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The Finance Committee and Administrative Officer Michael Canales review a list of permits and fees.

North Adams Finance Committee Reviewing Municipal Fees

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee is working its way through a long, long list of municipal fees — some of which appear to have not been updated in decades. 
 
And some that have committee members wondering if they're still needed. 
 
"As I look at these more and more, I just get the feeling some of these are so archaic," said committee member Wayne Wilkinson. "I know we were going to be spending a couple meetings doing this but I think it will take a lot more ... this is nuts."
 
Some of the fees that had the city councilors scratching their heads was an annual cost of $2 per pool table, a $10 annual license for "slaughtering," and sussing out the difference between junk dealers, junk collectors and secondhand dealers — who had seasonal licenses. In one case, the annual renewal is 50 cents. 
 
Chairwoman Marie T. Harpin wondered if some of the fees were even worth the time to impose.
 
"It costs more money to mail the bill and to process the payments," she said.
 
The spreadsheet of license and permit fees, some 270, was gathered from the different departments and put together by Administrative Officer Michael Canales at the committee's request at its meeting last month.
 
The fees listed are in city ordinance and so would have to be amended by the City Council. 
 
Quite a few regularly used licenses, fees and permits have been updated over the years, such as building and construction permits and rezoning requests; and new ones added to reflect contemporary uses, such as disposal of electronics. 
 
The transfer fee charge and fees for the Hoosac Water Quality District are reviewed annually because they are based on the operating costs of those two entities. The sewer and water fees also affect some parts of Clarksburg, so those charges are also updated regularly. 
 
But the committee wondered about how often some of the other fees come into play based on their low charge. A pawnbroker's license is only $10 annually, removal of a gasoline tank is $5. There's a list of weights and measures, including fabric, leather and cordage measuring, each at $10.
 
Some probably date to the old "Blue Laws" that discouraged certain activities on Sundays, or perceived bad habits, such as playing pool or arcade games.
 
Wilkinson pointed out that the city has a "closing out sale" permit fee for $20 and wondered if Peebles, which is liquidating its inventory, or any other business that's closed in the city in recent years has applied for it.
 
"In a sense it's a joke, but you brought up something so where I have issues is that they might charge someone a closing liquidation fee and other times they don't and the excuse is we don't see them all," responded committee member Keith Bona. "If you brought it to their attention, they would probably have to go over and charge the fee."
 
Harpin said it may come down to not having the staff to keep on top of all the different and perhaps rarely used permits. 
 
"The way that our city is run now, we're so short handed, I would say you just don't have the manpower to go in check all these things out," she said. "Those guys are busy doing other things."
 
The committee charged Canales with asking the departments how often — if ever — these permits and licenses are applied for to see if they could be eliminated or merged. The committee could then determine if fees needed to be raised. 
 
"The question is, is it worth having some of these fees if it's really not making enough money for the time spent and for that office to have to figure out how to charge that fee," said Bona. 
 
The committee members also touched on parking fees and briefly discussed how to use the St. Anthony's Municipal Parking Lot during events at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The parking lot is free on Sundays but is often filled during the museum's festivals. 
 
The concern is that it is public parking but local residents rarely can access it during events. Harpin suggested since the museum's audience is filling it up, the city could lease it for a price on those days to the museum and the let MoCA figure out how to enforce it. 
 
Bona thought a charge was a good idea but suggested a more high tech option after attending a workshop on parking at the recent Massachusetts Municipal Association convention. The city could use a smart phone app to create the parking lot as a zone to charge museumgoers but also allow residents to register to use the lot free. A reserve police officer could use a phone to see who was paying and who was not. 
 
The committee expects to take up the fee schedule again in March. Members had hoped to have updated fees to calculate into the fiscal 2021 budget but Canales recommending letting them play out over the next year so they would have a baseline for revenues rather than extrapolate out.

Tags: fees,   municipal finances,   permitting,   

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'Downhill': It's all Relative

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
"Downhill," an Americanized adaptation of Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund's "Force Majeure," a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, doubtlessly lost something in the translation. Indeed, this variation on a comedy-drama about a family on an Alpine ski vacation evokes a smidgen of its Continental DNA. 
 
Yet, in taking its uncertain path to some hoped for humanistic revelation, it seems like it'd be much happier if only it could jump the tracks from classically cerebral comedy to safely domesticized farce.
 
Not to say that Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell as the marrieds with issues just bursting to unravel don't give it as successful an old college try as the scenario will allow. But to quote a hobo I once met aboard a southbound freight I hopped, describing a French version of Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" he had recently seen in New Orleans, "They just didn't impart that je ne sais quoi."
 
Still, I suspect the plot's central bugaboo, meant to epitomize and hence hold the epiphanic key to the chronic dysfunction every family worth its weight in Sturm und Drang embraces, is as thought provoking in English as it is in Swedish. And, unless you've emanated from the picture-perfect world of the nuclear family as it was depicted in 1950s sitcoms, there are in this film niches of behavior and modes of coping that assure you are not alone in your experience.
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