City councilors in Pittsfield, Massachusetts have approved a budget for the next fiscal year.
Tuesday night, the Pittsfield City Council voted to pass the over $166 million budget brought to them by Mayor Linda Tyer with only minor alterations.
“I’m really pleased that the budget that we proposed is largely intact, except for about $50,000 in the operating budget," said Tyer. “We have a solid plan for how we’re going to provide services to the people of Pittsfield in the next fiscal year.”
Three of the 11 councilors voted no.
“I just don’t feel that the taxpayers are getting the services that they deserve," said Ward 2 councilor Kevin Morandi.
His qualms came from the performance of the city’s Department of Public Services. “We’re in June now and the roads are still not where they should be,” said the councilor.
He also was taken aback by the department’s spending.
“The snow and ice, the overtime budget was another concern," Morandi told WAMC. "We had a real mild winter, and as far as I’m concerned, yeah, we want our streets to be done and taken care of and cleared and all of that, but as far as I’m concerned, that was excessive to run that far over like that.”
The other two councilors’ no votes concerned the city’s spending on its schools. Anthony Simonelli of Ward 7 tried unsuccessfully to reduce the school budget during budget hearings by around $270,000. He described his no vote as a philosophical statement.
“As a ward councilor, I’m consistently hearing about the crime and the drugs and those type of concerns as well as the condition of the roads," said Simonelli. "And yet in the budget, there were no additional positions put down for the highway department or the police department. And when we talked about building maintenance, Brian Filiault, the director of the building maintenance, said that he can’t keep up with the work orders and there was no additional manpower there. Where the school department is getting an additional 15 people in their budget, additional, these three areas on the municipal side were receiving none.”
Ward 6 councilor John Krol was on the opposite side of the issue, saying the city wasn’t spending enough on education.
Both councilors are not seeking re-election this fall.
From his seat, Krol said that he had never before voted against a budget in 10 years in city governance.
“In taking away $750,000 from the schools and allocating it to the rest of the budget, and I think councilor Moon said it best, balancing the rest of the budget on the backs of our children and our schools, that’s too glaring for me to accept," said the councilor. "And when so many have fought very hard to get that formula for Chapter 70 changed, to fight for those dollars for a community like Pittsfield that needs it more than any other community, it’s just not good enough for our students – so I can’t support this final budget. Thank you Mister President.”
Chapter 70 is the legal formula by which the state funds public elementary and secondary schools. Established in 1993, its deficiencies have been under review since 2015. Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jake McCandless says the city’s budget reflects expected changes to that formula.
“Pittsfield is looking from between a $3.5 million to a $5 million increase in those monies this year and we would suspect for the next few years to come in order for the state to play catch up on where the Ed Reform Act of 1993 has left certain groups and certain expenditures that schools face left behind,” he told WAMC.
State legislators are still debating final changes to Chapter 70, but Mayor Tyer says she disagrees with Krol’s criticism of the school budget.
“We don’t know what that final number is going to be yet. We built a budget based on the governor’s number, a conservative number. I’m not quite clear on where he sees we’ve made cuts to the public school budget, we’ve actually – it’s a level service budget with additional Chapter 70 money. So we’ve strengthened the public school budget in my opinion,” said the mayor.
For his part, McCandless is happy with the final outcome. It’s the first time in his six years running the city’s schools that he hasn’t had to lay any staff off, and he says the schools will be able to update safety systems and implement new curriculums.
“This year feels particularly good to get the end of kind of an arduous process and have an outcome that allows our school department to move forward in terms of academics for kids," said the superintendant. "And particularly our economically disadvantaged kids and our disabled students.”