Prop 2 1/2 Battle Rages On At Greylock School
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Sprague Electric is not coming back and the city needs to focus on the future, Mayor Richard Alcombright told a crowd gathered at Greylock School to debate the Proposition 2 1/2 override vote.
Residents badgered Alcombright for nearly two hours Monday, citing a lack of business growth and declining population as reasons for additional cuts to the $35.5 million budget. One resident accused the city of inflating its payroll since Sprague Electric left the city more than 20 years ago.
"The woe is me about Sprague has to end," Alcombright retorted. "There are 40 to 45 percent less people in City Hall now."
A major boon to the area like Sprague, which employed thousands more than two decades ago, is not going to come back and the city will need to find ways to encourage other industries, he said. As for the city's payroll, he said many, many jobs have been cut over the years and not just in City Hall. The Department of Public Works decreased from 42 to 16 employees in that timeframe, he said.
However, Alcombright added that he is "not giving up on light manufacturing just yet." There are opportunities for green jobs — such as building and installing solar panels — that the city will try to reel in, he said.
Residents pleaded that he "trim the fat" out of the city budget and mentioned ways to do so. One idea was to cut the police budget because of the smaller population. Alcombright, however, said he would not be comfortable reducing that staff more because the city has the same type of urban crime as any other metropolis.
While the crowd debated the similarities to a city like Holyoke, City Councilor Lisa Blackmer researched the Holyoke Police Department on her cell phone and said there are at least 100 more officers employed there. Holyoke has 26 superior officers, 97 officers and 12 reserves while its population is only around 44,000.
"If anything we are underfunded in the Police Department," Blackmer said.
Alcombright contested that the city has reduced its budget by $600,000 and is continually chipping away at the amount the city will need above the 2 1/2 percent levy limit.
While the override vote is for $1.2 million, it is looking like the city will need only about $966,000 of that to set the budget, he said. He reiterated that since the $1.2 million figure was set — in order to provide enough time for the regulated hearings and notices — the city was able to reduce the deficit by level-funding pensions, eliminating the commissioner of public safety position and by the teachers giving back their 1 percent raise.
The newest version of budget — which includes the school budgets — will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday. Monday's meeting was the fourth in a series of six public meetings on the override vote scheduled for June 21 and, despite the anger showed by some residents Monday night, most of the attendees seemed in favor of the override.
Those in favor said it was a move that would better position the city for the future.
But the golden days of manufacturing was not the only past brought up. One resident angrily accused Alcombright of putting all the blame for the financial situation on former Mayor John Barrett III. Alcombright was part of the City Council and therefore has to shoulder some of the blame, the resident said.
"Since day one, I have stayed clear of blaming the past mayor," Alcombright said. "The blame is on the loss of revenue from the state."
Alcombright added that he voted against using reserve funds to balance the budget in prior years and that disagreement was a reason he ran against Barrett in 2009.
"I ran for mayor because I didn't like using reserve funds. I am not pointing at the mayor — that was the way he managed. I manage differently," Alcombright said.
Note that information on absentee ballots for the override vote on Tuesday, June 21, can be found in the sidebar at right. The next public hearing is Wednesday, June 15, at Drury High School at 7 p.m.