North Adams Auctioning Off Vacant Lots
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Looking for land? The city will auction off nearly 50 properties on Wednesday night, June 8, that were mostly taken by tax title over years.
The half-acre to 2 acre vacant lots (the buildings were condemned and demolished, sometimes years ago) will be sold with clear titles starting with bids at $500, or $300 for landlocked properties.
Collar City Auctions and Realty Management Inc. of Albany, N.Y., is handling the auction, which will take place at City Hall beginning at 7 p.m. Registration begins at 5:30.
The assessed values range from $100 to $46,000 with a number of lots adjoining each other. Last week, Mayor Richard Alcombright said he expected abuttors to buy most of the smaller lots to increase their yard sizes.
Winning bidders will have to pay a 10 percent auctioneer's fee and any taxes and title fees. Sales of $1,000 or less will have to be paid in full that night; all others must be paid by June 30.
The mayor has said he doesn't expect to make a lot off the sale but it will put the land back on tax rolls and relieve the city from having to maintain it. Any lots that do not sell will be put back up for auction again in the next round.
Properties that have been withdrawn from the auction because of legal or title issues are tracts 2, 10, 14, 15, 27, 44, 45, 47 and 62.
The auction is expected to be well attended based on the large number of people who came to an informational meeting on May 31.
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Teachers Return Raise
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The North Adams Teachers Association on Thursday night voted to return a 1 percent raise for fiscal 2012 as a sign of solidarity in support of a Proposition 2 1/2 override.
The raises negotiated with Mayor Richard Alcombright had come under fire as the administration has tried to drum up support for the $1.2 million override, designed to offset millions in losses in state aid over past few years.
Without the override, the mayor and school officials say the school system will lose teachers, programs and extracurricular activities on top of nearly $150,000 in cuts from this year. If cutbacks bring the school system below state-mandated foundation level, it could endanger some $14 million in Chapter 70 aid.
Susan Chilson, president of the teachers' union and a North Adams resident, speaks in favor of the override on Tuesday night. The union voted Thursday to return the 1 percent raise scheduled for fiscal 2012.
On Tuesday, more than a dozen educators, parents and students spoke in support of the override. There were fewer voices raised against the measure than at the first of six public sessions held last week at City Hall, when a capacity crowd called for cuts over spending, saying they had been taxed enough.
Thursday's vote by the union results in a savings of $80,000. The Department of Public Works union has also indicated it will return its one percent raise, more likely now that the teachers have voted. The total savings would be about $88,000. Alcombright said he has halted further negotiations on open contracts.
Below is the press release received on Thursday night from the Teachers Association President Susan Chilson.
On Thursday, June 2nd, 73 percent of the North Adams Public School teachers voted to give back their FY2012 raise. Despite the 1 percent raise promised for FY2012 in their contract agreement, teachers today took a stand to recognize the importance of funding the programming that has helped to make the North Adams Public Schools functional.
With recent budgetary cuts at the federal, state, and local level, if the override does not pass, the public schools stand to lose out on significant services including theatre, arts, music, honors and advanced place courses to name a few. The school sports funding is also on the chopping block, and without this funding students may have to pay as much as $150 to participate in team sports. In addition, funding for school adjustment counseling, career specialists, and special education services, are also at risk. Kindergarten will be reduced to half-day and there will be a fee for pre-K and kindergarten. Loss of teaching positions, the elimination of the Juvenile Resource Center (JRC), and the closure of the Community Transition Program at Johnson School will also increase the student-to-teacher ratio. The district will see class sizes increase. These potential cuts would be in addition to cuts already made. The district has already cut 8.5 teaching positions among others resulting in a proposed budget that is $147,000 less than the current budget despite the uncontrolled increases that the district has experienced such as energy costs.
"It's unfortunate that we're in this situation, but if we want to think long term about solutions for our community, we need to make the investment," one educator stated. "If you look at all the programs in our public schools that reflect state, regional, and even national recognition, it's quite simple: we vote from the heart, not our wallets."
North Adams teachers have taken the first step. By making this momentous decision, these educators are hopeful that other city employee organizations and local voters will follow suit. While the $80,000 represented by this 1 percent give back will not cover the $1.2 million deficit, a similar vote from other employees, combined with passing the Proposition 2 1/2 override may make the difference between stringent, across-the-board cuts to public education and city services to continuing the growth of success in North Adams Public Schools.
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — I didn't expect to see wildlife in the midst of the city but there it was — a deer on Main Street.
He scurried into the bushes and I scurried to my assignment, hoping he'd look both ways before crossing the street.
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Students Make Plea to Pass Override
Robert Cardimino, left, and music teacher Chris Caproni were talking outside Drury High School. Cardimino said at the meeting that if the teachers voted to return the one percent raise in their contract, he'd support the override.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Three Drury High School students spoke up for their education on Tuesday night, pleading with voters not to slash school programs to balance the budget.
"I want to leave knowing I can come back here and have a place to be proud of," said Andrew Varuzzo of North Adams, who will be attending Holy Cross in the fall. "I would hate to see this community, this school die a slow death because we could not pass this bill."
The senior and classmates Evan Schueckler and Luke Sisto addressed about a 100 people in the Drury High School auditorium at the second of six planned public sessions on a $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override that city officials say is critical to saving services and school programs.
Schueckler, of Stamford, Vt., is going to Harvard, but hoped to return to the city "to do great things," but not if he wasn't assured his own children would get the same education he received.
Varuzzo said he planned to register to vote on Wednesday "solely for the purpose of voting yes for a Proposition 2 1/2."
Their statements were greeted with applause from an audience that seemed weighted by parents and educators. It was a far cry from last week's City Council meeting, when opponents of the proposal railed at Mayor Richard Alcombright to cut services and use the city's meager reserves to plug a $1 million hole in the fiscal 2012 budget.
"There were more people with different points of view," said the mayor after the 90-minute session. "It felt better to listen a little more.
All presentations begin at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, the mayor repeated much of the presentation he made last week, noting the city has lost more than $3 million in annual state aid since the economic crisis in 2008 and has burned through most of its reserves.
The city had more than $1 million in free cash in 2008 but the account is now at about $165,000. Most of the funds in the land sale account have been used to offset cuts, although the city is hoping to replenish some of that with the sales of about 60 lots this month and some lands it owns outside its borders.
Alcombright said the much talked about $900,000 in school choice funds will be used to retain special education programs for the next two years, with a $100,000 held out as buffer for other special ed needs. But the failure of the override would mean deep cuts in staff and programs, including drama, music and arts.
At least 100 people attended Tuesday's session and more than a dozen, mostly educators, spoke in favor of the override. Drury Principal Amy Meehan wore an oversized T-shirt that said 'Support Our Students.'
"This are things that we discussed that could possibly be cut if the override doesn't pass," he said, adding that any of the programs slashed might not be reinstated for years. "Some people say I'm threatening .. this is no threat, this is reality."
Patricia Wall took the mayor to task for waiting too long to bring options to citizens. She said she would have supported a $600,000 override for the school system but that city should look at raising fees and other measures.
"Unfortunately, the ballots are all printed, this is it. It's black and white when we go to vote," she said. "There should have been more options; it was realy not fair to do it this way."
More than a dozen people spoke on the issue, most with links to the school system including Superintendent James Montepare. Former School Committee member Ronald Superneau recalled how Proposition 2 1/2, when it passed in 1980, had devastated the school system and how it had taken the city years to recover.
"I don't like taxes ... but I don't want to see any of this stuff gone," he said.
But Louis Chalifoux, who spoke against the override last week, said citizens are already being taxed every which way.
"The only tax that any of us have any control over is Proposition 2 1/2. Now why in the world would anybody vote to increase your own taxes when in fact you have the opportunity and the right to control the city's budget," he said to applause. "And that's the key — the buck stops here."
Robert Cardimino, another vociferous opponent of the override, found himself stating he'd support it after music teacher Christopher Caproni, former president of the teachers' union, pledged to vote to give back his one percent raise for next year at the union's Thursday meeting.
"If you do forgo your raises I will vote yes for this proposition," he said, then complained Caproni didn't live in North Adams.
Sisto, the final speaker and president of the Drury Drama Team, said the cuts would "slash the spirit of our school."
"We students are an investment in the future," he said. "Are we not worth $20 a month? For all property owners, are we not worth that extra $20 a month?"
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Alcombright Dedicates City Report To Longtime Clerk
Mayor Richard Alcombright surprised longtime City Clerk Mary Ann Abuisi on Tuesday morning when he announced that the city report is dedicated to her.
Abuisi shared stories of her 28 years as city clerk for about an hour Tuesday morning.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When it comes to city records nobody knows them better Mary Ann Abuisi, longtime city clerk.
Now the annual report will be dedicated to her nearly 30 years overseeing the city's paperwork.
"I think it's wonderful. It's an honor. I've seen many dedications but I never thought it would be me," the retired clerk said after being surprised with the announcement Tuesday morning.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he was pouring over records for his first report when he made the connection. It was fitting for Abuisi to be honored this way, he said.
Abuisi started as assistant city clerk in 1975 and worked under former Mayors Joseph Bianco, Richard Lamb, John Taft and John Barrett III. She retired in 2003.
"My fondest memories of Mary Ann goes back to my dad," Alcombright, whose father, Daniel Alcombright, was a longtime city councilor, said. "For me this is gratifying. I think my dad would be happy that we are doing this."
Abuisi's husband helped provide a photo and a short biography for the inside page of the annual report and then on Tuesday brought her to the mayor's office without telling her about it. Abuisi sat with Alcombright and members of the press for about an hour reminiscing of her time in City Hall.
The aspect she misses the most of the job is watching people grow. Abuisi, also a justice of the peace, said she would marry a couple, then issue a birth certificate to their baby. Later that child would come to her for various licenses and paperwork and eventually to her for their own wedding.
"It's like you know everybody but they don't know you," Abuisi said. "To watch these people grow. It's a fun thing."
Abuisi married more than 500 couples and is still a justice of the peace until 2013, when she will give up the post.
Alcombright gave Abuisi a hardbound copy of the report with a special note on the inside thanking her for her time.
"The most exciting thing was the elections," Abuisi said. "It's like being the mother of the city."
After making sure all registered voters' information was up to date and in the correct ward, Abuisi would hand-count ballots until the sun came up. The ballots would be tallied at a City Hall that would be packed with people.
Alcombright added that men would be dressed up in suits and smoking cigars while Abuisi would write vote totals on a large chalkboard.
"It was just a different time," Alcombright said.
Abuisi's biggest challenge came in 1979 when the city population dropped and city officials had to drop from 12 to five wards. While officials were perplexed at where those boundaries would be outlined, Abuisi had figured out a way it would work. However, it involved moving Ward 7's voting to Ashland Street, which triggered outrage in the ward's Italian neighborhood near Walnut and Furnace streets.
When the first election was held with the new districts, Abuisi said one of the boxes of supplies randomly fell from the top shelf and she joked it was an old Italian ghost upset with the new districts.
"The biggest change I've noticed is population," Abuisi said. "But I think the city is coming around."
Since retiring, Abuisi has been filling her time with her family and spends time in Florida.
"I'm very, very busy doing nothing," Abuisi said. "Once you retire, you wonder how you ever found time to work."
Abuisi was given a hardbound copy of the report with an inscription from Alcombright on the inside thanking her for her work. The report will be presented to the City Council on June 14, Alcombright said.
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