The Traffic Commission and the Disabilities Commission are in disagreement over the need and consequences of more handicapped parking downtown.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday appropriated $15,000 for a bill that the mayor really doesn't want to pay.
The funds are to cover an 8 percent penalty on $50,440 in tax abatements for Verizon Communications from 2009. The telecommunications giant took the state to court over its decision to let municipalities start taxing utilities poles and wires and won.
"We all were aware that the state was in error in certifying the taxes for that entity," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the council. "We are obliged to pay a $15,000 penalty, which is 8 percent interest."
He told the council that he was working with the state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi to see if there's a way for the city to avoid bearing the penalties, which could be another $22,000 to $24,000 for 2001 and 2011. Some 187 communities are affected by the ruling, including Clarksburg.
"I've spoken with our local delegation and the [Massachusetts Municipal Association]," Alcombright said. "I just do not think it is right that the city be responsible for the penalty that's being paid here. If this ruling continues, fiscal year 2010 and 2011 will also be penalties."
Councilor John Barrett III questioned the amount of interest, saying it should be only be few percent. Councilor Alan Marden called "it absolute usury. ... It's unconscionable."
Alcombright said the penalty was set by law. "What bothers me is we are paying for something which we did not do," he said.
The tax abatement will come from the overlay surplus account, as would any abatement, through the authority of the assessor and had been held pending the outcome of the lawsuit. However, the mayor said the Department of Revenue had recommended that the interest be appropriated by the council separately and stashed in a short-term interest-bearing account until its paid.
Barrett said he didn't see the point of putting it into another account and thought the assessor should have the authority to pay the interest out of the overlay without the council's approval.
Administrative Officer Michael Canales said the intent was to pay the entire bill by Friday in any case.
The council by roll call vote approved the authorization, with Barrett voting aye "with protest."
The council referred to the Public Safety Committee a communication from Councilor Nancy Bullett about handicapped parking downtown that's been hanging around for months.
The matter had been before the Traffic Commission, which found no problems with the number of handicapped parking spots. However, on Tuesday, Building Inspector William Meranti said the Commission on Disabilities had surveyed the area and had some recommendations for adding four spots (on Marshall, Eagle, Main and American Legion Drive) and making two existing ones on Main Street more accessible.
Traffic Commission Chairwoman MaryAnn King said adding handicapped parking would cost two regular parking spots each and require curb cuts. She also said a survey of Eagle Street businesses did not indicate a need for them. Meranti said the spots should not be difficult to institute and he did not believe they needed curb cuts.
After some discussion on the next possible step, the council determined to send the matter to Public Safety as a way to bring both the other boards together.
►Resident Roger Eurbin noted the lack of lighting around the flags at the Veterans Memorial and Hillside Cemetery. He also suggested a vacant pole in the veterans section of Hillside be repainted and a flag hung with a solar light. Andrew Zoito expressed concern that the Veterans Memorial was showing cracks and could "become a shambles." Alcombright said the city would confer with monument's engineer to determine the best solution for caulking.
►Barrett, who was frequently outspoken on the subject of gasoline prices as mayor, raised the issue again noting that prices here are a dime or more a gallon than in Pittsfield. "There are games that are being played," he said, suggesting the council communicate with the attorney general's office.
►Alcombright warned the council that its next meetings may be lengthy. Upcoming are presentations on the school project, the tax classification hearing, a special tax assessment for Crane & Co. and a review of the request for proposals at Heritage State Park, which was requested by Barrett.
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