Alcombright Wants Less Bureaucracy For Vendors
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mayor Richard Alcombright does not want bureaucracy to stand in the way of issuing permits to street carts.
When revising an ordinance to include a procedure for street carts, the council requested a committee to be formed to oversee special events and vendors but fearful that it will drive business away from the city, Alcombright insisted the process should be streamlined and handled internally.
"I think we need to get away from committees and handle it internally first," Alcombright said at Tuesday's City Council meeting. "I think that if you talk to many of the merchants and people trying to organize events in the city, you’ll find they say the bureaucracy is what gets in the way the most."
The mayor's office has been discussing a way to manage vendors and will report to the council in February. That group is creating a checklist for events to ease the process.
Councilor Lisa M. Blackmer expressed concern that the work put into crafting the ordinance will be lost but Alcombright emphasized that it is only a mention of a subcommittee that he would like to change.
Also regarding events, Councilor Keith Bona said that during last year's Wilco concert a few local restaurants did not apply to extend its liquor license in time and had to stop serving early. Another Wilco concert is planned for this summer and restaurant owners need to be up to date with their permits.
"There is no reason it has to be 11 o'clock," Alcombright said. "We'll make sure everything is as it should be."
The mayor also attempted to halt rumors that the new stoplights on Main and Marshall streets are used for surveillance. Other cities have used the cameras to take photos of license plates of speeders or cars that run red lights. Though these cameras have the ability to do that, the city could not afford to equip them with that programming.
"This is not a Big Brother thing," Alcombright said. "These are strickly sensors."
The Marshall Street lights are using sensors to determine traffic flow and switch the lights but the lights on Main Street are back on a timer system, he said. Use of the sensors was causing traffic jams downtown so the city went back to timers.
However, there have been a lot of rumors that the cameras were surveillance and even Councilor Marie Harpin initially asked where the photos were being sent.
The city also approved an ordinance that requires residents who host tag sales to remove the signs within two days or else be fined.
Councilor Alan L. Marden asked if the timeframe could be cut to only a day but councilors responded by saying that the people the city will be after for violations are those who leave them up for longer than two days.
Bona emphasized that the ordinance will be meaningless unless it is enforced.
"It's something we're putting in the books but who knows if it'll be enforced," he said.
Councilor Gailanne Cariddi requested that the Traffic Commission review places that have received complaints. Those complaints include cars having to turn around when going west on Main Street to reach Route 2, a short crossing signal for seniors crossing Ashland Street to get to the high rise and speeding on North Street.
The commission will be called and the council will rehash the issue in February.
|Tags: vendors, ordinances, licenses|
Two Vying for North Adams Council Seat
Robert Moulton Jr. submitted a letter of interest in rejoining the board when Cariddi resigns.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Robert R. Moulton Jr. and David A. Lamarre, runners-up in the last City Council election, are now vying to be appointed Councilor Gailanne Cariddi's seat.
Cariddi will be sworn in as state representative on Jan. 5 and will resign from the council at the following meeting on Jan. 11.
Council President Ronald A. Boucher said the council will move quickly and hopes to appoint somebody to the seat at the subsequent meeting on Jan. 25.
"I need to have that seat filled. We have a lot of important votes coming up and I need nine councilors," Boucher said after Tuesday's meeting.
Moulton and Lamarre, chairman of the License Board, were the two highest vote-getters not elected to the council last election in a race so tight that it triggered the city's first recount in a decade.
The initial count showed Lamarre beating out Keith Bona for ninth place by only three votes. After election officials spent two days hand counting the ballots, Bona claimed victory by only two votes.
David Lamarre lost the last election by only two votes but could soon be appointed to the board to fill the vacant seat.
Moulton was the only incumbent beaten in the election. The top nine vote-getters are elected and Moulton finished at No. 11 behind Lamarre, one of eight challengers vying against seven incumbents.
The council was down two after Councilor Clark Billings resigned earlier in the fall and Richard Alcombright mounted a run for mayor. Billings' announced departure — he'd retired to Rhode Island in the spring but kept his address in North Adams during the summer — had prompted questions about filling vacant seats.
In the past, the council had appointed the 10th highest vote-getter but that appears to be more tradition than rule. Billings had said he'd delayed his formal resignation to keep politics out of the picture, considering it was an election year. No. 10 in the 2008 election was one-term councilor Christopher Tremblay who at first indicated interest in either being appointed or in running again, but changed his mind weeks later.
In the end, David Bond, the highest vote-getter of the challengers, was seated immediately after the 2009 election.
Candidates must submit a letter of interest and have an opportunity to give a presentation to the council before being appointed to the vacant seat, said Boucher.
Moulton has submitted his letter and Lamarre has verbally expressed interest, according to the council president, but has not filed a letter with the city yet.
Boucher called for interested candidates from the public at a previous council meeting.
"Everybody knows she is leaving. The word is out there," Boucher said about Cariddi.
Cariddi won election for the 1st Berkshire District in the state House of Representatives in November.
Attempts to reach both Moulton and Lamarre on Tuesday night were unsuccessful.
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|
Finance Committee Recommends Tax Hike
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee on Monday night voted to recommend a tax classification that will see residential taxes rise 10.8 percent this year, the biggest hike in the last decade.
Committee member Alan Marden, however, objected that the public hadn't had a chance to really weigh in on the issue.
"We're ramming it through. We were going to be a more open government ... I think you've ignored the public," said Marden, who wondered "where the public was going to get this information."
"Where did they get it the last 10 years?" responded Mayor Richard Alcombright. "I've been saying there's going to be a 10 percent increase since March. This just established it into a rate that's approved."
Chairman Michael Bloom said the committee had worked on the budget all year long. "Here we are a month and half ahead of last year; we've got documentation we've never seen before and last year we waited to the last minute ...
"None of us want to raise taxes but we have to do this is in a responsible manner ... I don't know how more open we can get."
The increase is in large part because of the economic collapse that occurred two years ago that dried up state revenues and caused property values to drop. The city has relied heavily on reserves to balance the budget over the past few years.
"This financial collapse was like a tsunami or hurricane," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, which has left municipalities and the state struggling through the aftermath. "Our chaos right now is a 10 percent increase to keep our services alive and next year it may be a $2 million cut to survive. ... It's gut wrenching, it's painful but we'll get past it."
The classification rates to be presented to the City Council on Tuesday night are residential, commercial, industria and personal. Open space is also included but with a zero value because the city has no guidelines or ordinances to value it.
The bulk of the $12,854,065 in taxes to be raised comes from residential. Adopting a "shift" of 1.75 toward commercial will lower the burden on residential from 77 percent to 60 percent of the total taxes. Commercial will pick up 25.7 percent, for a tax rate of more than $31; industrial will be apportioned just over 6 percent and personal property, 8.
The average tax increase has been 6 percent over the past four years and taxes overall have increased by half over the past decade. The owner of an average home in North Adams, at about $136,000, should see her taxes rise about $200.
If the Super Walmart or Lowe's comes in, commercial revenues will increase. That will allow the city to reduce the commercial burden by decreasing the shift but shouldn't affect the residential rate.
The city will come within $776 of its levy limit.
"Last year, we left $800,000 on the table, this year we're picking it all up to balance the budget," said the mayor.
In response to a question from resident Robert Cardimino, Business Manager Nancy Ziter said the city's property valuations had only declined about 2 percent — compared to 20 percent in some parts of the country — because they had not risen as quickly either.
"In all fairness, even though the increase is 10.8 percent, the impact could be worse," said committee Chairman Michael Bloom, considering the commercial/residental split.
Although voting with Bloom and member David Bond to recommend adoption of the classification, Marden wondered if it City Council approval couldn't be put off a bit longer.
The mayor said it was a matter of getting the final numbers to the state (the city's valuation has already been certified) and then setting up billing. Ziter said bills had to go out before the first of the year and that the process is time consuming — printing alone takes two days.
"You don't have to approve it tomorrow night but the sooner the better."
North Adams Council to Set Tax Rates
The City Council will be asked to approve a tax classification shift that sets rates of $14 per $1,000 for residences and $31.49 per $1,000 for commerical businesses.
The rates will be determined by the "shift" between commercial and residential tax classifications approved by the council on Tuesday. The recommendation is a residential factor of 77.8041 percent.
In a communication to the council, Mayor Richard Alcombright say that in setting the shift, "you will be approving an increase in the tax rates for both the residential and commerical taxpayers."
The issue, he reminds them, has been discussed at length and the new rates are necessary for the city to provide expected services in light of continued reductions in state aid.
"As we set this rate tonight, we are assuring our community that we will be able to provide services that they have all come to expect," he contines.
The Finance Committee will meet Monday at 5 p.m. at City Hall at the mayor's request to review the calculations and ask questions. However, it is unlikely the council will vote against the recommendations; the council approved the fiscal 2011 budget with expectation of an increase in property taxes.
The residential rate will jump a $1.46, or 11 percent. Compared to previous years, the residential tax rate will still be lower than in both 2003 ($14.69) and 2002 ($14.33). A home valued at $150,000 would be assessed $2,100.
The commercial rate will also jump 11 percent, making it the highest in the past decade. Prior to this, the highest year for the commercial tax was 2006 at $28.98.
If a singe tax rate were chosen, the tax rate for all property would be $17.99 per $1,000.
In documents provided to the council, the amount of residential and commercial property value has decreased since fiscal 2010 by nearly $13 million, 85 percent of which was residential. Commercial value dropped nearly $1 million; the rest was industrial and personal property at another million.
In his communication, the mayor stressed the difficulties the city will have in the coming fiscal year. "I am predicting a $2 [million to] $3 million dollar budget shortfall in FY 2012. This will certainly result in very difficult decisions with respect to pontential losses in programming and services throughout the city."
Also on the agenda for Tuesday's council meeting is a (hopefully clarified) ordinance for licensing waste haulers; Judy Grinnell with an update on the Hoosic River Revival and a communication from Councilor Gailanne Cariddi on the request by local historian Paul Marino on honoring a former resident of the city, Lue Gim Gong.
The agenda for the City Council is below with the mayor's communication; we have separated out the tax rate and city valuation information and placed it in the sidebar for easier access.
|Tags: taxes, budget, Lue Gim Gong|