Seeking a bit more of a dive, North Adams council delays vote on fiscal 2020 budget

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NORTH ADAMS — Facing a few outstanding questions and wary of making on-the-fly revisions, the City Council on Tuesday postponed a vote on Mayor Thomas Bernard's fiscal 2020 budget.

Bernard spotted an error in his proposal before Tuesday's council meeting began, a mistake that would have required several adjustments to be made live from the council floor.

Meanwhile, Councilor Marie T. Harpin, who chairs the Finance Committee, requested a delay so the council could have more time to review information provided by the mayor's office in recent weeks, including a three-year capital spending plan. She also expressed a desire to request additional changes to the budget.

The budget is due by the end of June.

Harpin critiqued the mayor's budget for failing to reinvest back into infrastructure nearly $1 million of debt that had fallen from the city's budget this year.

"If we take out the amount of debt that actually came off the books, the increase in our operating budget is actually over $1 million; it's a 2.65 percent increase," Harpin said.

Harpin recommended postponing the budget vote until the June 25 meeting so that the Finance Committee could review a three-year capital spending plan authored by the administration at the committee's request.

"I think the city really needs it, and we need to establish a plan to get it done," Harpin said of infrastructure investment in areas such as roads, water and sidewalks.

The fiscal spending plan increases city spending to $40.8 million, a 0.22 percent increase from the previous year.

As was the case with his first budget last year, Bernard has described his fiscal 2020 spending plan as a "maintenance" budget, eschewing major capital investments.

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The Finance Committee had recommended increasing Bernard's salary by $4,000, from $84,470 to $88,470. But adjusting the mayor's salary would require a change in city ordinance, and Bernard told the council there would not be sufficient time to complete an ordinance change before the budget is due at the end of June.

"This has not been increased in over 12 years, so this increase would actually keep that salary competitive and it would maintain the integrity of the office," said Harpin, who argued that there was sufficient time to make the change.

Harpin suggested that the raise could take effect in January — after the mayoral election.

The council is expected to take the revised budget, which will account for the error highlighted by Bernard.

Under his proposal, Bernard's administrative assistant's salary was set to increase from $47,835 to $51,936. The Finance Committee balked, suggesting that her increase be limited to 3 percent, or $1,810.

On Tuesday, Bernard rescinded the request.

Due to an error, the city's finance team had believed that Administrative Assistant Michelle Ells was entering year five under the city's classification and compensation. Bernard told the council Tuesday that Ells, who was hired as a year-two employee in 2018 and started 2019 as a year three, should have been listed under this year's budget as a year four.

Instead of the proposed $51,936 salary, Ells is set to earn $49,522 next year.

The council unanimously voted to delay a vote on the budget until June 25. A Finance Committee meeting has yet to be scheduled.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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