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Pittsfield councilors want more budgeted for building maintenance and inspections

Pittsfield City Hall copy

The Pittsfield City Council is nearing the end of its annual budget hearings this week. On Tuesday, the council preliminarily approved 10 department and fund budgets and recommended expanding the budget proposal by an additional $115,000.

PITTSFIELD — City councilors would like to see Mayor Linda Tyer to put more money toward basic city services related to building maintenance and inspections.

Following the third hearing about the fiscal 2023 budget, councilors Tuesday asked the mayor to increase her budget proposal by an additional $115,000 in those areas.

Tyer’s budget will get one last review on Thursday night when the council considers a budget request of more than $72 million from the Pittsfield Public Schools. A vote on the overall budget is expected afterward.

Building inspections: $555,707, up 13 percent

One of the key proposed increases highlighted this year by the mayor was the addition of another inspector to the city’s building inspections department. Tyer said increasing the department’s personnel budget by around $47,000 would allow the city to hire an additional person to handle inspections for the almost 900 multifamily homes in Pittsfield.

Councilors unanimously voted to recommend the mayor take things a step further and add another $50,000 to hire two inspectors instead of one.

Building Commissioner Jeffrey Clemons told the council that under state law, multifamily homes are required to be inspected once every five years.

“We don’t have the inspectors to keep up with that many inspections,” Clemons said, adding he is among four city inspectors. He said the department currently conducts about eight to 10 multifamily inspections a year, usually after a complaint has been lodged with the Health Department.

With an additional inspector, he said, the department will be able to increase its review of such homes. But he clarified that he’s “not suggesting that we’re going to do 900 buildings in the next five years.”

Councilors said they’ve heard from residents across the city about a greater need for inspections, including at recent council meetings where resident LeMarr Talley submitted a petition to further mandate inspections.

“This department was gutted years ago … and we have seen the ramifications of that,” Councilor Earl Persip III said. “I think there’s a lot of property owners out there taking advantage of the building department not being fully staffed.”

Building maintenance (schools): $835,000, up 8.4 percent

The mayor’s proposed budget for the maintenance of city school buildings is one of eight budgets to come in under the department head’s funding request. Tyer’s proposed budget of $835,000 is 8.4 percent higher than last year, but that is still $65,000 lower than what was requested by Brian Filiault, the district’s director of building maintenance.

Filiault told the council that the department would “do the best we can” with the proposed amount, but he described major upkeep problems facing the city’s school and municipal buildings brought on by extra wear and tear during the pandemic.

He detailed windows, roofs, boilers and pumps that need replacing because of overuse.

“I can look in any direction in the city and it’s just things are old,” Filiault said. “Most of our systems took an incredible beating over this COVID. We’re running units with windows open and these units never recovered.”

Councilors voted 9-2 — with councilors Charles Kronick and Anthony Maffuccio in opposition — to recommend the mayor meet Filiault’s original budget request and increase the contractual services budget by $40,000 and the supplies budget by $25,000

City enterprise funds

Councilors voted to give preliminary approval to the budgets for the city’s water, wastewater and sewer enterprise funds.

Councilors Karen Kalinowsky and Ken Warren turned a hard look to the enterprise budgets — separate funds sustained by service charges like water and sewer fees. The councilors asked Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales to explain why the council had been asked — and had approved — recent increases for water and sewer rates if the cost of running the city’s water and sewer systems was going to decrease next fiscal year.

In a 6-4 vote in early March, councilors approved a 10 percent increase in the water rate and 12 percent increase in sewer rate this year and next year.

“We made the increases for very real reasons,” Morales said, adding that the city was on a path to “depleting our retained earnings because we did not have those increases in place.”

“With the increases, it would take us three years to recover — to start going up on the retained earnings — to cover for things that are unexpected,” he said.

Public services: $9,970,507, up 10.6 percent

The council unanimously voted to give preliminary approval to the proposed budget for the public services department, which handles city trash, road work and parking. Several councilors took the opportunity to ask Morales about how city trash costs will be affected by the recent sale of the Community Eco Power trash incinerator plant to Casella Waste Management.

Morales said he built a 15 percent increase into both the department’s budget for solid waste collection and disposal costs — equivalent to about a $290,000 and $268,000 increase, respectively. The commissioner said these increases allow the city to prepare to pay the current market rate for trash services as they enter into contract negotiations with Casella.

Casella plans to convert the incinerator plant into a transfer station — collecting Pittsfield’s trash before it’s moved to a secondary location to be dumped.

Morales said the bigger budget is only the beginning of the conversation the city will need to have around how it handles its trash.

Also receiving preliminary approval:

• Cultural Development: $127,806, up 4.7 percent

• Berkshire Athenaeum: $1,377,356, up 8.8 percent

• Building maintenance (city): $1,904,053, up 6.3 percent

• Community Development: $758,651, up 3.3 percent

• Enterprise funds, water: $5,216,417, down 7.1 percent

• Enterprise funds, wastewater: $10,024,817, down 5.9 percent

• Enterprise funds, sewer: $1,048,896, up 0.9 percent

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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