North Adams sees capital purchases as best use of state aid funds


NORTH ADAMS -- City officials can use $750,000 in emergency state aid as they see fit, but Mayor Richard Alcombright cautioned that the best use of the funding will likely be on capital expenditures rather than new employees.

Hiring additional employees could become a "sustainability issue," he said.

"If we put to many people in we run the risk of having to lay them off next year," Alcombright said.

So officials are looking at the capital needs of the city, including several new vehicles and potential upgrades at the water treatment plant.

Earlier this month, the governor signed off on a fiscal 2015 budget that included a $750,000 aid package to North Adams in the wake of North Adams Regional Hospital's closure. Alcombright and other city staff met with Department of Revenue officials recently to discuss the parameters of the aid.

"Really what [the Department of Revenue] did was kind of lay out how we're going to get the money and how we would actually be able to spend it," Alcombright said, although he said it remained unclear when the money will actually be available.

The funding will come into the city much like a grant, he said.

"We would book it as such, then we would just draw down on it like a grant for whatever we fund," he added.

The Department of Revenue did not respond to a request for comment.

Although "for all intents and purposes, [the aid is] totally unrestricted," Alcombright said there would be a "level of accountability, obviously, not only to the state but to the community."

The mayor's first priority is the restoration of a full-time police officer, he said, which can take place before the aid comes in and be reimbursed to the general fund later.

After that, officials will focus on one-time capital expenditures, the mayor said. The administration will meet with department heads next week to lay out priorities.

This past winter, a Department of Public Works truck rolled over a hillside while plowing Rand Street. The city's insurance provided $30,000 toward a new truck that will cost $75,000, Alcombright said. The gap could be paid through the emergency aid fund.

Additionally, the Public Services Department's water treatment plant is antiquated, and the police department is behind on its cycle to replace cruisers.

"Currently, because of the financial hardship that the city is in, our replacement schedule is really non-existent," said North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio.

The department's two newest cars are two years old, and another two are four years old, according to Cozzaglio. Ideally, because of the excess stress placed on the vehicles, one to two cars should be replaced every year, he added.

"Once they're beyond a year, 18 months, our maintenance costs begin to climb because of the wear and tear."

Currently, an aging patrol car that needs $5,000 worth of work on its engine and transmission will be retired, not repaired.

"I just can't justify spending that kind of money," Cozzaglio said.

Beyond employees and capital needs, Alcombright also will consider saving some of the money. It appears the emergency aid doesn't all have to spent this year, Alcombright said.

"In a sense, does that become a reserve account for us?" he pondered.

To reach Adam Shanks:
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