Pittsfield City Council gives budget reviews the weekends off


PITTSFIELD -- Marathon city budget reviews on Saturday are a thing of the past.

By a 6-4 vote, with Councilor at large Churchill Cotton absent, the City Council has adopted a new rule limiting their budget hearings to Monday through Thursday nights; the first hearing being held seven days after the mayor submits a new spending plan to the municipal legislative body.

Councilors Barry J. Clairmont and Kevin J. Morandi co-sponsored the proposal claiming the June 7 session to review the fiscal 2015 spending plan was too long and counterproductive.

Morandi believes he can concentrate better having several shorter meetings at night, instead of the this year's single-day session.

"My focus will certainly be better [and] we're used to going to meetings on weeknights," he said during Tuesday night's regular council meeting.

Clairmont added Saturday budget reviews are also unfair to city taxpayers.

"The public is not going to show up on a Saturday if the weather is nice," he noted.

Originally, Clairmont and Morandi's petition called for a minimum of four budget hearings, starting no sooner than 10 days after the council receives the spending plan.

While the council was nearly unanimous in amending the initial proposal, opposing councilors still found the Saturday ban restrictive.

"Each year's budget and council makeup will be different," said Ward 7 Councilor Anthony J. Simonelli. "This is something that should be in the hands of the [council] president."

In two of the first three years Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has been in office, the council has held a Saturday budget hearing to review all city departments, except the school department budget review which is held separately on a weeknight. The weekend reviews debuted in 2012 under former Council President Kevin Sherman, and resumed last month by Council President Melissa Mazzeo. Last year, the council reverted to the traditional night hearings.

All city department budgets, except the school department's, were debated for nearly 10 hours on June 7 -- ending three hours later than scheduled.

In other business, the council Tuesday night accepted a $144,000 state grant to ensure completion of the $4.6 million rehabilitation of the First Street Common. The money will augment a $1.77 million state grant received last year and $196,500 in city funds to pay for phases 3 and 4, which include the installation of a performance pavilion, gazebo, children's splash park, new bathrooms and refurbished basketball court.

Amid residents' concerns, the council also continued a hearing regarding a permit for the Peter N. Petricca Family Trust to allow Verizon to continue to store new and used motor oil at the maintenance facility it leases from the Petriccas. The councilors requested an inventory and other information of all hazardous materials at the 1899 East St. location, near Federico Drive. The hearing will resume at the council's August meeting.

Neighbors of the facility requested the continuance, alarmed by the legal notice they received that stated the permit was "for the keeping, storage, manufacture or sale of flammables or explosives."

Family representative Perri Petricca said the language was drawn from Massachusetts General Law and that actually, only above ground storage of motor oil is at issue, since an underground oil tank was removed years ago. Petricca noted the new permit, subject to council approval, will accurately reflect how and what amount of oil is contained on site.


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