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North Adams Will Take 2021 Budget Month by Month
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
04:00AM / Tuesday, June 23, 2020
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is moving to a 1/12th budget for at least the first two months of fiscal 2021 based on new information from the state Department of Revenue. 
Mayor Thomas Bernard had initially presented a "placeholder" budget that is basically level funded to this year's rather than attempting a month-by-month spending plan. That budget was expected to be reduced once the state came forward with municipal and school aid figures. 
"Last week, when we were talking about it, I was still resisting, and then today, a bulletin came out from the Division of Local Services that indicated that the state has has come to an agreement that our local aid numbers will stay at the fiscal year '20 levels for July and August," the mayor said after Monday's Finance Committee meeting. "The feeling was we weren't getting a lot of clear signals, then the fog cleared at 9 a.m. this morning."
Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday submitted a $5.25 billion supplemental spending bill to keep government running into at least July. The House and Senate have yet to fully craft a new budget after discarding the original spending plan because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
"The feeling I get from this is that a 1/12th continuation budget makes sense for right now, and my team agreed," the mayor said. 
Municipalities and regional school districts have been bracing for cuts as projected state revenues have fallen by an estimated $6 billion. 
In North Adams, the School Department had prepared four scenarios for reductions ranging from 10 percent to a possible 15 percent below level funding. With the news on Monday, Superintendent Barbara Malkas said the School Committee on Tuesday night will be presented with a level-funded budget.
"I think it's important to note that level fund is not necessarily level service," she told the Finance Committee. "So for us to get to a level fund there are still some considerations and decisions that will need to be made around how we're allocating our resources. ...
"I think the good news is, is that it would put us in a really great place to be." 
Malkas is anticipating more detailed reopening guidance through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as early as Tuesday. 
With a level-funded budget, she said, "we will be able to keep our grade configuration, keep our schools open and ensure that we're able to bring students back this fall in a safe way by not having very large class sizes."
The budget scenarios had proposed reconfiguring grades at Brayton and Greylock schools and, in the worst case, closing one of the three elementary schools. 
James Brosnan, superintendent of the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District, said 1/12th budgets are no stranger to regional districts since there are times when some member towns can have trouble passing budgets before the end of the fiscal year.
In addition to North Adams, district members Adams, Cheshire and Williamstown are also doing month-by-month to start fiscal 2021.
"We will be prepared to use the same kind of assessments for the city and all other members based on a 1/12th budget," Brosnan said. "DESE still has not approved the 1/12th number for all of us ... They have the numbers, they will come back and say this is what you will assess out to members. So we're waiting for that information as well and as soon as that comes out we will inform you."
The Finance Committee had planned for three meetings to review the $41,000,236 proposed budget that is up only $194,698 over this year. Monday night was a review of general government, the school budget and the assessment to McCann Technical School. 
Chairwoman Marie T. Harpin said the mayor had informed her of the news in the afternoon. 
"I was very concerned as I looked at the budget, trying to figure out where the receipts were going to be coming from as we didn't have some definite information from the state, but that changed today," she said. "The mayor actually called me and asked how we felt about a 1/12th budget and I was very happy that he brought that up because I think it's the best way that the city can move forward."
The committee voted to recommend the continuation budget to the full City Council.
A 1/12th budget will allow the city to set spending per month based on this year's budget. Bernard said his financial team will be looking over the plan to see what accounts can be used early and what others can be budgeted for later in the year, such as snow and ice.
"We will put extra money into our insurance line because when we prepay our general insurance we get an early payment discount. So we'll preserve that savings," he said. 
Each monthly plan will have to be submitted to the Department of Revenue for approval but Bernard isn't sure yet of the approval process at the local level -- whether he can submit and inform the council or if the City Council has to approve before submission. 
Either way, he expects to request a special meeting of the City Council for next week to present the spending plan for July. The council will meet Tuesday night but the budget is not on the agenda and the process and plan may not ready in time anyways. 
Bernard is hoping the delay in setting a fiscal 2021 budget will provide more time for the state to come up with concrete numbers and for any aid from the federal government to come in. In any case, the Finance Committee has canceled its next two meetings with the expectations a different budget scenario will presented closer to September.
"We'll have more clarity on revenue, hopefully, at that point. You know we've been as diligent and careful in our spending as we can be so that we won't have to go into too deep cuts," said Bernard. "The other thing that this buys us is time on any federal action."
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