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The council voted to delay approval of the fiscal 2020 budget to allow one more Finance Committee meeting.

North Adams Council Delays Approval of Fiscal 2020 Budget

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Councilor Marie T. Harpin makes the recommendation to delay to allow review of reports received after the last committee meeting and some minor amendments to be made. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday punted the fiscal 2020 budget approval another two weeks on the recommendation of Councilor Marie T. Harpin.
 
Harpin, chairman of the Finance Committee, said this was in part because of reports her committee had received from the administration but had not yet had time to review and concerns over use of the debt load that has fallen off the books. 
 
"It's just, you know, to get a better understanding of where where we're going in the future and any other questions that we have within the budget and the compensation plan," she said. 
 
Mayor Thomas Bernard is proposing a fiscal 2020 operating budget of $40,810,269 that represents an increase of $88,911, or 0.22 percent, from fiscal 2019.
 
Harpin, however, said those numbers didn't show the whole pictures. 
 
"My feelings for the budget is there was a million dollars that's coming off of the budget from the debt line and this is being absorbed in our operating budget this year," she said. "So I know the mayor is going to state that the budget increased by point .02 percent, or $89,000. And it did.
 
"But if we take out the amount of debt that actually came off the books, the increase in our operating budget is actually over $1 million. And it's a 2.65 percent increase."
 
Harpin said her concern was that that money had been spent on infrastructure and was now going to maintenance. Over the last couple years, the city has paid off a number of projects including the water treatment facility, Brayton School and Drury High School. 
 
"If we're saying we have a maintenance budget, we need to have a plan ... we're not taking that $1 million we normally invest in our infrastructure ... and reinvesting that in our city," she said.
 
The reports that she wanted the Finance Committee to review include the administration's five-year capital plan, expenditures for Harriman & West Airport, profits and losses for Windsor Lake, the skating rink and the airport, and several tax incentive updates. 
 
There were also a few amendments that needed to be added to the budget and plan, moving some line items, a change in salary for the administrative assistant and modifications to job titles. 
 
There was little pushback on the proposal, with only Councilor Wayne Wilkinson questioning how the reviewing the reports affected the fiscal 2020 budget. 
 
"It has really nothing to do with the relevancy of this particular budget," he said, but added, "We had five meetings, went into depth and here at the last hour, we have some some more questions, but it doesn't really change the budget numbers."
 
But since there was some concern, Wilkinson said, he was willing to withdraw his motion to approve so action on the budget could be postponed. 
 
The council voted to bring the budget back at its next meeting on June 25; the budget must be approved by June 30, the end of the fiscal 2019. The compensation and classification plan was voted to a second reading and publication with the understanding some minor title changes could be made before the final vote. 
 
The Finance Committee had made several recommendations to the administration, including changing the line item of "City Council expense" to "Legal Notices/Secretarial" and increasing it from $4,000 to $5,000; to recommend the city clerk get a stipend of $100 for note taking at council meetings; to give the council a $5,000 for legal services; to delete the $600 stipend for note taking for the Parks and Recreation Commission; bring the step  for the administrative assistant up one year, not the five-year mark as requested by set by the administration; and to raise the mayor's salary by $4,000. 
 
The mayor had rejected raising the legal notice line item, noting fiscal 2019's budget still had $1,600 in it, and had resisted the change in the adminstrative assistant. 
 
However, on Tuesday, he said his final budget number would be reduced by $2,449 — reflecting a salary and FICA reduction. 
 
Overall, Harpin said, the budget had been reduced by about $64,000 during the five Finance Committee hearings. 
 
Council members who attended the meetings complimented Harpin on her efforts. 
 
"She was black and white, very transparent, organized, she took all of the minutes," said Councilor Rebbecca Cohen, a committee member. "I was a little bit nervous in the beginning to be on a finance committee, but you made it very easy to transition into a role like that. So thank you personally."
 
Harpin also thanked Cohen and fellow committee member Councilor Jason LaForest and other councilors who attended the committee meetings. 
 
"It creates accountability for the administration and its leadership," she said. 
 
All of the Finance Committee meetings have been aired on NBCTV and are available on the cable access station's YouTube channel. 
 
In other business: 
 
Harpin reported that Ben Svenson has been able to get title and insurance on 45 Edgewood Ave. and will be cleaning up the property. She had brought the matter to the council some months ago because of neighbors' concerns about rodents and the condition of the property. Svenson had been in the process of acquiring title at the time. The communication was filed. 
 
• The council approved unanimously an ordinance changing the number of cemetery commissioners from three to five. Commissioner of Public Services Timothy Lescarbeau explained that he was requested the change because it was difficult sometimes to get a quorum and there were projects coming up that required the commissioners such as plan for the expansion of Southview Cemetery, review of the policies and rules, and development of maps. 
 
• The School Department offered its recommended walking route to Brayton School once a crosswalk is removed that connects Brayton Hill Terrace to the YMCA parking lot. Councilors had issues with the safety and efficacy of the new route and referred the matter to the Public Safety Committee. 

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