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North Adams Rejects Override Proposal
Tammy Daniels,
10:30PM / Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Supporters and opponents of the override were in a good mood on Tuesday.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Voters rejected a $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override by 577 votes on Tuesday, sending city officials back to the drawing board to plug a $957,000 hole in the 2012 budget.

"This is a democracy, this is why people are able to make these choices, and we'll respect the choice," said a disappointed Mayor Richard Alcombright, who vowed to "look under every rock" for savings and revenue (yes, taxes will still go up). "I was hoping, hoping beyond hope I guess, for a different outcome."

His concern was that the city was continuing to "kick the can down the road" by not dealing with the loss of revenues. The same hurdles will be there next year, he said.

"We're not going to be able to fund things that we want to fund, we're not going to be able to continue things that we want to continue, and we know darn well the revenues aren't going to come back," the mayor said. "At best, next year we're level funded [by the state] which is still a 3 percent step back."

The mayor was busy answering two phones after the election results came in.

Outspoken opponent Robert Cardimino, on the other hand, was jubilant. "It sent a message to City Hall," he said.

The city has seen its state aid drop by more than $3 million and revenues decline even as costs have continued to rise. With no significant reserves left, the mayor proposed a Proposition 2 1/2 override that would have increased the city's levy limit to raise more taxes to match revenues to spending.

The override, on top of last year's 10 percent property tax increase, water rate increase and implementation of a sewer fee, had a segment of the population howling.

"I can't afford to lose my house," said Robert Martel, who was standing outside St. Elizabeth's Parish Center with a large "NO" sign. "My taxes have gone up $667."

The question has divided the city, with harsh words at public meetings and allegations of scare tactics. At least one landlord reportedly handed out fliers warning tenants their rent would be hiked if the override passed.

Vote Totals Yes
No
Ward 1 251 367
Ward 2 292 369
Ward 3 185 250
Ward 4 304 503
Ward 5 203 323
 
  1,235 1,812


The results came quickly as the override was defeated by at least 70 votes in each of the four wards stationed at the parish center. Ward 4, at Greylock Elementary School, rejected it even more decisively by 200 votes.

The final tally was 1,812 against and 1,235 for, with 36 percent of registered voters casting ballots. The vote wasn't quite as harsh as in Cheshire, which defeated a $200,000 override 2 to 1 on Monday night, but it wasn't far off.

Election wardens were mixed on how the vote might be going; the diversity of the voting population made it difficult to get a forecast on the outcome.

Ken O'Brien, head warden at St. Elizabeth's, said the turnout had been steady throughout the day with voters ranging from the very young to the very old; a large number voters brought their children.

Over in Greylock, Warden Christine Petrie said the bulk of the votes — some 500 — had been cast by around noon, with a couple eager voters ready an hour before the polls opened at 9. "There was a woman here with a baby 4 days old and another woman who said she was 95."

By all accounts, there was little hesitation in checking off yes or no for the one question on the ballot. Some didn't even bother using the voting booths; "One man marked the ballot in his hand and walked right to the box," said Assistant Clerk Jane Wise.

"As a parent, I'm really concerned," said Drury High School Principal Amy Meehan, who has spoken in support of the override at some of the six information sessions held over the last few weeks. "I think that North Adams is a good place to raise children but I don't know what the city is going to do to close the shortfall.

Alcombright congratulated Robert Cardimino on the outcome, but Cardimino couldn't resist jabbing the mayor again with his claims of 'scare tactics.' We call unsportsmanlike conduct.

"Voter turnout was so low, I'm very disappointed ... this is going to be a longtime loss for all."

Alcombright said he was going to "take some very, very deep breaths and try to absorb where we are" and then meet with school administrators and department heads to craft another spending plan to present to the City Council by the second meeting in July. A list of cuts already presented to the public will be on the table.

"The biggest challenge now is the school getting down to minimize spending; that means we have to find a half-million or so in the city budget and that is near and next to impossible," he said. "... but we will and we'll make it work."

He was unshaken by a major setback in only his second year in office; he'd spent weeks trying to persuade voters to make a difficult choice that would directly affect their wallets.

"It's probably just more than people were willing to absorb," he said. "You try to minimize by saying the average would be $195 a year, but it's still 195 bucks out of somebody's wallet. ... Even a win would have been bittersweet: you passed your budget, you move forward, however, you're throwing this liability on thousands of people."

Please be aware that we have closed comments on past override stories to keep the conversation up to date.

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