NORTH ADAMS — In a presentation to the Finance Committee on Wednesday, Mayor Tom Bernard and other agency heads proposed raising the city's Public Safety budget by nearly $400,000, a 7.7-percent gain.
The increase in the draft budget would set the 2022 fiscal year budget for Public Safety at $5,520,734, up from $5,124,867 adopted for the current year.
Bernard flagged major increases and decreases for committee members as one of the early steps in the annual budget process.
“You’ll see there’s a fairly significant proposed change this year,” Bernard said. “I can walk through the sources of those changes as we go through presenting them. At this point [they’re presented] as informational, ahead of submitting a full budget. So this is very much still for discussion at every level.”
Large portions of the proposed increases would fund new positions and raises for police, fire and other departments in North Adams. The process continues with a presentation of a draft budget for the Public Services Committee on Monday.
Once the council finishes providing input on the draft budget, the mayor will return later this spring to the City Council with a final budget proposal for a council vote.
Fire Department: $1,881,487 → $2,061,689 (+9.6%)
Under the initial budget suggestion, the fire department budget would jump from under $1.9 million to over $2 million, an increase of more than 9 percent.
A portion of the increase would go toward a new deputy fire chief position, a proposal that Steve Meranti, the outgoing fire chief, had suggested. Chief Brent Lefebvre, the department’s new leader, also supports establishing the position.
“One of the things that both chiefs presented to me was that having the deputy chief creates more consistency around issues such as training, so that there’s a central support for that, rather than the training being handled at the shift level by lieutenants,” said Bernard. He also said the position would create clarity around “a promotion and succession ladder.”
The position would be salaried at $76,890. Bernard said it would essentially create a comparable position to the lieutenant in the police department.
“The deputy chief position would also be used for inspection purposes,” said Lefebvre. “There’s a myriad of fire inspections that end up getting passed down to some of the lieutenants on the shift and the chief position as well, and there truly isn’t just enough time in the day to complete all of the inspections that are required by the sate.”
The increase in the Fire Department budget would also include more than doubling of the vehicle repair budget, from $35,000 to $75,000, which Lefebvre said includes the cost of refurbishing Engine 3.
Police Department: $1,971,537 → $2,095,155 (+6.3%)
The proposed increases for fiscal year 2022 would bump the police department’s budget up by 6 percent, putting it at nearly $2.1 million, the uptick due almost entirely to personnel costs.
Under the city’s suggestion, the 2022 budget would include funding for a second lieutenant position, a recommendation that Chief Jason Wood made to the city. The two lieutenants, each paid $76,890 a year, would likely work two different shifts, Wood said.
The budget line for sergeants would decrease under the proposal, due to a retirement, while the total cost for patrol officers would increase slightly, though Bernard added that he did not have a final estimate.
The detective budget would also rise, which Wood suggested would reflect the city’s new School Resource Officer’s salary.
“Their primary function is the schools but they’re also cross-trained as detectives,” said Wood. “They’re responsible for call-ins on a rotating basis.”
Wood, who has advocated for more officers in the past, told councilors that he could use up to three more people on staff. The department has 24 officers, including the chief, a lieutenant and four sergeants, he told the committee.
“I’ve always been an advocate of keeping our staffing numbers higher,” he said.
Councilors suggested that adding staff might reduce the overtime budget, which was bumped up to $300,000 in the suggested budget from around $270,000 this year. Bernard pointed out, however, that adding officers in an attempt to reduce overtime would have ripple effects in other parts of the budget, as a result of healthcare and pension costs.
“When you’re making your forces work 16-hour days, and they’re not getting the proper rest, you know, that becomes a whole separate issue … [and] leads to burnout, poor decision-making,” Wood said. “We all know, in this day and age, I mean, we cannot afford to have that happen.”
Public property and buildings: $196,177 → $211,761 (+7.9%)
Increases for the city’s building lines would include a bump in plumbing inspection and a slight uptick in elevator services. The budget for elevator maintenance would be set at $30,000.
“This is probably the number in the budget I’m most upset about because the charges we receive for elevator service are extortionate,” Bernard said. “However, it represents an accurate cost for the service and maintenance on our elevators.”
The mayor also proposed reclassifying the director of inspection services position, which would mean a salary bump from $67,333 to $74,306.
“We’ve talked about the need to comprehensively address the compensation plan,” he said. “But this would be one of the few areas of the budget where I would like to consider, through a reclassification, addressing some equity for department heads.”
The budget proposal also includes new positions at the transfer station.
Bernard, who had previously warned that transfer station rates would go up, said that the Department of Environmental Protection gave the city “strong recommendations” to increase station staffing.