The city council in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is reaching the end of budget hearings.
After weeks of budget hearings, Pittsfield city councilors sounded unusually similar.
“Well, to be honest I thought it was a very frustrating kind of process this year,” said Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo.
“In my opinion, it’s been very frustrating,” said Ward 4 councilor Christopher Connell.
“Looking at not just Tuesday night, but over the course of the last several weeks, I’ve had a little frustration,” said Ward 3 councilor Nicholas Caccamo.
“It was apparent that you could see those frustrations,” Council President Peter Marchetti told WAMC.
“We have not made any substantial reductions," said Connell. "I don’t feel that we’ve been able to make much headway in helping the taxpayers. I would like to see line integrity on all of the line items. I would like the lines to be budgeted the way they should be not only historically but going forward for the next year. I do not like to see lines arbitrarily added to in the hopes of using the excess at the end of the year for free cash. I think that’s an injustice to the taxpayers.”
Mayor Linda Tyer’s fiscal year 2019 budget was released in May, coming in at just over $167 million — a 1.8 percent increase from 2018. After the council’s cuts, the preliminary budget stands at just under $160 million.
“We took very little out of the budget, and granted, it was a tight budget,” said Mazzeo.
She also wanted to see more go, seeking more from the city and Director of Finance Matt Kerwood.
“Just listening to department heads or Matt Kerwood talk, when you asked him you know, what is this line item for? Well, if we don’t use it we’re going to move it over there," Mazzeo told WAMC. "Part of me just got to the point where like — just tell me you want $150 million and I’ll give it you, and then you just do whatever you want with it, because to ask me line item by line item and then not use it for that line item but then not actually use it for that line item was frustrating.”
Marchetti took a different view.
“Instead of being into the weeds and looking at a particular line item and saying OK, we have $5,000 to spare there, I was taking a more global look at the budget and saying OK, we clearly know we have other line items that are carrying a deficit," he told WAMC, "and so if we cut every penny out of the budget and we were actually superstars and able to get every single line item to come out exactly to the dollar amount that they were supposed to be, we would have line items that we can’t predict like snow and ice and police overtimes, that we’d have no way of being able to make up those deficits.”
“Some would say that we should be budgeting right down to the last nickel. That’s not realistic," said Mayor Linda Tyer. “Every year, our department heads work really hard to be responsible with their budgets and unspent funds go into our free cash savings account. I do think that as we continue to reduce our budgets — which I have done successfully in our last three budgets — we will have less free cash available to us at the end of each fiscal year.”
Tyer said she didn’t share the council’s view on the process.
“I haven’t found it frustrating," the Mayor told WAMC. "I have found it interesting and challenging; I respect the fact that we are in a very unique situation right now in that we have many constraints on our fiscal — our ability to fund our budgets.”
“The cost of health insurance is a runaway train that we didn’t really address during the budget cycle," said Council Vice President John Krol. He didn’t get everything he wanted in the budget hearings, but agrees with the mayor’s outlook.
“Let’s look at the big picture and move the city forward and not get hung up on $3,000 here and $5,000 there,” said Krol.
As for the city council meetings themselves — some of which have stretched to almost five hours — Marchetti takes responsibility.
“I guess I’ll bite the bullet and say that I allow councilors to express their opinions," said the city council president. "And since it is becoming a really big issue that our meetings are so long, I am going to start a process of undertaking looking at how long each councilor has spoken and try to find a way to limit the amount of speaking that can take place at the meeting without actually taking away the important aspect of the meeting.”
The final budget vote is scheduled for the next council meeting June 12th.