Mayor Thomas Bernard presents the proposed $42 million budget for fiscal 2022 that starts on July 1. The budget is posted below.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday reviewed a $42 million spending plan for fiscal 2022 that represents a 3.5 percent increase over this year.
The budget was presented by Mayor Thomas Bernard and referred to the Finance Committee for final review and to come back to the council on June 22.
The $41 million fiscal 2021 budget that was passed in September included several months of level-funding in light of the financial uncertainty of the pandemic that had begun in March. The spending plan was essentially flat and $320,000 in reserve funds were used to offset the amount to be raised by taxes.
This year finds the city's financial conditions more optimistic — no reserves are being used — but it still has looming infrastructure needs shadowing spending decisions. Officials are looking toward federal funding to help with that investment. The School Department has already put federal and state aid for pandemic relief to use.
"We can expect to receive approximately $3.7 million to spur local economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic," Bernard wrote in his communique to the City Council. This funding through the federal American Rescue Plan Act may be used "to replace revenue lost or reduced as a result of the pandemic, fund COVID-related costs, provide support to aid households and businesses impacted by the crisis, invest in economic recovery and renewal, and fund investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure."
Total expenses are $42,384,486, up $1,444,730 from this year's $40,939,756. The total budget, including cherry sheet offsets and expenses, is $46,166,998, up $1,699,262 over this year. The city is anticipating $26,033,278 in state aid and local revenue with $20,133,720, up 10 percent, to be raised by taxation.
The fiscal 2022 budget includes the addition of a deputy fire chief position; four full-time workers in Public Services; several reclassifications of existing positions; and a level-service school budget of $17,769,074.
"Recent months have shown us the consequences of disinvestment, and of how difficult it is to address deferred maintenance without sufficient capital investment nor the staff to adequately address maintenance needs. To address the staff needed to advance this critical work, I have proposed investments in personnel, particularly in the Public Services Division, as well the addition of a new deputy fire chief," the mayor wrote in his communication to the council. "I also have made difficult decisions not to include discretionary positions that staff and members of the Council advocated for, including a technical specialist in the Office of Community Development, and a second lieutenant position in the Police Department. This does not reflect a lack of support for these positions, but rather the difficult choice we must make when considering all budget needs and priorities."
The deputy fire chief, analogous to the lieutenant position in the Police Department, would come in at a salary of $76,890 and the fire chief's salary would to go $87,500. The director of inspection services would be reclassified to S-33 to bring the recompense ($74,306) on par with other departmental leaders.
The four Public Services position would be one laborer at the transfer station to comply with state mandates; one Highway Department laborer; a mechanic at the water filtration plant, and a maintenance worker in the Water Department that will now bring that department up to four people including the meter reader.
The transfer station and Highway Department laborers are two unfilled positions in Highway. The mechanic would essentially replace Commissioner of Public Services Timothy Lescarbeau, who has been doing double duty, and the Water Department's minimal staffing had come into focus when faulty hydrants became an issue earlier this year.
As for the School Department, "the basic message is level service, level fund," the mayor told the City Council. "So there will be no increase in the city share or the Chapter 70 [education aid] share for this year."
The School Department is leaning on federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, or ESSER funds, and for the first time in years is not using school choice funds to offset expenses.
The capital outlay plan is being finalized based on how the federal ARPA money can be used.
"One of the several areas of potential for ARPA use is water and sewer infrastructure," the mayor told the council. "We've talked to some of the needs that we have, but we also know that there are other needs, and given that we have — I won't say inexhaustible — but we have a clear source of funding, I'm trying to build that into the plan."
Some of that funding is for organizations to aid businesses and residents affected by the pandemic and will filtered through human services. Bernard described it as Community Development Block Grant funding "with a rocket strapped to it."
"My intention is to lay out a vision for the use of the funds over time, understanding that it will fall to others to make determinations about future allocations," he said. "The potential to do water and sewer infrastructure, we've talked about the needs we have both established and the ability to do some some targeted investment as well, is really one of the most critical pieces of funds that are available."
Councilor Marie T. Harpin noted that this budget will include seven positions that will be making more than the mayor.
"The mayor is the CEO, he should be compensated appropriately, and right now based on what I'm seeing in this budget, he is way below where he needs to be," she said.
Councilors Lisa Blackmer and Keith Bona agreed, with Blackmer saying it should weighed in comparison to other positions within the city. Councilor Benjamin Lamb thought this year, with Bernard not running for re-election, would be the year consider the salary since it would not have any political implications.
Councilor Jessica Sweeney thought the city clerk's salary also should increase. President Jason LaForest said the city needs to be thinking about succession in terms of its ability to recruit qualified candidates.
In other business, the council:
• Passed an amended Airport Commission ordinance to a second reading. The ordinance would allow no more than two members from surrounding communities to sit on the council and require at least two commissioners to have a background in aviation or airport management.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer is sworn in as vice president by City Clerk Cathleen King.
• Referred the compensation and classification plans to the Finance Committee and new transfer station fees to the Public Services Committee.
• Declared 11 vehicles dating as far back as 1994 and rated in fair to poor condition as surplus. The vehicles will be put out to bid.
• Approved an application for a secondhand license from Timothy Randall, operating as Sanford & Kid at 160 Houghton St., with Bona abstaining; and an application from Jennifer Serre of North Adams to drive a taxi for RJ's Taxi.
• Voted in Blackmer as vice president to replace LaForest, who became president on the departure of Paul Hopkins. She was nominated by Bona and seconded by Peter Oleskiewicz. The vote was 7-2 with LaForest and Harpin voting no.
• Had the newest councilors, Oleskiewicz and Bryan Sapienza, pull the names for the new seating plan. This is normally done at the beginning of the year but the council had been operating remotely for 14 months. The councilors will take their new seats at the next meeting.
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