Councilor Marie T. Harpin tried to amend the airport budget as a way to get funds for lifeguards at Windsor Lake.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved a $41 million spending plan for fiscal 2020 — but not until spending nearly an hour debating where to find $14,000 for lifeguards.
Councilor Marie T. Harpin moved to reduce the airport budget by $14,000 — first from its miscellaneous line and then from its maintenance salary line — as a way to find money to keep lifeguards at the public beach at Windsor Lake.
In the end, Mayor Thomas Bernard said he would be willing to discuss the use of reserve account funds with the council, although he did not allow himself to be pinned down to specifics. That provided enough of a resolution for the council to move forward and approve the total spending plan with the $14,000 still in place.
The Finance Committee, of which Harpin is chairman, had learned at its meeting last week that the administration had determined to eliminate the use of lifeguards.
Harpin had objected and attempted to amend the budget Tuesday to cover the cost by targeting Harriman & West Airport.
"I don't want to give the public the impression that this is a budget issue. Because it's not a budget issue. We should have plenty of money," she said. "This is definitely a safety issue. ... Just ask the mayor to please reconsider adding that to the Windsor Lake, $14,000 for lifeguards, and not for a full year, maybe just for July, August and September, maybe just a portion of that ...
"Let's just get through the summer and we can look at this again."
Her concerns were echoed by other councilors and resident Daniel Connerton, who frequently swims at the lake.
It was not an issue of baby-sitting, he told the council during hearing of visitors. "It's an issue of public safety, public safety for children and adults, citizens and visitors, people of all ages not just kids — all ages and backgrounds. Windsor lake is also a popular tourist spot for visitors from mass MOCA, and from our newest new hotels, safety and stability is concerned. There's a bigger picture here, too. And that is life-guarding is helpful both to children learning how to behave in the water and maybe even learning swimming."
However, the council does not have the authority to transfer funds in the proposed budget or add funds — it can only cut.
"Taking $14,000 out of this line affects the bottom line it doesn't free up funds for another line," the mayor said. "We've introduced the budget ... the council can approve or reject, we cannot add to the budget."
Bernard said he understood the concern and that it was unfortunate it came out through the Finance Committee, because it was not a budget issue but rather an operations issue. The decision, which was presented to the Windsor Lake Recreation Commission, was made because the camps that use the public beach have highly qualified lifeguards that meet state standards and also that many other facilities — including state parks — no longer use lifeguards or have limited lifeguards.
About 70 percent of the open time at Fish Pond is not covered by lifeguards and the Historic Valley Campground has not had lifeguards in 7 or 8 years. Bernard said the younger children at Northern Berkshire Family YMCA no longer come to beach over concerns of heat and weather issues.
"The practice has been to staff up to Labor Day," he said but added there have been problems in staffing because the guards leave for college or sports. There have been years with no guards after mid-August and the only complaints had been about inattentive lifeguards that he said are more of a liability for the city then the swim-at-your-own-risk scenario
"I'm not inclined to change that at this time," he said. "I know the concern is what might happen tomorrow but I think we're doing what is the appropriate thing."
Harpin, however, said it was a matter of safety and pushed the mayor on the potential to transfer the funds from another line item, selecting the two for Harriman & West as options.
Administrative Officer Michael Canales said the first line item — taking $14,000 from $16,000 from the airport's miscellaneous line — would cut into equipment and items such as lighting, windsocks and computers.
"You're cutting three-quarters of the operational budget of the airport," he said.
And while Harpin found majority support over the issues of the lifeguards, there was some pushback when she tried to motion a cut in the airport's maintenance salary budget. Since the terminal is a new building, she said, it shouldn't need much upkeep so perhaps the position could be part-time and could get help from other departments.
That sort of thinking was why the city was now dealing with deferred maintenance issues, said Councilor Joshua Moran. "Finding the $14,000 has to come out of the airport just to have lifeguards for the summer is short-sighted."
Councilor Wayne Wilkinson said he didn't understand what Harpin was doing looking for $14,000 to cut because it wasn't going to get lifeguards.
"If we cut it ... that money is gone. We can't do takebacks on that," said Councilor Benjamin Lamb. "I do not feel comfortable rushing into this and saying hack here and hope that something happens in 25 minutes in these council chambers because my guess is 99 percent it won't happen. I think we're gonna end up cutting back and it's just going to go away."
Councilor Paul Hopkins said he didn't see anyone in the room who wants to cut lifeguards but, he added, "I'd like to see the budget passed tonight and see if we can figure this out in the not too distant future."
Canales pointed out there was $24,000 in the reserve account for unexpected expenses that the council could authorize, a solution also seconded by Lamb. But Harpin pointed out that the mayor would still have to bring a order to transfer those funds.
Bernard said he disagreed with the need but that he was bringing forward the suggestion of the reserve "because we're willing to entertain that suggestion." The mayor offered the opening but would not state decisively to Harpin that the lifeguards would be hired.
Councilor Benjamin Lamb warns there will be no way to get the money back if it's cut out of the budget.
Councilor Jason LaForest, who had earlier ticked off a list of statistics to support the need for lifeguards, tried to push a little more and Councilor Rebbecca Cohen made a shushing sound.
"I'll just point out that by my math sitting here, at least six of nine councilors are in support of lifeguards at Windsor lake," he said. "I'll say no more."
With that, Wilkinson called the question, which was Harpin's second motion to cut from the airport budget. She rescinded the motion and the council voted for a final amended budget number of $40,805,538. The council then approved each department budget separately to allow those with relatives working for the city to abstain from the appropriate line items. It was passed unanimously with the exception of Wilkinson voting no on one section because the Finance Committee had removed the Mobile Home Rent Control Board's $500 budget.
The council also approved an amendment to the second reading of the compensation and classification plan to raise the salary of the office of mayor by $4,000 to $88,470 effective Jan. 1, 2020, on the recommendation of the Finance Committee. Harpin said the salary had not changed in 12 years. Because it is an election year, any raise cannot take effect until the following year.
In other business:
• The City Council approved the installation of 3-foot by 4-foot signs celebrating the city's Sister City of Tremosine, Italy, on Route 8 North near Hardman Industrial Park and on Route 2 East near the Harriman & West Airport. Similar signs have already been placed in Tremosine. Edward Morandi, who presented the request, said there is $500 in the city budget for the Sister City initiative and he expected the signs would be $375 plus some engineering. He and Michael Cozzaglio would do further research on the signage. North Adams and Tremosine have been Sister Cities since 2005.
• The council affirmed the mayor's appointments of James M. Neville to the North Adams Housing Authority for another term to expire July 1, 2024, and Alyssa "Laini" Sporbert to the Public Arts Commission for a term to expire May 1, 2021, to fill the unexpired term of Cynthia Quinones.
• An order implementing metered parking on Ashland Street on the easterly side from Main Street to Quincy Street was referred to the Public Safety Committee and the crosswalk on Brickyard Court between the driveway of the Northern Berkshire YMCA and the Brayton Hill Apartments was ordered removed.
• A communication from President Keith Bona on short-term rentals was referred to the Community Development Committee to come back the second meeting of September.
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