Pittsfield City Council split on budget hearing restrictions
PITTSFIELD -- A City Council subcommittee is split over a proposal that the council ban daylong budget review sessions on a Saturday.
By a 3-2 vote, Ordinance and Rules on Monday night recommended the entire 11-member council reject a petition creating a council rule that would limit budget hearings to Monday through Thursday nights.
The proposal also calls for no fewer than four hearings being held 10 days after the mayor submits a new spending plan to the municipal legislative body. The full council is expected to take up the proposal at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.
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 held separately on a weeknight. The weekend review debuted in 2012 and resumed last month. Last year, the council reverted to the traditional night hearings.
Councilors Barry J. Clairmont and Kevin J. Morandi co-sponsored the petition claiming the June 7 session to review the fiscal 2015 spending plan was too long and counterproductive.
All city department budgets, except the School Department's, were debated for more nearly nine hours -- ending three hours later than scheduled, according to Clairmont.
"We had department heads sitting here for hours," he told the subcommittee. "To ask the public to watch the hearing from nine o'clock to six at night isn't fair to the public.
Morandi noted the Saturday sessions force him to close his business early that day in order to participate in the budget review.
"I'm self-employed and Saturdays are my busiest days -- it's a hardship for me," he said to his fellow subcommittee members.
Morandi and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop supported the proposal. Councilor at large Kathleen A. Amuso, council President Melissa Mazzeo and Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, who chairs the subcommittee, were opposed.
Mazzeo and Connell contend the council should have the flexibility to decide each year how to conduct its budget hearings.
"The way the petition is written, you're going to lock yourself in and not have enough time [for the budget review]," Mazzeo said.
She added, the minimum of four budget review sessions is too restrictive.
Amuso, a city councilor since January, found her first Saturday budget session very productive.
"For me, it provided continuity to hear all the [department] budgets at once," she said.
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