Pittsfield Completes Budget Review; Awaits Revisions

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Superintendent for Business and Finance for the School Department Kristen Behnke gave the final budget presentation on Thursday night.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council has finished reviewing the 2015 proposed budget and is now waiting for the mayor to send back a revised proposal.

The City Council finished the review Thursday night when it approved the school, revolving accounts and the use of $2 million in free cash to offset the operational budget.

The biggest council adjustment will come in the capital budget, where councilors suggested $3.3 million in reductions and asked for more money for road improvements.

Mayor Daniel Bianchi said on Thursday that he will increase the street improvements money by $2 million, creating a total of $3 million to be borrowed for road repairs. The revised order also removes the $3.3 million the council asked.

Overall, Bianchi is planning on returning a $9.5 million order - $1.3 million less than the original.

Meanwhile, Bianchi is also set to return to the council with changes to the operating budget. The most notable is the City Council's request to fund the hiring of new police officers. Bianchi plans to return to the council with $78,400 to hire two new officers while reducing the overtime budget.

Police Chief Michael Wynn requested five additional officers in response to requests from merchants for additional downtown patrols. Bianchi used overtime to fund downtown walking shifts and as costs mounted, Wynn said it was getting costly and suggested creating a downtown unit.

The mayor rejected the notion of hiring five for a unit but the City Council wanted at least something. The mayor now proposes hiring two officers and to reduce the overtime figure.

The rest of the changes also align with the City Council's request and will lower the operating budget by $37,749 if approved.

The changes include $8,000 more to provide a stipend for Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo, who is now eligible to accept it; switching the costs of new chief street foreman position back to the commissioner of public services line; reducing the budget line for Berkshire Athenaeum by $749; removing $20,000 from the water enterprise and removing $25,000 from the waste water enterprise.

Bianchi's revised proposal puts the capital budget at $9,541,005 to be borrowed and the city's operating budget at $75,859,335; $56,524,399 for the schools. There is also $6,563,211 that is proposed for items outside of operations for such things as paying state assessments, school choice and other post employment benefits.

For the operations and other assessments, $73.5 million is proposed to come from taxes and $2 million is eyed to come from free cash. The rest is coming from state aid, local receipts, school building assistance and enterprise funds.

The transfer from free cash, however, was questioned Thursday night with Councilor At Large Barry Clairmont asking to reduce that by $500,000. Clairmont says the city has $4.4 million in free cash and drawing that account too low is "dangerous."

"Even if I am off $1 million, we are at $3.3 million and that is still dangerously low," he said.

Though the state will certify some more free cash toward the end of the calendar year, that number is unknown. Free cash is money that had not been spent in a previous fiscal year.

Auditors have suggested that the city keeps a balance near $10 million, Clairmont said.

"It is all an estimate right now. When we set the tax rate, we are paying for the budget," Director of Finance Sue Carmel said, making it clear that the city can change that number in the fall.

While Clairmont wanted to keep more in reserves, Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully argued that those funds are "the taxpayers'" and should be used to offset the tax rate.

"If I overpaid my credit card, they would give me my money back. And I would like to give the money back in taxes," she said,

On June 24, the City Council will render a final vote and on Thursday the Councilors said there could still be more changes pending.

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