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Pittsfield City Council Create Public Works Stabilization Fund

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council has approved the creation of a Public Works Stabilization Fund in which 25 percent of marijuana tax revenue will be deposited. 
Although the council ultimately approved the fund last Tuesday, there was some pushback from councilors who wanted a speedier accumulation and a larger percentage in the account.
Now with two marijuana facilities up in running and more in the queue, the city has begun collecting tax on product sold.
 In fiscal 2019, this amount was $95,872 and in fiscal 2020, it was $206,327.87.
Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood explained said in fiscal 2019, 50 percent of the $95,872 collected went into the general stabilization fund and the remaining 50 percent went into the general fund.
With the creation of this new fund, 50 percent of the revenue stream would still go toward stabilization but the remaining percentage would be split: 25 percent to the general fund and 25 percent to the newly created Public Works Stabilization Fund.
Kerwood said there are two ways to populate a stabilization fund once it is established: allocate an amount of free cash by vote to the fund or designate a revenue stream, however, the latter option cannot be done until the fiscal year after the fund is created.
"What the Department [of Revenue] doesn't want you to do is to allocate the revenue source as you go in and set your tax rate then you take those funds and allocate them into a stabilization fund because now you are basically double-dipping," he said.
Kerwood said the 25 percent cannot be designated and diverted into this fund until fiscal 2021. Money coming in must now go to the general fund for the remainder of the fiscal year. 
He said to avoid the delay the council would have had to create the fund prior to July 1 however they voted to place a six-month delay to gather data and to see how much revenue was actually coming in.
City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo said if she knew this six-month moratorium would cause this delay she would have voted against it. She added people are frustrated with the roads and other infrastructure issues and want relief now.
"I don't think the residents want to sit here and wait ... every bit that comes in we should be able to use," she said. "I don't want this to get bogged down because this is money that we have not had before."
Kerwood said once free cash is certified, potentially the council could vote to take the anticipated revenue amount out of free cash and place it into the newly created public works fund.
He added that it may be prudent to wait and let the fund grow because many of these projects are quite expensive. He said this provides the added benefit of really getting a better handle on how much money will be coming in. 
Councilor Christopher Connell was less concerned about the delay and more concerned about the amount. Connell advocated for an even split: 50 percent in general stabilization and 50 percent in the public works stabilization.
"We have a system right now where we borrow for a period longer than what these roads are lasting," he said. "We are digging ourselves into a bigger hole and we keep borrowing and borrowing."
He said the city has borrowed an average $2.5 million a year in the past five years for road and infrastructure repair. He said he was growing more confident that with 10 more proposed marijuana operations in the wings, the city could pull in some serious cash to address its infrastructure problems.
Councilor John Krol was on the other side of the spectrum and felt the entire 50 percent should go right to the general fund. This way the City Council and future councils can be more flexible with the money.
"To lock it in 25 percent no matter what that revenue is simply for this purpose I think is not responsible leading into the future," Krol said. "To lock this into one fund does not give you the flexibility to put it where it needs to go."
He added that what the city does with this new revenue says a lot about the city and the city has more important concerns than roads.
"I have never heard anyone say I am leaving Pittsfield and moving to Lenox because the roads are better," he said. "We are saying the one thing we are locking this into is roads. Not schools, not crime issues, not quality-of-life issues. Roads are important but they are not that important."
Councilor Kevin Morandi disagreed and felt the 25 percent being placed in the general fund was enough to address other city concerns. He said personally he thought roads were a major concern of the public. He said people have told him they wish they did not have to drive through Pittsfield because of the roads.
Councilor Peter White found the middle ground and said he understood all his fellow councilors' points and agreed with them all to an extent. He said he felt the option on the table was a good compromise.
The only councilor to vote against the creation of the fund was Krol. The rest of the counselors who had concerns over the fund fell in line after Connell noted he rather see the fund in some form than not all.
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Markey Speaks at Last-Minute Rally in Park Square

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Markey is running for a second full term and has visited the Berkshires several times during the campaign. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Edward Markey drove straight from Washington, D.C., to Pittsfield on Tuesday at the tail end of his campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate to condemn the Republican administration and promise better days if Democrats win next week.

"This is the birthplace of freedom, right out here in the Berkshires," he said. "In 1776, they declared independence. ... well, our declaration of independence is on Nov. 3, 2020, from Donald Trump."

He was greeted by more than a dozen supporters as he spoke about the importance of the general election just a week away. The Democrat is seeking a second full term against Republican challenger Kevin O'Connor.

Markey said the Democrats are in a revolution to rid the United States of President Donald Trump by voting for Joe Biden on Nov. 3. By doing this, he said, voters will be protecting health care for hundreds of thousands of Americans with pre-existing conditions, fighting for a livable wage, taking action to save the planet, having a future where where leaders believe in science

The progressive, who is known for proposing the Green New Deal with New York's U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was supported by Mayor Linda Tyer, state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and City Councilors Patrick Kavey, and Helen Moon.

Tyer said she was notified on Monday evening that Markey would be driving from Washington to Pittsfield for this last-minute rally.

"What we all know is that this election is a train running down the tracks," Tyer said. "And for all of us that share the values that Senator Markey has exhibited in his time in the Senate, is important for us to come and recommit ourselves to all of those values and to stand with him today and with all Democrats who share these values because this election is probably going to be the most important election for many of us in our lifetimes."

On Monday, Markey was at the Capitol to vote against Amy Coney Barrett's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett was confirmed 52-48 by the Senate along party lines, with the exception of GOP U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is in close race for re-election in Maine. 

Markey opposed Coney Barrett, saying her appointment puts civil liberties on the chopping block, including marriage freedom, reproductive freedom, and voting rights for already disenfranchised communities. Democrats also believe that she will help gut the Affordable Care Act; the court is expected to hear arguments on its constitutionality on Nov. 10. 

Referring to the protection of the Affordable Care Act, Markey got a chuckle from the crowd when he said. "We know that we can have the ACA, we can have the ACB, but we cannot have both, we cannot have the ACA and Amy Coney Barrett at the same time."

"In order to see this future we need to elect Joe Biden and usher in a new wave of diverse progressive leadership," Markey said. "And we need to remove the most racist and incompetent President in American history from the White House."

In a statement on the Senate floor on Monday, Markey said Coney Barrett's philosophy of originalism, which is looking back to what the Founding Fathers meant in 1787, is dangerous for the United States.  Originalism is racist, sexist and homophobic, he said, and will lead to the pretense that allows the overriding of Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act, Civil Rights and civil liberties that have progressed over generations.

"Yesterday, Trump and his Republican lapdogs steamrolled Amy Coney Barrett onto the U.S. Supreme Court. In doing so, Republican leadership violated their own rule which was that the Senate would not consider nominations for our Supreme Justice in the last year of a presidential term," Markey said, referring to the Republican-led Senate's refusal to consider President Obama's court choice in 2016. "Hypocrisy is too weak of a word to describe the sham that [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Republicans have made out of this appointment process, any senator so blatantly breaking his or her own word on such a profound appointment is just plain wrong."

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