North Adams Budget Slashed Again
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayor will present his "Plan B" budget to the City Council next week that includes nearly a half-million in cuts from the already passed fiscal 2012 budget.
That brings the fiscal 2012 budget to $35,074,495, down nearly $900,000 from last year's budget and $50,000 less than fiscal 2009.
"We know that the Prop 2 1/2 was defeated; by virtue of that, the voters challenged me, and us, to come back with a document that meets the needs of the city without an override," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the Finance Committee on Monday evening. "We've made significant progress but not without pain."
The committee will recommend a further fiscal 2012 reduction of $457,011 that includes $250,000 in cuts passed last week by the School Committee. That still leaves the city with a structural deficit of $423,739 that the mayor is hoping to close with an increase in anticipated state aid and by dipping into the city's depleted reserves.
The mayor had pushed for a Proposition 2 1/2 override of $1.2 million to balance the fiscal 2012 budget. Over the past three years, the city has lost $3.2 million in state aid and was carrying a structural deficit of more than $1 million heading into the fiscal year. The school department has cut some $4 million over past few years that included the closure of Conte Middle School.
But voters, already pinched by property tax hikes and sewer and water fees instituted last year, rejected the override last month, forcing city officials to find more cuts.
Still, property owners can expect an increase of up to 41 cents per $1,000 valuation as the city taxes to the full levy capacity. Alcombright said the increase comes to just under $60 more a year for a home valued at $150,000.
Included in the cuts is a reduction in seasonal workers for highway and parks and not filling one highway position; the transfer of $38,500 in police salaries to a Verizon 911 grant; a reduction of more than $20,000 in pensions approved by the Pension Board and based on recalculating the funding schedule; elimination of funds for the Historic, Human Services and Youth commissions; $5,000 from the tourism department and $10,000 from insurance.
That is on top of the 10.5 teaching positions and elimination of a curriculum director included in last week's school cuts.
Finance Committee members expressed concern over the cuts being made in the school system, with Chairman Michael Bloom questioning the loss of a kindergarten teacher and curriculum director.
"We cut 10.5 teachers, if you figure each teacher interacts with 20 kids, we have to do something differently with 200 children," said Superintendent James Montepare, who noted school choice funds are being used to cover underfunded salary and residential placement accounts. "But if you look at what we had to cut to get where we did, we had to cut bodies."
He said ideas had been floated about instituting fees for sports or for full-day kindergarten, for which parents are being charged anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 a year in other communities. But the task of collecting the money, and the fact that the city's high poverty level would make most students eligible for discounted rates, made the cost savings questionable, Montepare said, at this point.
"We have substantial enough reserves now to get into our budget cycle," said Alcombright, who is hoping the proverbial "pennies from heaven" will appear from the $65 million more allotted this year to cities and towns by the state. "Let's say they level fund us ... that could be another $175,000, another $200,000 that could reduce this deficit ... I think we're in a good place with this budget."
The city's reserves, once in the millions, now total about $530,000 not counting free cash — the funds left in accounts from fiscal 2011. Those funds cannot be touched until the state certifies the accounts this fall. The city will also be closing out the $800,000 medical insurance trust fund, which could bring another $50,000 or so.
Alcombright said his contacts with the state Department of Revenue have been positive and encouraging.
"We are doing all the right things," he said. "In December of 2009, the council — and I was one of them — moved $1.8 million from reserves to lower the budget, to pay debt; last year, we used $1.2 million in reserves to pay debt. This year, we're going to use $423,000 in reserves and we may not have to if we get additional state aid. ... We've made tremendous progress."