PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer is asking for nearly a $7 million increase in the fiscal 2020 budget.
The proposed spending plan will be given to the City Council on Tuesday and a series of budget hearings will be held later in the month. The mayor's proposal calls for a $175,485,414 operating budget budget, which is 3.9 percent more than the current year.
The budget for schools is proposed to increase by about $2.9 million and the rest of the municipal budget is proposed to increase by about $4 million. Meanwhile, the city is expecting $2.4 million more in revenues outside of property taxes, particularly driven by an increase in state aid for schools.
In a letter to the City Council, Tyer wrote that the biggest drivers of the increase include a $1.4 million hike in health insurance, a $200,524 increase in retirement contributions, and a $188,448 increase in solid waste collection and disposal.
"The level of funding proposed in this budget reflects our commitment to excellence in customer service, our dedication to meaningful community engagement, and our collective desire to do as much as we responsibly can to meet the urgent and varying needs facing Pittsfield today and into the future," the mayor wrote.
The largest departmental budget outside of the schools is the Police Department, which is proposed at $10,899,632. That is $866,389 more than the current year, or 8.6 percent. The raise includes a new line to fund ShotSpotter -- the gunshot detection system the city contracted and was hoping to get private donations to pay for but fell short of the total price. That line is proposed at $240,000.
The budget is also has a contractual allowances increase of about $150,000 for uniforms and boot issues to officers -- a line for uniforms was subsequently reduced by $56,600.
The proposal also includes a new line to pay for community outreach overtime. The department has been undertaking many community policing efforts in recent years but had been on the individual officer's off time or on regular overtime. The new line of $12,500 accounts for those efforts. Scheduled overtime is also proposed to increase by $100,000 -- a line that has historically and publicly been noted as being underfunded.
The Department of Public Services is the second largest department budget at a proposed $8,076,245. That is $109,508 more than this year, most of which is driven by contractual salary increases.
The building inspectors department is looking at a 16.9 percent increase, which equals $64,671. The majority of that increase is simply moving the inspector of weights and measures job back to the budget from the Department of Public Services -- and a matching reduction in that budget was made. The department is also adding a part-time senior clerk.
Percentage-wise, five departments are seeing greater than a 10 percent increase.
• The Fire Department is seeing the largest overall increase to the tune of $1,050,509. The majority of the increase is contractual salary increases accounting for $998,509.
• The Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) has a large percentage increase at 13.8 percent but it is a relatively small line in the budget so the increase is $10,906, all of which is related to salary increases for the staff.
• The budget calls for a $150,000 increase for maintenance of schools. That is $125,000 for contractual services and $25,000 in supplies.
• The Berkshire Athenaeum is proposed to receive a 10.1 percent increase, $108,822, mostly driven by contractual salary increases but also a significant increase in the amount spent on books and audio and visual material.
Three departments will see reduced funding: the city solicitor's office, the airport, and worker's compensation. The city contracts the solicitor services and that amount hasn't changed but there is a cut of $4,300 in other expenses. The airport is dropping by $1,960. That is accounted for in a reduction of overtime by $5,000, about $3,000 of which is used in salary increases. Worker's compensation is being reduced by $25,000.
The city is also seeing a decrease in long-term debt to the tune of $2,299,695. That savings is mostly offset by the increase in health insurance in the unclassified budget, which overall is seeing a 0.2 percent increase.
The mayor is also proposing to apply $750,000 in free cash to the budget to reduce the tax rate. The city has been scaling back the amount it uses to offset the budget each year following the auditor's recommendations.
The mayor is also proposing a $10,789,300 capital budget. That budget calls for borrowing for a number of projects, the largest of which is a $2 million reconstruction of Tyler Street and $2.5 million for general street improvements.
The City Council will be hosting a series of budget hearings to review each department. iBerkshires will be providing in-depth coverage of the budget during those hearings but for now, the full budget proposal from the mayor's office is available here.
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Wally the Stegosaurus Returns to Berkshire Museum
By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
The fiberglass dinosaur was refurbished by the studio that created him more than 50 years ago. See more photos here.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — He's large, he's prehistoric, and he is back home at the Berkshire Museum.
Wally the 1,200-pound, life-sized fiberglass Stegosaurus was crane-lifted to the museum's lawn on Monday after a yearlong hiatus for some rest and recuperation. During this time, he received a full inspection, tail restoration, surface crack repairs, and a new paint job.
The beloved Pittsfield hallmark of 24 years now sits on the left side of the museum's front lawn. He previously lived on the right side of the lawn.
"That's been our No. 1 question this whole time is 'Where's Wally?'" the museum's marketing and brand manager Kimberly Donoughe said. "Everybody wants to know where Wally is."
In April 2020, he made the journey back to his birthplace — Louis Paul Jonas Studios — down Route 7 South through Pittsfield, Lenox, Stockbridge, and Great Barrington before crossing the border to New York. The museum published Wally's route and estimated travel times so that fans could get a glimpse of the local celebrity in his travels.
A 2020 report issued by State Auditor Suzanne Bump revealed that the commonwealth's payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program for state-owned lands (SOL) is underfunded and negatively affects smaller rural communities in Western Mass compared to larger, wealthier communities in the eastern part of... click for more