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Delayed but not deterred, Pittsfield City Council passes $188 million operating budget

Councilor Charles Kronick takes the podium

Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick came down from his council seat to the podium during Tuesday night's council meeting. Kronick argued that his charter objection to the budget had been in service of city residents and that he had been persecuted by the media and his colleagues as a result.

PITTSFIELD — The City Council returned Tuesday night to the work of setting a budget for the upcoming 2023 fiscal year after a charter objection at the previous meeting stopped the council’s deliberation over the city’s spending priorities in its tracks.

Councilors voted 7-4 in favor of a $188.8 million operating budget. The budget represents a series of amendments made by councilors to Mayor Linda Tyer’s originally proposed budget — with another $1,000 for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, $50,000 for the city’s building inspectors and $65,000 for building maintenance. The vote put an end to what Mayor Linda Tyer summed up last week as “a bit of manufactured chaos.”

Councilor's budget stunt 'manufactured chaos,' Pittsfield's mayor says. Councilor ends silence on his motives

That “chaos” came when councilors Charles Kronick and Anthony Maffuccio decided to charter object to the budget vote during the June 14 meeting. The dual objections forced the council to table the vote and further discussion on the budget until Tuesday’s meeting.

Between the objection and Tuesday’s meeting, the $188.5 million operating budget proposed by Tyer went into effect — having passed outside a 45-day window established in city rules and state law for the council to act on the budget.

Kronick came down from his seat on the council to the podium Tuesday night to give further explanation of his objection.

He said he refused to apologize for “calling a charter objection in the name of Ward 2 … fighting for the city employees’ pension and saving money for all the citizens who are facing historic inflation.”

The councilor said that his objections were on purely financial grounds, intending to get the city to cover only the services that residents truly need and cutting any other expenses he framed as financial bloat.

One area Kronick listed as among those he’d cut was the amount of funding for the city’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the salary of the new Chief Diversity Officer Michael Obasohan.

When discussing that point, Kronick diverged from his financial argument. He doubled down on his earlier critique of the office’s pronoun training for city employees, saying that the training violated his “Judeo-Christian” beliefs on gender identity. He went a step further to say that negative responses to his beliefs were examples of “anti-Semitism.”

“Preaching pronoun training discriminates against the Judeo-Christian faithful,” Kronick said.

At least one Ward 2 resident appeared at the meeting’s open microphone to voice their support for their city representative. Ward 2 resident Alex Blumin called Kronick a “perfect city councilor [for] Ward 2.”

A budget by default? 'Irresponsible' move by a Pittsfield city councilor negates all revisions

“He does a very good job for residents of Ward 2 and he definitely was right to use charter objection and city council rule,” Blumin said. He then turned to the media representatives at the meeting to say “Write that we support our councilor completely.”

The Ward 2 councilor went on to lead the discussion on the budget with a question on the legality of the council’s vote Tuesday night. He argued that since the 45-day mark had passed the council should no longer be able to take a straight vote on the budget, but instead should be left to vote on additional appropriations if they were presented by the mayor.

“It looks to me that you’ve just come up with a neat little trick here to swap the new budget with the old budget,” Kronick said, speaking to City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta. “I don’t think you’re on legal ground here.”

“What is before you would in effect request the mayor to increase the existing budget to the budget that is being proposed and is before you,” Pagnotta said.

Council President Peter Marchetti told Kronick that the legality of the vote had been verified by both Pagnotta and Finance Director Matthew Kerwood in conversations with the state’s Department of Revenue.

“If we pass this budget and the mayor agrees to sign it then it is nothing more than an amendment to the mayor’s budget,” Marchetti said. “If she’s willing to sign it, then it’s a legal budget.”

Tyer agreed to sign off on the budget passed by the council during a press conference last week.

Kronick was joined by councilors Ken Warren, Karen Kalinowsky, and Maffuccio in objecting to the budget, with the group saying that spending in the next year would have an unbearable impact on residents already stretched thin by the pandemic economy.

“We’re not being fiscally responsible with this budget,” Kalinowsky said. “We are not putting money where it needs to be and where the economy is going, I just can’t agree to this budget.”

Kalinowsky and Warren pushed the Tyer administration to spend more of the nearly $41 million in American Rescue Plan Act money towards revenue replacement and a proposed water meter program for low income and senior residents.

Maffuccio’s critiques to the budget were that the administration’s funding priorities were out of whack with resident’s experience, a claim that councilors Kevin Sherman, Pete White and Earl Persip III contested.

“We have significant issues in the city, no doubt about it,” Sherman said. “We have neighborhoods that are broken and we have issues with public safety, no doubt about it.”

“We put things in this budget to address those,” Sherman concluded.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6149.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

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