|North Adams Council Differs On Budget Process|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
04:27PM / Wednesday, May 23, 2012
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee will begin review of the $36 million fiscal 2013 budget on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
The committee will meet again on Thursday at the same time and twice in June. The North Adams School Committee will hold a public hearing on the school budget on Tuesday, June 5, at 6 in the conference room in the lower level of the Silvio O. Conte Middle School.
Mayor Richard Alcombright submitted the budget draft at Tuesday's City Council meeting, with the request it be referred to the Finance Committee for review.
Councilor John Barrett III objected to the way the budget was being submitted, saying it should be presented as an order to the council. "I don't know any other city that does it this way," he said.
"It's the role of the executive to submit an order to this council," continued Barrett, a former mayor. "Any action that you take is irrelevant, doesn't mean anything and is not accurate or reflective."
(A quick search turned up Chicopee's mayor submitting a draft proposal last year; Chelsea's [non-mayoral] charter requires a "coordinated budget process." The budget presented to the Holyoke council this year appears to be a more formal document, but the council plans extensive hearings on it.)
Barrett said his issue wasn't with the budget or the mayor but how it was being presented. It was up to the executive to defend his spending plan before the council, said Barrett, and that it should accurately reflect spending, noting the council had not yet seen the next year's compensation and classification plan.
Alcombright that if the council wanted an order he would bring it forward, but he thought this was a way for the council to go through the budget "line by line."
"I'm not asking them to do the work for me," he said. "I'm asking them to provide the checks and balances."
Alcombright over his past three years in office has submitted draft spending plans for lengthy review by the Finance Committee, along with department heads to explain their budgets. The final drafts have passed with little or no discussion by the council.
His predecessor did not agree with the mayor's consensus-building approach.
"This is not a process where we negotiate," countered Barrett. "This is a process of you submitting your budget and telling us why you believe you need that money to operate."
Alcombright anticipated submitting it as an order to the council on June 12 along with the compensation and classification plans, as he said has been done in the past. When the order is submitted, the budget will have been fully vetted said the mayor.
"I would say that the Finance Committee deliberations are only irrelevant if what we say and our input are disregarded," said Councilor Lis Blackmer, a committee member. She said in the past the council hadn't had time to review, recalling (erroneously) that Barrett's last budget had to be voted on the June 30 deadline. "I think this process gives us an opportunity ... I don't think it's illegal, it may not be the way it's been done but it gives everybody, including the public, a chance to have some input."
Barrett and Blackmer quibbled over when Barrett had actually submitted the 2010 budget. According to our files, the 2010 fiscal budget was presented to and voted on by the council on Thursday, June 25, 2009; the 2009 budget was presented on June 10, 2008.
Councilor David Bond, also on the Finance Committee, said the review have been instructive.
"I've enjoyed the meeting the last two years to see how the budget works," he said. "Even if it just serves as an eduational means ... it's helped me and a few others to understand how this document works."
In other business:
• Councilor Nancy Bullett read a statement expressing her concern over the tone of recent meetings. "What I find troubling is the communication style," she said, and while it's fine to disagree, personal attacks should be out of bounds.
• The council approved an application by Joseph Guertin to drive a taxi for David Smith.
• The council postponed action on a communication from the Traffic Commission on extra handicapped parking spots at the request of Bullett. The councilor had brought the issue to the commission but said she had not been informed of the last meeting. Blackmer asked that committees and boards make a habit out of informing councilors and citizens who brought forward a specific issue when those topics are on their agendas.
• Postponed discussion until July on delinquent property taxes at the request of Finance Committee Chairman Alan Marden. Marden said the committee is continuing to review the isssue.
• The mayor read a proclamation from last week's National Nursing Home Week that acknowledged the "living history" and precious resources residing the city's nursing home.
• Gave final approval to a compensation and classification plan reflecting a two-year retroactive contract with the police union. The cost is $28,000.
• Councilor Jennifer Breen Kirsch was absent.