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Pittsfield Council Approves $160M Budget

Josh Landes
The Pittsfield City Council at its June 12th meeting in the Pittsfield High School library.

Pittsfield’s city council passed the mayor’s budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1st at last night’s meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting marked the end of weeks of exhaustive debate on Democratic Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer’s budget for 2019.

City clerk Michele Cetti presented the order: “Honorable members of the city council, submitted herewith for your consideration is an order raising and appropriating $159,976,645 for the fiscal year 2019 municipal operating budge t. Respectfully submitted, Mayor Linda M. Tyer.”

The vote was unanimous. A subsequent vote on the mayor’s order to borrow just over $8.8 million for capital expenditures also passed with a chorus of “yeas.”

“It’s for projects really across the spectrum: highway projects, park projects, and other capital improvement projects throughout the community," said Pittsfield Director of Finance Matt Kerwood. He says that part of the spending will fund an overhaul of the Columbus Avenue parking garage, which downtown business owners decried at the June 5th budget hearings as decrepit and dangerous.

“The $2 million that has been allocated is for the demolition of the existing structure and turning it into a surface lot, and all the work that will be required to do that,” Kerwood told WAMC.

A second order to borrow just over $1.6 million for Enterprise Fund Capital Expenditures passed 9-2. The money will go to sewer and water projects, including $450,000 for a new sewer truck. Councilor Melissa Mazzeo asked Department of Public Works director David Turocy to explain the expenditure.

“We’re trading in a truck that’s recently new with low miles on it because it’s not big enough?" asked Mazzeo at the meeting. "How did we go wrong there?”

“It’s not quite as effective — we designed it actually for just sewer cleanouts when we get backups," responded Turocy. "Works pretty well, sometimes it’s not enough capacity. We’ll have to stop what we’re doing, go back, unload it, come back finish the job.”

Turocy estimated the city can recoup $150,000 from trading in the current truck toward the purchase of a new $600,000 truck.

Lastly, the council ultimately approved Mayor Tyer’s plan to use $1 million of the city’s roughly $4.4 million in free cash to reduce the 2019 tax rate. The mayor appeared to defend her decision to keep the spending at $1 million, despite a call from some councilors like Christopher Connell of Ward 4 to increase the spending to $1.5 million.

“I would urge you to wait until we get to the tax rate classification hearing, because as we approach that process," said Tyer. "By then, we will have — the state budget process will have been completed. It will be finalized, and we will know exactly what our state aid is going to be, and we will have more clarity on the FY19 real estate values and a number of other variables.”

Increasing the free cash spending to $1.5 million was estimated to save taxpayers an additional $20 or so. After Connell asked why the city hadn’t acted on selling around $4.8 million in tax liens it currently sits on, Kerwood said that a lien auction would take place during the next fiscal year.

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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