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Councilor Anthony Simonelli, Melissa Mazzeo, and Kevin Morandi along with Christopher Connell who sits at the other side of the dais filed the petition to form a new working group to examine the program.

Revised Working Group Formed to Re-Assess Tyer's At Home Program

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The mayor's proposed At Home in Pittsfield program may see a new life.
The City Council shot down the mayor's plan to provide zero-interest loans to residents who make repairs to the exterior of their homes with a particular sticking point being the source of funding: the GE Economic Development funds. Tyer originally said she had exhausted all avenues for other funding mechanisms and didn't have much interest starting back at the drawing board.
The contingent of four councilors who voted the program down, and who have routinely opposed the mayor's plans, then came back with a petition calling for a working group consisting of councilors to seek alternative methods of financing -- volleying the ball back onto the mayor's side of the court.
In turn, Tyer doubled down in rallying support from the public for the program and agreed to add two city councilors and the director of finance to the existing group of people who planned the program.
"It is my understanding, and with great relief, that the City Council agrees with the structure of the program. Unfortunately, there are differences of opinion on the use of economic development funds," Tyer wrote in response.
"First, I must recognize and thank the city's Office of Community Development, Habitat for Humanity, Berkshire Bridges-A Working Cities Initiative, and our bank partners for the dedication and commitment they have provided throughout the development of this initiative. Their creative thinking, valuable input, and engaged participation all contributed to designing a well-crafted response to the housing needs of our community. It is a hallmark of collaboration.
I, and these outstanding community representatives originated the At Home in Pittsfield concept, presented it to the City Council for its consideration, and compromised in several areas to satisfy concerns raised by the City Council. If we are going to find a funding solution that we can all be proud of then it is essential that the original planners be part of the next level of review."
The mayor is suggesting Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, and At Large Councilor Peter White join Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer, Community Development & Housing Program Manager Justine Dodds, Habitat Executive Director Carolyn Valli, Alisa Costa of Working Cities, Lori Gazzillo Kiely of Berkshire Bank, Tara McCluskey from Greylock Federal Credit Union, Richard Whalen from Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, and Paula Lewis from Lee Bank to revisit the program.
"I am confident that there will be serious deliberations and a sincere willingness to find a solution," Tyer wrote.
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Morandi had been one of the votes leading the program to fall short of the supermajority needed while White has been an ardent supporter. 
Despite filing the petition and then being put on the revived working group, Morandi is hoping his colleagues Christopher Connell, Melissa Mazzeo, or Anthony Simonelli, who co-sponsored the petition with him, would be able to fill in.
He said on Tuesday he is unsure if he'd be able to attend the meetings depending on the scheduling and hoped any of the other three could serve as alternatives.
Mazzeo also voted against the program at first but is now having a change of heart. She had been part of a group of officials and planners last week to hear from Strong Towns Founder Charles Marohn. That presentation included detailing how officials Oswego, N.Y., created a similar program and how that tied into the Strong Towns' community development strategies.
"If I had actually read a lot of that and was understanding where he was going with that, I would have had a different outlook on this," Mazzeo said.
She called the presentation "eye-opening" and has newfound energy to support the program. However, she said she does still have reservations about the funding source.
"I think this is really a positive thing for the city, it is just how are we going to fund this," she said.
Meanwhile, Simonelli who was among the group who filed the petition calling for a new working group voted against the mayor's counteroffer, though he did not explain his reasoning. Council President Peter Marchetti abstained from the discussion as he has throughout the debate on the program because of his banking employment. The vote for the new working group passed 9-1.
In other business, the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the state to add a 5-cent deposit on nip bottles. State lawmakers are undertaking an effort to revise the bottle bill -- adding particularly water bottles to the containers with a 5-cent deposit -- and Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo filed a council petition asking the state to add nip bottles as well.
"I went on a recent walk around Silver Lake walking path, from end to end was covered in nip bottles," Caccamo said.
Caccamo said the deposit is a way to use the market to influence environmental strategies. The deposit would lead to more people recycling them and keeping them out of the environment -- and the research with carbonated beverages has shown that states with the deposit have a higher rate of recycling than not. However, a 2014 effort to expand the bottle bill was rejected at the ballot by a wide margin.
"I'm hoping if more communities passed resolution it would help move the legislation to the governor," Caccamo said.
Connell said there are concerns about supermarket's having the operational ability to handle the small bottles but he said that could be worked out. He supported the resolutions. White said action against nip bottles is something the community has been looking for and added his observation of a large number of nip bottles along the Memorial Day parade route. He hopes the state will take action.
The resolution was supported unanimously, notably without discussion as to whether or not the council should take stances on statewide issues as had hotly debated the most recent times the council has been asked to do so.

Tags: community development,   

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Berkshire Immigrant Center Celebrates National Immigrant Heritage Month

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Beginning June 1, the Berkshire Immigrant Center invites the community to honor the more than 10,000 immigrants in the Berkshires and by joining the annual observance of national Immigrant Heritage Month and helping to launch a $10,000 fundraising campaign for the center.

"During Immigrant Heritage Month, we proudly honor the many ways immigrants make the Berkshires a better place," said BIC Executive Director Michelle Lopez. "This year we are especially grateful for the hundreds of foreign-born doctors, medical technicians, nurses and staff who are caring for people at Berkshire Medical Center, Fairview Hospital, and nursing homes, and for local immigrants who are essential workers at our grocery stores, restaurants and farms."

Since March 20, BIC has raised more than $70,000 for a COVID-19 Relief Fund. Through this fund, BIC has helped more than 140 clients and their families pay for basic needs like rent and utilities.

"We know that so many local people are hurting, both our clients and our supporters, yet even during this crisis people are asking us how they can help," Lopez said.

While 100 percent of emergency relief has been passed through to clients, donations to the Immigrant Heritage Month Campaign help ensure that BIC can serve the local immigrant community in crisis and beyond, including helping immigrants become US citizens. In this year of the U.S. Census count, BIC has also worked diligently to make sure that immigrants are counted and that Berkshire communities thus receive every dollar of federal aid that they should get.

Tax-deductible donations of any amount are welcome online. Contributions can also be made by check made out to Berkshire Immigrant Center and mailed to BIC, 67 East Street, Pittsfield MA 01201.

The center remains the only program in Berkshire County that focuses exclusively on meeting the unique challenges of a continuously growing immigrant and refugee population. In 2018 BIC was named "Best Small Nonprofit" in the state by Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

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