Mayor Richard Alcombright said the raising of fees still won't fix the city's financial concerns for future years.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council approved Tuesday increasing sewer and water prices and raising the fine for parking violations to help balance the budget.
The City Council believes the increased fees will raise $426,500 in additional revenue to help close a $675,000 budget gap. The budget is proposed at $37,740,793.
"I am against any increases to any fees during hard times," Councilor Wayne Wilkinson said. "However, after sitting through all the Finance Committee meetings and seeing where the city is and what we have to lose, I am looking at it as the lesser of two evils."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said expectations are that the increased fees will cost an additional $35 for a two-person household and $66 for a four-person household annually.
"I am bringing this forward because I have no choice," the mayor said. "It boils down to a set of significant cuts that can impact services or it boils down to raising fees so that we can manage these things for the next cycle and try to figure out what is next.”
Alcombright said the passing of the revenue package will allow the draft budget to be bound and provided to the City Council at the June 17 special meeting with minor changes. The mayor said there will be no “game changers” in the finalized draft budget.
"I want this council and our community to understand that this revenue package combined with cuts and reductions will only get us through the upcoming fiscal year," he said. "This is not a fix for our problems, and the citizens of North Adams need to come to the understanding … that this administration does not have a spending problem; the city has a revenue problem."
Councilman Keith Bona agreed with the mayor and said the city is not unfamiliar with these financial conditions but the big difference now is that there is no reserves to fall back on.
"Really what we are going through this year is similar to what we have been going through for several years, and the big difference is our reserves are pretty much gone,” Bona said. "We have nothing to fall back on; basically for the past eight years we have been covering these increases by using our reserves and there is nothing left."
Alcombright said despite the cuts in state aid and increases in city expenses, the city must still maintain roads and the water system, educate children, and protect the North Adams citizens from fire and crime.
The approved water rate increases of 10 percent will bring the rate from $3.50 to $3.85 per 100 cubic feet. The mayor expects this to generate $161,800.
Nonresident connections in Williamstown will pay $7.32 per 100 cubic feet, which is 90 percent above the resident rate. Nonresident connections in Clarksburg will pay $6.63 per 100 cubic feet, which is 72 percent over the residential rate.
The City Council passed this part of the revenue package 8-1.
The sewer rate will increase 8 percent. This will increase the $1.47 to 1.93 per hundred cubic feet of water use. The mayor expects these increases to generate $210,400.
Sewer users who do not use North Adams water will now pay a 27.50 quarterly fee.
The City Council approved the increase 8-1.
Councilor Keith Bona, on the right, said the city has faced these financial issues before but always had reserves to help.
Councilman Eric Buddington said he would eventually like to see the water and sewer departments switch to enterprise funding.
“The start-up cost makes that impossible in the short term, but just philosophically I’d much rather get the city’s general revenue from taxes and use things like fees to fund specific services and fines just to change behavior when we need to, but not treat those as revenue sources although sadly that is the corner we are in," Buddington said.
Alcombright agreed that enterprise funding would be more beneficial and would be worth doing when the city is more stable financially.
The City Council unanimously approved all increases to parking violations. The mayor said he expects the increase in fees to generate $54,300.
The council showed concern over whether or not the fees are a reliable form of a revenue because of the cost of policing violations. Bona wondered if the minor ticket fine would actually be beneficial because of the costs to process it.
Alcombright said the majority of the parking clerk’s pay comes from parking permits.
Bona inquired if over-enforcing would be detrimental to North Adam’s businesses. The mayor said he does not foresee enforcement reaching a level of a city like Pittsfield.
“If they are punitive, than let them be punitive, but we can’t be so ridiculous about it that we basically drive business away,” he said.
The City Council asked if some fines were even cost effective and even necessary. The mayor said it is important to have a fine for all infractions so they can be enforced.
Councilwomen Jenifer Breen showed concern over the consistency of revenue the tickets will provide. The mayor said that the city can be more adamant about enforcing violations.
The council agreed that they would like to distinguish public safety violations form normal violations with larger fees for dangerous infractions. The mayor said these can be worked out.
In discussing other ways to mend the budget, Breen asked if it was possible to switch to uncompensated overtime, which is a practice largely found in the private sector.
The mayor believed this would cause needed employees to leave in search of better paying jobs.
"I agree with you, councilor; I came from the private sector and you pretty much worked until the job was done," he said. "The public sector has a different mentality. ... My biggest concern with a 10 percent cut is that we really will lose staff and won’t be able to fill them with qualified certified people."
The Finance Committee will meet Wednesday night to continue working on the budget.