Council budget

The City Council gave preliminary approval to a $179.2 million spending plan for the next fiscal year, and secured an agreement from Mayor Linda Tyer to double the amount of free cash that will be used to offset the tax rate.

PITTSFIELD — The City Council has given a preliminary green light to a $179.2 million spending plan for the next fiscal year, including an agreement from Mayor Linda Tyer to double the amount of free cash that will be used to offset the tax rate.

The issue of how much free cash the city should apply to the budget, reducing the taxpayer’s share of the burden, butted up against a Tyer Administration policy not to use more than $1 million on a given year.

The more free cash that city officials choose to use, the lower the city’s property tax rate. Meantime, Finance Director Matt Kerwood said the money powers the city’s reserves, a topic of interest to bond rating agencies judging the city’s financial health.

“It’s really an issue of fiscal prudence in terms of how you want to best not only preserve but also build your reserves,” he said.

The exact impact of the additional use of free cash was not clear; the city sets the tax rate in November.

This year, Tyer proposed using $750,000 from the city’s $5.3 million free cash reserve to reduce the tax burden — the same amount she proposed last year but less than what was applied in 2019.

In the background this year is a hot local housing market sending home valuations up. Councilor Chris Connell pointed to unspent funds returning to city coffers, and suggested doubling the mayor’s free cash request for an allocation amounting to $1.5 million.

“We have over $3 million in turnbacks from last year,” he said. “Every little bit of reduction of the tax rate by use of free cash helps the taxpayers.”

Also during the meeting, Connell apologized for using the phrase “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” earlier when describing his belief that the public services department needs more workers in the field rather than more administrators. The expression sparked a heated exchange with Councilor Helen Moon, who lamented the “racially charged statement.”

Tyer’s free cash order failed by a vote of 6-4, with councilors Nicholas Caccamo, Yuki Cohen, Earl Persip III and Pete White in favor, sending the order back to the mayor. But toward the tail end of the meeting, Tyer told the council she was amenable to the $1.5 million figure.

“I’m agreeable to this amendment,” Tyer said. “You can make this change.”

The council took a procedural vote to reconsider the free cash request, then unanimously amended the free cash order to $1.5 million and gave it an initial stamp of approval. Tyer returned a new order to the council for consideration at the panel’s next regular meeting on Tuesday.

Also at that meeting next week, councilors will be asked to take a final vote on the budget they approved on Wednesday. Councilors also gave preliminarily approval to a $6,992,000 capital budget for things like a new fire department pumper truck and stormwater improvements.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.

Cops and Courts Reporter

Amanda Burke is Cops and Courts Reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.