North Adams mayor sees balanced budget, beefed up City Hall staffing in fiscal 2017


NORTH ADAMS — Though he has yet to introduce a formal proposal, Mayor Richard Alcombright said this week that he anticipates a balanced budget for fiscal 2017.

Though he anticipates using some of the city's free cash to offset the budget, Alcombright said the plan will include an increase in the hours of at least one city position and possibly the creation of several more.

The spending plan, which is anticipated to fall below the levy limits set under proposition 2½, is still being finalized and will be introduced in the coming weeks. It was painted in broad strokes by Alcombright to the City Council's finance committee in a meeting this week.

Among the noteworthy investments will be an increase in the hours of Director of Community Events Suzy Helme, who will jump from 20 hours per week to 30 hours per week under Alcombright's proposal.

The mayor also plans to increase the budget for a city planner, a position that was budgeted for in the fiscal 2016 spending plan but never filled. Prior to becoming vacant, the position was filled by a part-time planner. Under the mayor's proposal, the position will be increased to 30 hours per week.

Alcombright said the city planner position is important as private and public development projects continue to move forward in the city, and he noted the previous city planner was taxed at far fewer than 30 hours.

Officials also have their eyes on a 30-hour per week maintenance specialist position at about $40,000 annual salary to improve the city's ability to manage its buildings. Similarly, officials are eyeing the possibility of a 30-hour per week assistant electrician, who could free up time for department heads who have had limited resources since the consolidation of inspection services earlier in Alcombright's tenure.

The city also hopes to add an information systems employee, which officials say would be cheaper than continuing to hire outside specialists for assistance.

Other planned investments include improvements to the Center Street parking lot and utilization of parking meter reserve funds to purchase a new police cruiser.

Perhaps the most difficult increase for officials to grapple with is a 12.5 percent increase in public employee health insurance costs, which will push $5 million this year — about 12 percent of the city's overall budget.

The insurer paid out more in benefits than the premiums it collected in the past year, spelling automatic raises for next year. Officials had planned for a 7 percent increase, but the final tally came in much higher than anticipated.

The increase has prompted officials to plan a sit-down with public unions in the fall and work out a new health insurance plan, Alcombright said. Until then, Alcombright expects to pay the larger-than-expected increase from free cash.

The current fiscal year's budget is, barring an unexpected catastrophe, also expected to end in the black, according to Alcombright. He anticipates transferring some $700,000 in free cash to the city's stabilization fund, which will sit at about $1.5 million.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376


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