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North Adams Closing In On Master Plan

Staff Reports

NORTH ADAMS, Mass — The city is inching closer to a master plan.

The region's planning commission gave the city another small grant to work toward developing a long-term vision for the city.

A new Community Development Advisory Board, to be appointed by Mayor Richard Alcombright, will tackle the details of planning the city's future.

The city has not had a long-term master plan in more than 40 years but began creating one with a similar grant last year.

"We hadn't done any formal long-term planning in years," Alcombright said on Monday. "The next piece will be much more involved with the public."

The master plan will set goals and decided the types of land use throughout the city.

The group will be picking up where the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission left off. Last year, the planning commission gave the city a similar grant, which the city used to hired BRPC to create a long-range planning strategy. The draft version of that strategy was completed in November.

After failing to reel in a federal grant to complete a master plan, the city once again asked and received the smaller BRPC grant.

The community development board will now take the planning strategy and engage the public to develop actual planning strategies. Residents will have chances to chime in as early as April, Alcombright said.

"We're hoping this will continue where we left off," Alcombright said. "They're relatively small grants but BRPC does a lot with them. We have no money but we found a way to bring in someone from BRPC once a week."

The regional planner will help the advisory board bring the plan to the public. Next fall, the city will apply for the federal grant to finish the job again.

The advisory board members and the final draft of the long-range plan will be revealed to the public and city boards on Feb. 22. Alcombright said the long-range strategy is mostly a series of broadly defined goals including rebranding, creating a diverse economy, combating poverty and examining the geographical impacts on business.

"This is a jumping off point," Alcombright said.

The mayor did not know the exact amount of the grant but estimated it to be around $20,000.

“BRPC is very pleased that we can continue to provide this modicum of support to the City of North Adams in development of a new comprehensive plan and we continue to look forward to working with the city. We are fortunate that we have municipal leaders across the Berkshires, including Mayor Alcombright, who understand the need for comprehensive planning, followed by aggressive implementation, in order to continue to rebuild our communities and continue to build jobs for the future, while protecting our environment,”  said Executive Director Nathaniel Karns in a statement.

Tags: BRPC, Master Plan, Grant      

North Adams Prepping For Budget Season

Tammy Daniels

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee is wondering how the city might learn from the state's takeover of other municipalities.

The city is struggling with rising costs and nearly depleted reserves. Yet Lawrence, which accepted state oversight to borrow $24 million, has a robust $5.9 million in cash overlay; Springfield, which just exited receivership, has $109 million — some 19 percent of its budget.

In comparison, North Adams has a cash overlay of $726,000; about .0014 percent its budget, said Mayor Richard Alcombright.

"Obviously, Springfield benefited from receivership and Lawrence is plugging along," said committee member Alan Marden. "What can we learn from what was done there?"

The mayor said he hoped to discuss that with the Department of Revenue, but the city may already be following that lead.

"If this group and the council and the staff hadn't worked to be so pro active last year ... we might have gone that way," said Alcombright. "I think it was the fact we kept addressing things."

Still, the city has some tough times ahead and is facing a structural deficit of $1.2 million that could jump to $1.4 million to $1.6 million, depending on the state budget.

The mayor is urging the Finance Committee and staff to undertake discussions now to be prepared for cost-cutting measures and some out-of-the-box thinking to get through the next year.

One of the topics that has come up is regionalization of services, a la the city's recent partnership with Adams and Williamstown to share a veterans agent. Committee member David Bond wants to go further, suggesting that Adams and North Adams reintegrate once again to create a more streamlined system and save money.

"Those discussions sometimes take months, sometimes take years, but let's start talking about this stuff," Alcombright said.

In comparison with other municipalities, the city is lagging. It ranks last in the state in equalized property valuation (total value divided by number of residents) and last in the state for single-family home valuation (at $135,000), according to the DOR.

Its average residential tax bill ($14/$1,000) is the third-lowest in the county, but it's commercial rate appears to be the highest ($31.49).

Pittsfield, for example, has a residential rate of $14.20 and an average home assessment of $190,000, and a commercial rate of $29.41. Committee Chairman Michael Bloom, however, pointed out at the lower valuations in North Adams means a business owner would be paying much less even with the higher rate.

Alcombright said city has the seventh-lowest per capita income in the state ($16,381); and 18 percent of residents live below the poverty line, compared to 11 percent in Pittsfield and 9 percent statewide.

"What hurts us, what holds us back is a true sustainable, growing ecomony that doesn't churn a housing market or commercial property market," said the mayor, who added that that the city had to keep in mind the economic struggles of its citizens as it moves forward.

(On Monday morning, the city announced a partnership to try to spark private investment.)

In looking over the fiscal 2011 budget at the halfway mark, the city is about on track with about a third of expected revenue received and at the 49 percent mark in expenditures.

The landfill account is lighter than normal. The mayor said Public Services Commissioner Timothy Lescarbeau reported the number of trips, or loads, to the transfer station have not dipped but the weight of loads has. "People seem to be throwing less away," Lescarbeau had told him. The mayor added, "I would be more concerned if the trips were down because then you know the drivers are maybe going off to Pittsfield."

City officials had been concerned with the first-quarter returns on the meals tax, which came in at barely over $12,000. That could have been indicative of what the restaurants had actually paid to date, said the mayor, rather than what was owed.

Business Manager Nancy Ziter said the meals tax for the second quarter brought in $36,600, pegging it as more than $49,000 for the year to date. The rooms tax for the second quarter brought in $70,000, bringing the total so far to $151,000.

The mayor also discussed some of the finding in the audit done by Scanlon & Associates. Among the report's suggestion was the implementation of a full order and requisition system; tracking accounts receivable for veterans' disbursements (which are reimbursed 75 percent in the next year); write off languishing excise taxes while maintaining a mechanism for repayment; accounting for postretirments costs; developing a policies and procedures manual; establish internal audit system; and risk-assessment monitoring (related to cash receipts such as the landfill).

"There's nothing in here that any of us saw as a big deal," said the mayor. "It was more procedural, tidying up, cleaning up."

The auditors will give a presentation to the Finance Committee in the coming weeks.

Councilors President Ronald Boucher, Lisa Blackmer and Marie Harpin were aso in attendance.

Tags: regionalization      

North Adams Seeks New Administrator

Staff Reports

The city's on the hunt for a new chief administrative officer after Jay Green announced his departure for Amtrak by the end of this week.

Green, a self-proclaimed train enthusiast, will take a management position with the federal rail system in Albany, N.Y. He already rides the rails as volunteer conductor for the Berkshire Scenic Railway in Lee and sits on its board of directors.

His post works closely with department heads, and with community development issues, including overseeing permitting and ordinance matters that come before the Planning Board. In some ways, the position is similar to a town administrator or chief of staff since it not only oversees city operations but also acts as a liaison between the mayor and departments.

Green was hired two years ago under the former administration and stayed on after Mayor Richard Alcombright took office. He previously worked in the district attorney's office for three years. Green's predecessor was also an attorney, M. Katherine Eade, who left to work in the attorney general's utilities division.

The mayor has said he doesn't believe a law degree is prerequisite for the post.

In a posting for the job, the description states the "this position works under the direct supervision of the Mayor and provides support and direction to all City administrative functions falling under the authority of the Mayor."

It also includes "preparation of the annual budget, assists in the coordination of special projects for the City, assists the Mayor and Community Development Office with strategic and long-range planning for the City and will have frequent interaction with State and Local Governments and agencies."

The salary is posted at $60,000.

Qualifications include a master's degree in business administration or public policy or equivalent work experience. A background in public administration, law, accounting and engineering and related areas is a plus.

Tags: administrative officer      
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Voting Registration Deadlines

:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
:: General Election: Deadline to register is Tuesday, Oct. 18

Registration can be completed at the city clerk's office at City Hall.

Absentee ballots are now available at the city clerk's office for the Sept. 27 preliminary city election. Voters may come in between the hours of 8 and 4:30 weekdays. Written reguests for mailed ballots can be sent to City Clerk's Office, 10 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Deadline for absentee ballots is Monday, Sept. 26, at noon.

The preliminary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 27, to narrow the field of three mayoral candidates to two. The general election to select nine city councilors and a mayor will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8.


City Council

Returned Papers
As of 8/9 at 5 p.m.
 Lisa M. Blackmer* Yes
 Michael Bloom Yes
 Keith Bona* Yes
 David Bond* Yes
 Marie Harpin* Yes
 Alan Marden* Yes
 John Barrett Yes
 Eric R. Buddington Yes
 Nancy P. Bullett Yes
 Robert Cardimino Yes
 Catherine Chaput Yes
 Roland G. Gardner  
 Diane M. Gallese-Parsons  Yes
Shane Gaudreau  
 James B. Gyurasz  Yes
 Michael Hernandez  Yes
 Jennifer Breen Kirsch  Yes
Brian L. Flagg  
 Kellie A. Morrison  Yes
 Greg Roach  Yes
 Gail Kolis Sellers  Yes
18 candidates returned papers
 Richard J. Alcombright*  Yes
 Ronald A. Boucher  Yes
 Robert Martelle  Yes
 Preliminary election will eliminate one
 School Committee  
 Mary Lou Accetta* Yes
 Lawrence K. Taft* Yes
 Leonard Giroux Jr.  Yes
 Tara J. Jacobs  Yes
 David Lamarre Yes
McCann School Committee  
 George M. Canales Yes

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