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Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood outlined some of the areas he is concerned with to the City Council's finance subcommittee.

Pittsfield Remains Concerned With Police, Fire Overtime Spending

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Police and fire overtime continues to be a financial concern.
 
The two accounts, as well as snow and ice, have been on the city's financial team's radar for a number of years as it seems that those accounts are routinely underfunded and officials have to find money at the end of the year to cover the deficits. That hasn't changed this year as all three accounts are trending above budget.
 
The Fire Department's overtime is particularly notable this year because last year a slew of new hires significantly dropped the expense -- so much so that the city reduced that line of the budget.
 
Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood, however, said that hasn't worked out. Already 82 percent of the $400,000 allocated for overtime in the Fire Department has been spent and it is just short of halfway through the fiscal year.
 
"There are multiple factors right now driving fire overtime," Kerwood said.
 
Particularly, structure fires have triggered an increase in overtime. The city has seen multiple fires this year and those take more firefighters and take more time. Kerwood added that structure fires also lead to more injuries, which in turn leads to people being absent. A federal law was passed adding cancer as a presumptive illness caused by the profession and since then three firefighters were diagnosed. 
 
"Since the beginning of the year there have been at least seven firefighters who have retired and not all of those positions have been filled," Kerwood said.
 
He said the administration was confident at the time of the budgeting that the number could be reduced since additional firefighters were brought on. But he wasn't expecting so many issues to collide at once.
 
"We were at that point given the information we had, we were confident that it would work," Kerwood said.
 
The Police Department has also had issues. So far 80 percent of the $900,000 appropriation for overtime has been spent. Kerwood said the department has a number of reasons driving up the overtime. He added that the city had increased the budget for officers just a few years ago but there are still vacancies.
 
The vacancies in the Police Department staff does ease the trouble a bit, Kerwood said, because there is still money available in the salary line to offset the extra overtime but the Fire Department is in a leaner situation.
 
The Police Department's overtime budget has been routinely underfunded and runs a deficit every year. Driving that tends to be the level of staffing required for every shift, the number of major crimes, and the lengthy hiring and training requirements to fill a position.
 
That has been a point of contention for Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell who would like to see that budgeted more accurately. 
 
"I'm always hoping that the police because we approved more for salaries, more for staffing, that it would start to dip down a bit and it just never seems to happen," Connell said.
 
Kerwood said police overtime has been an issue since he was on the council and that would have to be addressed through a "comprehensive conversation" with the administration, the department, and the council to develop the best way to address it.
 
Snow and ice also remain a constant consideration. Kerwood said so far $261,478 has been spent of the $700,000 appropriation and it is unknown how much snow will ultimately come. 
 
However, some of the other volatile budget lines are trending well. Kerwood said only 18 percent of the unemployment insurance allocation has been spent.
 
"We're trending well in this one. This is certainly a line item we can look at [reducing] in the future," Kerwood said.
 
Health insurance is also trending well. There are constant changes being made by employees so the line can be difficult to predict. But Kerwood said 41 percent of the total $25,025,000 budget has been spent. 
 
"We are trending below our appropriation in health insurance," Kerwood said. "On average the bills have been running about $2.1 million on a monthly basis."
 
Kerwood added that he is keeping on eye on injured on duty for the Fire Department, Workers Compensation, Benefits Conversion, Telephone, Veterans Program Expenses, and Gas and Diesel. 
 
While those lines may be a concern, collections of revenue are seemingly doing well. The city has so far collected 48 percent of property tax, which on pace with the city's history of collecting 98 percent by the end of the fiscal year. Kerwood added that personal property taxes are at 42 percent.
 
Motor vehicle excise taxes are only at 14.1 percent so far but Kerwood said that is because the majority of the bills don't go out until the third quarter of the fiscal year.
 
"One that large commitment goes out and those funds come back, you'll see a change in that," Kerwood said.

Tags: fiscal 2019,   overtime,   pittsfield_budget,   

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DA's Office, Pittsfield Schools Collaborate on Early Intervention Grant

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Brooke Bridges, founder of Building Bridges SEL, explains how the program works. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A collaboration of the Berkshire District attorney's office and the Pittsfield Public Schools is using $25,000 in seed money in hopes of growing a sustainable program for social emotional learning in the schools. 
 
The program, Tuned Transitions, is being funded through a grant from the state Department of Probation and will be implemented in the Conte and Morningside community schools for Grades 2 through 5. The curriculum was developed by Brooke Bridges, founder of Building Bridges SEL, a mental health advocacy and coaching organization.
 
"I have to say, as a parent, I understand how much the closing of schools and the switch to virtual learning has impacted children," said District Attorney Andrea Harrington at a press conference at Conte School on Wednesday. "And the disparity between children who are able to live in a safe home, children who are able to have access to education, and those who do not during the pandemic is going to be the social justice issues of our time."
 
Bridges will be the facilitator for the program, which will use personal storytelling as the focus to aid children in working through their experiences and challenges. Her business was inspired by her overcoming her own mental and social challenges as a child actor in Los Angeles. The program is evidence-based and is based off the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, program used in schools. 
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