NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Sprague Electric is not coming back and the city needs to focus on the future, Mayor Richard Alcombright told a crowd gathered at Greylock School to debate the Proposition 2 1/2 override vote.
Residents badgered Alcombright for nearly two hours Monday, citing a lack of business growth and declining population as reasons for additional cuts to the $35.5 million budget. One resident accused the city of inflating its payroll since Sprague Electric left the city more than 20 years ago.
"The woe is me about Sprague has to end," Alcombright retorted. "There are 40 to 45 percent less people in City Hall now."
A major boon to the area like Sprague, which employed thousands more than two decades ago, is not going to come back and the city will need to find ways to encourage other industries, he said. As for the city's payroll, he said many, many jobs have been cut over the years and not just in City Hall. The Department of Public Works decreased from 42 to 16 employees in that timeframe, he said.
However, Alcombright added that he is "not giving up on light manufacturing just yet." There are opportunities for green jobs — such as building and installing solar panels — that the city will try to reel in, he said.
Residents pleaded that he "trim the fat" out of the city budget and mentioned ways to do so. One idea was to cut the police budget because of the smaller population. Alcombright, however, said he would not be comfortable reducing that staff more because the city has the same type of urban crime as any other metropolis.
While the crowd debated the similarities to a city like Holyoke, City Councilor Lisa Blackmer researched the Holyoke Police Department on her cell phone and said there are at least 100 more officers employed there. Holyoke has 26 superior officers, 97 officers and 12 reserves while its population is only around 44,000.
"If anything we are underfunded in the Police Department," Blackmer said.
Alcombright contested that the city has reduced its budget by $600,000 and is continually chipping away at the amount the city will need above the 2 1/2 percent levy limit.
While the override vote is for $1.2 million, it is looking like the city will need only about $966,000 of that to set the budget, he said. He reiterated that since the $1.2 million figure was set — in order to provide enough time for the regulated hearings and notices — the city was able to reduce the deficit by level-funding pensions, eliminating the commissioner of public safety position and by the teachers giving back their 1 percent raise.
The newest version of budget — which includes the school budgets — will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday. Monday's meeting was the fourth in a series of six public meetings on the override vote scheduled for June 21 and, despite the anger showed by some residents Monday night, most of the attendees seemed in favor of the override.
Those in favor said it was a move that would better position the city for the future.
But the golden days of manufacturing was not the only past brought up. One resident angrily accused Alcombright of putting all the blame for the financial situation on former Mayor John Barrett III. Alcombright was part of the City Council and therefore has to shoulder some of the blame, the resident said.
"Since day one, I have stayed clear of blaming the past mayor," Alcombright said. "The blame is on the loss of revenue from the state."
Alcombright added that he voted against using reserve funds to balance the budget in prior years and that disagreement was a reason he ran against Barrett in 2009.
"I ran for mayor because I didn't like using reserve funds. I am not pointing at the mayor — that was the way he managed. I manage differently," Alcombright said.
Note that information on absentee ballots for the override vote on Tuesday, June 21, can be found in the sidebar at right. The next public hearing is Wednesday, June 15, at Drury High School at 7 p.m.
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I was pleased with the information presented to those of us in attendance. We are fortunate to have a mayor with financial experience to lead us through very difficult times. We may question the information provided, but there is never any reason to be disrespectful to the Mayor.
I was born during the depression and know about growing up in very tough times when my father was laid off from the Arnold Print Works and worked under WPA. There was no unemployment or Section 8, families struggled and made it through to better times. We can do this again, a YES vote on Proposition 2 1/2 will provide us with the ability to maintain the services we now have and help us to grow into a vibrant, caring community.
Hats off to the gentleman who spoke early on last night(I do not remember your name, but your daughter is a high honor student). You hit the nail right on the head with your comments. Also, I hope the city publishes how much they received in land sales today....let's put that toward the $966k deficit and see where we stand. NO NEW TAXES
Oh Dicky, if only you could get off your tax as a first option liberal pedestal and face facts. 1) There is no such thing as these fabled \"green jobs.\" 2) Raising taxes on a population who is already hurting more than the average economy is not going to help things. If anything it will reduce the population even further as more and more people seek to flee North Adams for greener pastures. 3) Look at alternate sources of income for the city and stop attacking those successful enough to own their home. 4.) Raise the price of school lunch and charge the kids to ride the school bus so that those who actually use the public schools have to contribute something. 5) Have more fund raisers inside the schools or have public events on school grounds that raise money for the schools. 6) Stop giving the unions raises when others have had to take pay cuts. 7) Institute furloughs for non-essential city employees. 8) Eliminate discretionary spending in schools on things like paper, pens and notebooks. Pupils should be expected to purchase all of their own supplies. 9) Sell off city-owned land. 10) Stop collecting a salary. I\'ve given ten possibilities. Dicky can only come up with one: raise taxes.
Ok Alcombright.. Obviously YOU have no kids in the school system! Prices of lunch are raised $2 for lunch x 5 days is $10/ wk .. Kids do supply their own paper/pens..etc.. haven't you ever been to Walmart or other stores where they list the school supplies?!?! Pay for the school buses?? You complain about raising taxes, yet You want people like me, who are the working class poor to shell out MORE money on a daily basis that would probably end up being more for the year than the tax hike?!? Just becuase I have a kid in school?!?!?
I'm not sure which way I am voting yet.. but I wish people would just stick to facts and come up with some "REAL" aternatives then your list above!
We will still have the 6th lowest in the state for tax bills if the vote passes. If peole don't like it their choices are limited on where to move. Many states don't have a prop 2 1/2 rule and can raise their taxes as they need to without a public vote. Our state passes a law that won't allow cities and towns to increase their tax levy more than 2 1/2 percent, but the state can cut their aid to us 10-20 percent without a vote. What rocket scientist came up with that one. State and federal government brag they made cuts, but all they did is pass the buck onto the individual cities and towns.
I am so sick of people comparing North Adams to Holyoke. They are not even close. Holyoke has 40,000 people, we have fewer than 20,000 without the college students. We're half the size, we don't have a large shopping mall as our "anchor" taxpayer, nor do we have the large box stores that surround it, like Holyoke does. They have a lot more police because they also have one of the highest crime rates in the state. Pittsfield and Holyoke are much closer in comparison when it comes to population and SOME other factors. And as for other comparisons, such as us having "the 6th lowest tax bill in the state..." we also have one of the lowest per capita incomes in the state, much lower than our Berkshire neighbors. This vote is as much about affordability as anything else, a point seemingly lost on those in favor of the override. I cannot afford another tax increase and it's time the city did SOMETHING other than always go to the "higher" taxes and fees well.
The state underfunds cities and towns these days, similar to the Feds, in an effort to "change behaviors" or encourage structural changes within the framework of municipal government. It's become clearly understood that many municipal governments are grossly inefficient and tend to carry a good number of entitlement programs that they just can't unload. Coupled with outstanding debt, insurance costs for current AND RETIRED employees in some cases and retirement funding concerns, the cost of and how we conduct our business needs to change radically or taxes will continue to grow up. Ideally, the state wants to see pockets of regionalization and merging of government services amongst smaller communities. Now is NOT the time to increase taxes to continue to fund inefficient government. But it is also time for the state to be honest about this "behavioral change" its trying to leverage in tandem with perception of where it stands financially. As the stock market has improved, gas tax revenues increase as a result of higher prices and resulting tax receipts and consumer consumption improves, the state financial position really isn't as dire as they promote. They just simply want us to change and the only way that gets done these days is by inflicting "pain" on the masses.
8th lowest tax rate in Massachustts. This, by the way, is one of the reasons we need an override. The override will support a budget LOWER than the previous year. Vote for the future of North Adams, and Vote For The Schools!
I had to laugh when the Mayor said he hasn't blamed Barrett when in fact he has blamed him in every presentation. How often has he used the word mismanagement to describe the prior administration. The funny thing is he shot himself in the foot when he tried to show the difference between himself and the prior Mayor. The key words Alcombright said, "...that was the way he(Barrett) managed. I manage differently". I guess I liked the way Barrett managed because it sure was cheaper and much more organized. In 18 months Alcombright has certainly shown he is a poor manager. Equally disturbing is he hasn't been very honest with the people of North Adams.
It is not the city's job to provide activities for its youth....I was fine growing up years ago in the 80's. We found our own activities (legal ones)...back then you were more scared of your parents finding out you did something bad than the police. IT DOES NOT TAKE A VILLAGE.
Dear Vote For the Schools - let's do another comparison: Per capita income by community:
North Adams - $16,381
Pittsfield - $20,549
Adams - $18,572
Cheshire - $19,156
Clarksburg - $19,389
Lee - $19,799
New Ashford - $28,323
Williamstown - $26,039
Lenox - $23,263
Now, which community do you think SHOULD have the lowest taxes, based on what its homeowners can pay? Please take an economics course. Tax rates are directly related to the value of overall property - our properties are valued lower than many other cities and towns because our population doesn't have the income to improve the housing stock as well as other towns do. Get it? Raising taxes further only hurts the economy, it's less money you and I have to spend locally. Tax increases do NOTHING to help the economy.
It was very interesting seeing how so many of the Just Say No crowd had no idea how to read a budget. The look on the one guy's face when the mayor had to inform him that this budget is smaller than the previous two, after being accused of wasting money, was worth the price of admission.
There is a lot of nonsense out there. There are no raises for department heads or non-union employees. There is no slush fund. Every penny is accounted for and the info is available online (unlike in years past). It was even more fun when Dick informed him that he had voted against John's use of the reserves. And then the little thing about the Superintendent's raise. 0 for 3. But the guy got to compare Dick to Obama!
And for the knucklehead who wants to charge for buses and raise the cost of lunch, etc.... He obviously has no idea what the law requires public schools to provide and at what levels.
The Sarah Palin crowd in North Adams is not the brightest.
All I know is the gentleman who spoke at Greylock last night and let the Mayor have it knew his facts. The Mayor and Bond stood there like deer in headlights as this fellow went through the budget. The Mayor not once questioned what was being said and looked like a fish out of water. The mean spirited teachers union is using all the smear tactics they can to win a yes vote. Look at today's paper and now we have the grandmother of Caproni signing a letter that she probably didn't even write. If the people vote no there will not be one penny cut in the school budget as there are plenty of reserves in the school department. I'm also ashamed of the tactics being used by the Alcombright people as they continue to put hard working people down. This city must defeat this override for a lot more reasons then just saving taxes. I hope the people of North Adams rise up and take their city back with a resounding no vote.
Editor: There are no reserves in the school budget other than what has already been discussed. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
First of all show some respect his name is Richard. You may not have voted for him but he did win. If you want the future of NA school children to do what you have suggested, don't be surprised in 10 years with the outcome. You get what you pay for. Also to not take a salary as mayor, you would then get what you didn't pay for.
So your economics would be to keep the taxes low and underfund public services, including public safety services and the schools. This is municipal economics, not private sector economics. Many of those communities have volunteer fire depts and no emergency services. Many of these communities do not have preK-12 education facilities and services. Underfunding services hurts the population. The fact remains, property taxes are among the very lowest in the state.
The override is for $1.2 million yet the city only need $966,000 according to the mayor last night. What happens to the roughly $250,000 difference? Do we vote on the lower # or does the difference still get charged to the taxpayers?
Editor: The tax rate is set based on the revenues required to fund the budget, not the override. The override allows the city to adjust the tax levy above 2 1/2 percent with a limit of $1.2 million. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
Excellent post! I just thanked Chris for writing that for his grandmother. Just looking at the wording, an 86 year old does not write like that. Trust me, I have an 86 year old grandmother.
Editor: You should not presume all grandmothers are alike. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
Again, Vote for the Schools, you clearly now show you don't get it. First of all, most of the communities I cited DO have emergency services and K-12 schools, including Pittsfield, Adams, Lee, Lenox, Williamstown. Their per capita incomes are HIGHER than ours, in many cases significantly higher, as are the incomes of Great Barrington, Sheffield, Becket and pretty much every other Berkshire town. Our per capita income is among the LOWEST in the STATE. Our residents, by and large, cannot afford another increase. Our taxes are lower by comparison because our housing stock is older and more dilapidated in many areas. I was in a meeting with the Mayor some months ago, and even he cited that fact. Whether you like it or not, North Adams has a higher population of low income residents than many other cities and towns, including low income homeowners who are now retired and living on fixed incomes.
Editor: I don't live here so the override doesn't affect me, although an increase in the commercial rate will affect my employer. I'm not taking sides, just making sure the facts are straight and priming the discussion. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
"Vote for your Money" - Again, many of the communities I listed have volumteer fire depts. Nothing wrong with that, but the "economics" are not comparable. And many do not have the full K-12 education facilities and services nor the size of North Adams. I get the per capita incomes, the old housing stock and the low income of residents. But none of this addresses the issue of funding of critical public services and schools for those same residents. Somebody has to pay for them; the taxpayers. That's the harsh reality of municipal economics.
There are reserves in the school budget whether you want to call it school choice or money not spent during the year. If you did a little research you would find that the school department has a surplus every year. If the Mayor says he is going to save money for 2013 I believe that in order to do that there must be funds available. If the school committee determines not to use this money then there will be cuts. If they would stand up to the Mayor instead of being weak then the budget will be funded. Tammy how did they pay for raises just given out? Answer, they had available funds in the budget. Where did it come from? Last year when the budget was passed no pay raises were included. Come on Tammy, figure it out.
The argument that per capita income in North Adams is low, is really a moot point. The budget is unaffected by per capita income. The fact is very simple that in recent years, the city has either: 1. Spent more than they "earned" aka collected through taxes or 2. Not collected enough to pay for the level of services the citizens have grown to expect. (how you choose to phrase it depends on your point of view on the issue, but it's all the same coin with two distinct sides)
The true question worth debating is whether we as citizens choose to live down to our meager means, and accept services worthy of a poor community, or do we demand better for ourselves and invest in the future of a city in which we all take pride. Rhetoric aside, there have clearly been large-scale cuts which WILL affect all aspects of municipal government, but additional revenues are not only required but long overdue.
It could be argued that the reason the per capita income in North Adams is so low, is because it has attracted a low-income demographic for many years, thanks in part to it's artificially low tax rate and subsequent low cost of living.
As the time nears to take this issue to the polls, don't be so intolerant as to not recognize a point of view which contradicts your own. The demographic in North Adams is changing, slowly but surely, and is what many in town have always dreamed about. With that demographic shift comes different priorities for it's citizens and the results will be determined in the only way Americans have ever known. A Vote. Regardless of the outcome, I applaud Mayor Alcombright for bringing the issue to the public, not once, but six times, and allowing the citizens to share their concerns.
My personal stance: Vote Yes. Invest in YOUR community. DEMAND more for yourself than resorting to excuses and poor man's logic. If you want less municipal services, move into an area that provides none, more likely than not, you will still be paying more than you did in North Adams. "The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence, it is greener where it is watered." VOTE YES FOR YOUR NORTH ADAMS
50 How can anyone respect someone that in the worst economy in sixty years, when even the worst president we ever had has frozen the pay of federal employees our mayor has given out raises. Does the city have more money that the goverment??? It seems the mayor was just paying his supporters. A man who has said that, even if he had 4m dollars he would still go for the override ?? Anyone that would inflict financial hardship on people when it could be avoided does not deserve respect !!! The majority of the people that have spoken in favor of the override are tied to the mayors payroll. Because someone has a title of mayor or president does not mean they have to be respected. Respect is earned not paid for.
Editor: He said that because, for the hundredth time, using reserves again will not fix the deficit - it will keep coming back. Reserves were used for THREE YEARS but the hole in the budget is still there. You have to cut services or raise taxes. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
Editor I am sorry but for the hundredth time , anyone that would inflict financial hardship on people will never be respected except by the people who benefit from oters hardship. The mayor has done nothing but spend and give away taxpayers money. The only way to slow down his spending spree is to VOTE NO !!!!
Editor: He's not inflicting financial hardship. He's asking the VOTERS to inflict financial hardship. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
Dick Alcombright would have fixed the hole in the budget if he had not given pay raises and hired people when there was no money. He then could have used reserves to balance the budget. He has no idea on how to manage a city. He wants to renovate Conte and have a debt exclusion vote. This guy thinks money grows on trees. I would suggest the editor do some homework and find out how many towns used reserves to balance their budgets this year and you don\'t have to cut services or raise taxes. Alcombright makes it sound like something is wrong when you use reserves. The guy simply does not get it and unfortunately the press doesn\'t either.
Editor: I know municipalities use reserves to balance budgets. They don't use ALL of their reserves. If there's nothing left, what do you do next? Clarksburg has more money in its stabilization account than North Adams. That's not a good thing. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
Yes, Lets make a scapegoat of children. They\'ve only lost millions of dollars in a half of a decade
so lets have them bail us out again. Your a fool with no facts to back you up. maybe you should be more responsible : bring it i got statistics to take on your little opinion, I do not need a nickname to hide under
Editor: Thanks for bringing that to my attention. We thought it we had it fixed. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
Municipalities have been living off of bits and pieces of their "reserve" accounts for years...even during the "good times" of the 90's. It was common practice in Adams for nearly two decades to inflate certain departmental budgets so as to have sufficient excess to pad "free cash" so the tax rate could be "bought down" in the coming year. It was simply a bad practice that fell apart when money became tight and budgets needed to be tightended. Prudent fiscal management (not budgeting more $$ than what you take in) would have gone a long way toward showing taxpayers what things really cost vs. snowing them year after year with inflated $$ costs. Forget stabilization funds. Adams used all or most of it's earnings off stabilization investments to pay debt (hugely bad move) for the better part of a decade and then when rates dropped like a rock they had to start hitting stabilization principal until there is now next to nothing left to help offset current budget concerns. Elected officials today, unless they are MBA level financial management types, don't have a PRAYER of managing current municipal budgets. I certainly cannot blame our elected officials. They are WAY over their heads here and only have until the next election cycle to get it right. These issues developed over YEARS of bad financial management and won't be resolved in one year with one prop 2 1/2 override. Services and budgets either need to be pared back to a level that is affordable or cities and towns need to finally pay the bills their politicians have been racking up for years through higher taxes. Either way, what is today is simply not sustainable.
:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
:: General Election: Deadline to register is Tuesday, Oct. 18
Registration can be completed at the city clerk's office at City Hall.
Absentee ballots are now available at the city clerk's office for the Sept. 27 preliminary city election. Voters may come in between the hours of 8 and 4:30 weekdays. Written reguests for mailed ballots can be sent to City Clerk's Office, 10 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Deadline for absentee ballots is Monday, Sept. 26, at noon.
The preliminary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 27, to narrow the field of three mayoral candidates to two. The general election to select nine city councilors and a mayor will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8.