The Pittsfield City Council got nowhere slowly at Monday night's session devoted to Mayor Linda Tyer's proposed budget.
After a repetitious five-and-a-half-hour session devoted largely to nitpicking, the council voted for cuts totalling about $61,000. By asking Ms. Tyer to restore up to $123,000 in human service organization funding that had been eliminated, the council ended up advocating an increase in the mayor's $151 million spending plan for fiscal 2017.
The restoration of the funds for 17 human service organizations is an absolute must. They benefit Pittsfield's poorest and most disadvantaged residents, and city government is obligated to help them. Organizations like the YMCA, the Berkshire Immigration Center, the Pittsfield Family Consortium, the Christian Center, the Elizabeth Freeman Center and many others do critically important work and face cuts in grant funding. Taxpayer money spent on these programs is well-spent.
While some councilors lobbied for the mayor to make some cuts in human services, they didn't offer many specifics as to where. Cutting $27,787 from a staff position in the Community Development Office was approved by a 6-5 vote, but that entire budget was then sent back to the mayor with the recommendation to restore human service funding.
By yet another 6-5 vote, the City Council cut $25,000 for demolition of blighted properties from the city's list of about 100 vacant properties. Blighted properties are a serious problem in a city trying to rebuild neighborhoods, reduce crime and make itself attractive to potential new businesses. This cut is so illogical it is difficult not to conclude that it was introduced and narrowly approved to spite the mayor, who made addressing blight a campaign priority. Similarly, various proposals to cut the salary of the director of administrative services or redefine the position were poorly thought out and defended and met defeat.
With the city approaching its taxing limit, the mayor and the City Council should explore ways to trim the budget. However, budget-cutting proposals by city councilors shouldn't be made arbitrarily or motivated by politics, and the many 6-5 votes during Monday's marathon suggest the council is divided in two, as it has been during recent unproductive periods.
The inability of the City Council to come up with any significant, well-defended reductions strongly suggests that Mayor Tyer put together a sound budget. Reduced to picking nits into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the council essentially endorsed the soundness of that budget.