North Adams City Council unanimously OKs 'maintenance budget' up 1.92% for FY19

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NORTH ADAMS — The City Council unanimously approved a new budget that aims to maintain current services, but does not include major investments.

The $40.72 million fiscal 2019 budget is a $766,430, or 1.92 percent, increase over the previous year's spending plan.

Mayor Thomas Bernard outlined the budget as one that does not rely on the city's reserves to balance expenditures, but also does not reduce city services to residents.

"This really is a maintenance budget. We did our best to hold the line on everything we could. This is not a budget where we're making big investments," Bernard said.

The property tax increase to the average single-family home, assessed at $138,000, is projected to be $93 annually, according to city officials.

The fiscal 2019 budget projects a slight decrease in the city share of employee health insurance premiums in the upcoming year due to "highly favorable negotiations" with the city's insurance provider, according to Bernard.

The final budget increases the city's tourism director position from a 0.75 part-time position to a full-time equivalent, adds a half-time clerk in the treasurer and collector's office, and funds a temporary position in the city clerk's office to assist in the transition as City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau prepares to retire.

The budget calls for a one percent raise for all nonunion staff, and accounts for the increases in negotiated contracts with the city's union workers.

The original budget proposal included a gap of $114,000, which was closed in the final budget primarily through two reductions.

The city reduced its labor reserve account — money set aside to settle contract negotiations with unions — because its labor contracts have been settled.

The city also decreased its veterans benefits expenses to be closer in line with actual expenses.

"That's not a reduction of one penny in service to our veterans. That's just bringing our budget line closer to what we're actually paying," Bernard said.

The mayor acknowledged the city's finance team anticipates a smaller allocation of free cash at the end of the year. But the city also expects to close on the sale of its Department of Public Works building to Cumberland Farms and reissue requests for proposals on other city-owned properties that could bring in revenue within the upcoming fiscal year.

On Monday, the School Committee passed a $17.7 million budget for fiscal 2019, an increase of slightly less than 2 percent. The school budget also avoids staff cuts, but relies on $250,000 in funding from its school choice reserve account.

Under the budget, the city does not expect to raise sewer and water rates for residents and businesses.

Originally introduced by Bernard in March, the budget was reviewed by the council's Finance Committee in a series of meetings held over the course of several weeks this Spring.

After four lengthy meetings, the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend the budget.

"They were long, a lot of time was put in, there were a lot of hard questions asked and, I must admit, we got a lot of very reasonable answers," Finance Committee Chairman Wayne Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson described the budget as lean.

"There's nothing to take away. You can look at this as long as you want, there's nothing to take away," Wilkinson said.

As has become routine, the council eschewed substantive debate on the evening of the vote after thorough vetting in the less formal, more inclusive Finance Committee meetings.

"We worked really hard to get this budget out—checked and rechecked. I feel confident in the budget," said Councilor and Finance Committee member Marie Harpin.

Councilor Keith Bona, the longest-serving councilor, noted the work of former Mayor Richard Alcombright and previous city councils to maintain the budget through state cuts and more difficult financial times.

"Not to say we're totally out of the water," Bona noted.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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