PITTSFIELD — The City Council preliminarily approved spending plans for seven different areas of city governance without any changes on Monday during the first budget hearing of the season.
The spending plans are part of Mayor Linda Tyer’s proposed $179.4 million budget, including general government funds, school funds and enterprise funds, which was presented to city councilors over a Zoom session. The council cannot add money to Tyer’s spending proposal, but can trim it.
The proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes $67.3 million for city schools, $25.3 million in health insurance for municipal employees and $20.5 million for police and fire services.
It reflects an increase of more than 5 percent over the current fiscal year.
Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell proposed cuts across four budget lines in Cultural Development, City Clerk’s Office, City Solicitor and City Council, but none gained enough votes to pass.
The second of five budget hearings begins 6 p.m. Wednesday and will feature a look at proposed Community Preservation Act funding priorities and several city departments, including Community Development, the Health Department, as well as the newly proposed Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
But first, here’s a window into the capital projects budget, which received a public hearing Monday, as well as the preliminary spending approvals councilors issued.
Five-year Capital Improvement Plan
Tyer has proposed allocating $10,793,621 from the city’s share of the American Rescue Plan stimulus on capital projects. The city is receiving at least $34 million through the stimulus. The five-year Capital Improvement Plan invests $221.8 million in over 100 projects across city departments including police, fire, Community Development, public utilities, schools and information technology.
The stimulus funds cover about 5 percent of costs associated with the five-year plan. Local funding commitments and water and sewer revenues account for 46 percent and 40 percent of the capital budget costs, respectively.
The Tyer Administration says that projects in the department of public services and utilities represent around half of all capital spending. Among the functions of the departments are overseeing roads and wastewater treatment. Twenty-seven percent of capital spending is for the police department, driven by $55.5 million for a new police headquarters.
$225,908, 4.3 percent increase over this year
The council unanimously approved the mayoral office spending plan, which includes a raise in Mayor Tyer’s annual salary by 1.5 percent to $102,428. Two administrators in the office will also see raises, which Tyer said is due to across-the-board pay raises for some nonunion employees, which the council approved earlier this year.
$107,062, 0.9 percent increase over this year
The budget increase was driven by a $1,000 increase in an advertising line item that Marchetti said is for paying for compulsory legal notices. Connell proposed a $500 reduction, which did not pass, then the council preliminarily approved its own budget by a vote of 9-2, with Connell and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi opposed.
$227,669, 3.7 percent increase over this year
Councilors Anthony Maffuccio, Patrick Kavey, Connell and Morandi voted against Tyer’s proposed City Solicitor budget. Maffuccio argued the city should have its own solicitor and assistant solicitor on staff, as he said was the case under former mayor Dan Bianchi, rather than contractually retaining representation.
“For $227,669 I think we could have a full-time city solicitor and an assistant city solicitor in house,” he said.
Morandi echoed Maffuccio, saying the City Solicitor should be available five days a week and that “both the residents and the councilors are getting short changed.”
Noting funds not spent in this year’s allocation for legal fees and court costs, Connell proposed reducing next fiscal year’s allotment by $2,000, which ultimately did not gain enough votes to pass. The funds weren’t spent because court closures stalled land and housing court business, Tyer said, adding that “we anticipate that there will be more activities in the coming year.”
$363,082, 5.5 percent increase over this year
The council preliminarily approved the City Clerk’s office budget with nine councilors in favor, and Connell and Morandi opposed. Connell questioned a $6,500 increase in funding for supplies for the department. City Clerk Michele Benjamin said the line item, totaling $23,000, was needed for ballots in the event that there’s a preliminary municipal election this year. Connell noted the supply budget in 2019, when there was a preliminary election, was lower, coming in at $16,645, according to the city budget.
Council on Aging
$341,200, 12.8 increase over this year
The only person who spoke during public comment at the top of the meeting was Theresa Bianchi, chairperson of the Council On Aging. She spoke in support of the budget, saying that while COVID-19 created a frightening and isolating environment for seniors, the COA kept working, and has 15 programs up and running.
“We were able to open our center last July for one of our foundational programs — our social day program — which we believe was absolutely critical at this time,” Bianchi said.
Director of Council on Aging James Clark said baked into the budget are the council-approved pay raises for nonunion employees.
$1,007,804, 0.2 percent increase over this year
The council voted unanimously to preliminarily approve the Veterans’ Services budget.
$122,075, 5.5 percent increase over this year
The Cultural Development budget passed by a vote of 10-1, with Connell opposed. Connell had proposed trimming $500 from $1,000 budgeted for travel, arguing that events will continue to be held remotely, but Director Jennifer Glockner said she anticipates traveling to conferences next fiscal year.