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Proposed Budget For Great Barrington Includes Almost 7% Increase To Police Spending

Under a photo of a protest with sign-holding attendees and next to the town seal, it says "Fiscal 2022 Municipal Budget July 1st, 2021 - June 30th, 2022"
Town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts

The town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts is preparing its fiscal year 2022 budget ahead of a public hearing later this month.

The town’s finance committee and selectboard held the last of four joint meetings Tuesday to discuss next fiscal year’s spending plan before a March 30th public hearing. The proposed town operating budget for the Southern Berkshire community of around 7,000 is just under $13 million for FY22, which begins July 1st.

That marks a 5.6% increase over the 2021 fiscal year budget. It includes an increase to the Great Barrington Police Department budget, which was greatly scrutinized amid calls to decrease public spending on policing at last year’s town meeting. Resident Meg Whaley spoke out against a 2% year over year increase in the then $1.7 million budget.

“This is an enormous portion of the general operating fund, 14%, and represents a significant increase of $34,000 from last year’s budget," said Whaley. "It seems their commitment to traditional policing is growing, not shrinking. In comparison, the town clerk slash elections line item has been allocated a mere $131,000. The board of health has been allocated just $118,000, a 3% drop from last year, and the historic district commission has been defunded entirely.”

This year, the town is proposing a just over $117,000 bump in police spending, amounting to a budget of around $1.84 million and an almost 7% year over year increase. Finance committee chair Anne O’Dwyer noted that while the town hasn’t finalized a contract with new police chief Paul Storti, the proposed budget calls for $107,000 – an over $11,000 rise from the FY21 line item.

“So we have an increase of the salary for the police chief that is still under negotiation," she clarified. "So this is not necessarily what the final amount will be. But it's- this is, sort of, it takes into account the possible range.”

“It's just a placeholder," said Town Manager Mark Pruhenski. "We did advertise the position up to $105,000.”

“We are also approving the new $10,000 toward the new community outreach officer program, supporting the officer who is going to be doing that," said O’Dwyer. "We are increasing overtime by a teeny amount, so not by a whole lot. Increasing holiday pay. We are now doing some reimbursements for education, some more for office equipment and for vehicular supplies.”

Those education reimbursements come to $10,000, amounting for much of the proposed $18,000 increase in police department expenses for FY22. In personnel, overtime budgeting has risen from $175,000 in FY21 to $180,000 in the proposed FY22 budget. Holiday pay in FY21 was set at $53,600 and is now at $63,425 in the proposed FY22 budget. The proposal also increases the administrative assistant’s pay by around $6,000 to $55,000. Training costs – around $61,000 in FY21 – are up by just under $10,000 in the FY22 proposal.

The FY22 proposed budget also includes a $48,000 request for a new police cruiserthat would be purchased with free cash.

Residents will vote on the plan and other community issues at the June 7th and 10th town meeting nights.

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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