North Adams Finance Committee Reviews General Govt Budget

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee last week began its review of the proposed fiscal 2022 budget starting with the proposed $1,401,608 General Government section.
On Wednesday, it will be looking at Public Safety.
Mayor Thomas Bernard cautioned that the figures being presented were not set in stone. 
"This is an extremely preliminary look at where we are in the budget, some of the categories in General Government are still under review," he said. "We'll be tweaking those for a while, as we as we go forward but this is this is where we are at the starting point of the budget."
The General Government budget is up 12 percent, or $156,083, over this year's budget of $1,245,525. Bernard reminded the committee that this year's budget line had been reduced by moving some items to reserve accounts to balance the full budget for what was expected to be a tough fiscal year because of the pandemic. 
The mayor said some of the drivers behind the increase is restoring funding for items offset this year, a full-time planner in the Community Development Office, and 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase for non-union employees, largely administrative and City Hall staff.
"The goal of the planner position would specifically be to support planning efforts in the Office of Community Development around some major initiatives like the hazard mitigation and municipal vulnerability preparedness plan, as well as addressing the interest that the council has in a position that could have responsibility for grants," he said. "So the language on that is planner because that is the term that we use, we don't have a specific grant person in the compensation plan."
Bernard said the office is really community and economic development. "I'd like to see us treating it that way, both in the budget and in practice," he said.
The purchasing position is a question mark at this point. The mayor didn't think there was enough work for a full-time position but that there could be if it was joined with a fiscal compliance officer as it had been in the past. Or the responsibilities could be taken on by an existing department.
Salaries for these positions are partly offset by Community Development Block Grants.
Some line items were up slightly for more part-time help in the auditor and city clerk's offices, outside auditing services at $26,000, mail-in ballots for elections and legal representation, by $5,000."
The information and technology line is up $23,000 for licensing and equipment, largely to update the city's financial system from its current 1995-era software.
"It will also mean that we are not having to run as much legacy equipment," the mayor said. "The costs associated with upgrading the finance system will get us into, if not the 21st certainly the late 20th century."
The budget also includes bringing the Office of Tourism back to full time, with the expectation there will be more activity. The office was largely dormant last year because the pandemic forced the cancellation of events and the tourism director was moved into the Office of Community Development.
"I'm glad that the director of tourism had the skill and the willingness to step up and move into a much different type of position and help us out so that we didn't have to fill a position and pay a bunch of unemployment, and you were able to just keep things running smoothly," said Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer.
Bernard signaled that the city would be going aggressively after property tax scofflaws in the coming year by funding the foreclosure line at $30,000, three times that of this year's line.
"This year we're looking to budget $30,000 in order to take a number of properties through through Land Court into foreclosure," he said. "And try to address some of those deficient properties and get those back on the tax rolls."
He estimated this would target about a dozen properties that could then be sold. Last fall's auction of properties netted about $127,000; a second auction is being planned this spring.
The budget presented last Tuesday does not take into account the possibility of setting up an enterprise fund for the Hoosac Water Quality District or anticipated revenues from the federal American Rescue Plan money.
"We've had some conversations internally about transitioning the [Hoosac Water Quality District] to an enterprise fund, and we're not prepared to talk about this specific event tonight," he said. "But if we made that move, you would change the unclassified category ... and then the budget at this moment does not fully account for funding through the American Recovery Plan Act simply because we don't have all of the guidance and guidelines on that stimulus account at this point."
Officials in this and the last administration had floated the idea of apportioning off some accounts into enterprise funds. These funds would take in revenues from specific entities to support them. Sewer users, for instance, would pay into an HQWD fund rather than the revenue going into the general fund.
Resident and pilot Trevor Gilman attended the Zoom meeting to advocate for the airport to have an enterprise fund, saying the state and federal government had told the city that revenues needed to be kept separate. He also thought other entities, such as Windsor Lake, should have enterprise funds.
Since the airport is part of the Public Service budget, the mayor said he wasn't prepared to speak on it. In a prior meeting, he said the anticipated federal funds could provide the opportunity for enterprise funds to be set up, depending on the guidelines for their use.
Blackmer flagged an unusual increase in an IT salary and member Wayne Wilkinson asked about parking meters being out of service. Bernard said he would check on these and that the Traffic Commission would be deciding at its next meeting on resuming meters that have been off since the start of the pandemic.

Tags: fiscal 2022,   north adams_budget,   

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North Adams Glamping Project Moving Forward Under New Owner

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A glamping business that never got off the ground is now under the direction of a new operator.
The Planning Board on Monday approved a new special permit for Benjamin Crespi of Brooklyn, N.Y., to develop and operate an outdoor recreation resort at 976 Notch Road. 
The property owned by Brian O'Neil was transferred to 196 Marine LLC, a New York limited liability company, for $1.45 million on March 16.
"We intend to operate a project as outlined in the permit, and I think we're very excited about this opportunity," said Crespi. "We understand the permit and the conditions, intimately. I think my background and experience will lend itself to a successful project."
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