North Adams' DOR Review Completed
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Department of Revenue has concluded its review of the city's financial management. The study was undertaken at the request of Mayor Alcombright after his taking office this year.
The report, not surprisingly, urges the city administration to come up with some long-term strategic plans to improve the financial structure. Other findings include "the most precipitous decline in population of any community in Berkshire County" that bode ill for its financial health, according to a summary letter from the mayor, who is expected to discuss the findings at Wednesday's City Council meeting.
The meeting was delayed a day to accommodate the Tuesday primary, during which City Councilor Gailanne Cariddi was elected the Democratic nominee for 1st Berkshire District. The council may also touch upon the replacements process for Cariddi, who will take her new seat halfway through her current council term.
Also on the crowded agenda is request to revise the classification and salaries for the new commissioner of public works and two related positions and discussion of the takeover of the water treatment plant; amendments to the fire scale compensation plans; the appointment of Russel Durant to the Housing Authority, and the application of a taxi license for Kevin Delisle to drive for Lori Smith.
Among the review's findings was:
• The city's equalized property values per capita in 2008 were 34 percent of the state average of $165,919.
• The per capita income was $14,668, the ninth lowest in the state.
The DOR also looked over the responsibilities of the financial officers, coordination among boards and the performance of financial operations.
The city has been dealing with a massive budget caused by reductions in state funds and an agreement with the public unions on fully funding the health insurance plan. Special legislation was filed to allow the city to dip into land account reserves to reduce the budget gap, leaving it with limited cash assets.
The mayor said his administration has pushed forward with developing advisory and semi-autonomous economic groups; created a "Finance Team" and encouraged the Finance Committee to actively engage over the budget; made changes to budgeting, including building around revenues; and developed regular meetings between department heads to discuss cost savings. The DOR has recommended that these procedures be adopted as ordinance.
"[The director of accounts] commended this administration for the bold and tough moves that we made while dealing with our budget even as we face a structural deficit for FY2012 of over $1 million dollars," wrote Alcombright.
The report has 30 recommendations, including adopting long-range planning processes; consolidating operations; establish an audit committee; and review and revise the city's classification and compensation plans and review personnel ordinances and create an employee handbook.
It also advises reconsidering benefits for part-time board members — specifically insurance benefits — currently enjoyed my a number of board members. The benefits were adopted many years ago when medical insurance was far less costly than it is today. The discovery of the benefits during this particularly painful financial crisis has enraged a number of citizens who say their taxes shouldn't be raised to overly benefit others.
Alcombright said several months ago he wanted to work on the issue but because of the budget's June 30 deadline, it was too late this year to tackle the matter. It also, he said, would be unfair to peremptorily dump people off insurance to which they were currently entitled.
Planners: Auto Garage Not in Violation
Planners said they can't find anything wrong with Tunnel City Auto.
The Planning Board on Monday accepted with no discussion a report by the Compliance Committee that found no issues with Tunnel City Auto.
Abuttor Susan Lefaver of 690 State Road and other neighbors have complained consistently about the automotive repair shop for some years, saying owner Mark J. Laveriere has failed to attain or maintain a number of conditions placed on the property.
Lefaver finally brought her complaints to the City Council last month, armed with photos, and had the matter referred back to the Planning Board.
Last month, Building Inspector William Meranti said he had been called to the property a number of times but other than mild violations - such as a car left for pickup past working hours - nothing was out of order. Some of the complaints of the shop being open past business hours seemed to center on the owner doing work on his own car, which was allowable, he said.
The Compliance Committee did a site check on Sept. 10 and found the garage substantially in compliance with the 30 conditions set by the board in 2002. The committee also found no issues with visibility on exiting Chantilly Avenue, another issue the neighbors have raised.
In other business during the brief meeting, the board:
Continued a hearing on the application of Thomas Snow, perating as Snoford LLC, to reopon the former Crystal Hard Hat at 176 Union St. as a tavern until Snow appears before the Licensing Committee.
Signed off on the aesthetics of a new privacy fence with black slats to replace a decripit stockade fence at Price Chopper on State Road; new signage for Mount Williams Greenhouse and the reopening of The Alley at 23 Eagle St. under David Atwell on condition that a signage plan be submitted.
|Tags: auto, restaurants, signage|
Firefighter Retroactive Raise on Agenda
The City Council will take up some old business on Tuesday night related to rules of order, some appointments and a public hearing at the beginning of the meeting for National Grid's application to move poles and wires at Union and Eagle streets, related to update of lights at that intersection. It also has two taxi license applications on the agenda.
However, we expect another spirited debate over changes in compensation for the firefighters, similar to what happened at the last meeting on the police raises. The North Adams Police Association was given a 2 percent raise each of the two years it has operated without a contract. The firefighters' agreement appears to be the same.
The mayor said the agreement would clear the way for negotiations for a new contract and put the police on the same level as the other five public unions that had reached agreements with the city two years ago. The cost is $40,000; the council approved a transfer of $90,000 from a reserve account presumably to fund the retroactive raises for police and fire.
The entire agenda and last meeting's minutes can be found here. The compensation and classification plans on the sidebar are the orginals approved for the fiscal 2011 budget. When (and if) the firefighters' compensation changes are approved, we'll post both fire and police updates on the sidebar.
|Tags: raises, unions|
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|
Day of Service Eyed for This Fall
The Community Day of Service earlier this month included the work of some 250 to 300 volunteers, 9,000 pounds of trash being hauled to the transfer station and 25 pairs of mittens knitted and donated to charity. We call that a rousing success.
Those were the numbers given Tuesday night by organizers Glenn Maloney, Rod Bunt and Spencer Moser to the City Council and the viewing audience.
Maloney and Bunt said there was a huge increase in volunteers, some from out of town; Moser that a large number of organizations and groups were able to showcase their community committment, as well as students fulfilling their community service learning projects.
"We've been calling it the cleanup in past years and the volunteers have kind of dropped off," said Bunt, of the Mayor's Office of Tourism. "I don't have specific numbers and this is pretty anecdotal, but we had a whole lot more of the public that wanted to get involved and make it a successfull day."
The cleanup day may have started as a community event but MCLA has pretty much taken it over during the past decade and kept it going. This year, there was a renewed effort to join residents together with the college's efforts and expand it beyond picking up trash. The Develop North Adams group was instrumental in spearheading the collaboration. Volunteers - including city councilors - painted, cut brush, read to children, installed playground equipment, knitted and did other things.
MCLA's Moser said he would "challenge any of my colleagues in the commonwealth who have similar jobs to see if they have a relationship" that puts students to work solving real problems with the community. He's heard of the obstacles they've had to deal with. "I don't have a lot of challenges here. We work together real nicely."
Another community day is being considered for the fall but Moser said the main focus will continue to be on the spring event.
Mayor Richard Alcombright had a more prominent role this year as the "lemonade truck driver." Bunt said that last year, they "snuck him up to the landfill and let him do some work." Snuck him up? Who were they hiding him from. Hmmm ....
|Tags: cleanup, volunteer|