City Council Approves Reduced 2012 Budget
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday night approved a revised fiscal 2012 budget of $35,074,495, reflecting some $462,515 more in cuts for the so-called "Plan B" budget.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the reductions reflected the "will of the voters," who rejected his bid for a $1.2 million override in June to balance the budget.
"During the override discussions, I heard that people wanted local government to downsize spending holding the line with a budget that's more reflective of a population that's been in decline for many years," he said in a prepared statement to the council.
The mayor said the 2012 budget reflects a 3.2 percent decrease, or $1.125 million in cuts, over the past two years.
The city's nearly $1 million deficit has been reduced to about $423,000 (not counting some $560,000 in underfunded accounts in the school department being covered by school-choice funds). The shortfall will be funded between anticipated increases in state aid and more than a half-million in reserves and free cash.
Councilor Alan Marden, a member of the Finance Committee, reads the line item reductions of $462,000 more for fiscal 2012.
The council unanimously approved the budget, with Councilors President Ronald Boucher and Michael Bloom absent, despite urging from former Mayor John Barrett III to question accounts such as salaries and questionable water-treatment plant savings.
"There are a lot of other questions that haven't been asked that should be asked," said Barrett, who is considering a rematch against Alcombright after being ousted in 2009. "It's being done in subcommittee, it's not being done in the full view ...
"When I was mayor, I always brought and went through it step by step, line item by line item explaining why there were shortages," he said. "What [voters] wanted to see was some accountability."
The city will still be taxing to its levy limit to fund this year's budget.
Residential taxes will rise 41 cents per $1,000 valuation, or about $61.50 on home valued at $150,000.
The commerical rate will increase about 90 cents.
Mayor Alcombright said he would not shift more to the residential side but said there could be other ways to ease the commercial tax burden.
Alcombright objected, saying "the Finance Committee met, literally, for hours and hours on this budget. ... I don't think there was anything that was unanswered and, quite honestly, I don't think there was anything unasked."
"Where were the questions — I did question it — when we transferred in $1.8 million in December '09 to reduce the budget?" he countered. "That started my administration with a $3.2 million deficit."
Barrett responded, "We had the money available to keep the tax rate down. I make no apologies for that I make no apologies for doing it in 1991, 1992 or any other time."
The two, not suprisingly, also differed on the medical insurance trust fund, the semantics of audits and mismanagement, and the back and forth began to resemble a campaign debate before Council Vice President Lisa Blackmer, presiding in the absence of Boucher (who is also considering a run), brought it to a close.
In other business:
• The mayor provided an opinion from the city solicitor finding that Berkshire Family and Individual Resources' residential home on Lorraine Drive was a permitted use. Neighbors on the street had petitioned that the nonprofit BFAIR was operating a business and should not be allowed to operate a home for the disabled and developmentally challenged.
• Approved a five-year lease agreement for an all-terrain mower for $39,000, nearly $43,000 with an interest rate of 4.75, with option to buy at the end. Councilor Alan Marden voted against after advocating buying the mower outright rather than paying annually.
• The mayor reported that the city will get $700,000 back from the $880,000 held for Blue Cross Blue Shield for the runout — or unexpired claims — as the city switched away from self-insurance. Alcombright said the funds will wipeout the city's $680,000 liability with the state.
The agenda for Tuesday's meeting can be found here; the new budget numbers can be found here. Note that the final reduction is $5,000 more because of a a math error. Edited since posting to remove confusing language.