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Home Rule Petition Could Help Senecal Get PensionBy Jen Thomas
05:59AM / Tuesday, June 12, 2007
North Adams - At a special meeting Monday night, the City Council voted unanimously to do what Mayor John Barrett III called "the right thing."
A Home Rule petition will be filed in response to a push by the local retirement board to strip city Highway Superintendent Leo Senecal of his pension. The move means that state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley D-North Adams can present Senecal's situation the legislators with the hope that legislators will agree that Senecal should be exempt from a state law that bars him from the retirement revenues.
Senecal was convicted in 1998 of illegal disposal of hazardous wastes, following an incident in 1996 when Senecal was found to have been burying oil at the city’s salt shed.
Senecal pleaded guilty to the charge and has no other blemishes on his 40-year city employment record.
According to Barrett, Joseph C. Connerton, executive director of the Public Employee Retirement Adminisitration Commission, threatened local retirement board members with incarceration if they permitted Senecal to have his pension.
Under Massachusetts General Law, Senecal’s actions warrant the forfeiture of his pension plan, a loss of about $700,000, according to the mayor. Barrett requested the Council’s authorization to petition Massachusetts General Court to exempt Senecal from the law.
"The only way this can be corrected, the only way this can be fair, is to file this legislation and take it out of [the retirement board’s] hands," said Barrett. "Politics are rough and tough, but once you’re hurting people’s lives, it’s wrong."
"This man has paid in personal stress," said Barrett.
The mayor said he suspected Senecal had lost approximately $50,000 in legal fees, lost pay, and hazardous waste clean-up costs.
"We need to force the legislature to look at intent here and not the letter of the law," said Councilor Richard J. Alcombright. "I hope this sends the message."
"It’s unequivocally the right thing to do for the city and for the Council," said Councilor Ronald A. Boucher.
Councilors unanimously approved a motion to refer the mayor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2008 to the finance committee.
Barrett called the $34,746,887 budget “very tight” and said the budget represents a 1.68 percent increase.
"We’ve got to be even more stringent with our cost controls and our spending," Barrett said. "I’ve been around long enough to know that the future is not that pretty unless you want to tax the people of the city to death and you just can’t do that."
Fiscal Year 2008 runs from July 1,2007 to June 30, 2008. The FY 2008 budget reflects a 10 percent increase in debt for the city and Barrett said declining revenues further complicated assembling the budget.
Barrett voiced concern over the continued use of city reserve funds, but pointed out that no services would be lost, no school programs would be cut, and there would be no substantial property tax increases because of budget cuts.
Barrett said he hopes that Governor Deval Patrick‘s administration would institute changes that will benefit the city in the future.
"Hopefully, the governor’s new relief package will allow us some ways to raise additional revenues, but that is still 12 months down the road," said Barrett. "The state continues to balance the budget on the backs of cities and towns, and hopefully some of the things that [Patrick] wants to get passed will come to fruition."
The Council unanimously approved refinancing the bond for the water filtration plant at a lower interest rate.
Barrett said the refinancing would save the city approximately $140,00 in interest payments in fiscal 2008 and up to $198,000 over the life of the bond. The majority of the savings would occur in the next three years for “immediate relief to the budget,” according to Barrett.
The Council unanimously approved the transfer of $66,800 from various accounts ( $14,500 from general government accounts, $30,300 from the department of public safety, and $22,000 from the reserve account). All but $1,500 of that was transferred to support various salaries for city employees.
The largest transfer was $40,000 to the police salaries account to offset a $69,000 deficit caused by additional overtimes used by police officers. According to Barrett, Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco said there were too few reserve officers to fill shifts when three city police officers were required to attend police academy.
Barrett said the transfers were “not a direct result of overspending.”
Councilors appointed several individuals to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Commission.
Councilors unanimously approved reappointing Peter Markou to a term to expire in 2010.
New appointees include Richard Karnack (2009), Shirley Davis (2009), Mary K. Grant (2010) and Steven Iacuessa (2008).
“The goal of the commission is to have control over the best interest of the community,” said Barrett.
Councilors Clark H. Billings and Christopher J. Tremblay did not attend the meeting.
Jen Thomas may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 413-663-3384 ext. 29.