|North Adams Begins Fiscal 2013 Budget Review|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
01:25AM / Thursday, May 24, 2012
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's proposed spending plan for fiscal 2013 is $1,073,000 up from last year and about $270,000 out of balance.
The Finance Committee reviewed the budget with Mayor Richard Alcombright and Treasurer David Fierro Jr., at right. Committee member David Bond was absent.
"We have some work ahead of us," said Finance Committee Chairman Alan Marden as the committee began the first of four meetings to review the proposed spending plan. He noted that council can only cut from the budget but it can request that the mayor increase line items.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the largest increases were in veterans services ($150,000), health insurance ($75,000), Hoosac Water Quality District ($45,000), pensions ($136,000) and the school budget ($400,000).
"Of that $1,070,000 or so, these are basically attributable to those five sources," said the mayor. He expected to put $250,000 in free cash toward the budget and use reserve accounts to cover the $269,000 shortfall.
"I feel more comfortable using reserves ... We're just better capitalized this year," said the mayor, noting last year's shortfall was $428,000.
The free cash account currently has $737,000 in it, $300,000 which is allocated to the stabilization fund; the city should have more than $600,000 in that account.
The committee spent about 90 minutes reviewing line items mostly for the General Government and the Department of Public Services with the mayor, Administrative Officer Michael Canales, Treasurer David Fierro Jr. and Commissioner of Public Services Timothy Lescarbeau. A few citizens and Councilors Nancy Bullett and Marie Harpin were also in attendance.
The city has about $180,000 in the overlay account, used as a cushion for uncollected taxes.
"The city sets aside about 1.2 percent of the budget for people who don't pay their taxes," said Canales. With 2009 collections only short $8,000 now, there is an extra $120,000 in that account. "We're going to be able to take that money and use it for whatever the City Council wants us to use it for."
|* The proposed fiscal 2013 budget is up $1.07 million over this year, or 3 percent
* The amount to be raised by taxation is $13.7 million, up about $400,000, or just over 3 percent from this year.
The mayor said the city is approaching its 10-year full revaluation and would like that money set aside to cover the costs.
The proposed budget restores stipends for councilors and boards and committees that were reduced to a $1 last fiscal year. It also reflects the full salary for the adminsitrative assistant ($62,179), cut in half while the post was vacant, and gives a raises to the auditor ($5,500), to make his salary comparable to the assessor, and to the assistant information systems manager ($6,000) to better reflect his responsibilities and retain him.
The mayor said he had proposed a raise for the veterans agent as well, which was agreed to by Adams and Williamstown, which share his services.
The water department has also added on another worker at a cost of about $30,000, and public services seasonal employees will be paid from one account. Lescarbeau said it was too difficult to track which department they were working out of since most of them were mowing — at the cemetery, in the parks, along the roads, etc.
In response to a question from the audience, he said the number of laborers and working foreman in his department totaled 25. That's down from about 77 some years ago.
The mayor is proposing that nonunion personnel will see a 1 percent raise July 1 and 1 percent raise Jan. 1, with an expected 1.5 percent the following year.
Councilor Marie Harpin inquired about a stipend for City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau for recording the meetings.
"There was a discussion last year but it never came to fruition," said Alcombright, who recommended the council take up the matter.
Blackmer and Bullett both to restore funding for more councilors to attend the Massachusetts Municipal Association conference. Six had attended this past cycle, but the mayor cut the amount down two. His reasoning was that there would not be any new councilors this year that would need the experience.
Blackmer said the conferences were very informative because councilors got interact and learn from a range of municipal officials. Bullett was concerned that if the funding was removed, "it might be more difficult to go back to what it's supposed to be."
The mayor said he would consider restoring funding for four councilors.
He also said, in response to a question from the audience, that he would begin negotiating health insurance premiums with unions as now allowed by law. The city had been locked into a contractual agreement to settle prior funding questions about its share of the premiums; that agreement will expire at the end of this fiscal year.
The committee will review the public safety budget on Thursday, May 23, at 5 p.m. in council chambers. It will review the school budget on Tuesday, June 6, and finalize its recommendations on Wednesday, June 7, both at 5 p.m.
"We'll review all our votes because we may have a better understanding on the totality of the budget and we may have more information on the state side," said Marden.