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Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy answered questions about the deficit on Tuesday night.

Pittsfield Taps Multiple Sources To Cover $1.3M Snow and Ice Deficit

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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In other business, Ryan Scrittorale presented updated plans for the proposed demolition and rebuild of the gas station at First and Tyler streets.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council tapped into multiple sources to pay for a $1.3 million deficit in snow and ice removal. 
The Department of Public Service had overspent the $700,000 budget for snow and ice removal supplies (sand) during this last winter.
It is one budget line that is legally allowed to be deficit spent and done so by most communities in the state.
However, covering the $1.3 million amount posed challenges for the finance office as it searched to find funds from more than two dozen other budget lines, used free cash, and tapped into the overlay surplus.
"I'm not happy about it either but I don't have an alternative. This is not a situation where we have the luxury to tap into the reserve because we don't want to do anything else," Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood said, addressing the use of $298,000 of free cash to offset the deficit. 
The use of that funds leaves the city with $1 million in free cash remaining, a figure that is at the low-end of Kerwood's "comfort zone" when it comes to fund balances. Nor did it sit well with Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, who ultimately voted against the transfer of free cash.
"We're going down a real dangerous slope using free cash. I understand we have to pay this but on principle, sticking to my guns as with the budget, I won't support this," Morandi said.
Those funds were matched at $300,000 by a transfer from the overlay surplus account, which is a reserve to cover tax abatements and one Kerwood had hoped not to touch.
But, he had already drained what he could from other sources while still retaining some turn back from accounts into free cash next year. He will also be addressing a $80,000 deficit in veterans benefits, which is paid back by the state in the future.
Kerwood pulled $773,811 from more than two dozen other budget lines for the snow and ice deficit. The money is unspent from the fiscal year, which ends in just a few days, and would ultimately roll into a future allotment of free cash.
"I felt this was the most I could get to address this particular matter and still get something for turnbacks," Kerwood said.
Kerwood said there just wasn't a way to come up with $1.3 million in unspent funds from the other budget lines.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, however, questioned why the city doesn't budget enough for snow and ice. He said the snow and ice budget has exceeded $1 million for each of the last three years and that the budget is never enough.
"Let's just budget for snow and ice, take a three or five-year average and put it in the budget," Connell said.
Connell was particularly upset with a $36,000 transfer from traffic signals. During budget deliberations, he specifically questioned that line because it was far from being spent. Now, at the end of the year, he says it turned out to be overbudgeted and being spent elsewhere. 
"I would have loved to have this during the budget season when we were going through all of these meetings," Connell said.
Connell wants to limit the number line item transfers at the end of the year, calling for lines with excess to be cut closer to the actual and lines, like snow and ice that are habitually in deficit, be funded fulled.
Kerwood, however, says line item transfers are done in every community across the state. The budget had ebbs and flows every year and is based on the best guesses for what would happen over the course of the year.
"A budget is a blueprint. A budget is your best guesstimate at what you will see over the course of the year," Kerwood said. "It changes."
Morandi also had a level of sticker shock over how much was spent this past winter. He said he hears from residents about plowing being done when it isn't needed.
"I know they need to go out and keep the residents safe, but to me, this is really really high considering this was not a tough winter," he said.
Nonetheless, the City Council approved the various transfers.
In other business, the City Council approved a special permit for the Global Montello Group Corp. to renovate the gas station at the corner of First and Tyler Street. 
The permit had been delayed last month after the councilors requested an array of changes to the proposed design — from new lighting to bicycle racks to fencing. Ultimately, the company returned with all of the changes and faced nearly another hour of questions from the council — as detailed as how many trash receptacles will be outside the building for the public to dispose of trash.
The City Council approved the permit, as it shows a significant improvement over the current structure.

Tags: gas station,   snow & ice,   

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Pittsfield Continues Tax Classification Hearing Over Free Cash

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

Mayor Linda Tyer says she wants to focus on building reserves. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday continued the tax classification hearing after clashing with the mayor over how much free cash should be used to offset the tax rate.
At the end of a nearly three-hour meeting, councilors and Mayor Linda Tyer were at a stalemate with the majority of the council unsatisfied with Tyer's $750,000 compromise.
"We are taking this out of the pockets of our taxpayers and putting it into the city coffers," Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said. "I know that's how it works but at this moment we can afford to give some of that savings back."
The original proposal was a residential tax rate of $19.99 per $1,000 valuation and a commercial rate of $39.96 per $1,000 valuation, which holds the residential rate to a 57 cent increase and the commercial rate to a 2 cent increase.
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