PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's former top aide is joining critics of his plan to move all inspection services into rented offices at 100 North St.
Mary McGinnis, who served for one year as director of administrative services until May, said in a letter to The Eagle: "Overstepping the City Council, our voice of democracy, to relocate approximately 40 percent of our City Hall offices to a rented space to the tune of $126,000 is shocking."
Bianchi said late last month that he had funding within the existing city operating budget to go ahead with his plan to consolidate all city inspectors into a single office space. The plan, which he said does not need further approvals from the City Council, aims to streamline the process for contractors, developers and others.
Bianchi said that, after the city ran a legal ad seeking requests for proposals from downtown property owners, only Scarafoni Realty responded concerning the historic First Agricultural Bank building at Fenn and North streets, near City Hall.
While Bianchi declined to specify the rental agreement, saying negotiations were still in progress, Councilor at large Barry Clairmont said he had obtained a draft copy. The terms called for the city to pay $126,000, or $14 per square foot in the first year of a three-year agreement, he said, and $13 per square foot and $12 per square foot in the second and third years, respectively.
A total of 9,000 square feet on the second floor of the bank building would house the inspectors, who now are in separate offices primarily in the basement level of City Hall.
Clairmont said at the time he would do more research on the agreement and plan and likely would raise the issue before the council.
"I think his [Bianchi's] priorities are way off," McGinnis said Wednesday.
In her letter, she said important public safety and other needs are not being funded while the office relocation and other proposals are supported by the mayor.
"In an age where downsizing and online applications are the trend, I just cannot understand this reasoning," she stated. "Increasing space at the taxpayer's expense, when there are so many immediate safety concerns in our city, seems ludicrous."
McGinnis was critical of funding decisions regarding the police and fire departments. "The public servants in the trenches should be respected," she stated. "and when they ask for help to do their job efficiently, they should get it before anything else."
Reached Wednesday, Bianchi said he remains convinced that "in the long run this will not be a costly thing."
The new office space "is an investment, and I think it is an investment that will pay dividends."
Creating modern, professional offices and making the process of obtaining permits more streamlined will create "a more inviting environment" for contractors, developers and others, "and will encourage them to do business with the city of Pittsfield," Bianchi said.
While acknowledging the rental cost, he asserted that increased taxes from business activity and other revenue "could make this a money maker" over time.
Responding to the criticism from McGinnis, Bianchi said, "There are multiple priorities [in government]
many, many priorities, and I think that [the criticism] is being very myopic about the way government works."
He added, "The chances are we are addressing [the other priorities], and they might not be aware of it."
Concerning the councilors who have been critical of the deal, Bianchi said he would discuss the plan with the council, but not if raising the issue "is an excuse to become political."
"The council doesn't have the jurisdiction over day-to-day [city operations], he said, "but we will be as responsive as we need to be."
The mayor said planning for the offices transfer is in progress and focusing on addressing any logistical issues that might arise from some city offices being located outside City Hall.
Removing offices from the basement area of City Hall also will be a benefit for those employees, he said, as the area is damp and is more suitable for storage or similar purposes.
Clairmont said Wednesday he has a list of questions about the office plan, focusing on the lease, the posting of the legal ad and the figures the mayor used to justify the change. He also plans to ask the mayor to brief the council on Sept. 2 on the proposal and for a nonbinding vote of councilors on the change.
To reach Jim Therrien:
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On Twitter: @BE_therrien