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Bianchi Seeks $145M Budget, $10M In Capital Projects For Pittsfield

Jim Levulis

Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi submitted a $145 million budget proposal for fiscal 2016 to the city council earlier this week. The spending plan is up nearly three percent from the previous one.The spending plan includes a $59 million school department budget, up nearly $2 million or roughly 3.5 percent from the previous year’s. Municipal expenses would increase about 2 percent to roughly $87 million under Mayor Bianchi’s proposal. He says city expenses are increasing due to debt service, rising energy costs and public safety contracts.

“I think the city council will understand the extraordinary increases in our expense items and I think they’ll appreciate what we’re trying to do relevant to raising the revenues to meet that budget including property taxes, but we’re hoping that won’t be a terribly large increase,” Bianchi said. “We are increasing other fees so local receipts will be up.”

Outside of those increases, Bianchi says his plan largely holds the line on city spending. He adds the police department’s overtime budget would increase, partly to bring foot patrols back to North Street for downtown events and to monitor businesses.

“When you hire more officers, now you’ve got increased health costs, retirement expenses…a great number of increases,” he said. “That’s not to say that we can’t look at other ways of policing and we will. But we don’t necessarily have to do it with increased officers at this time.”

The city council will review the budget during four sessions: June 2nd, 4th, 8th and the 11th. All begin at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Bianchi is also pushing a $10.2 million capital projects budget. The largest piece is a $3.5 million runway renovation at Pittsfield’s airport. Bianchi says the Federal Aviation Administration will reimburse most of the cost. Other projects being pursued include $1.5 million for street improvements, $850,000 for stormwater upgrades and half a million dollars of funding for the renovation of the historic Springside House. 

“There are things that we want to see accomplished,” Bianchi said. “We have a 28-year-old old fire truck we want to replace. We want to refurbish another fire truck. We have capital needs in our schools that will enhance security but also some infrastructure work in the schools such as replacing boilers and windows.”

Last year, the city’s 11 councilors failed to reach a two-thirds majority in support of Bianchi’s fiscal 2015 capital projects budget totaling $9.5 million because the Democrat didn’t include funding for that new fire engine.

“The stumbling block seemed to be a fire truck, but quite frankly I think it was more political than it was practical and it should have never happened but it did,” Bianchi said. “Subsequent to that we were able to get passed a road program and a number of other capital projects throughout the course of the year. But I don’t anticipate this happening this year.”

Barry Clairmont was one of four councilors who voted against last year’s capital budget and is happy to see funding for the fire engine this time around. He stands by the council’s decision last year.

“What we were hoping for was that the mayor was going to come back with another round of the capital budget with the fire truck in there,” Clairmont said. “He made the decision to take the ball and go home.”

During last year’s budget process, Bianchi said he would pursue a new fire engine in fiscal 2016. The mayor has decided not to immediately seek funding for five SUVs for the fire department, which last year he said could be used to respond to 3,800 yearly medical calls instead of larger vehicles.

Meanwhile, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says his budget proposal is barely increasing above the current $37.7 million plan. He believes the city will close in the black without using reserve funds.

“I think we’ve done a lot of good things on the financial side to kind of right the ship and it’s whether or not we can hold the course,” Alcombright said. “There are just a lot of capital needs here, but I think we’ve done all the right things at this point.”

The fiscal year starts July 1.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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