Tyer updates Pittsfield City Council on plans for pot taxes, school buildings and trash

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PITTSFIELD — Recreational cannabis is brand new, and so is the revenue stream that comes with it.

That's why, city officials said Tuesday, they will take the next six months to examine revenue trends before deciding how to spend the money marijuana brings to Pittsfield. Mayor Linda Tyer and city councilors also fleshed out new details on possible school consolidation, a backup plan for waste management and a year-old business development position at City Hall.

The conversation around marijuana taxes stems from a petition filed in February by Councilors Chris Connell and Melissa Mazzeo, who suggested setting aside 50 percent of the revenue stream for annual road work. Usually, the city ends up borrowing about $2 million a year to maintain city streets.

But after a meeting between Tyer, Connell and Finance Director Matt Kerwood, officials agree it's appropriate to take more time with the decision.

Tyer proposed a "six-month pause" on the conversation, allowing her team time to monitor marijuana tax revenue trends through September and then submit a collection report to councilors for further discussion.

Schools and solid waste

Councilors are interested in talking about what needs to happen with Pittsfield's aging school buildings, but Tyer told them construction remains ongoing at the new Taconic High School. Tyer said contractors are doubling back and fixing minor issues, like repairing improperly installed doors and incomplete baseboards.

Deciding what to do about three of the city's elementary schools are her next priority, she and Superintendent Jason McCandless said in a formal response to Ward 6 Councilor John Krol's call for an update on school building needs. Issues are most pressing at Crosby Elementary School, Conte Community School and Morningside Community School, Tyer told councilors.

"I think that these three schools in particular have been neglected for a long time," she said.

While acknowledging "deplorable" conditions in at least one of those elementary schools, Krol said he hoped the city could take a broader view, including the infrastructure issues at Pittsfield High School and the countywide school enrollment decline.

"I think in Pittsfield we can walk and chew gum at the same time," he said.

Connell said he'd like to talk more often about school buildings, especially given the opportunity for consolidation.

"I'd like to see that brought up on a more regular basis," he said.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi had separately requested an update from Tyer about what the city would do if Covanta closed and was no longer able to process the city's trash.

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The city faced this dilemma in 2016 and worked with the state to offer incentives that helped the company keep their Pittsfield doors open. Those efforts protected the plant from closure through January 2021.

Now, Tyer said, she's confident in the plant's ability to meet the city's needs in the future and that it remains a viable business.

But if Covanta decides to close or leave Pittsfield, she said in a letter to councilors, the city would have little choice but to pay an estimated $462,000 a year to truck city trash to an outside processing facility.

"We would certainly turn to our state partners for assistance ... ," Tyer said during the Tuesday meeting, if "in this predicament again."

In business

In response to a petition from Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, the city's Business Development Manager Michael Coakley also took time during the meeting to give councilors a presentation about his work over the last year.

Ushering Wayfair into Pittsfield was his "biggest accomplishment" to date, he said, noting the 300 jobs it plans to bring to Pittsfield over the coming years.

He told the council that his job revolves around fielding inquiries from companies looking to relocate or expand into Pittsfield, as well as stirring up more interest around doing business in the city. Conversations along these lines have resulted in dozens of meetings around the state, he said.

He said he's also convened the "red carpet team" — a group Tyer put together to welcome new business — at least 10 times.

"Each one of these opportunities remain in play," he said of ongoing talks with companies.

In response to a question from Krol, Coakley said challenges to attracting companies include both a lack of housing options and a skilled workforce.

The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp. also contribute resources toward Coakley's work marketing Pittsfield.

Morandi said he's happy Coakley is working to get the word out about Pittsfield, that "we're here; we've got a lot happening and we'd like you to come here."

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


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