PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer has put forth an FY19 budget calling for a 1.8 percent increase in total expenditures.
On Friday, the mayor released her proposed $167.6 million spending plan. That reflects a $2.8 million increase from the current year. The City Council will be asked to raise and appropriate a total of $159.9 million of that.
"In FY19 we continue to be challenged in the form of a levy ceiling constraint. However, the FY19 budget renews our commitment to strategies that will foster increased property values and inspire new growth through private investment. Safe neighborhoods that are free from blighted conditions, competitive public schools that prepare our students for a global economy and engaged citizenship, and streamlining strategies for advancing economic growth are top priorities," Tyer wrote as a preface to the budget.
"The success of these initiatives is one of the key components to overcoming the constraints of the levy ceiling. We have witnessed the beginnings of an upward trend. The FY18 re-valuation showed an overall increase in property values across most categories and the city's real estate market is trending positively."
The proposed operating budget is requested to be $148,465,621, which is $3.4 million more than last year, and the enterprise account budgets are eyed to be $11,531,024, which is a $154,529 increase. Those account for the $159,996,645 the City Council needs to appropriate.
Meanwhile, other expenditures will be dropping from $8,331,641 last year to $7,656,831 this year - a decline of $674,810 or 8.1 percent. The other expenditures line consists of a number of items such as assessments, school choice, and other cherry sheet offsets to state aid. Typically these are items charged against the city's state aid prior to disbursement as well as retained earnings from the enterprise funds.
The city is seeing a $1.4 million boost in state aid, most of which is in the form of Chapter 70 school aid. Some $52.4 million is expected in state support and local receipts are expected to make up just short of $12 million. The mayor is also asking the City Council to use $1 million in free cash to offset the tax rate.
"This proposal includes increases in the following fixed costs: 1) a $525,000 increase in health insurance; 2) a $1,112,324 increase in retirement contribution; 3) a $1,285,809 in long-term debt payments, principal, and interest; and 4) a $94,787 increase is solid waste collection and disposal," the mayor wrote.
"This budget proposal supports staffing a full and comprehensive elementary therapeutic program. The therapeutic program of the Pittsfield Public Schools is a specialized program that services students with individualized education plans who will also benefit from specialized, focused social and emotional learning opportunities, both as individuals and within a group setting," Tyer wrote.
"This program will serve students in grades K-5 by providing a safe, personalized learning experience in a setting that includes school adjustment counselor support, licensed academic and special education teachers, paraprofessional support where needed, and an in-house director to case management students and to serve as a direct communication link among the school, outside agencies, and families."
The budget was significantly helped by a recent agreement between the Public Employees Committee and the city regarding health insurance. The city was looking at a $2 million increase in health insurance if no changed had been made to the health insurance plans during negotiations with all of the city's unions. The new six-year agreement is expected to save the city $1.5 million this upcoming year - thus mitigating the expected increase to around $500,000.
"Reaching this agreement reflects the shared responsibility, the deep commitment, and the good faith collaboration between the city and its employees. The anticipated savings over the six-year agreement will be vital to the long-term sustainability of the city's finances by gradually shifting more out-of-pocket costs for direct services, such as co-pays, to the employees," Tyer wrote.
The budget does not call for any reductions in staffing and Tyer said 11 departments are either level-funded or seeing a reduction.
The proposal isn't absent of all new initiatives. The mayor is asking for a new diversity and inclusion initiative in the Personnel Department.
"The mission of this initiative is to ensure that the city's workforce reflects the diversity of the city's citizens with a strategic focus on recruiting, retaining, and promoting diverse talent," Tyer wrote.
"Outstanding service in our citizens depends upon our organization's commitment to ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace where all employees feel respected, valued, and empowered to maximize their skills and talents. This initiative includes marketing and advertising, an internship program, training and development, and inclusion practices."
That new line is proposed to be funded at $5,000 and even with that included, the Personnel Department will still be seeing about a $200,000 decrease. The biggest cutback on that departmental budget is $6,500 for assessment centers, which were used during this past year to fill the ranks of top positions in the Police Department. Now that those are filled, the city will need to run fewer assessment centers this coming year.
Looking forward, the mayor said her administration is looking to complete an efficiency study to implement increase operations and develop a home improvement initiative to help residents increase home values.
"I am optimistic that we can survive and thrive beyond these existing fiscal conditions through strategic action. The actions we take today will yield steady returns toward the city's long-term fiscal stability," Tyer wrote.
The City Council will hold a series of meetings throughout the rest of the month to debate the budget. The mayor's budget proposal is available below.
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Brien Center Awarded $360K Curb Risky High School Student Behavior
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Brien Center has been awarded a total of $357,480 in state grants that will fund a first-of-its kind program in two Berkshire County high schools that is designed to reduce such risky behaviors as smoking, vaping, drinking and substance misuse that could compromise students' futures.
The local organization applied for the funds through a competitive grant process offered for the first time by the state Department of Public Health, Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, Office of Youth and Young Adult Services. The bureau awarded 18 grants statewide, with the Brien Center winning two of them.
The grants will fund new and intensive services at Taconic High School in Pittsfield and Drury High School in North Adams – schools that already work closely with the Brien Center's youth programs. The schools are not identified because their students have riskier behaviors. Schools identified for the grants have a strong internal system to identify high-risk youth.
"We have had substance abuse educators in most Berkshire schools for 25 years on a limited basis due to funding," said M. Christine Macbeth, president and CEO of the Brien Center. "However, both Taconic and Drury have utilized our services to their fullest potential. This new grant will allow us to expand our collaboration to a much higher level."
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