|North Adams Council Balances Year, Debates Budget Process|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
01:18AM / Wednesday, July 11, 2012
|The debate at Tuesday's City Council meeting became somewhat heated near the end. |
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday night approved nearly $400,000 in transfers from accounts to balance the fiscal 2012 budget — but not without another lengthy debate over the process.
Mayor Richard Alcombright and his predecessor, now Councilor John Barrett III, rarely see eye to eye on city finances.
Councilor John Barrett III has continued to object to what he says is a faulty process and a failure of the council to perform its oversight responsibilities regarding the budget and salaries.
On Tuesday, he pointed to the transfers orders from Mayor Richard Alcombright received minutes before as indicative of faulty budgeting and possibly illegal expenditures.
"What I'm concerned about is he's asking for almost $400,000 in transfers and this is the first time I've looked at it," Barrett said, calling for the transfers to be referred to the Finance Committee. "I just thought it should be looked at ... if I had received it on Friday or even yesterday, I would have been better prepared."
Alcombright said his finance team had been working up until today getting all the figures together. The transfers are from unexpended accounts to overexpended accounts.
"If I could have had them to you last Friday in the packet you would have had them," he said, adding that the accounts had to be balanced by the state deadline of Friday, July 15. If the council wanted to wait until Friday, he was amenable, but said he was ready to answer any questions right now. "It's ready, it's here."
The discussion fell into what has become a predictable pattern between the former mayor and the current mayor: An inability to agree on nearly anything. For example, Alcombright said the state deadline was July 15; Barrett, that it could go to August.
Barrett has often found himself as the lone vote — with an occasional supporter — during the last months, something he acknowledged during the meeting. He said his purpose in running for council had been to ensure that taxpayers' questions were answered.
"The mayor has every right to come in and stand by his budget and we have the right to question it," he said. "What I'm saying is I would just like the council not to be adversarial but to ensure they do their job."
Finance Committee Chairman Alan Marden again countered that his committee had reviewed the budget over five meetings. "You weren't there," he said. "I stand by what we've done."
Councilor Lisa Blackmer, a member of the committee, said many of the questions over line item overexpenditures were raised at the budget meetings. She did, however, ask about several others including $37,452 for the transfer station (new software and engineering plans for improvements), building inspector (salary had been billed to the wrong department) and overages in seasonal workers (the mayor said because of last year's budget issues the city had tried to do with less seasonal staff, such as lifeguards, but could not).
Barrett said raises for city employees weren't being fairly meted out and some were not being paid according to the compensation plan.
Barrett said such overages should have been brought to the council and that spending money not available was illegal. He pointed to the hiring of an employee, John Barrett, at the water works for $28,867 as something that should have come to the council for approval.
Alcombright said he had kept the Finance Committee informed and that that employee had left, been rehired for his still open post in the Department of Public Works then transferred. Barrett insisted that was not the case.
"I believe we've always done transfers at that the end of the year," said Alcombright. "I don't believe there are anything unusual in what I'm asking here tonight."
The council approved the transfer of $399,205.66 from unexpended accounts and the transfer of $256,949.75 from stabilization into public safety (salaries) and public services (water works expenses) as previously discussed. Both votes were 8-1 with Councilor Jennifer Breen opposed; Barrett said he did not accept the explanations but did not want to bring everyone back on Friday.
Barrett's request for the compensation and classification plan to be discussed — he has objected to certain raises he said the committee did not review and says the plan does not match what is actually being paid — was amended to be referred to the Finance Committee. The vote was 8-1 with Councilor Keith Bona opposed.
Alcombright said the Finance Committee had more important work than to keep going over the same things.
"This has been six months of this is the way I did it opposed to this is the way I do it," said Alcombright. "It's got to stop — we're just spinning our wheels over process."
In other business,
• The council approved the placement of utility poles across a public ways on the Mohawk Trail and at Hodges Cross Road. Bonnie Brown of National Grid said the utility needed to add poles because the longer span of line was no longer allowed and because of upgrading as part of the state's broadband project.