Tour gives North Adams glimpse at need to consolidate public works facilities


NORTH ADAMS >> City Councilor Joshua Moran summarized the conditions of the city's public works facilities in one word: deplorable.

His assessment came during a special meeting of the City Council on Monday that included a tour of the city's Department of Public Works, cemetery and salt shed facilities. The tour was in preparation for a debate on a proposal to purchase a building that would house the city's public services.

"Something needs to be done," said Mayor Richard Alcombright.

The mayor has proposed a $1.47 million package to purchase and repurpose the former Berkshire Anodizing facility on Hodges Cross Road, where the city would consolidate all its public services — currently spread in multiple failing buildings across the city — under one roof.

The purchase price of the building is $995,000, and Alcombright proposed an immediate $107,000 in repairs and improvements to the building and another $350,000 in capital upgrades.

The cost to repair the current Department of Public Works facility alone would be roughly $2.7 million, city officials said.

Although a financing package has yet to be finalized, Alcombright estimates the city will pay for the new facility through a 40-year loan that will have annual payments of about $55,000. The borrowing plan will be introduced and voted on separately from the purchase and sale agreement.

"I feel that these buildings are getting to the dangerous point," Commissioner of Public Services Timothy Lescarbeau said of the city's current facilities.

The council referred the proposal to its finance committee for further review on September. The proposal will come back before the full council Sept. 13.

Throughout Monday's three-hour meeting, Alcombright responded to a number of questions aggregated by Councilor Keith Bona on social media and a number submitted by Councilor Lisa Blackmer.

But the question that arguably had the most impact on the debate came not from a councilor, but a resident.

Peter Breen read through the deed on the portion of the property that the city would use to extend its cemetery, and found that the city may already have rights to it.

Breen said the city previously had owned the land, but in 1970 allowed then-owner of the facility to utilize it under a written agreement. The deal apparently stipulated that if the company did not use it after 10 years, that portion of the property could be taken back by the city at any time for no cost. The city solicitor is expected to provide an opinion on the matter.

The land is important to the city's plan, both because it is included in the purchase price, which some questioned on Monday, and because it allows for the expansion of Southview Cemetery. With an additional 3,000 plots in the cemetery, the city could see up to $1.5 million in revenue in the coming years, Alcombright estimated.

With cremation on the rise, Councilor Robert Moulton Jr. questioned whether or not the cemetery expansion could be relied on as a source of revenue to offset the purchase of the facility.

There was also much discussion the purchase price, which is nearly $400,000 more than the price the current owner paid for it. Some councilors and members of the public asked if the city could renegotiate the price.

"There's nobody knocking down the doors [to buy] this property," Moulton said.

The mayor said that if the building is purchased, the current DPW building would be sold. Though the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts could be a potential buyer, Alcombright expressed a desire to see the property in the hands of the private sector.

By purchasing the Hodges Cross Road facility, the city would be taking it off of the tax rolls, losing nearly $60,000 in annual tax revenue. However, an agreement for a proposed solar facility built on the land adjacent to the building would transfer to the city and bring in more than $20,000 in annual revenue.

Including the annual payments and loss of tax revenue, Alcombright estimated Monday that the city would incur a net loss of about $90,000 annually if it purchased the facility. That would mean an increase of roughly $10 to $12 to the annual tax bill of the average single-family homeowner.

That number does not factor in the potential sale of unused buildings. If the DPW is sold, the proceeds could be used to pay down the debt, Alcombright said.

"The administration is comfortable with the affordability," Alcombright said.

Councilors also questioned the reliance on revenue from the solar facility on the property, which is under contract but has yet to be built.

Alcombright advised councilors that he would have brought the proposal forward with or without the solar revenue, saying the proposed array was "frosting on the cake."

Formerly known as Berkshire Anodizing, the aluminum finishing plant was operated as Colonial Anodizing when it closed in 2015.

The city is still in the process of having its engineers review an environmental assessment conducted by the property owner. Under the proposed purchase and sale agreement, the city would have the right to terminate the agreement if certain contaminants are found within 30 days.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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