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North Adams Finance Committee Tackling Outdated Fee Structure

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee are back to tackling the city's lengthy list of fees, some of which have not been updated in decades.
The process had begun more than a year ago but was put on hold during the pandemic and the departure of the the former administrative officer who had done the initial legwork.
Committee Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer said she wanted to ensure that fees properly covered the costs.
"You know something takes X number of hours, even if you put it at the lowest paid person in the department or you come up with an average  ... I think that something takes an hour of somebody's time, then the fee should minimally reflect the amount of time it takes to do the inspection process the paperwork," she said. "People forget about that. When they walk out and still then have to come back and bunch of paperwork." 
Member Wayne Wilkinson, who was on the committee when the fees were taken up, said the plan had been to consult with department heads on what needed to be increased, updated or removed completely.
But he wasn't sure if the marked up list they had was the final one presented to the departments.
"If that is the document that came back from the department heads, that's one thing. But I don't know for sure whether it is or not," he said.
Blackmer thought most of it was pretty straightforward but wondered about fees that seemed to fall under other boards, such Cemetery Commission or Planning Board.
Member Keith Bona said he believed the document had the fees proposed last year by former Administrative Officer Michael Canales. He thought the oversight committees should take a look at the fees that fall under their purview.
"I think sending it to those committees, is a great education for those committees to learn about the departments those committees are overlooking," he said.
Wilkinson thought it a worthwhile idea but Blackmer was worried about the review bogging down.
"I just I don't want to push it off and go down the rabbit hole and send it to Public Safety and then stick around for three months and then it comes back to us, and then it'll stick it around for another month and then go back to, I don't know where," she said.
After looking over the list, the committee decided to take Bona's advice and shift nearly half to the Public Services Committee, of which he is chair, and see if Public Safety and the Cemetery Commission would take the fees under their purview.
"I think this is a team effort of all the committees and councilors working together to try to get through this list because it is it is a long list," Bona said. "Some of these you know it's just, boom, it's easy and then there's a few that get discussed."
Blackmer said some the language in the ordinances need to be changed as well, pointing to references to the city clerk and forms used by the accountant and treasurer for reconciliation having to be approved by the mayor. She thought the language should refer to compliance and cite the law instead.
"So we will take a deeper dive and make sure it's in compliance," she said.
The committee also determined to ask for input from Building Inspector William Meranti on licensing fees left on its list.
Wilkinson asked if the committee wanted to take a stand on the creation of a water and sewer enterprise fund. 
The fund idea had first been raised at the time a sewer fee was imposed to offset the city's assessment to the Hoosac Water Quality District. Mayor Thomas Bernard has indicated this might be the year because of the COVID-19 recovery money coming in.
"Obviously the city got a big chunk of cash. And the mayor is thinking about actually starting the enterprise fund. Does the Finance Committee want to make a statement?" he asked.
Bona and Blackmer agreed the Finance Committee should be involved but they could not discuss it because it was not on the agenda.
Blackmer asked Administrative Officer Angie Lopes Ellison to have the fee list put on Excel and to have a column added to note the date so it would be easier to track when fees were updated.

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Main Street in North Adams on Wednesday.
Say goodbye to this burst of spring — Mother Nature prefers a little chaos in her work.
The warm temperatures of Wednesday are about to plummet as a snowstorm — yes a snowstorm — bears down on the Berkshires. 
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