North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright is responding to tough financial times with water rate and sewer fee increases and two budget cuts through attrition. It is, the mayor acknowledges, a temporary fix, but the Proposition 21Ž2 override for fiscal 2016 he will advocate will be a difficult sell.
Late Thursday, the state Senate approved a $750,000 emergency relief measure for the city proposed by state Senator Benjamin Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat, and if the proposal gets through a House/Senate conference committee, it will be a major boost for a city facing a $620,000 deficit. This funding, however, would not change the economic dynamic in the city going forward. A Proposition 21Ž2 override brought to voters three years ago, when the economy was not as bad, failed to pass. If an override didn’t pass then, it will be a challenge to convince voters to pass one given current circumstances.
A more aggressive approach to the city’s financial problems would reduce expenses and in doing so, may make voters more favorably inclined to consider an override. That would mean going to the school, police and fire unions for give-backs on pay hikes or, failing that, exploring unpaid furloughs, four-day work weeks and other options. These are painful measures that the private sector in Berkshire County has had to enact given cruel economic realities, and the public sector can’t be immune, especially in a city in as dire a financial situation as is North Adams.