NORTH ADAMS — Mayor Thomas Bernard has introduced a $40.7 million budget proposal.
The mayor's spending plan is an increase of $771,599, or 1.9 percent, over last year's budget.
The proposal, which will be reviewed by the City Council over a series of committee meetings in the coming weeks, is Bernard's first since his inauguration earlier this year.
Bernard attributed much of the spending increase to contracts with employee unions in public safety, education, and public services that had been settled under former Mayor Richard Alcombright.
Bernard said it was "terrific news" that he did not have to settle contracts with unions in his first year in office, but said one effect it had was to predetermine the city's budget increases.
"It's a pure maintenance budget," Bernard said. "There's not a lot of room to be strategic or make investments."
Looking ahead to fiscal 2020, Bernard said the city will have "a little more flexibility" thanks to debt that will come off the city's books.
The current proposal includes a $110,316.85 structural deficit that will be left to the council to close before finalizing.
Bernard said his administration will provide options for closing the gap, but said he would also listen to proposals from councilors and the community.
"I wouldn't say it's a `rounding error,' but we have the ability to do a little bit of adjustment," Bernard said.
As it stands, the budget does not call for any staffing cuts.
The city's school system, under the proposal, would see an increase from $17.08 million in last year's adopted budget to $17.42 million, a rise of just under 2 percent.
As advocacy continues for more Chapter 70 education funding — and a new funding formula — Bernard indicated the school department will have to make difficult decisions and is still building its budget.
"I don't know what the choices, what the trade-offs, what the harsh reality of that looks like," Bernard said.
The council is not expected to hold any substantive debate on the budget at its meeting on Tuesday. Rather, Bernard has requested that the council refer the budget to its Finance Committee for additional review, as had been past practice under his predecessor.
The process, as outlined in the proposal by Bernard, would include Finance Committee public hearings on April 11, April 18, and April 25.
The final version of the budget proposal would be brought back to the full council on June 12 and final approval would be expected on June 26.
Adam Shanks can be reached at email@example.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.