North Adams officials hope to end 2016 in black


NORTH ADAMS — A full two-thirds of the way through the fiscal year, city officials say they're on track to close out the budget without relying on transfers from reserves.

While North Adams appears to have a good shot at ending fiscal 2016 in the black, officials expect to face a large deficit as it begins the fiscal 2017 budget process. That new budget proposal is expected to be unveiled by Mayor Richard Alcombright in the coming weeks.

The current fiscal year's budget has been negatively impacted by greater-than-expected overtime in the public safety budget, largely due to injuries on duty, according to city officials. Public safety is on a pace to exceed its budgeted overtime by about $225,000.

"It's not like you and I going back to work," Alcombright said. "We hurt our shoulder and we go back to work because we can. Police and fire [responders] have to be fit for duty."

Councilor Lisa Blackmer asked officials if the city was taking any measures to try to reduce the number of injuries. But Alcombright said the number of injuries didn't increase; their severity did.

"We had the fire up on Furnace Street. After the fire was out [a firefighter] went down the cellar stairs — it's dark, they had a flashlight, with all equipment and gear — but there was a hole, he stepped in the hole and broke his ankle," Alcombright said. "How do you prepare for that; how do you train for that?"

But due to a relatively uneventful winter — meaning fewer man hours behind snowplows — the Highway and Cemetery budget has paced about $50,000 under budget. Unused appropriations in the Health Insurance and Veteran's Benefits accounts also look like they'll come in some $280,000 below the budgeted amount, leaving the city in the black at the end of the year.

"Actually, we're pacing quite well," Alcombright said.

The public safety overages are largely due to the multiple on-duty injuries both the police and fire departments have incurred. At one point, four employees were out injured, including three long-term.

The city currently crafts its budgets assuming it will lose 24 months of employee time to injuries, but it will increase that figure to 36 months next year. Two of the three long-term injuries the public safety departments have dealt with his year are also expected to bleed into next year.

Because it does not expect to have to utilize reserves to close out the current year's budget, Alcombright expects to use some funds for capital purchases. He will propose fixes to the Center Street parking lot and the purchase of a new police cruiser from the $131,000 parking meter reserve account. The city will also look to use funding from the cemetery lots reserve account to allow for continued restoration efforts at Hillside Cemetery.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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