Alcombright Lays Out 'Worst Case' Budget Plan

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Mayor Richard Alcombright explains the drop in state aid since 2009.

Update: The complete presentation from Wednesday's meeting is available at the bottom of the story. The meeting was also recorded for airing on NBCTV.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A worst-case budget scenario for the city could mean the loss of nearly 30 jobs, pay cuts and reduction of services.

The city is facing a $625,000 deficit in fiscal 2015: a revenue proposal would combine job cuts by attrition and increases in water, sewer and parking fees to raise more than $400,000.

Mayor Richard Alcombright laid out a bleak vision of what would happen should that revenue package not pass.

Nearly 15 jobs on the city side would be eliminated; salaried nonunion staff would see a pay cut of 10 percent and City Hall would close on Fridays; staff training and education would be eliminated.

The city would also break its minimum staffing contract with the firefighters' union and services like mowing, sewer repair and snowplowing would be reduced.

The school department would face a similar situation.

"That puts us significantly at risk of losing very good people in the city," said Alcombright.

Worse, he said, "We do all this and I'll be back here next June trying to cut a half-million dollars."

The result would be the same, the mayor said, should a one-time state aid boost of $750,000 proposed by state Sen. Benjamin B.Downing and Rep. Gailanne Cariddi pass the Legislature.

Alcombright reviewed the proposed spending plan, the revenue package he's proposing and the consequences if it doesn't pass with the Finance Committee on Wednesday.

The committee will delve into specific areas with department heads beginning Thursday night at 6:30.

The review for the most part showed the city's fiscal situation has not changed. It's been struggling with the loss of state aid and revenues that aren't keeping up with costs.

The city's been draining its reserves after the failure of a Proposition 2 1/2 override three years ago.

"We're Band-aiding this with reserves, reserves, reserves," he said.

State aid is inching upward - it's about $100,000 more for next year — although committee member Lisa Blackmer noted that number also contains the 75 reimbursement for veterans benefits.

And benefits have risen significantly over the past few years and are expected to be $750,000 next year.

Other details included making the part-time veterans agent assistant full time at the "strong urging" of the Veterans Administration. Her salary, like the agents, is partly offset by charging other towns that they serve.

In response to questions, the mayor said three other salaries are being increased for the posts taking on new responsibilities or being reclassified to reflect duties.

Consolidations have saved about $200,000. Three part-time posts in public works, public service and the health department will not be filled, along with three full-time posts for engineer (being eliminated), cemetery and police officer.

"We're making department heads justify or affirm the need for every position when a vacancy occurs," said the mayor.

Most lines items are being level funded; there are increases in health insurance costs of about 8 percent and overtimes salaries in public safety are up again, in part because two more personnel than expected were out on disability.

At the same time revenues from school tuition have dropped nearly $300,000 as fewer children are coming in from feeder schools.

Several residents suggested raising at fees at municipal lots; getting a consultant to determine if hiring officers would be more cost-effective than overtime; reopening talks with employees on insurance, and rejecting any raises.

Alcombright, however, said more cuts wouldn't ultimately solve the city's financial position. He plans to begin a campaign for an override this fall with a vote in the spring.

The mayor has frequently stated the passage of an override in 2011 would have solved much of the problems by increasing the city's taxing capacity.

He estimated that the bill on an average house (about $138,500) would have gone up $123.

"So instead, we did a sewer fee that raised taxes about $80," he said. "We would have balanced the last three cycles and would have $1 million to $1.3 million in reserves."

Committee member Wayne Wilkinson said it was critical for residents to understand what an override means.

"I think there's a misconception, whether your for it or against," he said.

Prop 2 1/2 limits taxing capacity to 2.5 percent of all assessed property.

Committee Chairwoman Nancy Bullett rejected charges that talk of layoffs and losing critical staff were scare tactics.

"You've got to understand that's as black and white as it gets and it's down to the bare bones," she said. "There isn't anything that hasn't been put out there for the public."

Councilor Joshua Moran said the younger population had a responsibility to ensure the future of the community.

"If we want to die as a city, then we're doing a good job at it," he said. "I think it's very selfish individually that we look at small amounts of money yearly that could cost us our future."


Tags: budget cuts,   city budget,   Finance Committee,   fiscal 2015,   

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North Adams Lifts Boil Water Notice

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Update on Saturday Sept. 26, 1 p.m.: The state Department of Environmental Protection has lifted the boil water order issued Friday for residents affected by the water main break on River Street.
It is no longer necessary to use boiled water or bottled water for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and preparing food. The City of North Adams apologizes for any inconvenience and thanks you for your patience.
The areas specifically identified as potentially affected were:
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