PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council has approved the entire fiscal 2021 budget of $169,437,880, including a $64.4 million school budget it had been reluctant to OK.
The council held its final budget meeting Thursday and tied up weeks of hearings by fully approving the operational budget and education budget with an 8- 3 vote.
"If we continue down this path we are just beating a dead horse," Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio said.
Councilors Christopher Connell (Ward 4), Helen Moon (Ward 1), and Kevin Morandi (Ward 2) made up the three negative votes.
There were really no highlights in the budget that looks to maintain staffing and services during uncertain times but the biggest point of contention this year was the level $64.4 million education budget that the City Council never preliminarily approved.
This was the case Thursday night and Moon tried one more time to halt the budget in hopes that the administration would reconsider and place a few more dollars in the education budget.
"Knowing that the budget is a moral document of where we see our priorities I cannot approve this," Moon said. "This is not a reflection of the priorities I would like to see in Pittsfield."
She went as far as to motion to reject the budget and send it back to the mayor. This would not automatically send the city into a 1/12th budget scenario but would force the council to hold at least one more meeting to pass a budget by June 30 or move to a 1/12th budget.
When asked, Mayor Linda Tyer said she would not alter the budget.
"No sir, it is not coming back any differently. I have been very clear from the beginning," she said. "It is important for us to maintain our reserves and our excess levy to the best of our ability and if we have a shortfall in Chapter 70 [state education] money we will come back ... with a plan to cover that shortfall ... you have my commitment."
Moon had lead the charge last week to refer the school budget back to committee in hopes it would add funding to save some of the 140 potential job losses. The School Commitee met twice this week, declining to modify the budget in any way and encouraging the City Council to pass the plan.
The majority of the council felt no need to delay the budget both the administration and school leaders preferred for planning purposes.
"I will support this budget," Councilor at Large Earl Persip said. "It gives the School Department the ability to plan because they have more important things to plan."
The vote failed 3-8 with only Maffuccio and Connell joining Moon.
The council did dabble with the idea of adopting a 1/12th budget and Moon felt it may be better to go month to month over the summer when there already is so much uncertainty.
"I guess where I stand, most of the departments are level funded already ... and the schools are level funded," Moon said. "Why are we rushing to establish a budget when I keep hearing we have to wait to see what Chapter 70 looks like?"
On the school side, Superintendent Jason McCandless said if a budget is passed Thursday night, they will be able to immediately begin calling back some of the 140 nonrenewal notices that they legally had to send out in preparation of a worst-case scenario budget.
"We can't pull back on those notices when we don't know what Chapter 70 will be or what the next month will bring because the city has not committed to a final budget number," he said. "We really believe that our planning, our ability to let people know their job is secure, and our ability to schedule will really be hampered by a 1/12th scenario."
McCandless said that without a budget, they cannot execute contracts with new hires and he suspected they would lose many employees who will look elsewhere when their jobs cannot be secured.
There is no time line for when Chapter 70 funding will be known and with the new state guidelines for reopening they need to dedicate time to planning for the fall, he said.
He reaffirmed if more money or resources are needed, they will come back before the City Council.
On the city side, Director of Finances Matthew Kerwood said a 1/12th budget is really not a budget but a spending plan only focused on "keeping the lights on" and keeping departments functioning at a bare minimum.
He said departments will only focus on essentials, such as payroll, and because the budget would be based on fiscal 2020, things will have to be cut.
Also it would be impossible to enter into long-term contracts when they cannot budget beyond a month. He added many city programs would simply have to stop.
"We can't sign those contracts because we have no guarantee that that funding is going to be there," he said. "We can't attest to the funds ... and certain things and activities will stop no question."
Kerwood said it would create more work within departments and logistically would be difficult to manage.
"We don't take this lightly," he said. "We will manage it. We have to but you are going to put a burden on a lot of folks and I personally don't think that is what you need to do."
Before approving the budget, the City Council had to clean up some final budgetary details and voted to appropriate $750,000 in free cash to reduce the tax rate, authorize the use of the city's revolving funds, and appropriate $182,000 for parking related expenditures.
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Pittsfield City Council to Discuss Homeless Solutions
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday sent a group of petitions regarding the city's homeless population to the subcommittee on Public Health and Safety.
The three petitions ask officials to consider measures to safeguard the homeless and begin a conversation about homelessness within the city limits.
"I am glad we are having this discussion, and I look forward to hearing it," Councilor at Large Peter White said. "This has been an issue here for a long time and having people live in the park is not a long terms solution."
Late into the six-hour meeting Tuesday, councilors came to the agreement that although Connell is spending much of his time quarantining out of state, his primary residence is still in Pittsfield.
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