Pittsfield Panel Rejects GE Fund Salary Requirements
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Companies using Pittsfield Economic Development funds will not be held to a minimum salary requirement for now.
The Ordinances and Rules Committee on Monday rejected a petition from Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi and Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell that would require a base salary of $50,000 annually for companies utilizing the so-called GE Funds.
"Why are we trying to fix something that's not broken?" Councilor at Large Earl Persip III said. "If we looked at the list of places we've helped over the last 20 years, 20 years, 10 million dollars, we've been good stewards of the fund. I don't think anybody can say we haven't."
Chairman Nicholas Caccamo said the petition's language was not sorted out well enough, so the committee voted on it as a concept that will be sent back to the City Council with a negative recommendation.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio was the only member voting in favor and Connell was unable to attend the meeting.
Maffuccio made a motion to amend the petition requiring a minimum salary of $35,000 for four employees, which was also rejected.
Morandi argued that the city should be giving GE funding to companies that pay employees a living wage. His proposed solution is to add language into Rule 38 of the council rules stating that a company using Economic Development Fund money would have to pay at least $50,000 a year.
"With the money that has been given out from the GE, a million dollars at a time, $900,000 at a time, $1.5 million at a time, whatever it is, that's a firm commitment by the city, so we should be getting companies in here that are gonna pay living wages," Morandi said.
"Get a company in here that's going to pay their employees a living wage where people can live in a nice apartment if they want, a condo, or a home and they can provide for their family, without going out and getting another job or a third job."
Mayor Linda Tyer did not support the petition and urged the committee to vote against it. She explained that the $50,000 minimum salary criteria would hinder the city's ability to support cultural organizations they have supported in the past such as the Colonial Theatre, Barrington Stage Company, the Berkshire Museum, and Hancock Shaker Village among other sectors of industry.
"I think that we need as much flexibility within the rule in order to support companies that are here now or to help recruit companies to make an investment in the city of Pittsfield. I also think that we need jobs at every level of skill and every level of ability," she said.
"And quite frankly, I get uncomfortable when we start talking about one job having more value than any other job. We have a range of people in our community with a range of skills, and we need to be thinking about all of those people and how we support them in their employment endeavors."
Business Development Manager Michael Coakley understood Morandi and Connell's concerns while holding the firm belief that this stipulation would not be productive.
"It would be great if the minimum wage for these companies is $50,000," He said. "But that's really going to limit the number of companies that we can deal with here."
Coakley revealed that the city is currently in negotiation with a manufacturing company that may want to come to Pittsfield, stating that standard employees will be paid a starting rate of $15 an hour. He added that most Pittsfield manufacturing companies pay from $15-$19 an hour.
Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey voted against the petition because he believes the language is not developed enough but supports the overall concept.
"Right now, a one-bedroom apartment in Pittsfield is around $1,000 a month, a two-bedroom is $1,200, $1,300 so you'd have to make $42,000 to afford an apartment in the city of Pittsfield if we're being generous and you use 30 percent of your income, instead of, like, 25ish," he said, highlighting that Pittsfield employees should make enough money to live in the city.
"With our minimum wage at the federal level and with the state probably before the federal government going up to $15 an hour not including benefits, so we won't even talk about the benefits, but $15 an hour is $600 a week that equates to what $31,200, a year, as an annual salary that doesn't include taxes. That's basically poverty."
Maffuccio clarified that he does not regret any of the money that was taken out of the GE fund, citing his pride in supporting a million-dollar allocation to the Colonial Theatre in the past along with several other nonprofit or creative ventures.
"I think that when we start to talk about the economic development funds, only being fully eligible for companies that will pay a $50,000 minimum wage, we are leaving out a large population of people in our community that ought to benefit from the economic development funds," Tyer said.
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