Due diligence done, Pittsfield councilors to take final budget votes Tuesday

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PITTSFIELD — With a detailed once-over in the books, the City Council is scheduled to take a final vote Tuesday on city spending for the upcoming fiscal year.

During their Tuesday meeting, councilors will take a last look at $166.6 million in operational spending, as well as $10.7 million in borrowing for capital improvement projects. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the council chambers.

The $166.6 million appropriation reflects a portion of the overall operating budget — it's the portion the City Council has purview over — while the city plans to spend a total of $175.5 million over fiscal year 2020. Capital budget borrowing falls outside the operating budget.

The final votes follow a series of budget hearings, during which councilors had heated debates over some of the spending. They preliminarily approved each budget item, making a few adjustments.

One significant adjustment came this week, when councilors voted to remove $52,500 from the capital budget for a pickleball facility at Springside Park.

The motion to cut it out of the capital budget came from Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon, who said she had "a lot of reservations" about the city's choice to put the facility in Springside Park.

A lot of the pickleball players pushing for the court live outside Pittsfield, she said, and "we haven't reached a critical mass of pickleball players."

Councilor at Large Earl Persip agreed, saying residents have made it clear that Springside is not the right location.

"I think the city got this one wrong," he said.

When the city tried to put a dog park in Springside, he said, advocates bucked it for the same reason — it doesn't align with the park's purpose as a passive-use park.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said he doesn't want to spend the money on a new pickleball court when existing city parks aren't taken care of properly.

"For me, it's about priorities," he said.

Moon's motion passed 7-4, with Councilors Chris Connell, Peter Marchetti, Tony Simonelli and Melissa Mazzeo voting against.

Mazzeo said she doesn't think the pickleball court's location near Doyle Field would be an imposition. "I think you'll find it's not going to be a detriment," she said.

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Councilors also will be asked to approve $35,272 in Community Preservation Act spending for the project later this month.

Police spending

Police Chief Michael Wynn fielded questions from councilors this week about the department's planned spending increases, amounting to $866,389 over the current year's budget.

There's new spending in the budget for ShotSpotter, Wynn and Mayor Linda Tyer told councilors this week, as they haven't yet been able to line up private funding partners.

"I had to account for it somewhere, so we put it in the budget," Wynn said.

The technology is worth it, he said, since 25 percent of the city's shootings go unreported by residents. For that "25 percent of the time," he said, "if we didn't have it, we wouldn't be responding."

He said ShotSpotter alerts officers to the precise location of a gunshot, so it also helps officers locate ballistic evidence.

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If no private partners come forward, Tyer said the next three years of service will cost the city $600,000 from its operating budget.

"We're committed to ShotSpotter," Tyer said. "We believe in it."

The budget under review includes $240,000 for the technology.

There's also $12,500 in new funding for community outreach, since Wynn said officers have been taking on more responsibilities along those lines, a $100,000 increase in scheduled overtime and a $150,000 increase in contractual allowances.

Wynn said some increases stem from contractual obligations, and to that point, salary lines are up by about $200,000. Councilors unanimously approved the budget during its first reading.

Public services

When questioned by councilors about increases in winter spending, Public Services Commissioner David Turocy said the sand and salt item was the biggest culprit.

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Mazzeo said she doesn't understand why the city spends more than private businesses.

"I really have a hard time every time this comes down," she said.

Turocy said the winter season was riddled with early morning nuisance storms that private companies often can avoid dealing with since they land outside business hours.

"We can't do that," he said. "We have to make sure the streets are good at 6 a.m. in the morning."

Yes, it was a mild winter — "I was expecting it to be lower, too," he said about the cost of sand and salt — but the little storms add up.

Councilors also pressed Turocy about the state of the city's roads.

"The roads are deplorable in the city of Pittsfield," Morandi said.

To that point, Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers agreed. She said there's only one thing to do about that: Spend more on public services.

"It seems to me we're just not staffing it or funding it appropriately," she said.

If budgets are policy documents, she said, "then this document says that we're not listening."

Rivers made a motion to refer the public services department's budget back to the mayor for an increase. While her measure won philosophical support among several councilors, most agreed that there's nowhere from which to pull additional money.

"I'm frustrated with looking at some of these numbers, too," Councilor at Large Pete White said. "[But] the money's just not there."

The department's $8 million budget won preliminary approval from councilors, with Rivers and Connell voting in opposition.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berskhireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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