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The Finance Committee of the City Council, Chairwoman Nancy Bullett, Lisa Blackmer and Wayne Wilkinson reviewed the final budget with Mayor Richard Alcombright.

North Adams Finance Panel Recommends FY2015 Budget

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Mayor Richard Alcombright defended the tourism director position but agreed that effectiveness of the position should be evaluated.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee is recommending the City Council pass a $37.7 million budget for the coming fiscal year.

The budget draft is down $12,719.23 after final calculations to $37,729,404.

The spending plan will include funding for a tourism director, a post that had been considered in danger of being eliminated.

Committee members debated for about a half-hour before agreeing that the job should stay in but be evaluated for effectiveness.

"We can't jump ship in the middle of the ocean," said committee member Wayne Wilkinson after Mayor Richard Alcombright defended the need for the post, especially as the summer season was beginning.

The mayor did agree to further talks about the parameters of the job.

"I think that's a discussion that we have but not that we cut in the middle of our busiest part of the year," he said.

Committee members had been more concerned about replacing a police officer than keeping a tourism director. The budget as presented leaves an open position in the Police Department.

"Six months ago we were all screaming about heroin, we were all screaming about bar fights ... the police officer is more important," said Wilkinson.

Committee member Lisa Blackmer said volunteers could be rallied to help put on the city events, but volunteers couldn't replace a police officer.

"I just think it's priorities, and if we get money, we can reinstitute the tourism position," she said, referring to the $750,000 in emergency aid for the city awaiting approval in the Legislature.

Chairwoman Nancy Bullet said she would rather see more funding for police officers, but noted the meals and rooms tax had supported the tourism office.

The municipal taxes had been passed in part on the idea that the tourism office would help bring in more business.

City Councilors Kate Merrigan and Eric Buddington, who attended the meeting along with Councilor Benjamin Lamb, felt the director's job was important in ensuring events that offered socialization and strengthened connections to the community as a crime preventative. Merrigan thought the city could turn to Williams College for help in determining the effectiveness of the position in promoting economic and cultural development.

Alcombright said the meals and rooms taxes have grown exponentially, which he saw as directly linked to the efforts of the tourism office.

"I would also argue that every event in this city has grown," he said, and that the office has crafted positive relationships with regional and state organizations as well as other municipalities.

"I think this position is worth every penny of it."

It isn't the first time the position has run into opposition. It was nearly eliminated in 2011 by the council during the push for the unsuccessful Proposition 2 1/2 override.

"We need to have ongoing discussions on this position," said Bullett. "So this isn't a conversation being had in the 11th hour."

Wilkinson also questioned whether the library could be cut, noting the number of staff and $45,000 designated to books.

Administrative Officer Michael Canales said singling out the library for cuts would endanger the city's participation in regional library network C/W MARS and could mean the loss of $30,000 in state library aid. Despite the number of budget cuts, other departments were either up or being level-funded, he said.

Alcombright said library was a valuable asset that serves 250 to 300 people daily.

"If you start cutting deep enough you're never going to find a way to restore it," he said.

The committee also reviewed changes made to other line items. A number of departments were up a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to cover step raises; however, there was also a significant reduction of $36,000 in health premiums because of the reduction of 19 jobs in the school department.

Debt is down $13,000 because of rescheduling; extra expenses were added to the assessors for the development of Geographical Information Services digital mapping and in inspection services for contracting with Berkshire Health Alliance for certain inspections and reporting.

"This is our final scrub before we go to the council, we check every employee, every figure," said Canales.

The City Council will vote on the fiscal 2015 budget at its meeting Tuesday, June 24. The council last week approved a revenue plan to balance the budget.

Tags: city budget,   fiscal 2015,   

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