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North Adams OKs $45M Budget for Fiscal 2023
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:35PM / Wednesday, June 15, 2022
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Mayor Jennifer Macksey presents her city first budget on Tuesday. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council approved 8-1 a $45 million budget appropriation for fiscal 2023 on Tuesday night. 
 The spending plan of $44,536,735 is up 5.08 percent over this year, or about $2.15 million. 
"While this percentage may seem high, we will demonstrate that we have the capacity through our revenues to support this budget," said Mayor Jennifer Macksey. "We have seen areas of significant increases in revenue on the School Department side through our Chapter 70 funding, cannabis revenue, as well as rooms occupancy revenue. 
"Everyone should note that this does not mean that our taxes are going up 5 percent. The tax rate discussion will be presented in the fall but I'm very focused on providing the citizens of this community with services they deserve, with a solid focus on rebuilding our neighborhoods, and the safety of our community, but at an affordable level."
Councilor Keith Bona, chair of the Finance Committee, said the committee had met at least five times to go through budget lines. The presentation on Tuesday included some changes recommended by the committee. 
"There was no major surprises, but there are some changes which I'm sure the mayor will hit on," he said. "Other than that, it seems to be a pretty typical budget process of how we've had it in the past."
The 2023 budget includes a number of new or previously unfilled positions including four police officers, a code enforcement officer, a combined fiscal compliance manager and events coordinator (to replace the tourism director), a part-time clerk in the city clerk's office, part-time office position in public safety in January and, in the mayor's office, a part-time grants and communication specialist. Seven firefighters will also be hired to fill positions largely being left vacation through retirements. 
In addition to negotiated wages and benefits, employees will receive a 1.5 percent wage hike across the board and the mayor's annual wage will jump from $88,470 to $98,000, a 10.77 percent hike. 
Other drivers in the budget increase is a $181,000 investment in information technology software, hardware and security, of which $150,000 will be from the Municipal Access Technology Grant. 
The Public Safety Department is budgeted at $5,889,690, up $476,000. The increase is, again, largely in salaries including the shift of the dispatch line from the 911 program. Macksey said the using the program had created close to a $300,000 deficit. 
"We are proposing to properly fund dispatch salaries," she said. "These are salaries above what our grant will cover. We are trying to offset that deficit in a couple of fiscal years but this is not proper accounting. So therefore, we had added the dispatch salaries to the public safety budget because it does cover both the Police and Fire department."
The mayor said a big focus of this budget was "making sure we have appropriate staffing levels."
"We continue to struggle with overtime in public safety mostly because, right now, we don't have enough staff," she said. "We are hoping that mid-year we will start to see that level off when our new officers are returned to the field and we are training and working at full capacity."
Councilor Ashley Shade objected to the $10,000 line as being too low for maintance for all public buildings.  Macksey said her team is looking at what funding is available through the American Rescue Plan Act Funds and grants. 
"This year it was felt that we were kind of late to the game to get in for this budget cycle. That is something that we are working on and exploring," Macksey said. "We are in desperate need, as all of you can tell tonight, for new HVAC system in this building, as well as a new roof as well as many new roofs throughout the city. So part of our capital improvement plan will be addressing those and assigning appropriate dollars."
The mayor said a lot of time has been spent talking about the city's buildings "in terms with what our realities are versus what we can keep putting off."
One of buildings is, of course, the public safety building, which is under a Department of Justice consent decree related to lack of accessibility and fined by the Architectural Access Board. 
"As you know we are looking to build a new public safety building. That project is slowly but surely starting in one fashion or the other," the mayor said. "But we will be requesting probably some borrowing in the next few months to couple with some projects that we have going on."
She later said the city is "exploring alternate housing for the police station, because that is the area that we're getting fined on and we are going back to the architectural board sometime this summer to talk about what you need to do in the fire station as we will be hiring our first female firefighter."
The library, which has been on a waiver for a number of years, will be fully funded this year by making the reference librarian shift from part time to full time to close about a $10,000 gap. Bona saidthe committee had also discussed issues with the library's leaking roof, mold and air conditioning, mostly in the new building that opened in 2007. Funds to fix those are not in this budget but he thought it important to forewarn the council. 
A revolving account is being created to better track fuel and general expenses at the airport, with the city putting in $50,000 as its contribution with the hope that proper management can get the airport to break even. 
Councilor Marie T. Harpin said she was glad to see the budget cut in half this year. 
"I think the airport is an awesome asset for the city. However, I really had a hard time putting $100,000 onto the taxpayers of the citizens of North Adams just because most of the taxpayers in North Adams probably don't use the airport," she said. 
Councilor Jennifer Barbeau, however, was concerned to see a reduction in the Council on Aging budget and how that would affect the van. Macksey said the city is getting a new van but a new driver is being hired at a lower rate. 
In terms of debt, the city is obligated for the Colegrove Park Elementary School project, the roof on the public safety building, final payments on a borrowing for the Mohawk Theater, and borrowings for vehicles, equipment and hydrants.
"What's happening is things are rolling off the debt schedule, and we haven't added anything quite yet," Macksey said. "We will probably do a bond issue in September to clean up some of the small bonds that need to be need to by law go to maturing debt."
The mayor said the city is working with Standard & Poor's on a rating that will hopefully be a bit better than the last time it was on the bond market.  
Barbeau objected that the mayor had failed to present a capital plan with the budget as required by ordinance. 
"I feel we're in the same place we've been with the council multiple times and through past administrations that we just keep kicking the can down the road. We've heard that there were some significant problems here that just aren't being addressed," she said. "And although I appreciate all the work put into the budget, I'm really disappointed that there's no capital improvement plan as our city ordinance requires to be presented with the budget."
City Council President Lisa Blackmer disagreed, saying the mayor had presented it as part of the budget. 
"It will be tweaked, it will be fixed based on new data and a paid-for study that we got a grant for, but I would suggest that that is in here," she said. "The mayor and her team have done what they can with the information we have at this point. And why waste a ton of resources, of staff, when we ... have a grant to pay for a professional one."
Barbeau responded that it was in the ordinance that the plan be prepared and submitted to the council and Planning Board; Blackmer countered that maybe the ordinance should be changed. 
The budget for 2023 was passed with Shade the only no vote. The council passed unanimously the transfer request of $800,000 from the school choice account to cover the design and feasibility study for the Greylock/Brayton project.


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