Override Resolution on City Council Agenda
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Councilors will have to take a stand on the proposed $1.2 million override when the City Council meets on Tuesday, June 14.
On the agenda is a resolution stating that the council "supports the passage of the Proposition 2 1/2 override ballot question and urges voters to vote yes thus avoiding any further cuts to the important Public Education, Public Safety, Public Services and General Government functions of the City of North Adams."
The administration says the the override is critical to preserving services and educational programs. Over the past few years, the city has lost $3.2 million in state aid even as costs have continued to rise.
The same night, Mayor Richard Alcombright will present a fiscal 2012 budget of $35,537,010, nearly $400,000 below this year's budget. It includes a $15.5 million school budget and a McCann Technical School assessment of $890,000 and is based on the passage of the override.
City Council Agenda for June 14, 2011
The resolution can read below:
|Tags: override, resolution|
School Committee Approves $15.54M Budget
The City Council's Finance Committee, Alan Marden, left, Chairman Michael Bloom and David Bond attended the School Committee's public hearing on the school budget for fiscal 2012. School Committee members John Hockridge and Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger are to the left.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — In a joint meeting on Tuesday night, the School Committee approved and the Finance Committee recommended a fiscal 2012 school budget of $15.54 million that includes reductions in staffing but no program cuts.
"In order to get to that number we had to cut upwards to a $1 million all from this budget," said Superintendent James M. Montepare, despite contractual agreements such as heating and busing that usually increase. "In putting this budget together I don't believe we have compromised any of our existing programs ... [but] we are to the bone at this point in time."
Cuts through attrition and job elimination include a special education post and teaching support staff in the elementary grades that were no longer needed; a Spanish teacher shared by the elementary school that will be replaced in part by the introduction of a world cultures curriculum in the English language arts program; a Title 1 director and a technology director.
The two administrative positions are being replaced by divvying up some of their responsibilities and creating two lead posts with stipends. Montepare said some $120,000 in administrative staff was cut but a teacher was saved.
Also cut were a custodian position, three paraprofessionals and two teaching assistants. There were a total of 11 retirements, some which will be replaced by younger — and cheaper — teachers.
The teachers have restored $90,000 by returning a 1 percent raise for next year. Some $816,000 in banked school choice funds will be used in two $360,000 allocations over the next two years against the salary account. Montepare said it was easier to do that than shift the money to separate programs. What's left will be set toward special education needs.
"All in all I think we were able to keep our programs intact and we shuffled a lot of funding around to continue to support special education and classroom teachers," said Superintendent James Montepare. "I'm estimating we are probably about $340,000 or $350,000 above foundation."
School Committee member William G. Schrade Jr. said cutting to foundation level would decimate the school system.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said the budget's proximity to the foundation level, the amount of education spending mandated by the state, complicates the scenario should the Proposition 2 1/2 vote fail in two weeks. "We're limited to what we can cut because we can't cut below minimum."
The administration has identified about $1 million in possible cuts from the school system, ranging from closing the Johnson Alternative Program to instituting fees for sports and extracurricular activities should the $1.2 million override fail.
With the Prop 2 1/2 vote two weeks away, Finance Committee member Alan Marden asked if any more cuts could be made now as a gesture similar to the City Council cutting its stipend.
"If we could send a small message tonight to help that vote go the right way, I think you ought to consider that," he said. "All I ask you is to try to find some few places to cut ... if you don't send that message I just worry about two weeks from now."
School Committee Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger said she went "over this with a fine-tooth comb trying to find some place to cut ... the work of the principals, the administration and the [school] finance commitee to even come up with a budget that's $233,000 less than the current budget is amazing itself."
School Committee member William G. Schrade Jr. expressed concern that school budget has been taking the hit for years as it maintained almost level funding. "We're up maybe 1 percent – that doesn't even cover our fixed costs," he said. "[For the last] five years we've had an increase of 1 percent but we're losing 7 or 9 percent."
Montepare said some $4 million had been slashed over past four years. The Finance Committee voted to recommend the budget as it stood.
The mayor will present the school and city budgets at the next City Council meeting on June 14. The city is required to submit a balanced budget to the state by June 30. Should the override fail, Alcombright said "we'll have to go back to the drawing board."
|Tags: override, Finance Committee|
North Adams School Budget Hearing Slated
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee will hold a public hearing on the fiscal 2012 school budget at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in the Conte Middle School conference room that will be attended by the Finance Committee.
Mayor Richard Alcombright plans to bring the school budget before the City Council at its next meeting on June 14. However, scheduling the Finance Commmittee to review the spending plan beforehand became problematic because of senior week activities (Drury graduates on Thursday) and other commitments, including another presentation on a proposed Proposition 2 1/2 override on Friday night.
The option to meet and review the budget during its presentation to the School Committee was considered after last week's Prop 2 1/2 session since it would allow both committees to meet at once. The School Committee will hold its regular meeting immediately following the public hearing.
Prior to the hearing, the Finance Committee will meet at 5 p.m. in the City Council chambers to review the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District budget with Superintendent James Brosnan.
The school budget being presented on Tuesday is $15.6 million, the largest single item in the city's proposed $35.6 million spending plan.
The budget is also the largest target in "Plan B" should the $1.2 million Prop 2 1/2 override fail on June 21.
Superintendent James Montepare said the school budget has been trimmed by more than $4 million over the past few years and that the budget being presented is $147,000 below this year's.
The administration has identified more than a $1 million in possible program cuts and layoffs, and fees for certain extracurricular activities. School spending, however, cannot go below state-calculated foundation level of $15.4 million without endangering some $14 million in Chapter 70 funds.
At the second of six public hearings on the proposed override, Montepare said the city had been funding well above foundation for years ($3 million or more) but reductions in local aid had decreased its contribution to about a half-million above foundation.
All presentations begin at 7 p.m.
The override question, which would permanently raise the tax levy to meet current obligations, has divided the city going into the June 21 election. An outspoken group is calling for more reductions in spending to offset the $3.2 million decrease in state aid; others are advocating for the override, saying the city can't afford to cut its schools and services anymore.
A website, VoteYesForNorthAdams.com (created by Brian Miksic), is being promoted on Facebook and offers information on the current budget, the proposed cuts and Proposition 2 1/2. It also has a handy calculator: drop in your property assessment and it will total up the added cost of the override.
Opponents say the override estimates of about $20 a month more for the average home isn't factual because it doesn't take into account last year's 10 percent tax increase, the hike in the water fee and the implementation of a sewer tax. Homeowners have been hit by these increases over last six months in the quarterly bills.
The antagonism is getting heated enough that the mayor posted a message on his Facebook page asking people to leave the "NO on Prop 2 1/2" signs popping up around the city alone.
|Tags: override, Finance Committee|
Teachers Return Raise
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The North Adams Teachers Association on Thursday night voted to return a 1 percent raise for fiscal 2012 as a sign of solidarity in support of a Proposition 2 1/2 override.
The raises negotiated with Mayor Richard Alcombright had come under fire as the administration has tried to drum up support for the $1.2 million override, designed to offset millions in losses in state aid over past few years.
Without the override, the mayor and school officials say the school system will lose teachers, programs and extracurricular activities on top of nearly $150,000 in cuts from this year. If cutbacks bring the school system below state-mandated foundation level, it could endanger some $14 million in Chapter 70 aid.
Susan Chilson, president of the teachers' union and a North Adams resident, speaks in favor of the override on Tuesday night. The union voted Thursday to return the 1 percent raise scheduled for fiscal 2012.
On Tuesday, more than a dozen educators, parents and students spoke in support of the override. There were fewer voices raised against the measure than at the first of six public sessions held last week at City Hall, when a capacity crowd called for cuts over spending, saying they had been taxed enough.
Thursday's vote by the union results in a savings of $80,000. The Department of Public Works union has also indicated it will return its one percent raise, more likely now that the teachers have voted. The total savings would be about $88,000. Alcombright said he has halted further negotiations on open contracts.
Below is the press release received on Thursday night from the Teachers Association President Susan Chilson.
On Thursday, June 2nd, 73 percent of the North Adams Public School teachers voted to give back their FY2012 raise. Despite the 1 percent raise promised for FY2012 in their contract agreement, teachers today took a stand to recognize the importance of funding the programming that has helped to make the North Adams Public Schools functional.
With recent budgetary cuts at the federal, state, and local level, if the override does not pass, the public schools stand to lose out on significant services including theatre, arts, music, honors and advanced place courses to name a few. The school sports funding is also on the chopping block, and without this funding students may have to pay as much as $150 to participate in team sports. In addition, funding for school adjustment counseling, career specialists, and special education services, are also at risk. Kindergarten will be reduced to half-day and there will be a fee for pre-K and kindergarten. Loss of teaching positions, the elimination of the Juvenile Resource Center (JRC), and the closure of the Community Transition Program at Johnson School will also increase the student-to-teacher ratio. The district will see class sizes increase. These potential cuts would be in addition to cuts already made. The district has already cut 8.5 teaching positions among others resulting in a proposed budget that is $147,000 less than the current budget despite the uncontrolled increases that the district has experienced such as energy costs.
"It's unfortunate that we're in this situation, but if we want to think long term about solutions for our community, we need to make the investment," one educator stated. "If you look at all the programs in our public schools that reflect state, regional, and even national recognition, it's quite simple: we vote from the heart, not our wallets."
North Adams teachers have taken the first step. By making this momentous decision, these educators are hopeful that other city employee organizations and local voters will follow suit. While the $80,000 represented by this 1 percent give back will not cover the $1.2 million deficit, a similar vote from other employees, combined with passing the Proposition 2 1/2 override may make the difference between stringent, across-the-board cuts to public education and city services to continuing the growth of success in North Adams Public Schools.
|Tags: teachers, override|
North Adams Prepping For Budget Season
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.