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Pittsfield Grapples With Capital Improvement Plan And Budget

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The Pittsfield City Council recently held a public hearing on the city’s five-year capital improvement plan. The plan calls for significant infrastructure developments and purchases —  even as councilors grapple over the budget. 

Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood says there is $23.5 million in capital requests for next year, and millions more over the next five years.

“The procedures associated with the city's capital improvements plan: The mayor is responsible for the submitting of a five-year plan, improvement plan at least 60 days prior the start of each fiscal year.”

It includes methods of financing, cost estimates, time schedules and a description of need for each capital improvement. 

$14.4 million could be paid from enterprise accounts, including from sewer and water fee revenue.

“And I also want to stress the fact that this is a plan and it is still subject to change as we get closer to a filing of an operating budget and a capital budget.”

The $3 million cost of converting to LED streetlights is the largest portion of the $9.1 million in capital requests that would be covered in the city budget.

That doesn’t include the $2.5 million expected for street repairs and for pedestrian areas downtown.

“And $500,000 for improvements to the storm water system.”

Pittsfield would fund most of the projects through borrowing, state grants, and private sources. And for good reason.

Every city department has either reduced or maintained its budget.  

The city has to account for employee pay raises and pension obligations, and possibly might be paying more for electricity than expected now that Eversource might raise its rates.

Pittsfield can’t generate any more tax revenue under the required 2.5 percent levy limit set by state law.

There is no override vote available to change that. The city is under its budget ceiling by just $31,000.

Councilor Chris O’Connell says many of the items came as a surprise, given the circumstances. 

“It seems like for 15 months we were trying to get, stop the bleeding and, and started to show a positive flow of cash,” O’Connell says. “And all of a sudden now it’s, I would have thought we would want to push this out much further than just a year.”

Some items listed for 2018 didn’t cause much of a stir, because city councilors were confident that the purchases were needed, and could be paid for from different sources of revenue.

For example, the city plans to repair stairwells in the McKay Street garage with revenue from parking meters. McKay Street will also have a new license plate reader for the parking attendants.

“And again, you can see going out in the outer years, again programed annual repairs to specifically McKay,” Kerwood says.

The city wants to use about $386,000 per year from the Community Preservation Act, adopted by ballot last fall. A committee of citizens gets to prioritize projects, but the City Council has the final say.

That can pay for the construction of a dog park, playground improvements, repairs to the Springside House, and restoring the Capitol Theatre marquee outside the Ralph Froio Senior Center downtown.

But other upcoming payments got councilors fired up.

An $850,000 project to improve Clapp Park scheduled for 2019 drew some attention. The park recently got a new scoreboard and fencing.

Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy…

“What this project really is is looking at getting a state grant to do this work,” Turocy says.

Turocy says it would be for improved parking, access, a concession stand, and bathroom repairs. 

“We could do, we could get $850,000 from the state grant provided it’s in matching funds – matching funds actually would be coming from two private organizations,” Turocy says.

The plan also calls for numerous vehicle purchases, including a new street sweeper for $210,000. Again, Kerwood.

“Again, I am the numbers guy. You know, how a highway truck works is not necessarily my expertise, how I pay for it is my expertise,” Kerwood says.

Another significant project for next year is a $300,000 master plan for the Pittsfield Municipal Airport, which generates tens of thousands of dollars in revenue for the city. It will be mostly reimbursed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 

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