Pittsfield Council Rejects Third of Mayor's Capital Plan

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood said $1 million of city funds will resurface about three miles of road.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council sent the mayor's proposed $10.8 million capital budget back to him $3.3 million lighter.

The councilors reviewed Mayor Daniel Bianchi's plan during a marathon session on Saturday and found multiple projects the don't want to fund. Yet, they also say they want significant more investment in the roads.

With only being able to vote the bottom line, they opted to remove the funds for projects they weren't supporting and sent the budget back to the mayor asking for revisions and more money for the roads.

The capital budget calls for borrowing $1 million to resurface roads. That is matched with the city's state Chapter 90 allocation of about $1 million, making a total of $2 million for fiscal 2015.

"I really don't feel, frankly, that is enough," Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop said. "There is so much demand out there, in part because we've had so many years of deferred maintenance."

According to Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood, $2 million is only enough to mill and resurface six miles of road. He said the city could extend that distance of repair by doing some of the more inexpensive chip sealing in some areas instead of complete resurfacing.

Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont says with 220 miles of roads to maintain, "that's one mile every 40 years at this budgeting rate."

Collingwood says he is happy any additional funds outside of Chapter 90. However, his full request was in the $5.5 million range.

"It is my job to work with what I have been given so I am happy to see something," Collingwood said. "The city went many years without any funding except Chapter 90."

Bianchi says he budgeted only $1 million this year because the city is implementing a new roadway management system. That system will outline the condition of the roads for firmer estimates on repairs. This year is "deferring" an aggressive approach to the roads until that system provides more details, the mayor said.

"I am frustrated with the low level of investment in the streets," Bianchi agreed with the councilors.

Bianchi said he received some $40 million in capital requests that can't all be funded. He said the $10.8 million capital plan is "pushing the envelope" and accomplishes a great deal of projects that "need to be done."

The largest item on the chopping block was a request for $3 million to build a new Department of Public Works garage. The previous garage on West Housatonic Street burned down. The insurance company is paying $1.3 million, which isn't enough to rebuild.

Collingwood presented two options for a rebuild, one costing the city $6.2 million and another costing $2.4 million. The larger option would be a new building that keeps everything at the department site. However, Bianchi said it was too pricey and sent it back to Collingwood.

The other option for  $2.4 million would build a smaller, on-site vehicle storage building and renovate the highway administration building.

"I'm very confident in these numbers," Collingwood said of the proposals.

The councilors felt they did not have enough information heading into the budget season. Looking at a multimillion expenditure, many councilors said they didn't have enough time to review options. Saturday's discussion was part of a nine-hour session looking at nearly all of the budget.

"I just think the debt issuance request in the capital budget is premature," Lothrop said. "I just feel a little bit that the cart was put before the horse as far as the debt issuance goes."

Bianchi apologized for the delay but the city had "been waiting for numbers, waiting for numbers" from the insurance company. The city is currently leasing a garage on the insurance company's dime and is just now receiving payment to rebuild, he said.

With the payout, the insurance company will no longer pay the lease so Bianchi is hoping to move forward with the project this year so as not to have to pick up the lease agreement. The $3 million request was proposed even before the $2.4 estimate was received.

"I would suggest rather we vote on a project. We know we need a garage. We're going to have to build a garage," Bianchi said, adding that the City Council will later need to authorize entering into contracts for the construction. "We have enough of the numbers here."

But City Council noted it could authorize borrowing at any time so the garage does not need to be the capital plan.

Another hot topic that led to a reduction of $270,000 was the mayor's request to purchase five rapid response vehicles for the Fire Department. While the request came from Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski, he made it clear that he would much rather have a fire truck.

Czerwinski said Bianchi thought there would be a cost savings (Bianchi argued that, saying there would be efficiencies but not  especially in cost) and pushed for the move. The sport utility vehicles would be placed at each fire house and be used to respond to medical calls, which is more than 60 percent of the call volume.

Czerwinski said he wants a new truck and a new storage building, which were not approved by the mayor. Without the storage building, the new response vehicles will cramp the department even more, he said.

"We're going to have a lack of space available for other equipment once we move these vehicles in," the chief said.

He said the fire truck would keep his firefighters prepared for every call — instead of driving back to the fire house to change vehicles or calling a squad from another fire house.

He said the deputy chief's current SUV is costing about 73 cents per mile in fuel and maintenance. His newest fire truck cost $1.15 a mile, which he says isn't enough of a difference to justify buying the SUVs over the truck.

"Cost per mile is not that much different," he said.

The mayor proposed a $10.8 million capital budget, which the council didn't fully support.

Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo asked about the Fire Department starting an ambulance company, which would serve nearly the same purpose as the rapid response vehicles.

"I would like to see us work something out with the ambulance services or pursue an ambulance service ourselves," said Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi.

Czerwinski said it isn't easy to tell right now because there hasn't been a proposal in years and the economics of the business have changed.

"There has been a lack of revenue coming back to the ambulance services," he said.

Council President Melissa Mazzeo, who sits on the ambulance review committee, said these vehicles have worked well in other communities and wants the city to give it a try.

"I want to get the money in there for a new fire truck because they need that. But, I think that the money for these SUVs isn't a bad way to go," she said.

The City Council also rejected  $100,000 request to consolidate the various inspectors — health, building, etc. — under one roof. The plan would be to buy and renovate a facility. However, the councilors opposed to the request, saying they had no information on what was being bought.

The council did support many aspects of the proposed capital plan. Particularly, they were pleased to see money to fix the basketball court at Pitt Park, which has become a hot topic around the city recently because of its poor condition.

The plan calls for $200,000 for repairs to various basketball courts across the city, with Pitt being a "full replacement."

"We think with this $200,000 we can address at least half of the courts in the city," said Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath said.

McGrath will also oversee a $500,000 borrowing for the Springside House. McGrath says there are $960,000 worth of work at Springside cited as "priority" and the borrowing authorization will allow the city to leverage state funds to do it all.

The Springside Pond dam is also eyed for fixing. It has failed and the low water level has led to an array of negative consequences, McGrath said, including an odor on hot days.

"We need to repair the dam to get the water level back to where it needs to be," he told the council.

He added he hopes that investment can help leverage state funds for a $500,000 project to restore the whole pond.

The council also supported $200,000 to install a turf field at Berkshire Community College. That will be another field for the city's young sports programs. According to Mike McDonald, who is heading the effort, $300,000 has been raised so far toward the $2.3 million cost and that the state is expected to provide the majority of the funds for construction.

That figure includes $300,000, which will be set aside with rental fees to fund a replacement when the turf field wears out.

In another request, Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli motioned to lower the capital budget by $50,000 more and delay fixing cracks at an area at the airport. That motion, however, was not supported.

The cracks are in taxiways, which were outside of the scope of the massive runway reconstruction. According to Airport Manager Mark Germanowski, the cracks pose liability concerns because they could damage jet engines.

The airport would also get a master plan update and safety beacons as part of the plan.

"The master plan is a tool that we can use to move forward in generating more revenue," Germanowski said.

Councilor Clairmont also requested that the mayor restore $30,000 to remove oil tanks from Taconic High School. According to Peter Sondrini, director of building maintenance, there are two oil tanks buried on the property that need to be removed. The capital budget has $20,000 to remove one but the mayor hadn't supported another $30,000 for the other.

The school switched away from oil some years ago and the tanks are no longer in compliance with state laws. Oil tanks that are no longer in use are required to be removed within a year.

"I didn't realize there were tanks there last year. We identified the areas that still have tanks and we are trying to remove them as quickly as possible," Sondrini said. "We have to assume all tanks are bad. They are older tanks."

The City Council supported a total of $7,511,005 in borrowing for capital projects before sending the request back to the mayor.

The full capital plan:

Project Cost
Street Improvement $1,000,000
Stormwater System Improvements $500,000
Highway Garage Improvements $3,000,000
10-wheel Rolloff Snow Fighter System $220,000
Aircraft Apron/Taxiway Repairs $50,000
Airport Hazard Beacon Replacement $1,200,000
Airport Master Plan Update $600,000
Wetland Monitoring $200,000
CAMA Software Upgrade $197,000
Online Permitting Software $100,000
Fiber Network Phase II $75,000
Environmental Abatements $100,000
Boiler Controls $100,000
Oil Tank Removal $20,000
Security/Safety Equipment Upgrades $50,000
Mercer Boiler Repairs $25,000
Clock/PA System Replacement (Crosby) $70,000
PHS Boiler #2 Retubing $70,000
Sidewalk and Blacktop Repairs $25,000
Bleacher Replacement (PHS) $70,000
Special Education Room Upgrades $50,000
Morningside and Conte Schools Floor Replacement $150,000
Sweeper for Parking Garages $75,000
1-ton Pickup Truck with Plow $40,000
Environmental Abatement $25,000
Door Replacements $25,000
Pecks Road/ Holmes Road Fire Stations Overhead Door Replacement $25,000
Tax Collector Counter Refurbishing $40,000
City Hall Front Steps/Landing Repairs $20,000
City Mobile Stage Repair $30,000
HVAC Mini Split AC Units (Police and Fire) $30,000
Inspectors Office Buildout and Improvements $100,000
Garbage Truck $40,000
Skidsteer with Snow Blower $50,000
1-ton Dump Truck with Plow $50,000
Building #8 Roof Replacement $25,000
Springside House Renovations $500,000
Wahconah Park Improvements $100,000
Springside House Pond Restoration Design $75,000
Park, Open Space and Conservation Land Improvements $300,000
Artificial Turf Athletic Field $200,000
Streetscape Phase 4 Design $200,000
Downtown Parking Management Improvements $500,000
Five EMS Rapid Response Vehicles $270,000
Computer Infrastructure Replacement $50,000
Radio Replacement (Police) $100,000
MDT Terminal Replacement (Police) $27,000
Bulletproof Vest Replacement $18,000
Crime Scene Services Vehicle $39,005


Tags: capital projects,   capital spending,   fiscal 2015,   

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