Pittsfield Council Passes 2015 Budget Minus Capital Plan

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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The City Council adopted a $141.2 million budget but rejected the mayor's capital spending plan.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — By a 9-2 vote on Tuesday, the City Council approved the $141.2 million budget proposed by Mayor Daniel Bianchi for the coming fiscal year.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi and Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully voted against the FY15 budget, which represents a $4.1 million increase over the previous year. Both councilors cited the increase as too much of a tax burden on lower-income homeowners and local business.

"Over half of my constituents are over 65," said Tully. "I'm getting emails, I'm getting phone calls, begging me to support them.

"We're not increasing our tax base, so that's being passed on to the residential taxpayers of Pittsfield," said Morandi, also voicing concerns about the requisite tax rate increase that will follow from this budget at the end of the calendar year. "Now is the time to send a message, not in December."

Bianchi said that for the council to vote down the budget at this juncture would be "irresponsible, unless you offer some recommendations for cuts, which you haven't done to this point."

"I have to agree with the mayor on this," said Councilor Barry Clairmont. "The time to suggest cuts is during the budget hearings. Talking about it now, having not proposed any cuts, to me that's just sort of lip service."

Other councilors voted to approve the operating budget despite reservations with some aspects.

Councilors Jonathan Lothrop and John Krol voiced disappointment that more positions were not budgeted in the police and fire departments, saying public safety was a major concern of residents

Councilor Kathy Amuso felt that more could be done to fine-tune expenditures and reduce spending through more rigorous reorganization.

"I think we need to start doing things differently," said Amuso.

While the main budget passed, the proposed $9.5 million Capital Improvement Program received only seven votes, one less than the two-thirds majority required, with Clairmont, Lothrop, Krol, Morandi voting in opposition.

While several compromises were brokered between the council and mayor in a previous hearing earlier this month, continued disagreement centered around the purchase of a new fire engine, which though supported by a majority of the council did not make it into the list of capital expenses. 

Bianchi said the purchase is planned for next year, expressing the opinion that the current vehicle capacity is "adequate."

"We'd love to be able to have everything that we ask for, but it's just not possible," said Bianchi

Councilor Anthony Simonelli expressed concern about the failure to pass the capital plan, suggesting that the councilors who voted in opposition should arrange to meet with the mayor soon in order to negotiate their concerns. Others, however, suggested that this is not an immediate necessity to pass the capital project plan, and the city will not suffer by waiting until the council's next meeting in two weeks.

"It's hard for me to see where a delay of a couple of weeks is a major problem,"  said Lothrop.  

"I haven't heard anyone [on the council] that says they don't want the fire truck," agreed Krol.  "My suggestion is, if it's a priority for you, then we make that recommendation, and strongly say that to the mayor."

Tags: capital spending,   city budget,   fiscal 2015,   

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