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' 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.
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.
State Plans Closure of Juvenile Court
We've been informed that Mayor Richard Alcombright has set a press conference on Tuesday at noon to talk about the planned closure of Northern Berkshire Juvenile Court.
The closing's one of the many actions being taken by the Trial Court System to stem a $21 million budget gap in this year's budget. Some 15 courts across the state are slated for closure or consolidation and estimates of 200 to 300 jobs lost.
The Juvenile Court in North Adams is the only space targeted in Berkshire County; administrative office space in Springfield is being closed and ceremonial and storage space in Northampton. The full list is here.
The court's located off Holden Street in the old Registry of Motor Vehicles office, for those who can remember that far back. Probation Officer Alexander Daugherty was able to grab Gov. Deval Patrick for a quick spin through the court last August to try to impress upon him the importance of keeping a juvenile court in North County. The main court is on North Street in Pittsfield.
DCR Commissioner Rick Sullivan, second from left, lunches with members of the Massachusetts Mayors Association at Gramercy Bistro on Wednesday.
Nineteen of the state's 46 mayors spent the morning at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday. This is believed to be the first time that the Massachusetts Mayors Association has held one of its monthly meetings in the state's smallest and farthest-west city.
The mayors, weighed down by a Wilco bag full of goodies, were given an overview of the city by their host Mayor Richard Alcombright, MoCA Director Joseph Thompson and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary Grant.
"You're kind of rated on the weight, [Pittsfield Mayor] Jim Ruberto told me this morning, of the gift bag," said Alcombright to his guests. "I think the weight of the gift bag is substantial, and I also think the things you will find in there are substantial, too. I'm really trying to make a great impression."
MMA President Robert Dolan, mayor of Melrose, and Mayor Richard Alcombright. Alcombright invited the association to hold its monthly meeting in North Adams, for the first time anyone can recall.
But no prizes for who traveled farthest, he said, because "the mayor of Beverly didn't give me a gift when I drove the farthest last month."
This the second time the association has met in the Berkshires this year; their annual meeting was held a couple months ago at Cranwell Resort in Lenox.
"It's a wonderful respite for all of us in eastern massachusets to get out here and see the beauty of this area and see all the exciting things that are happening, particularly in North Adams," said Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, president of the association.
All joking aside (including a shot from Alcombright that he could offer Wilco Solid Sound Festival tickets at "face value" that evoked a roar of laughter from the mayors), the meeting was an informal affair for Alcombright to introduce his city to his peers and for the elected officials to talk legislative strategy.
The main speaker was Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr., a former Westfield mayor, who touched on the challenges and priorities of the DCR and answered specific questions on how his department can work with local officials on everything from dams to skating rinks to forest use.
Gov. Deval Patrick had stressed to him that the best decisions in governement are made at the local level, he said, but Sullivan felt they are really made at the citizen level.
"They're made at your level, they're made at the citizen level and one thing that I've tried to bring to this job is a true working relationshiop with the cities and towns because I do think you know your communities best," he said. "You know what's best for your constituents. I have worked very closely, very personally with everyone in this room."
Also attending were several representatives from Sen. John Kerry's office, members of the administration and other staff, and representatives from the museum and college.
Sullivan's talk was followed by a closed meeting to discuss legislative updates and strategy. Guests were treated to lunch at Gramercy Bistro on the museum campus and were offered tours of the museum and the city in the afternoon.
The meeting was underwritten by Mass MoCa, MountainOne Financial Partners, Berkshire Bank, the Porches and Greylock Insurance Agency.
|Tags: meeting, DCR|