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North Adams Finance Committee Recommends $41M Budget

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council will be asked Tuesday to approve a $41 million fiscal 2021 budget. 
The city has been using a continuing appropriation based on last year's budget for the past three months, totaling $11,369.776.
The state was forced to rewrite its spending plan in light of anticipated reductions in revenue because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Muncipalities were given the option to approve a month by month budget for July, August and September. Earlier this month, the Legislature indicated that unrestricted local government aid and Chapter 70 education would be level-funded, allowing cities and towns to develop FY21 budgets with some confidence.
A budget of $40,939,756 was presented to the Finance Committee over two meetings that stands at $134,218, or 0.33 percent, more than last year. Last week, Mayor Thomas Bernard had hoped for a decrease but said further review of the calculations adjusted the budget higher.
"In going through the budget and, particularly, adjusting some of the calculations related to use of reserve accounts, we corrected that and there was a slight positive swing after we had projected a general reduction in the budget from over last year," he told the committee on Monday night over Zoom.
The mayor is proposing the use of a total of $320,427 in reserves to offset the increase.
The council will be asked to approve four one-time transfers from reserve accounts to cover the following department budget lines:  
$82,593 from the Municipal Access Technology Fund for assistant MIS director ($57,593) and services purchased ($25,000)
 $18,400 from the Parking Meter Reserve Account for hearings officer ($1,500); traffic control ($15,200); and meter repairs and replacement ($1,700)
 $129,553 from the Landfill Reserve Account for health inspection services ($89,553) and road paving ($40,000)
 $89,881 from the Sale of Cemetery Lots account to Public Services part-time clerk ($12,241) and to cemetery laborer ($77,640)
 "We had thought when we discovered the calculation issue that we would be able to, perhaps, come back and recommend not going for this full amount but I do think it's going to be necessary for this year to address the these issues in the budget," Bernard said. 
 "At present, we're anticipating revenues of $44,467 736, and that does include ... that small slice of reserve revenue, which effectively takes that off of the tax rate for the year."
 Overall, the general government budget is down $61,940 or 4.67  percent from last year while fixed costs are expected to rise by $400,000.
Local revenues are projected to drop by $600,000, largely because of the decrease in rooms and meals taxes because of COVID-19. The administration is also anticipating drops in school enrollment and tuition as students chose to go out of district or home school.
"We do see a potential for an increase in property taxes of about $537,000 so the swing there is about $150,000 in terms of where we're seeing those two particular receipt accounts, but overall the revenue is, is just down about $120,000," the mayor explained last week.
Rooms and meals revenues are likely to remain sluggish into the first quarter of fiscal 2022 both because of the pandemic and because the state is allowing businesses to defer their sales tax payments into next May. 
The city has just under a $1 million in levy capacity.
Committee member Keith Bona asked if some of the projects — the condominiums approved for Greylock Works and the new Cumberland Farms on Ashland Street — would be counted as new growth. 
Assessor Ross Vivori said they would not be for this year because gas station isn't finished and the condos are only framed out at this point. This is the same for the renovations at the Wall Streeter building as well.
The committee briefly reviewed the Public Services and Public Safety budgets without any changes. The mayor did note that the city would be losing Health Inspector Michael Moore, who is moving out the area, at the end of the month.
His replacement has been hired and is shadowing him to learn the ropes. 
Bona said he thought the city should be stronger in code enforcement, referring to the loss of the assistant inspector some years ago, because cuts tend to have an effect on services.
"I think what we're gonna see is a need to really look at what are the services," Bernard said. "And then basically redesign the department around those needs making sure that the work is driving it not the specific positions."
The committee voted to recommend the budget and transfers. City Council will take up the budget at Tuesday's meeting.

Tags: fiscal 2021,   

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State Education Board Approves Push for In-School Learning

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley explains the reasoning for getting students back in classrooms and off remote learning. 
BOSTON — Schools across the state are being ordered to resume in-classroom instruction as soon as possible, beginning with elementary grades on April 5. 
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8-3 on Friday afternoon to accord DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley authority to change requirements for learning time that would not include remote learning.
Families would still have the ability to remain remote for the rest of this school year and some schools may be able to get waivers, but the state would have the ability to hold back Chapter 70 education funds for schools out of compliance. 
The vote followed hours of testimony from medical professionals, educators and parents that veered from strongly encouraging the return to school as an important to students' health, well-being and educational needs to cautions that many schools did not have the ability to provide adequate spacing or COVID-19 precautions and calls for school employees to be vaccinated prior to any return. 
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