North Adams City Council to vote on $37.7M Fiscal 2015 budget tonight


NORTH ADAMS -- The City Council will vote today on Mayor Richard Alcombright's proposed $37.73 million budget for fiscal 2015, which includes cuts to city hall, the department of public works and police.

The spending plan in an increase of $1.2 million from fiscal 2014, with rising costs attributed largely to veteran's benefits, health insurance and pension obligations, according to Alcombright.

The City Council approved a $420,000 revenue package, which raises water and sewer rates by 10 percent, earlier this month. A remaining $200,000 budget gap is closed under the mayor's budget by cuts through attrition to the DPW and police department, as well as a reduction in staff at city hall.

The proposal falls within the tax levy limits under Proposition 2 1/2, though Alcombright has said he plans to campaign for an override prior to the fiscal 2016 budget.

Also at play is a potential $750,000 bailout to the city, which was approved by the state senate earlier this month. If adopted by the full legislature, the funding could inject capital in the school or city budget, the mayor has said.

The city finance committee narrowly voted, by a 2 to 1 margin, to recommend the passage of the mayor's proposed budget at a meeting last week. Councilor Wayne Wilkinson was the lone vote against recommending the budget, citing concerns over funding the North Adams Public Library and the City Tourism Office instead of reinstating a police officer.

The library's budget is level-funded under the mayor's proposed budget. As Library Director Mindy Hackner pointed out at a previous meeting, the city actually underfunds the library according to state standards. Because of this, the library must receive a special waiver from the state in order to continue receiving state aid, which accounts for a significant portion of its budget.

Wilkinson reiterated arguments he made at a previous City Council finance committee meeting, saying that the salaries of library staff or funding for books and other supplies could be sacrificed to maintain a police officer.

As for city tourism position, committee member Lisa Blackmer argued the position doesn't bring in a substantial amount of money from outside of the city.

Alcombright, in last week's meeting and others prior, has defended the tourism director's position.

"I think the position is worth every penny," Alcombright said.

Alcombright also urged the councilors, who agreed, to table discussion on potentially cutting the tourism office until after the summer season of events that it puts on, such as the weekly concerts at Windsor Lake.

Councilor Eric Buddington argued that the library and events put on by the city tourism director could be seen as a long-term response to public safety issues.

"Short-term, we need police to keep the peace and pick up the pieces," Buddington said. "But long-term, we need this community cohesion."

Buddington added that many of the problems the city is facing aren't innately criminal, but fundamentally social and public health problems that need to be addressed more broadly.

Wilkinson argued the money for a police officer should be secured in the budget now and, if the bailout is approved, reinstate library funding afterward. But Wilkinson noted the council does not have the power to fund positions, only cut them from the mayor's budget.


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