Pittsfield city coffers are on the up and up

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PITTSFIELD — Things are looking up for the city of Pittsfield.

State aid is up by nearly $4 million heading into the budget season for fiscal year 2020, and the city's overall property valuation is up by about 3 percent.

And the books never have looked better, said Thomas Scanlon, the city's certified public accountant, during a joint meeting of the City Council and School Committee on Wednesday. The joint meeting happens annually and offers a look at what the city has to work with heading into budget season.

When Mayor Linda Tyer took office in 2016, she said after the meeting, she inherited quite a financial predicament. Now "we have been able to stabilize the situation," she said.

"It really is a hallmark of some really hard work," she said. And, "it's gotta continue."

Adding wind to the city's sails is a $3.7 million increase in Chapter 70 funding, the state's mechanism for doling out school funding. The state also is kicking in an additional $241,035 in unrestricted aid, Finance Director Matt Kerwood told city leaders.

Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo wondered if this influx was "a one-time shot in the arm," but Kerwood said he didn't think so.

"My reading of the tea leaves would indicate there will be some action on Chapter 70," referencing legislative momentum around revisiting the state's school funding formula.

Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason McCandless said the current formula hasn't kept up with increased costs associated with educating students receiving special education services and those coming from economically disadvantaged households, as well as soaring health care costs. He said he believed that the city is seeing increases in state aid for its schools because Pittsfield has more of a load to bear in those areas.

School Committee Chairwoman Kathy Yon said Gov. Charlie Baker is responding to the heat he's feeling from school leaders and advocates, and that's something he should continue to feel.

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"Keep the pressure on, and keep the voices loud," she said.

All told, Kerwood said, revenues are up $6.4 million over last year's numbers. But the expense side remains unclear.

The city's total valuation, a cumulative sum of the city's total property value, rose to $3.58 billion over the past year, reflecting an increase of about 3 percent.

"That's pretty significant," Paula King, the city's assessor, told officials.

Scanlon pointed to increases in property tax revenue as a positive sign, as well as a tax levy capacity on the rebound — the city's ability to tax increased by $3.2 million over the past fiscal year, to a maximum of $91.3 million that the city can raise through taxation in fiscal year 2020.

Still, Kerwood said the city is among a handful of others statewide that are at the levy ceiling, and now comes the time when city departments put together their budget requests. Departmental budgets are due Feb. 15.

One question looming, Kerwood noted, is what to do with some of the city's aging buildings.

"We have a multitude of buildings, and many of them are tired," he said.

Tyer said after the meeting that she's proud of progress to date on the state of the city's finances, but there's more work to do.

"It's not as dire as it once was " she said. "But it requires us to stay alert."

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


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