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Alcombright Gives Public Presentation on Budget Woes

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The mayor answered questions about the budget and possible solutions on Tuesday.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Nearly 100 people showed up at Drury High School on Tuesday night to hear firsthand about the city's budget troubles and ask questions. The presentation was also broadcast live on NBCTV.

Mayor Richard Alcombright went through a presentation similar to that he gave last week to the City Council explaining the nearly $1 million budget gap in next year's $40 million budget and the actions being taken to plug it.

Possible scenarios include a Proposition 2 1/2 override or the institution of a sewer fee and a 10 percent increase in the water rate (about $26-$27 a year). To pay the runout for the Medical Insurance Trust, city will also have to tax to its full levy capacity — meaning a 10 percent increase in property taxes.

"These are not economically pretty times, we can't continue to play the shell game with our finances, we can't continue to count on the state or dwindling reserves to keep ourselves solvent," said Alcombright. "We're facing significant budgetary obstacles ... we're in a financial mess."

He doesn't want to use what little is left in reserves to fund recurring debt because it won't solve the problem — "we'll be right back here again next year."

Alcombright also noted the good things that have been happening — the community groups popping up, the current construction, benches and pocket parks being planned, and other initiatives.

Attendees were more interested in finances, particularly Robert Cardimino, a longtime resident and gadfly. Cardimino demanded answers to rumors that Alcombright had promised raises to public employees, queried the health coverage of board and committee members and expressed his opposition to any sewer fee.

The mayor's comment on purported promise was simple: "I never said that." He wouldn't cannot say whether he had asked teachers to forgo a raise because the city is currently in negotiations with all eight of its public unions.

There were graphs and arrows. We'll have the full PowerPoint presentation loaded tomorrow.

The Department of Revenue is reviewing the city's financial policies and procedures, including the health coverage provision, and would make recommendations. Alcombright said he wouldn't make any changes until he had those recommendations in hand.

As to the sewer fee, the mayor said collected fees (an estimated $650,000) would go into an enterprise fund along with assessments for Clarksburg to pay the Hoosac Water Quality District and that any accumulations could go toward maintaining sewer infrastructure. That would free up the nearly $1 million being paid into the sewer district for other uses.

North Adams, Adams and Erving are the only Masssachusetts municipalities with sewer systems that don't charge a fee. The average fee is $346 a year, or about a third of what the city is proposing.

Several people, including local businessmen Eric Rudd and Robert R. Moulton Jr., expressed concern over the increases on the commercial rate, which is expected to jump from $28 to $33 per $1,000 valuation. Alcombright said he was "scared to death" of its impact on business but if the shift in the commercial rate went down the residential would go up.

The budget has also been cut by $700,000, including by not filling 5 1/2 teaching positions, two aides and two custodial jobs in the school system. The mayor vowed not to cut anymore from the school system, which evoked applause.

The mayor also responded to claims that he was partly responsible for the current situation. Alcombright, who sat on the Finance Committee for 10 years, said he had asked for revenue numbers — but didn't get them — and often the budget was presented for approval days before the deadline. (Last year, it was on June 25.)

"I asked for an audit of the Medical Insurance Trust but was denied," he said. "Could I have been a stronger advocate during those years? Yes. I could. But what happened was, I saw this eroding over time and I concluded the only way for a more focused, more transparent, more efficient budget process was to run for the office and change the process.

"That was to me, my solution."

The mayor said he would give his recommendation for one of three scenarios depending on the outcome of state budget deliberations. He's leaning toward a Proposition 2 1/2 override of $1 million that would have to have public support. If an override went down, he'd be asking the City Council to immediately institute a sewer fee and raise rates.

"We all dig deeper, we all make sacrifices," he said. "... If we don't assess a fee, we're going to have to assess a tax."

Editor: Sorry for the delay here's the PowerPoint presentation.
State of the City & Budget Presentation 2010

Tags: city budget,   fiscal 2011,   municipal finances,   

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There's a winter weather advisory in effect overnight Friday in the Berkshires and a chance of up to 5 inches of snow. 
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