Economic realities can be kicked down the road, but not indefinitely. That is proving to be the case in North Adams, where economic realities that went unaddressed three years ago not only have not gone anywhere they have become harsher with the passage of time.
The rejection of a Proposition 21Ž2 override three years ago set the stage for the city’s current dilemma, as Mayor Richard Alcombright pointed out earlier this week. The city has dipped into its reserves, the rough equivalent of a family dipping into savings to pay day-to-day expenses, and those reserves are down to a modest $300,000. North Adams has not been guilty of irresponsible spending but is less prepared than other communities for inevitable hikes in fixed costs and unanticipated funding requirements.
Higher than expected veterans benefits payments and school department pension costs simply cannot be avoided. Public safety comes at a cost, and in recent months that has led to police department overtime in North Adams. The brutal winter has blown apart public works budgets in municipalities around the state. The state, facing budget difficulties of its own, is reducing local aid, a blow that is magnified in communities like North Adams that are living on the edge financially.
It is too soon to determine if another Proposition 21Ž2 vote will requested but the mayor suggested it might be. The town is at its levy limit, facing a fiscal 2015 deficit and can’t count on a windfall of state aid. The override should have been approved three years before the town slid toward the brink. It is now nearly there, and the easy answers are long gone, replaced only by tough choices that must be made.