Councilor Benjamin Lamb took advantage of new attendance rules to participate remotely.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday voted 8-1 to approve a $42 million budget for fiscal 2022, with only Council President Jason LaForest voting no.
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 Finance Committee took turns reading each section of the budget, which were then voted on, with a final vote at the end for the total budget. Councilor Benjamin Lamb abstained from the school budget as his wife works in the school system and Councilor Wayne Wilkinson abstained from Public Services because he is involved in a sale of land adjacent to the airport.
LaForest said his vote was a protest of the city's failure to follow mandated procedures and processes, particularly the lack of a capital outlay plan and the condition of the public safety building.
"Obviously with a thin operational budget, as I said, there isn't much wiggle room, and I knew the budget would pass so that the work of the city can go on, but these processes issues, such as the capital outlay plan, the issue with grant assurances of the airport, other process issues that the city is not following," he said, adding he and others "do have a voice in our community, and my one no vote recognize those voices,"
He was the only no vote on the entire budget, although Councilor Jessica Sweeney joined him in voting no on the Public Safety budget. LaForest also voted against the General Government, Public Services, school, unclassified and capital expenses.
Councilor Marie T. Harpin moved to increase the mayor's salary to $95,000 as of Jan. 1, 2020, at a cost of $3,265. She had brought up the raise at the presentation of the budget on June 8 but not at previous Finance Committee meetings.
"I think it's important to have the most qualified candidates up to run for this office. With a salary so low, and having seven employees directly working for you, that are making more than you, it's a deterrent for people to run for this position," Harpin said.
She felt that the new deputy fire chief would probably not be hired immediately, leaving room in the budget for the increase.
"What I'm saying is there's room in the budget, because there are people that are expected to be hired, they have not been hired yet, and probably will not be hired within the amount of time that we have budgeted for," she said. "So, there's room in the budget for this $3,265."
Harpin used the example of the recent salary changes for the new city clerk and assistant city clerk earlier this year.
"There was no negative impact on the budget so just want to clarify that," she said, adding the councilors had evinced support for the idea two weeks but now were not backing it.
Several councilors said they agreed that the mayor's wages should be increased but it shouldn't be done after the budget and classification and compensation plan had already been passed. It was estimated to cost another $1,000 to republish the C&C if it was changed.
"As much as I agree that we should look at this, there's absolutely no reason why we have to do it tonight. I feel it's being jammed down my throat," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson. "I'm willing to talk about it. ... I'm going to send it to Finance to be talked about in depth, but I'm not going to get that thrown down my throat tonight."
Councilor Lisa Blackmer, also a member of Finance, said she'd talked with a number of people who had considered running for mayor.
"I guess this idea that they're not going to take it unless they make X number of dollars, I find almost insulting to the people that have stepped up and run, and the people who have held the position," she said.
Harpin's amendment to the C&C plan to increase the mayor's wage by $6,530, bringing it to $95,000, failed to find support.
Resident Trevor Gilman urged the council to reject the budget until questions regarding the finances of Harriman & West Airport could be answered. Gilman has said the city is supposed to keep the airports finances separate from the city's General Fund or it will endanger state and federal grants.
Maybe I'm just the crazy guy at every meeting, he said, "but if they're bringing up valid concerns, and you hear them, you should be trying to address them and just because something's been done for 20 years is not a reason to continue doing it."
The administration says the finances are kept separate through accounting practices. Blackmer, chair of Finance, asked for a letter regarding the practice from the city's auditing firm and committee members Wilkinson and Keith Bona said they were willing to look further into the matter in committee.
"I do appreciate Mr. Gilman's passion and his resilience to keep pushing the airport issue," said Bona. "I don't agree at this point that it's worth holding up the budget. But I do think it is something that does need to continue to be looked at."
In other business,
• A request from residents of Woodlawn Avenue for city support for connecting to the sewer system was referred to the mayor's office and to the Public Services Committee.
• The council approved the spending of $300,000 for a feasibility study for Brayton School.
• Harpin discussed a communication she submitted requesting councilors follow Rule 12, which lays out the conduct of council members. The councilors should act professionally and not speak over or be rude to each other, she said, as has happened to her in the past.
"We are all elected officials, we are all here because we want to help the community," she said. "I am here to represent people, I expect to be able to speak at meetings, and I expect to be respected by my fellow councilors and other people in the room."
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