PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council has approved the $8.4 million capital budget that was pulled out of the fiscal 2021 budget at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council accepted an order from the mayor Tuesday to borrow an aggregate a sum not exceeding $8,470,000 for General Fund Capital Expenditures for Fiscal Year 2021 to address various city projects.
"There is enough back up in the packet to be able to move forward with this tonight Many of these are ready to go out to bid," Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood said. "... We would really like to get these projects moving and done before winter."
With questions around the budget during the early days of the pandemic, the administration decided to pull all capital projects out of the budget. And with uncertainty over state aid, the administration was hesitant to commit money toward projects.
Because of this, the city accepted a budget that was overly conservative in preparation for a worst-case scenario.
But now that the state has come through with essentially level-funded education and local aid, the city is now in a position to move forward on some planned city projects and purchases.
"We were still uncertain. ... we now have a bit more confidence and that has allowed us to bring forward a pretty minimal capital request," Mayor Linda Tyer said. "We determined that these projects were the most important."
Some $3 million will go toward infrastructure including street improvements and stormwater system improvements.
Determination of roads to be rehabilitated will take place this fall with construction likely taking place in the spring.
There are six stormwater projects planned that include the replacement of the Peck's Road Bridge and the Dan Casey Culvert.
On the school side, $4.1 million will go toward safety and security upgrades and Pittsfield High School temperature controls.
The current building entry system was built in 2006 and is failing. Also, overall security remains a concern. This project is slated to begin as soon as possible.
Another $900,000 will be used for the library roof replacement and the Parks Department Shop Roof Replacement.
The rest of the projects were filed under Community Development and included the city’s portion of funds for the dog park and skate park construction. Funds for the continued Springside House renovation were also included.
Dog park construction is slated to begin this fall. The skate park is anticipated to go out to bid in the fall. Interior renovation work on the Springside House is scheduled for 2021.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi first motioned to refer the item to the Finance Committee but Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio asked why the council was not waiving Rule 27 and expediting the project list.
"We know what the capital expenditures were when we made this budget, and I am a little confused why we aren’t just approving it," he said. "... The cold weather is here now."
Morandi was asked if he would retract his motion, but his connection dropped during the Zoom meeting. What he was able to communicate was he preferred the item to go to the subcommittee.
Instead of waiting for Morandi to call back in, the council voted on sending the allocation to subcommittee. This failed 3-7 with only Morandi, Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, and Councilor at Large Earl Persip voting in favor.
Persip felt, given the large amount of money, the allocation should first go to subcommittee.
"I am one to waive things when they are in a rush, but there is no rush here," Persip said. "These aren't problems that we have known about for many years so I think it is OK to wait a few more weeks."
City Council President Peter Marchetti clarified that typically the item would have never gone to Finance Committee but rather to the Committee of the Whole — the full City Council — during the budget hearings.
After the vote to waive Rule 27 passed, along the same margins, the City Council was able to ask questions about the projects.
Persip took up the bulk of the time with questions and mostly asked for clarifications about individual projects.
He did spend some time on the $500,000 allocation for the Springside House renovation and said he wished the council was voting on the entire budget of $2.5 million to finish up the long-standing project.
The city has already spent $750,000 on the house.
Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer said the package was trimmed down a bit to be sensitive to the city’s financial situation during the pandemic.
"We were ready to come forth with the entire budget if COVID-19 had not come along," she said. "So we pared back the request ... to those things really needed to protect the improvements that we made to date and lay the groundwork going forward."
Ruffer touched on the future use of the building and said the plan is to lease out a portion of the building and use other parts of the house for community use.
The actual motion passed 8-2 with only Morandi and Connell in opposition.
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Methuselah Closed Until Further Notice for COVID-19 Complaints
By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A lounge owned by a city councilor is again being investigated for COVID-19 violations and ordered closed by the Health Department.
Methuselah Bar and Lounge, owned by Councilor at Large Yuki Cohen, was issued an order not to open on Saturday in relation to alleged violations from Thursday evening captured on video. The establishment will not be open until the Health Department completes its investigation.
"At this point, it's still under review with the Health Department," Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong said Tuesday. "We're working with the owner, you know, addressing, I don't want to release too much information at this point, but the Health Department is reviewing the matter and working with the owner."
The videos, which were originally posted on the social media platform Snapchat, depicted Cohen dancing atop the bar unmasked with other patrons, patrons standing up unmasked, and a general "club-like" atmosphere.
"We are addressing several violations to the COVID-19 safety standards for restaurants," Armstrong said. "The review also includes working on a plan for operations that ensure compliance with the COVID-19 standards."
Berkshire Roots will music, food, vendors, and new products on Tuesday at its Dalton Avenue location. On Saturday is the dispensary's launch of Garcia Hand Picked cannabis products made by music legend Jerry Garcia's family.
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Social media strategist Alexander Farnsworth and his brother Brayden, and fashion designer Adam Lippes launched their joint venture, Farnsworth Fine Cannabis on March 1 with a retail location in Great Barrington. click for more
In the spring 2021 session of the Berkshire Outdoor Recreation Summit, representatives from the entities explained how the partnership is tying in historical education, outdoor recreation, and art in this project.
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Several city councilors are crying foul over a superintendent of schools search process that ended with the internal candidate being selected.
The School Committee had failed the city's students, they said, and "would move Pittsfield backward." click for more