Update: North Adams budget would raise water, sewer rates and shave police, DPW
NORTH ADAMS - City residents would see an increase in water and sewer charges and a cut in police and Department of Public Works services under a proposed budget for fiscal 2015.
Mayor Richard Alcombright submitted to the City Council on Thursday a $37.74 million budget - up $1.2 million from the current spending plan - that calls for those measures as a way to offset a $620,000 deficit.
Though the mayor has not requested a Proposition 2 1/2 override, he said he expects to campaign for an override in fiscal 2016.
The budget would raise about $420,000 in revenue primarily through a 8 percent increase in sewer fees and a 10 percent increase in water rates. The proposal also would cut, through attrition, one police officer and one Department of Public Works employee. The remaining budget gap will be closed mostly through a reduction in DPW spending.
The mayor's proposal will be formally presented at the City Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Council President Lisa Blackmer had not yet seen the proposal as of Thursday afternoon, but she expected that the council would refer it to the Finance Committee, which will take up the budget proposal in a series of meetings that begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The mayor hopes to have the final budget adopted byJune 21, a week before the start of the next fiscal year.
Alcombright has blamed the deficit on increasing costs during a period of reduced state aid and stagnant revenues. Rising expenses this year can largely be attributed to insurance and pension obligations, according to the mayor, in addition to veterans benefits and interest on debt payments.
The plan also could include layoffs of about two other city staff positions, Alcombright said, but said such a decision has not yet been finalized. He indicated they likely would be non-union employees.
Alcombright called the water and sewer increases "modest," and noted that the rates have not been adjusted in four cycles. The sewer fee would rise from 42 percent to 50 percent of a homeowner's water bill, while water rates will increase 10 percent. Alcombright projects the hikes will cost the average four-person household approximately $66 over the course of a year.
The water and sewer increases are not subject to limitations set under Proposition 2 1/2.
The revenue package, which will be voted on separately from the final budget, also would include an increase in parking fines and other fees, such as charges for late payments of motor vehicle excise tax.
If the proposal is not approved by City Council, Alcombright said cuts would have to be made elsewhere.
"This revenue package is ultimately necessary to support the proposed budget and allows the city to maintain critical services," Alcombright wrote in a memo to city councilors. "Without this, significant additional cuts will need to be made."
The Department of Public Works also would see a drop in operating expenses. The mayor said the city will have to look at "how we plow our roads," as well as other DPW expenditures, to find ways to cut costs.
The administration does not expect pushback from unions, Alcombright said. The mayor met with relevant department heads and union leaders to lay out the plan, with the understanding that the lost positions could be reconsidered during Proposition 2 1/2 override conversations next year.
The administration likely will begin the campaign for a fiscal 2016 override as early as September, Alcombright said, to leave "plenty of time to be more thoughtful about it." The mayor advocated for an override three years ago but failed to win voter approval.
Alcombright on Thursday said that, even with a balanced budget this year, the city is projected to begin fiscal 2016 with a $420,000 deficit.
"The only thing that cuts that gap long-term is an override," Alcombright said, by raising the city's annual levy capacity.