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Pittsfield City Council tackles Onota rental kiosk, youth commission, ARPA update, and sewer main extension

Pittsfield, Massachusetts city hall.
Josh Landes
Pittsfield, Massachusetts city hall.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council dealt with a number of matters during its meeting Tuesday night.
The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council dealt with a number of matters during its meeting Tuesday night.

During the open mic portion of the meeting, the council heard from the author of a petition to revive the city’s youth commission.

“As outlined in the city code currently, the youth commission's purpose is to provide an ongoing forum for communication between city government and local youth. The youth commission will allow the city's youth to have a voice in this city. The voices of our youth are important as we continue to build a Pittsfield that we all can enjoy and to create more recreational opportunities for our youth in this city. Additionally, the youth commission would allow the city's youth to get involved into municipal governance and to hopefully stay involved even after a time on youth commission," said school committee member William Garrity. “Currently, there's an increasing shortage of people willing to participate in in municipal government. As all of you know the school committee went uncontested last year's election, along with several ward races. If you look at the towns around us, they're also having issues getting candidates on the ballot and serving in their town offices. The youth commission would be one possible way to attract our current youth into municipal government and to give them the experience needed to stay involved in government if they so choose. I've already had a conversation with the mayor about reactivating the youth commission and I'm glad that he's in full support. I look forward to working more with the mayor on reestablishing the commission and I'm asking the city council to also back this work tonight.”

The council unanimously referred Garrity’s petition to Mayor Peter Marchetti.

The open mic also gave a Pittsfield small business owner a chance to voice her displeasure with the city hiring an out-of-town business to operate a rental kiosk at Onota Lake.

“My small business has been part of the city of Pittsfield for 60-plus years," said Caryn Wendling of Onota Boat Livery. "It has been in my family now for 35 years, and prior to that, the Macy's family owned it for at least 30-plus years. Onota Boat Livery is the only boat rental company on an Onota Lake. We rent fishing boats, pontoon boats, canoes and kayaks, and the kayak rentals are a very large part of our rental business. The city of Pittsfield is always looking for ways to encourage and help small businesses. By allowing this kiosk rental, you are not helping a long-standing small business that has been part of this community for years. You are hurting us.”

Wendling expressed safety concerns about the self-serve rental business operated by Whenever Watersports.

“We deal with folks all summer long who have never kayaked or have little experience," she told the council. "We go over how to properly paddle the boats, fit them with a properly fitting life preserver, launch the boats for them, assist them into the boats. If it's a very windy day, we don't allow boats out. It's too dangerous. Who is going to do that with this kiosk? My assumption is nobody. Our renters barely get out of the channel sometimes and tip over. They need our assistance. We get calls that they've paddled out too far and can't return back. We have to go out and get them. Who's going to do that for this rental kiosk and who is going to keep those renters safe, watch out for their safe being? The city is putting the renters from this kiosk in potential danger if they allow this kiosk to operate.”

The council unanimously referred a petition questioning the legality of the kiosk to the city solicitor.

During discussion of a $650,000 borrowing plan to extend a city sewer line down Holmes Road, the mayor responded to questions about using federal COVID-19 relief aid for the project. He gave an update on the status of the over $40 million Pittsfield received through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“When I took office, there was roughly $300,000 of ARPA money that had not been allocated," said Marchetti. "As a placeholder, I allocated $250,000 for the substance use, mental health advisory committee, not knowing what expenses we may have as we tried to tackle that issue.”

Pittsfield awarded around $9 million of the funding to nonprofits in the community. Marchetti says some of that might be coming back to the city if it’s not spent in a timely manner.

“There is a conversation with nonprofits that, as we all know, if ARPA monies are not spent in the timeframe that they need to be spent on those funds get returned to the federal government," he explained. "So, in an effort to ensure that those funds do not go back to the federal government and the city of Pittsfield gets all the benefit for it, the ARPA task force is working with the nonprofits to see where we will meet our goals and where we won't, and attempt to have them turn back that funds so that we can allocate it for a future infrastructure projects for the city.”

The council, save for Ward 3 representative Matthew Wrinn, backed the spending plan.

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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