North Adams City Council approves $37.73 million budget


NORTH ADAMS -- The City Council voted 8 to 1 Tuesday to approve Mayor Richard Alcombright's proposed $37.73 million budget for fiscal 2015.

The budget, proposed by the mayor last month, closes a $620,000 deficit through a combination of a $420,000 revenue package and about $200,000 in cuts to the City Hall, the Department of Public Works and the Police Department.

The City Council approved the revenue package -- which raises water and sewer rates by 10 percent and adjusts the sewer fee from 42 to 50 percent of a homeowner's water bill -- separate from the budget earlier this month. It passed by an 8 to 1 margin, and is expected to raise the average water and sewer bill of a four-person home by $66 annually.

After the budget's passage Tuesday, the mayor thanked the council and noted it was the first budget in his five-year tenure that is balanced "on its own merits," without the use of reserves.

"I don't think that I've personally worked harder on a budget, and I know that my staff hasn't worked harder on a budget," Alcombright said.

The cuts in the mayor's budget, which was voted against only by Councilor Jennifer Breen, will likely be most felt in the Department of Public Works, which lost one employee and saw a reduction in its operating budget. In total, the budget eliminated six city positions.

Alcombright indicated Tuesday that a police officer's position, cut through attrition, would be reinstated if a $750,000 state bailout for the city is approved and granted to North Adams by the state. The funding was approved by the Senate but awaits full legislative approval.

Since the introduction of his budget, Alcombright has pointed to increasing costs -- such as health insurance, veterans benefits, and pension obligations -- that are outpacing relatively flat funding of unrestricted aid from the state.

The mayor has also said that despite the level budget this year, which is an increase of $1.2 million over fiscal 2014, city is projected to face another large deficit in fiscal 2016. He expects to campaign for a Proposition 21 2 override before 2016.

The school's $16.094 million budget, included in the city budget, was approved unanimously by the council. Although a rise of little more than 1 percent in spending, it includes the reduction of more than a dozen positions, including several through attrition.

The budget was voted on in its entirety, but also voted on by individual category. Each passed unanimously, excluding public services and general government. Councilor Wayne Wilkinson was the lone no vote against the public services spending plan, while Breen was the lone vote against general government.

Although the Finance Committee had discussed the possibility of cutting either the city's Office of Tourism or the library budget to secure funding for a police officer, no such proposals were offered at Tuesday's meeting.

Under the city's laws, the council did have the option of cutting a department of the budget, but could not specify which line item would be reduced or where the savings could be applied.

The budget was broken down and discussed over the course of seven city council finance subcommittee meetings, which took place over several weeks. Councilor Keith Bona noted Tuesday that most of the councilors had their budget questions answered during these sessions.

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