Pittsfield City Council turns away mayor's $9.5 million capital plan


PITTSFIELD -- With less than a week before the start of fiscal 2015 on July 1, the city has no capital projects budget in place, after the City Council rejected Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's $9.5 million borrowing proposal.

The $141 million regular city and school budget for the coming fiscal year did pass the council Tuesday, but with two councilors opposed because it will increase taxes.

Bianchi had adjusted the capital budget following council budget hearings June 7, during which councilors sought additional spending on street improvements, rejected the purchase of five smaller rapid responder vehicles for the fire department and recommended the purchase of a fire truck, among other changes.

The capital budget is acted on separately from the operating budget and requires borrowing for a range of capital projects.The mayor later added $2 million for street improvements, for a total of $3 million, and dropped the plan to purchase the five first-responder vehicles, but a fire truck was not added to the fiscal 2015 capital plan, which was reduced from $10.8 million to $9.5 million.

The fire truck was the focus of the four councilors who opposed the borrowing authorization, which was defeated because borrowing requires approval by eight of the 11 councilors.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop said he was pleased that more was added for street improvements but disappointed a fire truck was not added, despite strong support for the purchase from councilors. He said the department's vehicles are aging and replacements are needed.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said he wouldn't support the capital budget "because we really need a new fire truck." The council had expressed "a strong sentiment" in favor of the truck purchase at its budget session, Morandi said.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont and Ward 6 Councilor John Krol joined in opposing the plan, which was defeated despite being favored in the 7-4 vote.

Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli said they favored the truck purchase but thought Bianchi had compromised by adding street improvement funding and made other changes at the request of the council. Amuso suggested asking the mayor to consider the truck later in the next July-to-June fiscal year, and Bianchi indicated he would.

He had proposed purchase of a new fire truck in fiscal 2016.

Simonelli said a solution might be to reduce the street improvement funding by $1 million to allow the fire truck purchase in the next budget year, because there is also funding for that purchase left over in the current budget and it is unclear how much work can be contracted for during the short construction season.

Asked what would happen if the capital budget was not passed as of July 1, Bianchi listed the several projects that could not be funded -- such as the street improvement and school repair and maintenance projects -- until the council approves the plan.

At one point, Bianchi said "this is a compromise. I thought we were together on this," adding, "If you want to play this out, feel free, councilors."

He noted that he still believes the five rapid response vehicles are a good idea and that they would save wear and tear on larger vehicles.

Krol said there appears to be universal agreement on the council for a new fire truck, and he recommended that members "send that message back" to the mayor. He and Lothrop noted that the mayor's initial capital budget was $10.8 million and restoring some of the reduction could fund the truck.

Bianchi said Wednesday he is still considering options for resubmitting a fiscal 2015 capital budget to the council.

The council also voted 9-2, with Morandi and Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully opposed, to approve the $141 million city and school operating budget. Both cited the expected tax hike to fund the next budget for opposing the plan.

Tully said a large percentage of her constituents are seniors, and many had called her to oppose the tax hike -- estimated at 4.7 percent.

Morandi said he was "flooded with calls" opposing the budget increase, adding that residents also face water and sewer fee hikes and in a few years, a Taconic High School project.

Rejection of the budget by the council with only a few days before the new fiscal year "would be irresponsible," unless recommendations for cuts had been offered earlier, "which you haven't done at this point," Bianchi said.

Clairmont agreed, saying the council budget hearings were the time to make such recommendations.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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