Council Will Review Mayoral Term, Public Safety Post
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council will research the possibility of making the mayor a four-year term.
The mayoral assignment was one of several handed down, including investigating the public safety office structure to determine if commissioner is needed, by just re-elected President Ronald Boucher as the council set out its own goals for the year.
"I've always felt this way, even before Mayor [Richard] Alcombright took office," said Boucher afterward. "I think that a mayor's position, two years, it's tough to get adjusted to the position and then the second year, you're running for your job again."
Alcombright said a four-year term would give a mayor the breathing space to deal with issues without having worrying about campaigning. "I think what it does is it takes the leader out of government for a pretty good period of time."
He was surprised to learn that only 11 of the state's 46 mayors have four-year terms. "I think a four-year term would be great right now because you wouldn't have to be dealing with what you're dealing with ... and thinking about the possibility if someone is going to run against you."
Alcombright assumed that was just the case for his predecessor, John Barrett III, who was fending off a challenge will maintaining his office. Barrett, however, had plenty of experience as the state's longest-serving mayor and few challengers during his tenure.
Boucher said that was a reason to extend the term. "It's tough, really tough, especially being a new mayor," he said. "Replacing someone with a lot of years of experience, you're going in learning and then the second year out [campaigning].
State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, was presented with gifts from colleagues after resigning Tuesday from the City Council.
Voters would decide if the change should be made by ballot; it wouldn't go into effect until the next election.
The annual organization of the council took place on Tuesday night and ended with the mayor giving his "state of the city" address.
Lisa Blackmer was re-elected vice president and the seat positions were drawn by Councilors Gailanne Cariddi and Alan Marden.
Boucher charged the General Government Committee, headed by Councilor Keith Bona, with looking into mayoral question and the Public Safety Committee, led by Councilor Alan Marden, to make recommendations regarding the position of public safety commissioner.
Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco, who was due to retire, had his tenure extended two years by home-rule petition to give the city time to decide if it needs the position.
"I think we need to look at that," said Boucher. "A city this size, is there a need? It's nothing against Commissioner Morocco and what he's done ... It's, I think, moving forward if we can support that kind of position."
The Community Development Committee, chaired by Blackmer, will develop a marketing and event plan in conjunction with Develop North Adams, and the Public Services Committee, chaired Councilor David Bond, will investigate ways to wring revenue from the transfer station and the benefits of joining the Northern Berkshire Solid Waste District.
As for the Finance Committee: "You've got enough on your plate," said Boucher.
Boucher also reinstituted liaisons to various boards and organizations and asked councilors to attend their meetings.
"It's not only for us it's the people who watch these meetings, the people that put you in these seats, to show them we are involved we can make a difference."
The council accepted effective immediately the resignation of Gailanne Cariddi, who was sworn in last week at the State House as the representative for the 1st Berkshire District. The 22-year council veteran was presented with flowers and a gift and warm parting words on her service to the city.
"You not only served the council well you served it with particular distinction as a member of several committees and as president on six occasions," said longtime colleague Marden. "You are uniquely our unofficial codifier, laboring tirelessly and continuously to put our wishes and actions in proper form."
Bloom, who was elected to the council in the same year as Cariddi, said "I think we were very lucky to have you. I was proud to serve with you and I wish you the best of luck."
A replacement for Cariddi will be appointed by the council.
In other business, the council:
- Approved bonding for the city's finance officers
- Adopted and passed to second reading an amended vendor ordinance.
- Referred to the city solicitor a request from Charles Fox and Gordon Leete, partners in Curran Highway Development LLC, to eliminate the I-1 zoning that covers the rear portion of their 2.91 acres (the former K-K Home Mart) on Curran Highway. The partners said the property has two zones, I-1 and CC-1, with CC-1 being the dominant zone and covering its frontage. "It would eliminate a zoning designation no longer appropriate," they stated in a letter to the council.
Mayor Planning for City's Future
The normally sparse City Council chambers were filled on Tuesday night for the council's organization and the mayor's first 'state of the city' address.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city must become a major player in the area's economic development planning and find ways to market itself while keeping a sharp eye on spending.
Those are the goals outlined by Mayor Richard Alcombright as he enters the final year of his two-year term and prepares for another run.
"We cannot continue to sell ourselves short by saying we can't afford this or we can't afford that," the mayor said Tuesday night during his "state of the city" address in the City Council chambers. "There are communities all over this country that are doing unique and interesting things to grow."
Alcombright's finishing a bruising first year that saw the city raise taxes and institute a sewer fee to cover a $1 million budget gap. He settled with the public unions over underfunding the health insurance trust that he said "might have been the largest and most grossly underreported fiscal fiasco North Adams has ever encountered."
He took over, he said, a city with "one of the lowest cash reserves in the commonwealth, significant housing and blight issues, a disengaged business community, a detached North Bekshires county."
Alcombright had to trim people off insurance lists and took city out of self-insurance; hired police, firefighters, assessor, treasurer and a new public services commissioner while making cuts in departments; fielded complaints over traffic disruptions for a streetscape project he hadn't planned and found that not only was Crane & Co. pulling out its North Adams division, two state offices were planning to close as well.
"Last year, many speculated I was not tough enough to be mayor of this fine city," he told the City Council, family, friends and city employees seated in the audience, as well as viewers at home. "And I would argue in one short year I've earned my stripes."
The address was given at the end of the City Council's annual organization, that also saw the resignation of Councilor Gailanne Cariddi as she takes her post as the district's new state representative.
The future budget isn't looking much better, Alcombright said, as North Adams faces a structural deficit that could balloon to $2 million. "The reality is we're taxed to the max and we don't have the ability to raise revenue much beyond what we already have. I will be looking at every department, every service to see what we can cut and I will continue to look at ways to create efficiencies. ... I am certain I will be once again faced with tough and unpopular decisions."
Alcombright said the city had to become a 'major player' in the region's economic planning.
It's been challenging but not all bad: The streetscape project is nearly complete; updating has begun at the Historic Valley Campground; Juvenile Court and state transitional assistance will be staying in some form; the Armory project is moving ahead; architects are drawing up preliminary plans for school options; and a Community Ecomonic Advisory Board and Youth Commission have been appointed.
More importantly, said Alcombright, is the energy and optimism that flooded the city. It's resulted in the creation of Develop North Adams, which has spearheaded the expansion of popular events, put benches downtown and pursued marketing ideas for the local merchants. On Monday, the city announced the Partnership for North Adams, a cooperative venture of cultural, educational and community leaders to draw investment to the area.
The mayor's also "dusting off" development plans that have been sitting on shelves for decades. The long-range goal is to revive the planning process and bring the city into alignment with the county's regional planning commission.
"I saw this as an opportunity for the regional planning commission to look at all of our plans and come up with the new document that would be the catalyst for the city to re-engage in the planning process, with our residents and our North County neighbors."
The first step will be a joint meeting of the City Council and the Planning and Zoning boards in February; the public will have input later in a series of "visioning" sessions.
The city is also pursuing a grant to develop a marketing campaign to brand it as a destination. Plans for one of the city's jewels, the Mohawk Theater, could be announced as early as this quarter.
As for the budget, the mayor said the same process would be followed as last year, with his finance team and the council's Finance Committee working together.
"Despite all the challenges I've very,very much enjoyed my first year as mayor I'm very proud of the fact I've been able to excite and energize and motiviate and open up many of the democratic processes for so many in the city," said Alcombright. "It has been said that one cannot run a city by consensus, I would suggest with strong leadership one can."
The full text of the mayor's speech can be found here.
|Tags: planning, investment|
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.
Mayor to Give Annual Report; Cariddi Resigns
The mayor will give his annual "State of the City" address at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Mayor Richard Alcombright is expected to address opportunities for growth as well as the city's precarious financial condition.
On Monday, the mayor will join business and city leaders in announcing a new partnership between the city's business, education and cultural sectors. The economic development initiative, dubbed "The Partnership for North Adams," is being touted as a way to "propose and advance innovative community development projects and public/private partnerships."
Alcombright made the pursuit of economic opportunities, particularly hopes of drawing light industry back to the city, a centerpiece of his campaign. Those efforts have been stymied in part by the economic collapse that left the state and its communities reeling and the city's hard-hit finances.
Since his election last year, the mayor has had to raise taxes and institute a sewer fee to help cover budget shortfalls. He's expected to discuss on Tuesday night the looming budget gap of $1.2 million for the coming fiscal year - a shortfall that could grow to $3 million depending on the state's ability to fund municipal aid.
The Finance Committee will get a look a first draft of the 2012 budget on Monday afternoon.
The City Council will also take up bonding of the city's financial officers and several other matters.
The resignation of Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, will be accepted by her colleagues. Her resignation will end 20 years of service on the council as she takes up her new duties as state representative for the 1st Berkshire District. Cariddi was sworn in that State House last week.
|Tags: budget, State of City, Cariddi|
NA Council OKs Taxes, Hears River Group
The Hoosac River Revival Coalition is hoping to reimagine the Hoosac River.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved a tax classification that will see the average homeowner's taxes increase about $170.
The vote wasn't unexpected; Mayor Richard Alcombright and councilors had discussed the necessity of raising taxes to cover shortfalls in state aid and the agreement reached over the Medical Insurance Trust Fund.
The classification sets the residential tax rate at $14 per $1,000 valuation, or 12.2 percent more than last year's $12.44; the commercial rate will be $31.49, up 11 percent over last year's $27.92. The shift was set at 1.75, which dropped the residential burden for raising the $12.9 levy from 77 percent to 60 percent. If the city had adopted a single rate, commercial and residential would both have been billed at $17.99 per $1,000.
The average home in the city is assessed at $135,117, which means a tax bill of $1,891.64; last year's average home was assessed at $138,963, with a tax bill of $1,728.
The council approved it unanimously, with Councilor Keith Bona absent.
Resident Robert Cardimino said he couldn't understand why the overall valuation of property had dropped 2 percent when he had seen slow sales and houses near him drop in price considerably. He thought it should be 20 percent.
Assessor Greg Betti said all sale figures are reported by the banks; those of "full and fair cash value" are factored into the ongoing revaluation of all properties and sent to the state Department of Revenue for review.
"The assessments are based on comparable sales from the prior calendar year. Those assessments and those values have been checked and sent to the Department of Revenue," the mayor said. "Those figures are what they are."
"If values go down, rates go up; if values go up rates go down," he continued, "to raise the same amount you need for your budget."
Alcombright again warned that the city was facing a tough year ahead. It is going into fiscal 2012 with a $1.2 million structural deficit that could hit closer to $3 million if the anticipated cuts in state aid of up to 10 percent go through.
"The mayor has made it clear that nothing would be left off the table, including cuts in sevices and personnel in the next budget cycle," said Councilor Michael Bloom, chairman of the Finance Committee.
Information on the tax rate and how it is set can be found in the sidebar; clicking on the "budget" category will bring up an article on Monday's Finance Committee.
The council also heard an update from the Hoosac River Revival Coalition, a group of residents and organizations trying to reintegrate the river and the city.
The group's founder, Judith Grinnell, said its consultants had prepared a 50-page report based on the community discussion held in June that drew 85 people. An executive summary is being prepared and will be sent to the council.
In September, Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for public works and civilian overseer of all Army Corps of Engineers works, toured several sites along the flood control chutes with some of her staff.
Founder Judith Grinnell said the group will be searching for grants. An earmark for $1 million has been placed in the federal water resources bill by U.S. Rep. John W. Olver.
"I think it was a trip that created a lot of interest among the Corps people who came," said Lauren Stevens, a coalition board member, "especially Ms. Darcy, whose mother lives in Pittsfield."
Darcy's sister lives in Fitchburg, one of the three samples Grinnell and Stevens showed of changes to flood chutes. Grinnell said the hope is to lower the depth of the concrete chutes and naturalize them to make them more accessible as well as more habitable to fish.
The coalition envisions sites along the river - Willow Dell, Eclipse Mill, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Noel Field - linked by greenways, bike and foot paths and parks.
In other business:
The council referred to the Public Services Committee an ordinance on licensing fees for commercial waste haulers to transport materials through and to North Adams. The Board of Health had enacted the fee but the language sent to the council was ambiguous as to whether it applied to the hauler or the vehicle. The ordinance referred to committee was rewritten by Councilor Gailanne Cariddi.
It also referred the matter of honoring Lue Gim Gong to the Community Development Committee. Cariddi had submitted a communication on behalf of local historian Paul Marino, who had asked that Summer Street between Ashland and Church streets be named for the horticulturist.
Resident Robert Cardimino said that while he appreciated Lue's work in developing citrus, the naturalized citizen had come to the city as a strikebreaker and done his horticultural work in Florida. "Do we want to honor a man who participated in a strike?" he said. "I think not."
|Tags: river, Lue Gim Gong, waste|