Alcombright: Special Legislation Needed to Pay Debt

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city would have to request special legislation to use some $800,000 from reserve accounts to help close a nearly $1 million gap in the coming budget.

Applying those monies is limited because of state regulations, Mayor Richard Alcombright told the Finance Committee on Wednesday. "The debt we have right now on the books cannot be covered by the watershed account."

Rather, the city would have to have a very specific plan approved under special legislation. Alcombright said he had spoken to Rep. Daniel E. Bosley and Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, who were willing to file the measure.

"Ideally the override would be the fix for the problem," but the mayor said he is concerned that a Proposition 2 1/2 override would have a chilling effect on development because the commercial rate is already expected to jump at least $3 per $1,000 valuation because the city must tax to full levy capacity. An override would bump it up nearly $6.

"We're in a position now where we have to grow or die," said Alcombright. Otherwise, he said, the burden will continue to fall on the residential population.

The discussion was part of the committee's ongoing review of the 2011 budget. Councilors have been weighing the use of water rate hikes and a sewer fee and monies from the $1.4 million watershed account or an override to balance the budget. Alcombright said the the initial override proposal for $1 million would leave the city short because an expected $500,000 in state aid will not be coming through according the latest figures from the Legislature.

Council President Ronald Boucher and Councilor Gailanne Cariddi, who attended the meeting along with Councilors Marie Harpin and Lisa Blackmer, urged a public vote on a $1.5 million override. "Let the people decide if they want fees or an override," said Boucher.

Committee member David Bond responded that if voters reject the override, "we'll have to have fees."

Committee Chairman Michael Bloom suggested burrowing more into the reserves and easing into the sewer fee by making it 25 percent of the water bill rather than 42 percent this year, then increase it next year. Boucher suggested it was better to institute the full amount now: "People are going to be mad no matter what happens."

The mayor provided updated budget amounts, including about a $200,000 increase in insurance costs that reflected a recent open enrollment period.

He also presented several new positions, including two to fill holes in the city's Wire & Alarm and Building departments. Administrative Officer Jay Green said the two posts — a plumber and HVAC position and an electrician — would take the place of outside contractors and help bulk up the undermanned departments. Committee members questioned the posts but agreed to a solution in which the Redevelopment Authority would pick up half their salaries since their responsibilities will include Western Gateway Heritage State Park and the Windsor Mill.

Committee Chairman Michael Bloom also questioned the continued funding of the Mayor's Office of Tourism as redundant. Alcombright said he planned to expand the tourism division's responsibilities to better integrate with the new Develop North Adams group and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce on marketing and branding to promote the city.

Committee member Alan Marden questioned the zeroing of the mayor's expense account. Alcombright said he couldn't justify what he would use it for and believed the $1,500 in the in-state travel account would cover an overnight stays for conferences and meetings.

The committee plans to meet again next week and will speak with library Director Rick Moon about his budget. It has previously met with the public safety director and the superintendent of schools.

The options listed below are as of Wednesday, June 2, and subject to change depending on revenues and legislative actions.
North Adams Budget 2011: Options
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North Adams Fire Hydrant Replacements to Start This Summer

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Up to 60 new fireplugs are expected to installed and operational by the end of September.
Contracts have been awarded and the project is waiting on parts and an order to proceed. The work is expected to start around the beginning of August.
"We have done the the bidding on the fire hydrant project in two stages," Mayor Thomas Bernard told the City Council on Tuesday. "The fire hydrants themselves, and then on the installation, in two separate projects, believing, I think correctly, that we would get a better price purchasing the hydrants separately rather than rolling those into a bid."
According to the mayor, there are now 43 hydrants that are considered non-functional and 54 that "have issues" but that the Water Department and Fire Department believe are usable in an emergency situation. 
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