PITTSFIELD — The City Council approved a balanced budget Tuesday and rejected a petition that would have opposed the School Committee's controversial decision to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.
The City Council unanimously approved the mayor's $160 million budget, as well as $8.8 million in borrowing toward capital projects like roadwork and resurfacing of the Columbus Avenue parking garage. It also reversed two of its preliminary votes, approving the mayor's request for $1 million in free cash appropriation, and a $1.6 million borrowing authorization for water and sewer maintenance.
Councilors had voted previously to leave room for an approximately $20 annual reduction in the average residential property tax bill, calling for the mayor to put forward a larger free cash request to reduce the tax burden. Mayor Linda Tyer said it's possible the city could get additional state reimbursements, and she would reconsider the free cash appropriation once state numbers firm up.
That promise won support with councilors, who voted 9-2 in favor of the appropriation, with Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli in opposition.
Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said she decided to reverse her vote on the free cash issue to maintain the integrity of council requests from previous years to reduce the city's reliance on free cash — which, according to best practices, should be used as a reserve — to balance the budget.
"This administration has done a great job," she said. "This is the moment when we can all begin moving in the same direction."
Dozens of people again showed for the meeting to voice support and opposition for the School Committee's decision in January to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day, urging councilors to act on the issue. On the agenda was a petition from Simonelli calling on his colleagues to go on record opposing the School Committee decision.
Councilors turned down the petition on a 6-5 vote, with council President Peter Marchetti, Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, Todd Rivers and Simonelli voting in favor.
"People need to know about Columbus' achievements," Simonelli said. "He was a man living in different times than we are today."
But Ward 3 Councilor Nick Caccamo said Columbus can't be defended by saying many historical figures were guilty of atrocities.
"They all did the same thing, and it was all reprehensible," he said.
Councilors also noted how inaccurately they were taught in school that Christopher Columbus "discovered" America. Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon said it's not about rewriting history, but about correcting it.
"History is oftentimes written by the people who are in power," she said. "I think that this is a moment where we can lead from the seat."
Councilor At Large Earl Persip III asked people in the community to stop drawing comparisons between Columbus and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., noting that hearing the names together "irks me."
"That creates a divide," he said. "We need to work together to come up with something that works for everybody."
School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said the body would reconsider its previous decision during its July meeting.
Amanda Drane can be contacted at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.