright said.
Note that information on absentee ballots for the override vote on Tuesday, June 21, can be found in the sidebar at right. The next public hearing is Wednesday, June 15, at Drury High School at 7 p.m.
:: 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.