Mayor Thomas Bernard says there is not much investment in this budget but more revenue from property sales could come in later this year and next fiscal year will see $1 million in debt fall off the books.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday adopted a fiscal 2019 spending plan of $40,721,358, up just under 2 percent from this year.
The budget for city operations, salaries, debt payments, the School Department, capital costs, and the assessment to the Northern Berkshire Vocational School District represents a 1.92 percent increase or $765,603 more than this year. It uses no reserves and does not rely on increases in rates for the transfer station, water and sewer; it also looks at a slight decrease in insurances rates.
The owner of an average home assessed at $138,000 will likely see a property tax increase of $93.
"This is really is a maintenance budget, we did our best to the hold the line on everything that we could," Mayor Thomas Bernard told the council on Tuesday. "It's not a budget where we're making big investments in personnel, in facilities, in infrastructure."
Bernard said the budget process began in mid-April and the spending plan went through about 40 iterations before the final document presented Tuesday night.
At the beginning of the process, the budget had a $114,000 budget gap that was closed through several line item adjustments. Part of that was reducing the labor account line by $40,000 since all contract negotiations had been completed and bringing the estimated veterans services budget in line with actual spending.
"That's not a reduction in one in service to our veterans but bringing it line with actual spending," the mayor said. That line item is set at $575,000.
The increases are largely from the North Adams Public Schools ($341,479), Public Safety ($161,360) and pensions ($138,417).
City Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, chairman of the Finance Committee, reported that he and committee members Councilors Benjamin Lamb and Marie T. Harpin endorsed the budget before the council.
He thanked his colleagues for dedication in attending the long, detailed committee meetings and the mayor, his finance team and the department heads who explained the reasoning behind their budget requests. He added that speaking with the department leaders was "very educational and interesting" in learning how the city operates.
"The entire process of the budget was well vetted," Wilkinson said. "The budget is very, very lean, there is no extra there. The council can't add but it can take away. There's nothing to talk away."
The budget also covers negotiated contract increases for the public unions, at 2 percent for police, firefighters and public service staff and 1 percent for non-union. These raises are part of the second years of three-year contracts.
Two positions — the special projects coordinator and junior custodian — had their classifications changed to reflect increased responsibilities. The tourism director was changed from part time to full time and a half-time principal clerk was added to the treasurer/collector office and a half-time temporary clerk post to the city clerk's office, part of the transition for city clerk's coming retirement. An assistant information systems director has also been budgeted for the coming year.
The changes in the compensation and classification plan related to those raises were also passed to a second reading and publication.
Although the fiscal 2019 budget is seeing limited investment, Bernard said the city may see new revenue flowing in, but it was not firm enough to count into this spending plan.
"We expect to close Cumberland Farms in I believe the second quarter of FY19," he said. "We're finalizing the language on a couple RFPs [for city property] that you've asked for to get those out on the street and I have heard interest in several of those, in a couple cases from more than one party, so there's an anticipation of revenue there."
He expects to request transfers to close out fiscal 2018 at the next meeting using free cash, not reserves.
The bottom line was actually $827 lower than the figure initially provided to the council as a final number, reflecting two errors ($815 in public safety and $12 in FICA) that were caught by Councilor Marie T. Harpin's sharp eyes prior to Tuesday. (The budget will be posted to the city's website once the corrections are finalized.)
The two line items were amended during the reading of and voting on each department budget, which then set off a cascade of amendments to correct the numbers in the summative document. With the exception of Lamb abstaining from the school budget vote because his wife works for the school system, all department budgets passed unanimously. All councilors then voted unanimously on the total budget.
In other business:
• The council balked at approving a $28,000 appropriation for a study of the city's information systems by the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management. The mayor said he was asking for the study so as to have a strategic guide prior to making investments or hiring an assistant for MIS. Councilor Jason LaForest said he was unimpressed with the Collins Center reports he had read and thought the money might be better spent.
LaForest's argument swayed the council to support his motion to refer the matter to the Public Services Committee for more review.
• Julie Cowan, MassDevelopment's vice president for business development in Western Massachusetts, explained the agency's Property Assessed Clean Energy program, or PACE, which provides access to long-term financing for businesses, non-profits and apartment buildings of more than five units for energy efficiency improvements.
The city's obligation would be to collect the loan as part of a checkbox on the tax form and remit the funds to PACE or other designated authority. Cowen said the city is not responsible for any payments, it is merely a pass-through, and that it would always be the primary lien holder — in other words, if someone did not pay the full bill, those funds collected would go to the city's lien first. The council approved the city's participation after questioning Cowan closely.
• The council also referred a rezoning request made by the owners of Tourists complex and its surrounding parcels to the Planning Board and heard an update from the mayor about the city's response to Lamb and Harpin's request about working on domestic violence. Officials have opened communications with social service agencies and city departments and attended several meetings. The councilors and mayor agreed that the city administration should continue to be supportive of local efforts to address the issues surrounding domestic violence.
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