North Adams City Council OKs $39.96 million budget

City looks for new revenue as state aid falls and costs increase


NORTH ADAMS — The City Council has unanimously signed off on a budget that increases spending by little more than 1 percent.

The $39.96 million proposal for fiscal 2018 is an increase of $501,072, or 1.27 percent, over the previous year's spending plan. It is balanced with the use of $115,000 from the city's reserve accounts.

"We have spent hours trying to project local receipts as well as working to consolidate and streamline departments and processes," Alcombright said on Tuesday.

Despite the modest increase in the overall budget, the tax levy is expected to increase more sharply. With local receipts expected to decline, and state aid barely increasing, the increase to the tax levy is $786,043, or 4.1 percent, to $16.98 million.

The budget calls for the filling of two past positions, one electrician in the city's Wire and Alarm Division and one inspector in Inspection Services. Each department was consolidated by budget cuts in previous years.

Among the largest increase to the city's budget is funding for the public school system, which will increase from $16.7 million to $17.08 million.

As has been the case in recent years, the city's obligations to its employees are also driving cost increases. Employee pension costs are rising from $2.57 million to $2.67 million, while employee health insurance will increase from $4.45 million to $4.67 million.

"Health insurance is obviously an issue," said City Councilor Lisa Blackmer, who chairs the council's Finance Committee. "I think it's an issue in every community."

Alcombright said the city's gap between its annual tax levy limit and tax levy ceiling — the point at which the city can longer raise taxes — is shrinking. The only solution, Alcombright said, is to foster new growth in the city.

"With several very exciting projects in process and development," Alcombright said. "I am hopeful that we will see continued growth over the next several years."

City Councilor Ronald Boucher credited city departments for doing more work with fewer resources.

"We do a heck of a job with everything out here, considering," Boucher said.

The budget was vetted in a series of Finance Committee meetings prior to its passage by the council on Tuesday, but received no substantial cuts.

Explaining the absence of budget slashing by the council, Blackmer noted that the document submitted by Alcombright is a "good product."

Alcombright noted that the city's reserves have recovered from mid-recession lows, to about $2 million, but that improvement is at the cost of deferred maintenance.

The administration expects to return to the council in the coming weeks with requests for funding to address some of the city's infrastructure issues, but Alcombright noted it would not significantly deplete the city's reserves.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter


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