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A Look At Pittsfield Mayor’s Budget Proposal

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The mayor of Pittsfield has released her 2019 budget proposal for the city.

Many months of work go into formulating the city budget.

“We really begin this process in January, and it starts with myself and the director of finance Matt Kerwood talking about our goals," said Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, a first-term Democrat. “And one of our goals this year was to limit the use of free cash, one of our goals was to stem the tide of reductions in force, and so once we established those goals we sent out a set of instructions to the department heads about how they are to approach their budget planning, and this year we said we’d like you to maintain your staffing levels and we’d like you to look at your expenses and see if you can find a 2.5 percent reduction.”

Tyer said the instructions included a prompt for department heads to eliminate antiquated or unnecessary activities.

“The difference between this year’s budget and last year’s budget primarily is that this year’s budget is a 1.8 percent increase over last year in the total budget," she told WAMC.

“The total budget is for expenditures is $167,653,476, and last year was $164,761,227,” said Finance Director Matt Kerwood.

That’s the total number of expenses on the city’s part that will need to be funded by property taxes, state aid, and other sources of revenue.

“This budget preserves staffing in both municipal government and in our public schools, so there will be no reduction in force," said Tyer. “We are very pleased that this budget includes a significant adjustment to our health insurance plans, and that occurred because we worked collaboratively with the city’s public employee committee to create a balanced health insurance program that will cover the next six years, and the savings — the anticipated savings — for this year alone is $1.5 million.”

Kerwood claims that some of the proposed cuts tell a good story about the city: for example, the 10 percent drop in worker’s compensation spending.

“We’ve actually been experiencing less injuries, and having to pay out less in worker’s compensation, so that’s a testament to our workforce really reducing the amount of injuries we’re experiencing,” he told WAMC.

Kerwood ascribes an almost $30,000 cut in veterans’ services to a reduction in the number of veterans looking for support from the city.

But Tyer says her budget doesn’t just look for cuts.

"We are proposing the creation of a diversity and inclusion initiative in our personnel department, and we are also proposing the creation of an elementary school therapeutic program, in our public schools, for kids who have challenging circumstances when they come to school,” the Mayor told WAMC.

The budget proposal also includes about a $2,000 raise for the mayor herself, putting her new salary at $96,998.

“In the last two budgets, I did not propose an increase to my salary," said Tyer. "However, in this budget, I did propose one. And that formula is established in the city code, so it isn’t just a random number. It’s actually a formula that was approved by the city council.”

Tyer also pointed to compensation increases for union employees and department heads with successful performance evaluations.

City Councilor Chris Connell thinks that the budget could go farther in reducing spending.

“We haven’t really tried, in my opinion, to consolidate some departments, whether internally in city hall or in the school department," Connell said to WAMC. "And I’m upset about that, because I feel, realistically, it can be done, and it can be done to not only save the city but the residents tax dollars.”

Budget hearings are currently underway, and will continue through June 5th.

To read the budget proprosal for yourself, click here.

Here is the full schedule for budget hearings from today onward:

7 p.m. Thursday, May 17

  1. Health
  2. Building Inspector
  3. Personnel
  4. Airport
  5. Library
  6. Community Development

7 p.m.  Monday, May 21

  1. RSVP
  2. Police
  3. Fire
  4. Emergency Management

7 p.m. Tuesday, May 29

  1. School Department

7 p.m. Thursday, May 31

  1. Public Services
  2. Enterprise Funds
  3. Building Maintenance

7 p.m. Tuesday, June 5

  1. Workers Compensation
  2. Finance & Administration
  3. IT
  4. Unclassified
  5. Capital Budget
  6. Free Cash Order
  7. Revolving Funds
  8. Parking Revenue
  9. Budget

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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