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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Prop 2 1/2 Meetings Come To a Close
The final of six public information meetings about Tuesday's vote on proposition 2 1/2 drew a small crowd.
Editor's Note: Mayor Alcombright has informed us that NBCTV encountered difficulties taping Friday night's override session. It was discovered this morning that the audio did not tape. The station will instead rebroadcast just the override presentation the mayor gave at the City Council meeting several weeks ago. The air times are Sunday, June 19, at 9 a.m., and 3 and 7 p.m., and Monday at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., all on Channel 17.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The proposition 2 1/2 public information meetings came to a close Friday night at Greylock School and the decision is now in the hands of the voters.
"I thought the process went very, very well," Mayor Richard Alcombright said of the meeting. "At the first meeting there was this aura of skepticism...Now I see people and they have a focused questions and that's what we're trying to do. People began to understand."
Alcombright hosted six meetings across the city to discuss the override vote on Tuesday. Friday's meeting was the most sparsely attended - drawing a crowd of only a few dozen. Alcombright said he hopes the meetings encouraged residents to vote in favor of the proposition. However, he said he tried to remain relatively neutral – only slightly nudging in favor of the vote – during the meetings to encourage dialogue.
"I really would like people to know that I am available, that the city counselors are available. I wanted people to come out and share their opinions and not be judged," Alcombright said. "I think people, hopefully, see the need for this."
About a dozen people spoke at Greylock School and they were all in favor of the proposition except for Robert Cardimino, who continued his campaign advocating for additional cuts rather than raising taxes. Most who spoke centered around funding for the schools.
"Something has to be done for the long-term goals," Drury High School teacher Melissa Quirk said. "If we continue to think short-term, we will never be able to grow to the potential that this community has to offer. We need to be thinking long-term and in order to do that we all need to make as much as an investment as we can in this community."
City councilor Michael Bloom said that this budget was "unlike" any budget he has seen before and encouraged people to vote in favor of the override.
"There is too much negativity. There are no hidden accounts. There is no hidden agenda," Bloom said. "If you want to make further cuts and take step backwards, you can vote no on this. If you are look to build the community you will vote yes."
Cardimino, however, said the schools will survive without the override vote and said Alcombright had not made enough cuts.
"Let the mayor get out his scalpel and make some cuts," Cardimino said.
Now there is nothing left for the city to do to inform residents about the vote and the city's next steps lay in the hands of the voters.
"I'm hopefully optimistic. I'm hoping, beyond hope, that people rally around this," Alcombright said. "Whether you are for it or against it, vote."
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Students Take To Street In Favor Of Prop 2 1/2
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Outside the iBerkshires office Wednesday a group of students marched by holding signs in favor of Proposition 2 1/2.
A friend of the students started the awareness campaign at 10 a.m. and was later joined by the Drury High School students - who suggested making more signs. The group spent the day walking all around the city attracting attention from passing cars.
One sign lists possible cuts to the school that the students would "lose" if the override is voted down. The other signs pleaded for people to vote for the students that are unable to vote.
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City Council OKs Budget, Override Resolution
Councilor Michael Bloom found majority support for his resolution on the Proposition 2 1/2 override on Tuesday night.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council mirrored the divisions splitting the city over the proposed Proposition 2 1/2 override even as it endorsed a resolution supporting the measure and a budget based on the override's passage.
The city's $35.5 million budget was approved unanimously, but the resolution failed to get full backing, passing 7-2 with Councilors Marie Harpin and President Ronald Boucher in the negative.
Voters will decide on Tuesday, June 21, on whether to approve the $1.2 million override and fund the budget as it currently stands. Failure of the override will mean up to $1 million in cuts in services and personnel in city and school departments, said Mayor Richard Alcombright.
Boucher called the introduction of the resolution by Councilor Michael Bloom "inappropriate."
"I don't think the City Council should make a statment for a yes or no vote," he said, suggesting the paper be filed. "I don't think it's the right time and place."
Boucher said the council had already voted last month when it decided to present the $1.2 million override to voters. That vote was even more split at 5-4, with Boucher also voting against because the budget had not yet been approved.
Bloom, chairman of the Finance Committee, disagreed strongly, saying everybody should stand and vote up or down because of the "devastating cuts" that will be made if the override doesn't pass.
"This is the most important time for the council to make the case," he said. "I'm shocked you want to file it. ... I've never seen a budget that's been cut as much as this budget. ... Seriously, at this time of day and at this hour, the council should stand and make a statement."
Most of the councilors expressed support for the override and some publicly stated whether they would vote for it.
"I've heard compelling arguments both for and against the override," said Councilor Alan Marden. "I will be voting yes in support of this resolution tonight and next Tuesday, I'll be voting in support of the override. We need new growth in this community. ... slashing city services, whether educational or general government, public safety or public services, is the wrong message to those who might look to move here and to invest here.
"We have to invest in ourselves if we want other to invest in us."
Councilor Marie Harpin, however, said it wasn't fair to the city's poor and those on fixed incomes.
"I'm totally ... in favor of all the services in the city of North Adams, but on the other hand I have to vote no on this resolution because I feel the people in this community really can't afford to pay any more taxes, not to this extent," she said. " I cannot in all honesty vote for this and I'm going to vote no on the Prop 2 1/2."
Councilor Michael Boland said he was willing to be counted. "If I voted for you, I'd want to know where you stood on an important issue."
Frequent critic Robert Cardimino claimed what the council was doing was illegal, based on his reading of state campaign law and vowed to call state officials and report them.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer noted the council frequently took up resolutions on ballot issues, some of which are generated by the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
"This is our job to have this discussion," she told Cardimino.
Both Marden and Boland said they hoped the community would come together after next Tuesday's vote to work together whatever the outcome.
The review and passage of the budget, done by department with each councilor taking a turn reading it, went fairly swiftly — except when it smashed into the Office of Tourism and Cultural Development.
Councilors and audience members spent nearly an hour debating the wisdom of funding the post of tourism director after Marden moved to eliminate the entire tourism budget of $51,186. There was some confusion later as Blackmer tried to amend a motion to eliminate just the salary and Bloom tried to move the question. In the end, the motion to remove the salary died with Blackmer, Harpin, Boucher and Marden voting for and the entire line item was retained.
Blackmer advocated strongly that the position be put on the backburner for at least a year until a better job description could be formulated making more a "cruise director" position for the city and a cultural development plan put in place. Considering the city's current financial woes, it wasn't a good time to be funding a post whose duties could be filled with volunteers, she said, when it could be focusing on its website or funding an assistant building inspector.
"We need to connect on economic development as a whole, not just the tourism aspect," said Blackmer. "... It doesn't pass the smell test with the community."
Councilor Keith Bona, however, said restaurants and businesses had been sold on the implementation of the meals and rooms taxes with the idea that they would get some return by putting the money toward marketing the city. Councilor David Bond agreed, saying removing the position would save some money in the budget but likely cost businesses down the road: "But I understand where we are financially and why people want to cut it."
Councilor David Lamarre raised his previous objections that the post, at $34,186, was too low to attract quality candidates. He suggesting not filling it until the city was in a position to offer a better salary. Blackmer, meanwhile, was advocating cutting the car allowance of $1,500 should the department budget pass.
Several audience members spoke in favor of filling the job. Gail Sellers, who operates a pottery studio in the Eclipse Mill and sits on the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Commission, said volunteers here are wonderful but they can only do so much. "I see a lot of things hanging by a thread," she said.
Alcombright said filling the post was critical to marketing the city, organizing events and aiding the development of a cultural plan and website.
"If you take it away this year, how are you going to put it back?" he asked. "I think to lose this position for a year would be devastating."
His office had received nearly 30 applications and was in the process of interviewing finalists — all quality candidates, the mayor assured Lamarre.
Resident Trevor Gilman, a member of the Airport Commission, said voters would be making the decision next week whether to move forward or backward; if the override failed, then it was on the table.
"To eliminate this position when there are a lot of people who want to move this city forward is a mistake," said Gilman. "I need you to lead and make decisions to make this city better."
Note that in the resolution below, "administrative assistant" was amended to "administrative officer" in the second paragraph.
Council Resolution in Support of Override
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