Pittsfield Looks Forward to New, Improved Streetscape Maintenance

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state of disarray in downtown medians stemmed from a problem with a contractor who won the bid and then was terminated twice.

Earlier this month, members of the City Council were outraged at overgrown medians and flowerbeds in the downtown area and referred several petitions on city maintenance to Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales.

The lack of care was attributed to issues with contracted work, being short-staffed, and weather struggles. The overgrowth has since been cleared and a new partnership between the city and local organizations will take the reins.

On Tuesday, Morales reported that EMS, a property maintenance and landscaping company, won the bid twice and both times did not complete the monthly pruning, weeding and prepping outlined in the contract.

"They were not doing it last year. We terminated the contract. We obviously did not pay them for the work they didn't do and we put out the contract to bid again. They were the only ones that bid again," he explained, adding that they were awarded the contract after an extensive meeting that outlined expectations and when they were not met, the contract was terminated again.

EMS was given until the end of June to get the work done.

"I acknowledge it and it's something that we should have done better," Morales said.

To address the issue in the short term, overtime work from the Highway Department has been arranged. This will allow crews to focus on downtown maintenance, working alongside a different local contractor to address overgrowth and weeds, Morales said.

A new initiative, Downtown Blooms, is the long-term solution. Announced earlier this month, it is a collaboration between the city, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., Pittsfield Beautiful, the Downtown Pittsfield Cultural Association, MassDevelopment's Transformative Development Initiative, Selbert Perkins Design, and Boston-based landscape designer Jennifer O'Donnell.

Nature-inspired gardens will be implemented downtown as part of a three-year project beginning this season.

"It involves the knowledge and creativeness of Pittsfield Beautiful and the work from Downtown Pittsfield Inc.," Morales explained.

"They will be carrying the logistics and contracting for a landscaper that will take care of all the plant matter, for lack of a better term, all the organic parts of our downtown streetscape and landscaping, and the city will support them within their contracts to do so and provide some additional services that are not expected of the landscaper that takes care of that type of thing."

He added that this work will essentially replace the contracted work in the budget.

DPI Director Rebecca Brien reported that there will soon be a presentation on the organization's last year of work and what will happen in the future.  This will include information on the project.

"It's the past now," Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey said about the situation. "We're going to move forward together and we're going to make sure it just doesn't happen again and the downtown stays beautiful."

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III asked if the city had to accept the second bid from EMS.

"No but then no one does it," Morales said.

"So at that point, we were faced with we need someone that we can hopefully work with or we rebid and still not get anyone. It's the second time we bid in two years and we only had one contractor and we also reached out to multiple other contractors letting them know about the bid and we received turndowns."

One landscaper said they did not want to do work in Pittsfield.

Persip suggested that Morales collect data on why the contract was so hard to award for future reference.

The council also voted to request that Director of Public Health Andy Cambi take legal action against a home on Roberts Street that residents complain is overgrown and looks like a jungle.

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio explained that he filed the petition based on testimony from neighbors. He said the city ordinance only allows grass up to 12 inches high and the home has 2- to 3-foot-high grass with a "mess" in the back yard.

More than $2,000 worth of fines have been racked up from the Health Department.

Residents complained of the yard's long-standing condition and reported vermin that encroached outside of property lines. The first complaint was in 2020.

A tenant of the home said its occupants are disabled and that they are trying to address the situation.  He cited threats from the neighbors that contributed to his struggles with anxiety and asked that people be more understanding.

"I think we heard that there is going to be some action and I understand it's taken a long time and I feel bad about it," Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren said.

"I'm just throwing this out there. I'm hoping that instead of being punitive, which I know we're not trying to be, that we be somewhat cognizant that if we see reasonably an action that maybe there could be some accommodation in regards to the fines."

Councilor at Large Peter White pointed out that this has been a long-standing philosophical difference between the owner of the residence on whether or not grass should have to be mowed. He was contacted by a family member of the residents who reported that they were seeking quotes from outside contractors on the work.

Persip called back to the outrage expressed earlier this month because councilors had to put in petitions for streetscape work.

"This is what I was talking about last council meeting. Why do we have to file petitions to get action from department heads?" he said.

"We're supposed to work together to solve the issues of the residents. This is another example of we are here to help and work together and the department heads don't seem to want to come back to us and help with us. So once again, we have an unnecessary petition to get something done that should be an email or a phone call or a meeting. I find it unnecessary. I find it frustrating."

Tags: beautification,   North Street,   

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Pittsfield Council to Tackle Tax Rate, Zoning Amendment Proposals

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday will take up the fiscal 2024 tax classification and a proposed battery energy storage overlay district.

On the agenda are public hearings for both items, with the tax rate continuing from last month.

The administration has requested a commercial shift of 1.75 that would result in a residential rate of $18.45 per $1,000 of valuation and a commercial rate of $39.61 per $1,000. After several councilors expressed concern about raising taxes, it was tabled.

"You are driving people out of Pittsfield," Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky said at the late November meeting.

The residential rate for FY23 was $18.32 per $1,000 of valuation and the commercial, industrial, and personal property rate was $39.21. If the council adopts the FY24 shift, there would be a 13 cent, or 0.7 percent, increase for residential and a 40 cent, or one percent, increase for commercial, industrial, and personal property.

An average home valued at $267,914 would pay an estimated $4,943 in property taxes, representing a $397.82 increase from the previous year when the average home value was $248,100. This would amount to about $33 additional dollars a month.    

Commercial properties would see a less dramatic increase of about $145, as the assessed median value has only increased by $1,550 from FY23. This would result in a tax bill of $8,377.52 for the median commercial property.

The Community Development Board has brought forward an amendment to the Pittsfield Zoning Ordinance by adding a new section under Chapter 23 of the City Code, titled the "Battery Energy Storage System Overlay District.” 

This would allow Pittsfield to embrace greener energy sources while protecting the interests of residents.

The goal is to provide regulatory procedures for BESS and BESS facilities, outline the application process for site plan approval and special permit applications, specify which districts are comparable with the use, discuss site requirements for each district where it is permitted, and require that interested departments respond with comments and concerns within 14 days of the application.

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