Musical Summer in North Adams
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Music's in the air this summer in the city as two free concert series — downtown and lakeside — offer up live music.
Party in the Park at Noel Field kicks off Thursday night, July 7, from 6 to 8 with the touring act Who Are You, a tribute show offering covers of the Who's greatest hits. Upcoming at the free concerts are Harbour Grace, Rock Hounds, Tony Lee Thomas, Loose Change, Sirsy, Grind and, wrapping up the series on Aug. 25, Whiskey City.
This is the second year for Party in the Park, which has expanded to six nights, covering Thursdays in July and August. The evening includes classic cars and lots of food vendors.
It is being presented by the city, WUPE (Whoopee Radio), WNAW 1230AM, Bedard Brothers and Greylock Federal Credit Union.
The free six-week concert series sponsored by the city at Windsor Lake (Fish Pond) started on June 29 (with the Drury band) and will continue on Wednesday evenings through Aug. 3 at the pavilion. This Wednesday is local favorite Champagne Jam offering up an eclectic repertoire of modern country, rock'n' roll and big band; check our Facebook page for weekly updates.
The music begins at 7 p.m. so bring a lawn chair and sit by the lake or under a tree and enjoy the scenery.
Editor's Note: The North Adams Public Library also offers a summer concert series, Music at the Mansion, on the library lawn at 6:30. This Friday features John Root with "The Golden Years." Check the library's website for upcoming concerts.
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City Council Uses Free Cash To Fix Overrun Account
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city drained its free cash account Tuesday to cover a shortfall in veterans' benefits.
The City Council approved transferring $163,833 from free cash to cover the overrun account and even more reserves are expected to be used next month to finish off the 2011 budget.
The transfer had to be completed before the end of the month before the state freezes that account.
The city saw a boost in the number of benefits the city has given to 48 different veterans. The state will reimburse the city 75 percent of the benefits but not until next fiscal year.
"A lot of it's outreach and a lot is the economy," Mayor Richard Alcombright said. "It's about $100,000 more than the year prior."
Alcombright pointed to the depressed economy to explain the sharp increase. Veterans' unemployment benefits are running out and they must now turn to the city, he said.
The deficit only covers the benefits for North Adams veterans, Alcombright said when asked about the shared agent with Williamstown and Adams. The city pays for the agent and the other towns pay the city proportionately, which enters the budget as revenue. Earlier this year, Williamstown also reported an increase in benefits given out.
"The only thing we see at city hall is North Adams cases," Alcombright said. "The benefits and salary gets split."
The move nearly drains the free cash account to finish off the fiscal year, which ends next week, he said.
Alcombright said he will return to the board next week to request further withdrawals from other reserve accounts to fix overruns in the snow and ice, Department of Public Works and public safety budget lines.
However, Alcombright also said that local receipts appear to have received a boost in the last 10 days, which could help offset using those reserve funds while the city plans for next year.
"Local receipts are better. They are not where I want them to be but they are better than I thought," Alcombright said. "I'm hopeful that some of the numbers may be negated."
Tuesday's meeting took only 30 minutes because councilors had very few updates on committees and organizations.
Councilor Al Marden reported that the Health and Safety Committee is continuing to work with the Police Department in phasing out the public safety commissioner position.
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Drury Band Marching in National July 4 Parade
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Drury High School band, under the direction of Christopher Caproni, has been invited to perform in the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C., on July 4.
The band has been rehearsing for many long hours both during and after school to prepare for this honor, said Caproni in a press release. "The process started over a year ago when Senator John Kerry recommended the Drury Band for this national event."
Applications to the parade were sent in with a video of the band marching in the Fall Foliage Parade in 2009 and it was accepted in October 2010. The students and the Drury Band Parents Organization have been fundraising during the school year to send 65 students on this trip.
Fundraisers included a bottle drive, the sale of advertising to local merchants for the Drury Band Ad Book, sales of pizza kits, fruit, flower bulbs, gas card raffle tickets, discount cards, and tickets to a midnight showing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part One." The band members also participated in an all-night rock-a-thon benefit.
The band will leave North Adams early Sunday, July 3. Upon arriving in Washington, students will view the World War II, the Lincoln, Vietnam War and Korean War memorials and tour the Smithsonian Institute's Air and Space Museum.
The National Independence Day Parade will march down Constitution Avenue on Monday, July 4. The band, led by drum major Samantha Bator, will perform "Patriotic Parade Sequence," a medley of three songs: "America the Beautiful," "America" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
The marching unit includes a four-piece color guard consisting of 2011 class President Evan Schueckler carrying the American flag; Brodey Moran, the Massachusetts flag; Allison DeGrenier, the Drury High School flag and Alyssa Marceau, the rifle. The 10-piece band front, under the direction of Diane Burdick, will carry pom-poms and colored flags and accompany the band with choreographed routines. Student captains are Arissa McLain and Susan Bloom. The percussion section is led by student leader Avery Witherell.
The band's 50 instrumentalists will proudly display Drury's colors of blue and white. They will wear their summer uniforms, consisting of blue pants and white shirts with gold ascots and white sashes. Their white hats are topped with blue plumes.
The Drury concert band will perform at the Navy Memorial in Washington the next day. The band will perform Carmen Dragon's arrangement of "America the Beautiful," Leroy Anderson's "Bugler's Holiday" featuring Anuj Shah, rising senior Max Quinn and sophomore Evan Johnson on trumpets, Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" with narration by Schueckler, and the "Second Suite in F" by Gustav Holst.
While in Washington the band will tour the Holocaust Museum, the Capitol, the National Archives and the Jefferson and FDR Memorials. The band will also view the fireworks on July 4 and see the National Symphony perform.
The band will be performing the Washington program in a send-off concert on Wednesday, June 29, at 7 p.m. on the lawn at Windsor Lake in North Adams. This is a thank you to the people of North Adams for supporting the Drury band program. The concert is free and everyone is invited to attend.
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North Adams Rejects Override Proposal
Supporters and opponents of the override were in a good mood on Tuesday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Voters rejected a $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override by 577 votes on Tuesday, sending city officials back to the drawing board to plug a $957,000 hole in the 2012 budget.
"This is a democracy, this is why people are able to make these choices, and we'll respect the choice," said a disappointed Mayor Richard Alcombright, who vowed to "look under every rock" for savings and revenue (yes, taxes will still go up). "I was hoping, hoping beyond hope I guess, for a different outcome."
His concern was that the city was continuing to "kick the can down the road" by not dealing with the loss of revenues. The same hurdles will be there next year, he said.
"We're not going to be able to fund things that we want to fund, we're not going to be able to continue things that we want to continue, and we know darn well the revenues aren't going to come back," the mayor said. "At best, next year we're level funded [by the state] which is still a 3 percent step back."
The mayor was busy answering two phones after the election results came in.
Outspoken opponent Robert Cardimino, on the other hand, was jubilant. "It sent a message to City Hall," he said.
The city has seen its state aid drop by more than $3 million and revenues decline even as costs have continued to rise. With no significant reserves left, the mayor proposed a Proposition 2 1/2 override that would have increased the city's levy limit to raise more taxes to match revenues to spending.
The override, on top of last year's 10 percent property tax increase, water rate increase and implementation of a sewer fee, had a segment of the population howling.
"I can't afford to lose my house," said Robert Martel, who was standing outside St. Elizabeth's Parish Center with a large "NO" sign. "My taxes have gone up $667."
The question has divided the city, with harsh words at public meetings and allegations of scare tactics. At least one landlord reportedly handed out fliers warning tenants their rent would be hiked if the override passed.
The results came quickly as the override was defeated by at least 70 votes in each of the four wards stationed at the parish center. Ward 4, at Greylock Elementary School, rejected it even more decisively by 200 votes.
The final tally was 1,812 against and 1,235 for, with 36 percent of registered voters casting ballots. The vote wasn't quite as harsh as in Cheshire, which defeated a $200,000 override 2 to 1 on Monday night, but it wasn't far off.
Election wardens were mixed on how the vote might be going; the diversity of the voting population made it difficult to get a forecast on the outcome.
Ken O'Brien, head warden at St. Elizabeth's, said the turnout had been steady throughout the day with voters ranging from the very young to the very old; a large number voters brought their children.
Over in Greylock, Warden Christine Petrie said the bulk of the votes — some 500 — had been cast by around noon, with a couple eager voters ready an hour before the polls opened at 9. "There was a woman here with a baby 4 days old and another woman who said she was 95."
By all accounts, there was little hesitation in checking off yes or no for the one question on the ballot. Some didn't even bother using the voting booths; "One man marked the ballot in his hand and walked right to the box," said Assistant Clerk Jane Wise.
"As a parent, I'm really concerned," said Drury High School Principal Amy Meehan, who has spoken in support of the override at some of the six information sessions held over the last few weeks. "I think that North Adams is a good place to raise children but I don't know what the city is going to do to close the shortfall.
Alcombright congratulated Robert Cardimino on the outcome, but Cardimino couldn't resist jabbing the mayor again with his claims of 'scare tactics.' We call unsportsmanlike conduct.
"Voter turnout was so low, I'm very disappointed ... this is going to be a longtime loss for all."
Alcombright said he was going to "take some very, very deep breaths and try to absorb where we are" and then meet with school administrators and department heads to craft another spending plan to present to the City Council by the second meeting in July. A list of cuts already presented to the public will be on the table.
"The biggest challenge now is the school getting down to minimize spending; that means we have to find a half-million or so in the city budget and that is near and next to impossible," he said. "... but we will and we'll make it work."
He was unshaken by a major setback in only his second year in office; he'd spent weeks trying to persuade voters to make a difficult choice that would directly affect their wallets.
"It's probably just more than people were willing to absorb," he said. "You try to minimize by saying the average would be $195 a year, but it's still 195 bucks out of somebody's wallet. ... Even a win would have been bittersweet: you passed your budget, you move forward, however, you're throwing this liability on thousands of people."
Please be aware that we have closed comments on past override stories to keep the conversation up to date.
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North Adams Voters to Decide Override Question
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Voters will decide on Tuesday whether the city's budget will be cut by $1 million or they'll shoulder the burden to keep school programs and services in place.
The Proposition 2 1/2 override has split the city, with opponents saying they can't afford any more taxes. Proponents say the city's been undertaxed for years and is due for an increase, albeit harsh, to keep functioning.
The polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for voters to decide on giving the city the authority to assess an addition $1.2 million. Wards 1, 2, 3 and 5 will vote at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center; Ward 4 will vote at Greylock Elementary School.
Over the past few years, North Adams has lost more than $3 million in state aid and burned through its reserves. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have already been slashed from the 2012 budget, including full and part-time posts in both the city and school system. The proposed $35.5 million spending plan approved by the City Council last week is short $957,762, even though it's $300,000 less than this year's budget.
If the override passes, it will permanently raise the levy limit to a higher benchmark from which future tax levies will be calculated. Since each year municipalities can raise another 2.5 percent from its assessed real estate and personal property, North Adams will have about another $340,000. Added to the override, the city would have the ability to raise up to $1.5 million.
Should the override be defeated, it will mean severe cuts, mostly on the already stressed city side. Because the school system is so close to state-mandated foundation level, it can only be cut by about $300,000.
Between the $15.4 million school budget and assessments to McCann Technical School ($890,000), nearly half the budget will be locked up in educational spending. A large part of the city budget is also locked into fixed costs, including $3.75 million in medical insurance, $1 million in wastewater services, a $1.3 million in debt payments and more than $2 million in pensions.
If the override goes down, the mayor will have to present the City Council with a spending plan in July.
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