On eve of new fiscal year, Pittsfield leaders assure community budget is in place despite charter objection chaos
After a chaotic first city council meeting of June added a dose of confusion to the municipal budgetary process, Pittsfield, Massachusetts leaders are attempting to set the record straight before the body reconvenes Tuesday night.
At its June 14th meeting, the Pittsfield city council was on the verge of passing an amended version of the $189 million fiscal year 2023 budget before a dramatic decision derailed the process. After council president Peter Marchetti introduced the item, Ward 2 councilor Charles Kronick used a parliamentary procedure to delay the vote — to the audible consternation of both Marchetti and at-large councilor Earl Persip.
“On the motion to approve, is there any debate or discussion?” asked Marchetti.
“Mister President, I make a charter objection on behalf of Ward 2,” said Kronick.
“Excuse me?" asked Marchetti.
“Charter objection on behalf of Ward 2,” repeated Kronick.
“OK," said Marchetti. "And before you do so, councilor, let me make you aware that if you charter object, we cannot take up this budget until the June 26th meeting. And the 45 days in the charter will have passed and the mayor will have her original budget without the increases that we put forward. Is that what you really want to do?”
“Yes, it is,” responded Kronick.
“OK. Charter objection," said Marchetti. "On to item number nine, please. The mayor just got a budget.”
“You’ve got to be joking,” said Persip.
Kronick has not responded to multiple requests for comment from WAMC on his decision to invoke the charter objection, and when briefly reached Monday hung up the phone.
In response to Kronick’s move, Marchetti and Mayor Linda Tyer held a closed-door press conference in city hall on Thursday to both explain its impact and their reaction to it.
“As of Monday, June 20th, the budget that I proposed was adopted, and it does not include any of the recommendations that the city council made, the additions that the city council made, which I believed were good recommendations," said Tyer. "I felt they were fair and reasonable and strengthen the budget, which is why I brought forward the order to amend the budget that included the additional funds proposed by Councilor Kronick, Councilor Kalinowsky, and Councilor Persip.”
The council will hear and vote on the amended budget Tuesday, restoring the increases to the building inspection, building maintenance, and retired senior volunteer program line items recommended to Tyer over weeks of hearings.
Marchetti says a prompt from the council to the city’s police department to direct $250,000 in grant funding to expand its mental health clinician co-responder program remained intact despite Kronick’s charter objection.
“In regard to the conversation that took place between the members of the city council and the police chief, and the collaboration that we were working there, that the police chief would be willing to take monies from the reimbursement of grants and put it towards the co-responder program, that was never in jeopardy," said Marchetti. "That was a conversation that took place. It was nothing to do with the budget. The police budget didn't change. That opportunity for that to still happen is going to still happen.”
Marchetti called Kronick’s actions reckless, and said that pushing the vote allowed for a single councilor to usurp the democratic process.
“Because of all the confusion, I thought it was important for us to come forward and state the record straight that it is the fiscal year ‘23 budget that is already in place based on the 45-day deadline," said the council president. "And the mayor has an opportunity to submit amended budgets whenever she would like for city council approval. And in reality, that's what was before us almost two weeks ago, was an amended budget based on city council recommendations. So the city council will have an opportunity to vote on the budget that was presented, that we deliberated for hours. And our rights as city councilors will be there. How a member votes is up to them, and I personally respect the way they vote, up or down. But I think it's important that they are afforded the opportunity to take that vote.”
While Kronick has yet to explain his move to halt the budget process, other city residents have repeatedly asked the council to take more time and more community input before signing off on the plan.
Following the Pittsfield Police Department’s March killing of 22-year-old Miguel Estrella during a 911 call, which remains under investigation by the Berkshire district attorney, community members have called on the city to reconsider its spending on public safety.
WAMC asked Marchetti about the issue at the press conference.
“I think at this stage of the game, it's something that we should have been doing prior to now," responded Marchetti. "And I think that there is, again, some misunderstanding or maybe that we are not moving the needle far enough or fast enough for some of the folks. But I think some of the stuff that I'm hearing and talking about the co-responder program and talking about being able to reallocate funding, is there. I hear what they want to say, and initially, I'm for it. But tell me the right places and tell me the right people. If these people won't come to me, and they're afraid to come to me, how do I know where they are and where do I find them? And if I take the advice of the three or four people who are showing up at open mic and go to them, what about the other pockets of people that need to be heard that aren't being heard because there isn't someone representing them and bringing them to the table?”
The Pittsfield city council meets Tuesday at 6pm. The new fiscal year starts Friday.