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Pittsfield city council approves Mayor Tyer’s final $205 million budget, increases to water and sewer rates

A stone building with a colonnade.
Josh Landes

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council approved a $205 million budget for fiscal year 2024 at its meeting Tuesday night.

Approved 6-5, it will be the last budget for Mayor Linda Tyer, who is not seeking a third four-year term this year. Speaking with WAMC in May, she explained why the plan is around 9% higher than last year’s.

“With the investments we're making in wages for the school employees and the city side employees, it's our hope that we will improve recruitment and retention, and this was identified as a priority among the city council and the school committee, and something that I also thought was an important investment to make," said the mayor. "Other elements of the increase are related to the fixed costs that we see every year like health insurance, retirement, pension costs. A big increase again this year is the cost of collection and disposal of the city's trash.”

Ward 2 councilor Charles Kronick led a quixotic campaign Tuesday to make a final round of cuts to the budget, though he found little support for any of the line items he identified. One was the $182,000 budget for the city’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — a body Kronick has vocally opposed the city funding since the beginning of his tenure in 2022.

“I’m maintaining, and a lot of people are, that this is not a department that is serving them," he said. "It's unfair to them. It is also unfair to the municipal employees who are counting on a stable pension fund for their retirements that are coming up. So, I guess my argument states that, one, the cost of this department out of control, and two, the substantive problem of its impact upon the pensions fund.”

To put Kronick’s claims in context, the Office of DEI accounts for just .09% of the full $205 million budget and just over 1% of the $14.3 million police budget within it alone.

Ward 3 representative Kevin Sherman was among the councilors who spoke out against Kronick’s proposal to zero out the Office of DEI budget.

“I feel that it's important to the city of Pittsfield," said Sherman. "To the point that it doesn’t touch every single individual, I've never used the Pittsfield Municipal Airport, I don't own a boat, but I would support anything that would support our airport and our lakes. So just because it doesn't support, it's not important to me, doesn't mean it's not important. And I do believe it's very important to the future to city.”

Ward 1 councilor Kenny Warren explained why he voted no on the budget.

“Because the budget doesn't prioritize any additional property tax relief, I will not be supporting it," he said. "But it's not a commentary on any of the hard-working or many of the hard-working departments of the city.”

Warren pushed Tyer to explain why the city wasn’t using more than $1 million from its free cash reserves to lower the tax rate for residents.

“My view is that it is a finite resource, and that it ought to be used for capital expenditures or emergencies, and we put forward the $7.3 million of free cash to do 13 miles of roads and $1.5 million of sidewalks," said the mayor. "If the council didn't want us to make that investment, that capital investment, and would have preferred us to put $7.3 million into the budget for free cash, we could have discussed it then. I would have consistently objected to that model. I think it's important that the city has a savings account.”

The council voted down an effort to increase the free cash allocation to $3 million by one vote, and approved the original $1 million plan 6-5.

The city has just over $7 million in free cash remaining.

Sharp increases to the 2024 water and sewer rates to the tune of 12% and 25% respectively led to a long debate, but the council ultimately approved both measures.

The fiscal year starts July 1st.

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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