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The North Adams Finance Committee discussed on Monday the city's options in funding the self-insurance account.

North Adams Insurance Bill at $500K

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Committee Chairman Michael Bloom, left, and member David Bond speak with Councilor Gailanne Cariddi and Administrative Officer Jay Green. Committee member Alan Marden was absent.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city will have to find $500,000 this fiscal year to fully fund its insurance accounts even as it braces for another round of state aid cuts in the coming year.

"I'm going to be making recommendations over the next few weeks that are going to be very difficult. ... But they need to made," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the Finance Committee on Monday.

Alcombright said he expected to have firmer budget numbers in a couple weeks. Budget woes and settlement talks with the public unions over the insurance issues could mean tapping into the city's more than $850,000 excess tax-levy capacity.

Bringing this year's insurance accounts up to snuff — both the Medical Insurance Trust and the Medex account — will mean dipping into the free cash count.

Several councilors had expressed concern over taking action based on a report that found the city had underfunded its self-insurance accounts for at least several years. Committee Chairman Michael Bloom called for a full audit going back further and moved to have the study referred to his committee last week.

Alcombright said state officials stated their satisfaction with the conclusions of the report by Scanlon & Associates during a conference call on Friday that included Robert G. Nunes, deputy commissioner of the Department of Revenue.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said the city could try to roll costs into next fiscal year with special legislation.
"Bob was supportive of Scanlon's report," he said. "He thought it was very credible and very well done."

The mayor said the conversation focused on the city's options. It can work on a settlement with the unions for past years but it will have to fully fund this year's account out of free cash or, if there's not enough, into the next fiscal year through special legislation. DOR would be supportive of that, he said.

The total is $500,000 — $400,000 for the insurance fund and another $100,000 for the Medex account. That line item was reduced from $525,000 last year to $400,000 this year. It, too, must be fully funded.

Committee member David Bond asked about the report's recommendations on reconciling head counts and what it meant. Councilor Gailanne Cariddi, who attended the meeting as did council President Ronald Boucher, said rumors had swirled about who was actually being covered by the city's insurance.

"We have gone through the listing on everything," said Business Manager Nancy Ziter. "Nobody is on that listing with Blue Cross Blue Shield that we cannot account for, either being an active employee, a retiree or a surviving spouse ... We can account for everything."

Business Manager Nancy Ziter explains how the city figures enrollment numbers.
The reconciliation has to do with cut-off dates and how Blue Cross Blue Shield counted enrollments, said Ziter. For example, parents forget to tell the city their children have been dropped because of age; Blue Cross doesn't count them but the city continues to. Blue Cross will do training with the city workers to ensure everyone's counting the same way, she said.

Alcombright said he has begun talks with unions about future insurance options but he didn't want to get into settlement talks until the committee was satisfied with the study. The settlement could take any number of forms, he said.

"The employees are looking for an admission that this happened, a fix going forward to know it's being done correctly and something for their pain and suffering over the years, in a sense," said the mayor. "I have no reason to not think they will be reasonable."
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State Declares 'Green Friday' in Support of Local Xmas Tree Farms

UXBRIDGE, Mass. — The Baker-Polito administration has declared Friday, Nov. 27, as "Green Friday" to encourage people across the commonwealth to visit their local farms and nurseries for Christmas trees, holiday plants, and holiday decorating needs.
To celebrate, state Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux participated in a Christmas tree-cutting ceremony at Arrowhead Acres in Uxbridge. In an effort to support the commonwealth's Christmas tree industry, the declaration of Green Friday encourages people throughout the state to visit their local Christmas tree farms to purchase their trees, holiday plants, ornamental swags, and wreaths to fulfill their holiday decorating needs.
"Our administration believes in the importance of supporting our farms by shopping locally and purchasing holiday decorations from one of the commonwealth's many family-operated Christmas tree farms," said Gov. Charlie Baker. "Now more than ever, it is a great time to spend quality time with your family while partaking in this outdoor activity which allows for proper social distancing."
Christmas tree season in Massachusetts provides hundreds of seasonal jobs at approximately 264 Christmas tree farms on approximately 2,801 acres of land from Cape Cod to the Berkshires. The sale of more than 82,524 state-grown Christmas trees contributes approximately $3.5 million to the commonwealth's economy each year. Christmas tree farms, which are often sited on soils that cannot support other crops, stabilize soil, which helps prevent erosion and protect water supplies. When chipped, the trees can be used as a renewable source of energy to be burned as fuel, used as mulch, or composted.
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