Health Insurance, Airport Project on Council Agenda
Mayor Richard Alcombright will address the health coverage of elected officials at this week's City Council meeting and request the approval of a municipal health-insurance agreement with MIIA.
The issue raised some controversy earlier this year when it was discovered a number of officials had taken advantage of the city's benefit health package — at a time when taxes and fees were being hiked to cover a significant budget shortfall.
The benefits have been in place for some time and reportedly fall under state Chapter 32B, which also covers employees, retirees and spouses of retired or insured workers. Alcombright said he would bring a policy to the council that would go into effect on Jan. 1.
(We tried to search 32B for the pertinent language but the Legislature's new website for the General Laws is much more difficult to navigate and time-consuming to load. We give it a thumbs down for user-friendliness.)
He'd said several months ago that he wanted to review the policy and, if it were to be discontinued, give those covered enough time to make arrangements for alternative health insurance coverage.
The mayor is also bringing a request to borrow $650,000 for the Harriman & West Airport improvement project, which includes a half-million to cover an overrun. The state and city are each responsible for 2.5 percent matches on the $5 million project; the feds were picking up the balance.
However, the mayor writes that only $150,000 of the borrowing will fulfill the match. "The $500,000 is quite honestly an overrun and represents the completion on the Runway Safety Area (RSA) which has been problematic since 2009. There is a new design for the RSA and we are hopeful on two front: first, that $500,000 will complete the RSA and second, that the FAA may infuse additional funds to help defray these additional costs," he wrote.
Also on the agenda for the council's decision is an ordinance to place delinquent sewer fees with the real estate tax bills; several ordinance amendments for second readings; the appointment of Joanne Hurlbut to the Historical Commission for a three-year term; and the discussion of tag sale and other signs left hanging around the city.
The entire agenda can be found below:
|Tags: airport, health insurance, officials|
North Adams Taking Over Water Plant
The city is taking over the operation of its water treatment plant in hopes of saving $35,000 and resurrecting the long-vacant position of superintendent of public services.
A message from Mayor Richard Alcombright said the city will end its contract with United Water and beginning operating the Reservoir Road facility effective Oct. 1 and hire the plant's current manager, Timothy Lescarbeau, as superintendent of public services. The plant's operation and management has been contracted since its construction in 1992.
"This is one of the largest items in our budget. We took considerable time looking at the numbers to determine whether it's more cost effective to continue to outsource the operation or bring it in-house," said Alcombright in the statement. "We can effectively operate the plant and do it cheaper."
The mayor said he had "lengthy discussions" with the staff, the state and engineering consultants. The idea was also one of those discussed during Finance Committee meetings earlier this year.
The water system plant includes the Mount Williams and Notch Road reservoirs, the Greylock well, watersheds and dams, the treatment plant, three storage tanks, pumps and stations and 80 miles of pipes in North Adams, Clarksburg, Williamstown and Pownal, Vt. The treatment plant produced 601 million gallons of water last year.
The Water Division of the Public Services Department maintains the entire infrastructure with the exception of the plant. United Water has been paid about $285,000 a year to provide staff, chemicals, preventative maintenance, janitorial and office supplies, and other related items. The city is responsible for the cost of utilities and capitol-item replacements.
Alcombright has identified the city's aging infrastructure as a priority. Some pipes in the water system date back a century. Lescarbeau has been charged with doing a complete assessment of the city's infrastructure, developing a five- and 10-year capital improvement plans and reducing costs.
"Our infrastructure is deteriorating. Last year, we had over 20 water breaks and we haven't had any significant pipe replacement in over 10 years. Additionally, our sewer infrastructure still suffers from inflow and infiltration problems, which affects our Hoosac Water Quality District assessments," said the mayor. "As our infrastructure continues to age, reacting to these problems will not solve them — we need to be proactive and begin to develop solutions."
He said taking over the plant will aid in that endeavor. The budget for the plant will allow the hiring of two people for its operation and a superintendent of public services — a position that hasn't been filled in 20 years.
The last superintendent and city engineer was Gene Breda, who retired in 1990. The post has been filled part time by Guy LaBonte, who has been with the city since 1962.
"Guy's institutional knowledge is invaluable and it should be imparted to someone with an engineering background before Mr. LaBonte chooses to retire a second time," said the mayor. "As [retired Highway Superintendent] Leo Senecal did before him, Paul Markland spends the majority of his time keeping things maintained, addressing public concerns and supervising projects — it's a job requiring him, like Leo did, to wear many hats which does not allow time to think long term. Paul hasn't taken a vacation since he started."
Lescarbeau is a city native and holds a civil engineering degree from Rensselaer (N.Y.) Polytechnic Institute. Alcombright said he also has the necessary licensing from the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the required background in managerial and engineering experience. He will be responsible for all infrastructure improvements, with emphasis on the Water Division, and all operations of the Public Services Department, including Water and Sewer, Parks and Recreation, Cemetery, Transfer Station and Engineering.
The duties are consistent with Chapter 7 of the city ordinances; the city's classification plan lists it as S-27 with a starting salary of $62,767 and max of $64,463.
"We are lucky to have someone with this experience who can step in and take on this huge responsibility," said Alcombright. Lescarbeau had applied for Senecal's job last year, he said. Markland, who got the job after also working in the Building Department, will continue as assistant superintendent, overseeing the city yard and field work.
City Council Tackles Heavy Agenda
We're preparing for a long meeting on Tuesday night as the City Council plans to peruse some weighty issues.
Among them are the veterans agent sharing agreement (likely to go through swiftly — both Adams and Williamstown have approved the deal and it's a cost saver for North Adams) and a lengthy ordinance change for sidewalk vendors based on a recently adopted Adams bylaw. That's likely to get referred to another board or committee before going into effect.
We're wondering what will happen with the mayor's request for a home-rule petition to keep Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco in the station house. He's facing mandatory retirement in the fall (he told us a few months ago he didn't want to retire); it will take a legislative action to keep him past his expiration date.
The mayor's reasoning is there are a lot of new hires in the fire and police forces and they need an experienced, steady hand; a commissioner also offers an administrative head who can focus on budgeting, prioritizing and emergency management services.
The commissioner spot was created three decades ago but some question the need with the city's reduced population and police force. There was some thought that Mayor Alcombright would use Morocco's forced retirement to reorganize public safety; apparently they were wrong.
Also on the agenda is a letter from the Department of Revenue about the city's $1.2 million out-of-whack 2011 budget. The bad news: the city better keep an eye on its minimal reserves and start some long-term planning.
There's been a fuss by a few about whether the city has to tax at its full levy capacity. Gerard Perry, state director of accounts, says: "The city has levied to the maximum levy limit allowed under Proposition 2 1/2. The city would need to tax at this levy limit in order to set the FY 2011 tax rate."
To lower the rate, it would have to start cutting or raise other revenue, both of which the administration says it's done.
There's a whole lot of other stuff Tuesday, too. Five reserve officers to be sworn in, updates on the multiple road projects, something on the Commission on Disabilities ... To find out what's happening, the entire agenda is available here.
Because of its lengthiness, I've separated out the important stuff: Commissioner of public safety home-rule petition is here and the letter from the DOR is here. The vendor ordinance is in the full agenda.
Links to these documents are also available through Tuesday on the front page. I've noticed quite a few but not a lot of hits on council documents I've uploaded to Scribd. I'd like some feedback — are they hard to find, do you subscribe, do you care?
|Tags: ordinances, home-rule petition, agenda|
North Adams Water Funky But Fine
It may smell funky but the water's OK to drink.
That's the word from the corner office, which released a statement this afternoon after a number of residents called in to complain about the change in taste and an accompanying odor.
"Please know that our water is tested daily at the water treatment plant and that our water supply is certainly safe to drink," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "With this very long stretch of hot weather, algae in the reservoirs give off nontoxic chemicals that can cause an earthy-musty taste and smell."
Alcombright said the Water Department and treatmant plant employees have begun treating the reservoirs with copper sulfate to kill the algae.
"The chemical needs to be added in small doses over a period of time," he said. "Additionally, the treatment plant has taken other steps in the filtration process to help reduce taste and odor issues.
"Finally, the city crews continue the system flushing program (started last month) which will help to refresh the supply in both low- and high-service areas. It has been reported by the treatment plant that at their site, the taste and odor issues have been resolved and with continued use and flushing, there should be citywide improvement over the next couple of days."
So despite the earthy aroma coming from your faucet, the water is safe to drink. "We should be back to normal over the next several days," said Alcombright.