Pittsfield mayor rolls out ‘level-services' budget; spending up 2.66 percent
PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has submitted to the City Council a $141.2 million fiscal 2015 budget plan he termed a "maintenance budget or a level-services budget."
The total reflects a $3.65 million, or 2.66 percent increase over the current city budget for the July-to-June fiscal year.
As proposed, the budget would require a 4.54 percent increase in the tax levy, which at $73.5 million is up by $3.1 million over the current year.
Broken down, the municipal budget is proposed at $75.9 million, or 3.63 percent higher, and the school budget is proposed at $56.5 million, a 1.8 percent increase
"This fiscally sound budget is developed to prepare the city of Pittsfield to be able to lay the foundation for important initiatives in the future development of Pittsfield," Bianchi said.
He said a significant factor in the city tax levy increase was the comparatively small state aid increase of 0.91 percent. Projected aid to the city totals $49.2 million.
A section of the document also estimates that if all property were taxed at a single rate, that rate would be $22 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, compared to the same single rate for this year of $21.03 per $1,000 valuation.
He said the budget includes allocations for downtown parking management, continued downtown streetscape improvements and toward construction of a new public works garage to replace the facility damaged in a 2012 fire.
The mayor unveiled a $10.8 million capital spending plan for next year, listing several investments he said will streamline city operations for greater efficiencies going forward.
Among the capital proposals, Bianchi listed a reorganization plan to locate all inspection services personnel together to make those easier for contractors and residents to access; the purchase of computer software to allow an online format for applying for city permits, which now can require visits to more than one office; and purchase of five smaller first-response vehicles for the fire department (costing $270,000) to reduce the need for initially responding with a larger vehicle.
The mayor also noted that he has asked the city's Ambulance Review Committee to examine the feasibility of "dispatching ambulance services from fire stations to enhance critical response time."
The council will begin its section-by-section review of the city budget on Saturday, June 7, and conclude with an evening session on Thursday, June 12, on the school portion of the budget.
Bianchi listed as key drivers of the budget increase a $700,000 hike for public safety expenditures for personnel overtime, a $450,000 increase in city employee pension-related costs, and a $1.2 million increase in debt service related to several city projects in recent years.
Councilors referred the mayor's budget requests to the Committee of the Whole, or the entire council, which will review the proposal.
Ward 5 City Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, reached after the short noontime meeting, said his initial thought is that the Bianchi's plan "really is a maintenance budget."
However, Lothrop said he will be asking specific questions about a number of budget items, such as what percentage of project costs will be reimbursed through state or federal aid or grants and what percentage the city will pay.
Lothrop said about $5.5 million in priority work on streets and roads has been identified, and he would want to know how much of that will be included in the next budget.
Other aspects of the mayor's proposed budget include $200,000 toward a planned turf field at Berkshire Community College, $39,005 for a crime scene vehicle, $500,000 toward downtown parking management improvements; $100,000 for improvements at Wahconah Park, and $100,000 toward radio replacement for the Police Department.
To reach Jim Therrien:
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