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Charles Kronick shows the Pittsfield City Council a printout of the steps to get to the ARPA survey from the website the city website.

Pittsfield City Council Candidate Calls for New ARPA Survey

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A City Council candidate's call to redo a survey on the spending of nearly $40 million in American Rescue Fund Act funds was referred to the mayor's office.
 
During this meeting, the council accepted the first installment of ARPA funds in the amount of $8,185,589.00.
 
Charles Ivar Kronick, candidate for Ward 2, presented a petition under new business at Tuesday's meeting requesting that the city scrap the survey and that the council create a new, more accessible one. His presentation was called into question by some councilors, who wondered if other candidates would be given similar platforms. 
 
Kronick said the online community survey was "wholly inadequate" because of its low participation, lack of demographic identification, and the online nature that makes it unreachable for some populations.
 
The panel first voted to cut the presentation off because of Kronick's current candidacy status and because he was speaking outside of open microphone.
 
It then voted to amend the petition to refer his request to Mayor Linda Tyer with a response as to whether her administration will redo the survey or not by the next council meeting on Sept. 28.
 
The vote was 9-1 with Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey absent and Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi in opposition.
 
"We have a 2 percent response rate from the survey, if you had a survey that had an adequate response rate, large response rate, 2 percent would be your margin of error that you would say should be disregarded and now you are left with just maybe at most your margin of error to the survey," Kronick said to council.
 
"The demographic information, number two, is not present in the current survey in this current state. [Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer] I commend her for all her efforts, she stated the survey, and I tried I filled out the survey myself, you do not have to provide who you are, your financial circumstances, your ethnicity, where you live, or any of those things. Therefore, from that response, you cannot even describe the population, those that actually responded to that survey."
 
The survey results, published on Thursday, do include demographic information: residency, age, home ownership, employment, gender, ethnicity, race and veteran status. As a voluntary survey, however, participants could choose not to fill out some of those categories, with blanks ranging from 2 to 15 percent per category. 
 
"We left it up to the respondents to submit answers to these questions based on their preference," said Roberta McCulloch-Dews, the city's public information officer. "The results that are posted reflect those who responded. During the community forums, attendee input was solicited in real time. While the questions were different from the online survey, they still allowed for a robust discussion of priorities and needs."
 
Of those responding, the highest numbers came from Ward 4 (20.62 percent), the 35-44 age group (25.84 percent), women (62.79 percent) and homeowners (68.94 percent). More than 1,000 people made out surveys.  
 
Kronick said the online survey eliminated a lot of the senior population who may not have the technological capabilities to access it. He printed out screenshots of the city website to show the steps that it takes to get to the survey, making the argument that it is hard for people to find.
 
The link to the ARPA page can be found on the front page of the city website; from there, the user can chose to go to presentations, the survey or references. The "survey and results" link goes to a page explaining the survey and a link to the survey results, as of Sept. 16, as a pdf. There are three clicks total to reach the survey. 
 
Kronick thought there should be one button on the front page that indicated a survey and not a link expecting people to know it was under "American Rescue Plan Act." He also said use of the funds should be transparent and accountable.
 
"We do not have transparency, you do not know who designed this survey, you do not know the qualifications, the people who actually designed this survey, you do know who filled out the survey and where they were where, were they residents of Pittsfield," he said.
 
"And the amount of that result, of that paltry 2 percent, the 800 results, you don't if of those results were even looked at, or used, or if they're going to be used."
 
The questions largely echo the allowed uses of ARPA funds — COVID-19 impacts on public health and economy, water and sewer infrastructure, broadband, offsets for revenue losses — and ask survey takers to prioritize potential uses. 
 
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio asked President Peter Marchetti if he was going to let every other candidate currently running for office make presentations (Kronick had also spoken on the Tyler Street design under new business) and motioned to move the question.
 
The majority voted in favor, cutting off Kronick's input. Marchetti said petitions should be presented during open microphone at the beginning of the meeting. 
 
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi and Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell voted against the motion.
 
"Procedurally, I think we've set a dangerous precedent by having a political candidate speak for above the allotted amount of time at the incorrect time of the meeting," Guiel Lampiasi said.
 
Though the panel continued to mull the possibility of inquiring about an additional survey, it motioned to change the wording of Kronick's petition so it did not put the responsibility of possibly designing a new survey in the hands of the council and to refer his request to the mayor rather than making it an order.
 
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon said there is a lot of limitation in doing surveys only online. She cited the paper surveys that were available during the four ARPA hearings that not everyone was able to attend.
 
"I don't ever think that reaching out to the residents of Pittsfield, our constituents, is a bad thing and getting more information I don't think is a bad thing, and likewise I know that there is a committee and, that is an important piece of it, it is the mayor's discretion who is on the committee, and from my understanding of the procedure, there is no City Council approval needed to spend that money," she added.
 
"And so the steps that we can take to ensure that we are using the money allocated to us based on the needs and the wants of the city of Pittsfield and its residents I think is really important."
 
Councilor at Large Peter White thought the process that the city is going through to obtain input is thorough and recognized that it isn't over yet.
 
"I think, in my years of being involved in the city, it's one of the better efforts I've seen to get input, put out there," he said. "Councilor Moon made sure that each of the ARPA meetings were streamed on Facebook, they were on PCTV, and it was the beginning of the process."
 
He did not support Kronick's original petition but voted in favor of sending it to Tyer.
 
Ward 1 Candidate Kenneth Warren also attended the meeting to speak on the ARPA funds.
 
During open microphone, he urged the council not to accept the funds until they can have more power over where they are spent. He asked for the panel to table the acceptance of the first allocation of $8 million until the council can analyze it or accept with conditions.
 
He also suggested that the lost revenue that is being calculated for use of the ARPA funds is an appropriation to the general fund and said that the city's charter review would be a way to look at this.
 
"While I agree that the statute is ambiguous, I do not believe it authorizes the spending of funds in this way," Warren said.
 
"I do not think that most residents believe or support that spending $41 million should be allocated by one person, I believe that. I support everything that Mayor Tyer has done up to this point in getting the input and setting up the committee, and so, therefore, I don't question your decision-making power, but I think principle does not yield to a person or a position."
 
The order for accepting the funds was referred to the city solicitor and Finance Committee with White in opposition.

Tags: ARPA,   survey,   

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Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Discusses Priorities for Forest Center

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The executive committee of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership on Thursday encouraged collaborators working on ideas for a forest center not to reinvent the wheel.
 
A pair of students in Williams College's Environmental Planning and Design program gave a presentation to the board about a survey they plan to assess priorities for the center, "an ambitious, somewhat nebulous concept right now but ... part of the enabling legislation establishing the partnership," according to the partnership's Chair Hank Art.
 
That legislation empowered a collaboration of 19 towns and cities in Berkshire and Franklin Counties to increase natural resource-based economic development and promote sustainable forestry practices in the region.
 
Sabrine Brismeur and Abby Matheny of Williams are working with the partnership to develop early concepts of what a permanent home for the MTWP might include and where it might be located.
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