The $750,000 bailout for the city of North Adams approved by the Legislature will give the community a much-needed economic boost. It doesn’t, however, change the situation on the ground, as the beleaguered city is in a severe economic morass with no clear or easy way out.
The bill, sponsored by and lobbied for by state Senator Benjamin Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat, is designed to make up for revenue lost when the city’s hospital suddenly closed earlier this year. Governor Deval Patrick must still review this provision along with the rest of the budget for the coming fiscal year.
In a meeting last week with state officials, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright declared "We’re broke. We’re broke. We’re one cycle short of Detroit," according to a report by the State House News Service. Comparisons with the disaster that is Detroit are disturbing, and while Gerard Perry, the director of accounts for The Department of Revenue, replied to the mayor by assuring him "We will not allow it," the state isn’t going to step in beyond the relatively modest bailout passed on Beacon Hill unless North Adams takes significant action to sort itself out.
The mayor has made difficult cuts in maintenance and public service, teaching and city government positions have not been filled, and the mayor assured state officials last week that taxes and fees have been raised to squeeze out revenue. The budget is balanced, a rarity, but cash reserves are all but depleted, a dangerous situation for a city to find itself in.
Mayor Alcombright is advocating a Proposition 21Ž2 override three years after an override vote failed under better, if far from ideal, economic circumstances than are in place today. State officials undoubtedly expect such an effort to be made, but as the mayor told officials, "It’s going to be very difficult. It’s going to be a hard sell." Residents of North Adams are suffering financially along with their city, so a property tax override will indeed be a tough sell, and it is going to be a significant challenge for the city to remain at least one cycle short of Detroit.