Updated: North Adams council approves water, sewer, other fee hikes
NORTH ADAMS -- The City Council has approved three measures Tuesday that will increase water, sewer, and other fees, as part of the mayor's proposed fiscal 2015 budget.
The increases are a part of a three-pronged $426,500 revenue package proposed by Mayor Richard Alcombright in an effort to close a $620,000 city budget deficit entering fiscal 2015. The rest of the deficit would be offset by nearly $200,000 in cuts under the mayor's proposed $37.74 million fiscal 2015 budget.
Though the council approved the revenue package on Tuesday, it did not vote on the budget proposal itself. The council will take up the full fiscal 2015 budget proposal at its June 23 special meeting.
Under the revenue package, city water rates will increase 10 percent, from $3.50 per to $3.85 per 100 cubic feet. The sewer fee will increase from 42 percent to 50 percent of a homeowner's water bill. The administration estimates that the increase will total about $35 per year for an average two-person home and $66 per year for a four-person home.
Fine increases include parking violations, such as parking in a fire lane, and late payments, such as a late vehicle excise payment. The vote for the fines increases passed unanimously.
"I just want to thank the council for the vote of support on this revenue package," Alcombright said. "It will certainly make a difference."
Alcombright had warned that if the package did not pass, he would bring forth a "worst-case scenario" budget that included deeper cuts including two police officers, four firefighters, three and a half Department of Public Works employees, five city hall employees, and a 10 percent pay reduction to all non-union city employees.
The mayor's revised budget also would have included a 10 percent reduction to the North Adams Public Library budget, Alcombright warned. This likely would have resulted in the reduction of four part-time library employees and closing the library on Fridays, according to Director Mindy Hackner.
"It is never easy to raise a fee or a tax," the mayor said. "You guys made difficult decision."
Councilor Jennifer Breen cast the lone vote against the water and sewer fee increases, which passed 8 to 1.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Breen argued that there were other positions the mayor could have cut than police officers and firefighters. However, the Council has little role in deciding what specific positions are cut; it just votes on the final budget.
"I'm not sure we entirely do need as many employees as we have currently," Breen said, noting that the city's population continues to decline.
Many of her constituents, some of whom live on a fixed income, are frustrated by the rate increases, Breen said. The water and sewer charge increase is a tax, she added, and taxes "do factor in to people's limited budgets."
"We're all paying the same rate for sewer and water tax if you have an $80,000 or a $300,000 house," Breen said.
Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, who frequently pressed Alcombright on the budget proposal during a series of finance committee meetings in recent weeks, voted in favor of the increases.
Although Wilkinson said he is generally against raising fees in difficult economic times, "seeing where the city is, and what we have to lose, I'm looking at it as the lesser of two evils."
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