Pittsfield, Massachusetts Mayor Linda Tyer delivered her second State of the City address Monday night.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, a first-term Democrat, used statistics to tout her administration’s work so far.
“$10,171,894: that’s the total amount of grants received by the city in 2017,” Tyer says. “128: that’s the number of jobs retained or created by city incentives. 43: that’s the number of Advanced Placement courses that are available at Taconic High School and Pittsfield High School (more than anyone else in the county). 1,549: that’s the total number of employees between municipal government and public schools. 200: the total number of road miles in the city of Pittsfield.”
But the numbers are part of the problem for the city.
“We are challenged by serious fiscal constraints. Pittsfield is at its levy ceiling and our ability to provide services that the community expects and deserves is impacted by diminished financial resources. This year our revenue growth remains limited and we do not foresee dramatic increases in state aid or local receipts,” Tyer says.
The city’s operating budget is $156 million. In June, the city was under its levy ceiling by just $37,000, and couldn’t generate any more tax revenue under the 2.5 percent limit set by state law. The city is constrained as health insurance costs have increased by 14 percent, City Councilor John Krol said during budget talks.
“And that $3 million there essentially obliterates that sort of, I don’t know, precarious buffer that we have with the tax levy ceiling. That alone would just totally crush us,” Krol said.
A November state assessment did help the city bolster its reserves to $4.4 million and soften residential property taxes to a hike of $38 per a $100,000 valuation. That is funding $85 million of the budget, but even still, more than 70 fulltime public school positions were cut.
And those 200 miles of city roads are hard to protect when the Pittsfield Police Department, even after 20 new hires, remains short-staffed. Police Chief Michael Wynn spoke about the department in May.
“This is not an easy time to join the profession of law enforcement. It's highly contentious, it's highly questionable, and there is no question it is dangerous. And yet they continue to sign up,” Wynn said.
Tyer said Monday night she’s confident the city is seeing progress, especially in the business sector.
Pittsfield helped support LTI Smart Glass with $580,000 from the its Economic Development Fund – money received after General Electric shut down operations – to continue security glass production. And the shuttered St. Mary The Morning Star Church complex is set to be developed into apartments.
Tyer announced plans for a home improvement program to combat blight; an extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail into the city; and state funds to build a new runway at the municipal airport.
“How can we give those businesses even more support? By building the Berkshire Innovation Center. Earlier this year the city council approved my request to infuse the innovation center with an additional $1,000,000.00. This commitment has opened up more dialogue with state officials and I anticipate that soon we will have a complete financing package that will secure all the necessary funding for construction and two years of operations,” Tyer says.
Looking forward to the next two years, Tyer says she’s optimistic.
“I hope tonight’s State of the City has lifted your confidence in your government and in our city. As we say farewell to 2017 and welcome 2018 I hope you believe,” Tyer says. “Believe that city government is a community partner, a business partner, a good neighbor, and a champion for all our hopes and dreams. One of us cannot succeed without the other.”