Monday, July 11, 2005

Topic: Taxes in Pittsfield

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Anonymous Donna M. Walto said...

The citizens of Pittsfield are discovering that our City's administration is out of touch with the average taxpayer. On June 14, 2005, the Mayor was in Boston urging the Legislature to create an Artist Zone in Pittsfield and asking that the artists living in the zone be exempt from paying state taxes on the first one- hundred thousand dollars of income per year that they earn. Is this Mayor so out of touch with reality that he doesn't realize that most hard working people of our City make less than one- hundred thousand dollars per year and get no tax breaks? I wonder if he sees the irony of his seeking tax breaks for these 'artists' while at the same time asking the taxpayers of Pittsfield 'to make sacrifices' by paying significant tax increases for the past two years, and paying an imposing a fifty-two per cent increase in water and sewer fees. It seems that this Mayor is so impressed with the 'world of art' that he has completely lost sight of the rest of us. He needs to know that, we the people, the citizens and taxpayers of Pittsfield, not just the 'artists', need a state tax break so that we can afford to pay our escalating real estate taxes and the significant increase in our water and sewer fees.

Monday, July 11, 2005 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Fares for disabled bus passengers increased
7/15/2005 4:00 PM
By: The Associated Press

Chair-car rides for the disabled have gone up by $2.50 on the BRTA.

The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority's advisory board approved the fare hike Thursday at a meeting in Pittsfield. The new fare of $7.50 goes into effect August 1.

The board also raised full bus fairs to $1.10 per zone, with a $4.40 maximum fare for all four zones.

The rate hikes are blamed on ballooning costs and a lack of any rate hikes in nine years.

The BRTA serves 12 Berkshire County communities.

Friday, July 15, 2005 4:20:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

GLOBE EDITORIAL

Overtaxed towns

September 9, 2005

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Massachusetts voters rebelled against high property taxes by capping them with Proposition 2 1/2. For good or ill, the cap achieved its purpose, but in recent years, property taxes have been rising steeply again as state aid for every municipal service but schools has been flat. To head off a new revolt or a steady deterioration in police and fire departments, libraries, roads, and parks, the state's towns and cities need help.

In particular, communities deserve higher and more consistent levels of aid from the state, plus greater freedom to control their own finances, whether by levying a meals tax or better handling health insurance costs.

These changes are among the recommendations in a municipal finance task force report issued Wednesday. Chaired by John P. Hamill, chairman of Sovereign Bank New England, the task force concluded that local leaders have generally done a good job of controlling costs. It is not wasteful spending but reductions in support from the state that are forcing local officials to rely more heavily on the property tax, a levy that is particularly burdensome for homeowners on fixed incomes.

According to the report, state aid peaked in 1988, when it was 31 percent of municipal revenues, while property taxes provided 46.1 percent. Now, local aid has dropped to 24.4 percent and property taxes are 52.9 percent. The state estimates that -- except for communities that have residential tax exemptions -- average household property tax bills have jumped $910 in the last five years. During that time, Massachusetts municipalities cut their payrolls more steeply than in any other state in the nation.

Most of the report's proposals for easing the pressure on the property tax are good ones. The percentage of state revenue going to local aid should be fixed as close as possible to the 20 percent peak of 1988, up from the 16.4 percent of 2004. The state should also have long since granted cities a right to tax meals, parking garages, and rental cars.

The report equivocates on whether state law should be changed to standardize local taxes on telecommunications equipment. It should be. And the proposal to generate more auto excise taxes for cities by slowing down the state's depreciation schedule for cars would be more socially useful if the excise were based on fuel efficiency, not resale value.

The task force has produced a blueprint for a more rational municipal finance structure. Now it requires leadership to navigate the change. For example: If boosting local aid cannot be done without shortchanging the state's own responsibilities, legislators should look to an increase in one of the state's broad-based taxes. The property tax is the wrong vehicle for funding statewide needs; on this the tax revolters of the 1980s were right.

Friday, September 09, 2005 5:19:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

December 2, 2005

Dear Berkshire Bloggers:

UNBELIEVABLE! Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr., Berkshire County’s long-standing Sheriff and more recently Pittsfield’s School Committee Chairman until the end of this month, is completely unbelievable. If one takes the time to read the following news articles, you will see that Massimiano is asking for increased state funding for his jail operations, while also having no comment on his excessive 21% proposed pay parity pay raise pending before the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor.

Here was Massimiano early this year telling Pittsfield Public School Teachers and their Unions that they had to sacrifice some of their benefits in the form of health insurance liabilities for the collective good of the City of Pittsfield. As Mayor Jim Ruberto’s most outspoken supporter to give Pittsfield Teachers less entitlements, and predictably even less in future contracts, Massimiano is now asking the state not for more funding for the Pittsfield Public Schools or municipal aid, but rather for more money for his state operated jail while at the very same time remaining hypocritically silent on his proposed 21% pay raise.

I dissent against the very poor leadership of Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. I believe Massimiano should leave politics sooner than later, enjoy his lucrative retirement years, and give the government back to the people!

Sincerely,
Jonathan A. Melle

Jail's financial woes mirror those statewide

By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Berkshire Eagle

Thursday, December 01, 2005

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano Jr. says Berkshire County's House of Corrections is dealing with the same financial burdens state corrections facilities are facing.
On Tuesday, Gov. Mitt Romney sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to approve an additional $12.8 million to avoid hundreds of layoffs at prisons across the state.
Massimiano said no one at House of Corrections would be affected by those cuts if they were enacted. But he also stressed the fact that county facilities will also need that same kind of financial help in the near future.
"The governor should be making the same request of the legislature for our county facilities," he said. "The same stresses and strains they're seeing, we're seeing as well. We have more inmates in the county system than are in the state's."
Massimiano said the burdens on the budget include rising costs of medical treatment, medications and energy.
"It's what everyone is dealing with at home, except we're open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Massimiano said. "We're getting whacked in every manner. Every sheriff is talking about it."
In addition to increased fuel and medical costs, Romney cited a 4 percent growth in the Department of Correction's inmate population in the current fiscal year. Massimiano said the House of Correction's inmate population is growing at a similar level, if not higher.
Romney said there are sufficient state funds currently available to fill the gap. The additional funds will let the Department of Corrections maintain their current staffing levels, he said. Massimiano called Romney's request "a very responsible move, a harbinger of things to come."

Hefty raise for sheriffs OK'd by state senators

By Rebecca Fater, Transcript Statehouse Bureau
North Adams Transcript

Saturday, November 19, 2005

BOSTON — Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen Massimiano Jr. could see his salary jump by $21,710, thanks to an across-the-board pay hike approved by state senators.
The raise would put all the state's sheriffs on an equal salary footing of $123,209 a year. They currently earn from $84,583 to $107,138, based on a formula calculated on the size of their county.
Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., D-Pittsfield, who voted in favor of the raise, said he did not think the average salaries were out of line compared to other states.
"The sheriffs work hard and have done a great job, particularly in Berkshire County," Nuciforo said.
For Massimiano, who currently receives a salary of $101,499, the legislation means a 21 percent pay raise.
He is one of the state's longest-serving sheriffs, having first been elected in 1978. Massimiano was not available to comment Thursday.
Senators included the raise in a supplemental bill they approved earlier this week.
Sen. Steve Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, said the raises stem from overdue pay hikes of 15 percent that senators granted county judges in the same supplemental bill.
The way the law is structured, sheriffs' pay is tied to the county judges' salaries, which are also the same across the board. The top seven sheriffs in the state (according to county size) receive 95 percent of the judges' salary. Those sheriffs are from Bristol, Essex, Hampshire, Middlesex, Plymouth, Suffolk and Worcester counties.
The next four sheriffs — from Barnstable, Berkshire, Hamp-den and Norfolk counties — receive 90 percent and the bottom three — from Dukes, Franklin and Nantucket counties — receive 75 percent, Panagiotakos said.
Because their pay is tied to the county judges, sheriffs automatically receive a raise when the judges get bumped up. This time, some of them received a much larger raise than others — such as Sheriff Richard M. Bretschneider of Nantucket County, who makes $84,583 and stands to receive a 46 percent raise — when senators decided to put the sheriffs on equal footing. Ac-cording to the legislation, all sheriffs would now receive 95 percent of county judges' salary.
The House of Representatives approved its version of the supplemental bill weeks ago, but did not include the adjusted raises for the sheriffs.
The two approved versions of the bill are now in the hands of conference committee members, who will work to compromise on a final version.
That version must be approved by both the House and Senate, and then signed by Gov. Mitt Romney, before it becomes law.
But because the bill is already in the hands of a conference committee, representatives won't have another opportunity to debate the issue on the House floor.
"Sometimes public officials do deserve more money, but the case has to be made and it has to be... tied to real need and not look like it's being done behind closed doors," said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause.
Sheriffs in Massachusetts have vastly different responsibilities than their counterparts in other states. In Florida, for example, law enforcement is handled primarily by the county sheriff. In Massachusetts, a town or city's police department oversees law enforcement, while sheriffs oversee the county's prisons and jails.
That distinction does not mean sheriffs here don't work as hard as other sheriffs, Panagiotakos said.
"I see it as a different job," he said. "I think our corrections (institutions) are run pretty damn well."
Panagiotakos suggested the state's sheriffs deserve to be paid in relation to other "chief executives," such as district attorneys, whose pay is the same from county to county.
District attorneys currently are paid $117,500 annually.

Friday, December 02, 2005 1:29:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Spice, Colonial, Barrington Stage raise the curtain on revitalization

The top 10

Pittsfield renaissance tops rankings

By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff

The Berkshire Eagle

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Spice opened its doors on a June night. An eager public filled the earth-toned, smoothly lit space, sipped champagne and snacked on Chef Douglas Luf's clever upgrades of classic American comfort food — pigs in a blanket became venison sausage wrapped in puff pastry; the hum-drum chicken wing was glazed with an exotic honey lavender sauce.

Guests that night were doing more than visiting a new, $4.5 million restaurant; they were witnessing the moment when Pittsfield stopped working toward its renaissance and started living it.

Much as Luf has taken some classic dishes and made them new, Pittsfield has taken some of its old, crumbling buildings and made a feast of renewal.

That revitalization, years in the making, has been voted the top local story of the year by editors and reporters at The Eagle.

The opening of Spice was followed in August by the debut performances of the Barrington Stage Company at its new home, just around the corner on Union Street.

And, later that month, the long-awaited restoration of the 103-year-old Colonial Theatre was completed. The $21.6 million renovation returned the stage to near-original condition, and the 810-seat theater has since hosted 52 ticketed events, 34 of which were sold out or nearly sold out.

In 2005, the defunct Maplewood hotel had been transformed into 18 luxury condominiums; now, upscale housing has become the new fad, with construction under way on 27 more condos in historic downtown buildings.

"It's a dream come true," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "To see these magnificent venues open up in downtown Pittsfield in one year is nothing short of remarkable."

In addition to succeeding on their own, the Colonial, Barrington Stage and Spice have helped established businesses do better, Ruberto said. They have encouraged the condo trend, drawn visitors to downtown, and changed the perception of Pittsfield.

Julianne Boyd, the artistic director and founder of the Barrington Stage Company, said she is so excited about downtown that she not only moved her theater from Sheffield to Pittsfield, she moved herself, buying a house in a neighborhood a few blocks away.

"I believe in it. I think it is a tremendously exciting and vital community," Boyd said. "I have rarely seen in my lifetime a community of people who have so wanted it to work, who have so wanted the revitalization to happen."

A downtown renaissance has been at the forefront of Pittsfield's political agenda for a decade. Once the shopping hub of Berkshire County, the city saw its North Street corridor decline as General Electric reduced its workforce in the 1970s and 1980s. The opening of the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough was a near-fatal blow to the already reeling commercial district.

To spark the revitalization, the city championed the restoration of the Colonial Theatre, which had been mothballed since 1952. George Miller had preserved the building, using a portion of it for his art supply store, which his son took over in 1984.

The restoration effort began in earnest in 1997, when state Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. secured a $2.7 million earmark for the project. Nine years and $21.6 million later, the theater has become the cornerstone of a revitalized downtown.

Even before the Colonial opened, new businesses were flocking to the North Street corridor. Bellissimo Dolce, Trattoria Rustica, On a Roll, Joe's Lunch Box and Digital Blend are among the restaurants that launched in anticipation of the new crowds a theater would bring.

Ruberto and the City Council tried to encourage the trend by doling out tax breaks to businesses and contributions to some non-profits, including Spice, which will pay no property taxes on its improvements for 11 years, and the Colonial, which received $1 million from the city.

Council President Gerald M. Lee said the city money has helped encourage private investment, which has made the difference downtown.

"We are not done, obviously. There are a lot of buildings that are still underused or not used at all," Lee said.

The new year will see the arrival of the city's streetscape program, which will use public dollars on a makeover that will include new benches, old-fashioned streetlamps, and improved storefronts and signs.

Also to come is the construction of a six-screen movie theater in the old Kinnell and Kresge buildings. Through a complicated financing package that includes loans, tax credits, public funding and private investments, the $12.6 million Beacon Cinemas could open as early as spring 2008.

"We have a challenge to keep the downtown momentum going," Ruberto said. "We have to redouble our efforts to make sure the necessary funding gets delivered to Pittsfield so things like streetscape and the cinema don't suffer major interruptions."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007 9:25:00 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Dear Rinaldo,

From what you wrote to me, I have now surmised that the state economic development public policies filtered through corrupted Berkshire area Pols is nothing more than "a false public image (facade)" to serve a very perversely incentivized business market that has no interest whatsoever in financially assisting the working poor person and family for a healthy middle class and prospering society with equalities of opportunities and positive societal outcomes.

From the state's inequitable growth of their monopoloy -- a public lottery (a tax on the working poor) -- to cost prohibitive homes and regressive tax structures, the state and local economic development public policies only serve the SPECIAL INTERESTS, while at the same time placing only perverse incentives at the feet of the working poor.

America has become the land of exploitation to serve our corporate masters who pay off our Pols to control their abundance of wealth through inequity, perverse incentives and false pretenses.

WELL, I -- JONATHAN ALAN MELLE -- LIVE TO DISSENT AGAINST THE CORRUPT POLs & TO SUBVERT OUR CORPORATE MASTERS!

I -- JONATHAN ALAN MELLE -- have three words to say to the System of Corporate Government "Of the Inequity, By the Perverse Incentives, and For the False Pretenses": "FUCK YOU ALL!" (Oh, my! Mr. Melle swore. The Injustice!)

In Truth,

Jonathan A. Melle

-----------

Rinaldo wrote:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jonathan:

With regard to your e-mail, I have to state that I am a strong supporter of Dan Bosley, who is an arch-supporter of shared parenting.

You are quite right to identify me with efforts to streamline the permitting process, and quite right to condemn the Berkshire Eagle for not covering this story when I ran for city council. As for the benefits of streamlining the permit process and caps on the days needed to get permits, I can only say three things:

Fort Devans.
Fort Devans.
Fort Devans.

One of the reasons that Fort Devans is doing so well is the 90-day cap on permitting. (For Devans is a superfund site.) Obviously, I was not the person that invented the expedited permitting process—in fact, it was entirely my point that such programs have been very helpful to economic development elsewhere. But you are quite right to say, “As a political supporter of Rinaldo, I find it disheartening to read that his initial ideas for expedited permitting for Pittsfield were not given their due credit by The Berkshire Eagle.” My petitions calling for such were routinely rejected by the Pittsfield City Council, mocked, and when I ran on this issue as a candidate for city councilor, I was completely ignored by the Berkshire Eagle. At the local level, I was the only candidate, elected or un-elected, that was trying to bring this issue to the forefront. Like the efforts to form committees on bullying by District Attorney Capeless which were rejected when I submitted a nearly identical plan as a petition before the Pittsfield City Council, I feel vindicated that the Mayor has also sought wisdom in expediting the permit process and implemented a plan similar to the one I proposed. (Mine was a 90 day cap, but a 180 day cap is also very helpful.) If Fort Devans is doing it and we are not, we should have a damn good reason.

I sent an e-mail to Mayor Ruberto heartily congratulating him on PEDA’s expedited permitting program, and I am ecstatic at the news. The Mayor’s efforts in expediting the permit process deserve a kudos. It is my earnest hope that this will be major a step-forward in making PEDA the next Fort Devans. It is my personal belief that this is a critical step in attracting companies. When you want to open shop, you don’t want a lot of red tape—and you want to be able to open your doors. Cities and industrial locations that can accommodate these needs have a very important competitive advantages over those that do not. I am very proud of our Mayor for his efforts.

As to housing cost being an impediment to economic development because potential employers will be afraid that their employers will not get enough housing for their dollar, this has 1,000 fold more importance than things like the availability of cultural amenities. Unfortunately, this is paid lip service and other issues not as likely to affect economic development are given prominence. Of course, making housing more affordable is a tall order—and that is why it may be on the back burner of present day economic development efforts. People incorrectly view this as a humanitarian issue (poor bloke needs a home he can afford), instead of an economic issue (companies will not move here if housing is too expensive). This myopic view of the problem of affordable housing as only being a humanitarian problem and not an economic one is unjustified.

I appreciate you recognizing this as well.

Thanks Jonathan.

Best Regards,

Rinaldo

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 3:44:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Panel OKs $5.7M loan
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff
The Berkshire Eagle

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

PITTSFIELD — In the fourth of its five budget hearings last night, the City Council gave preliminary approval for the borrowing of $5.7 million for a variety of fiscal 2008 capital projects.

Of that sum, $3.5 million, or 87 percent, is slated for the resurfacing and reconstruction of city roads and sidewalks. An additional $500,000 has been requested for various equipment items, including a street sweeper, three police cruisers and a snowplow.

The list also includes $280,000 for expenditures at the Berkshire Athenaeum, and $275,000 for parking lot improvements and permitting at historic Wahconah Park.

"The philosophy behind this capital budget is that we're moving to the neighborhoods to improve and upgrade them," Mayor James M. Ruberto said.

The road and sidewalk repair funding is not specified for a specific area of the city — "No money was carved away for a specific road or highway," he said.

Ruberto said that, once the council gives final approval to the budget, which is expected to occur next week, he will hold meetings with individual ward councilors and Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood to determine priorities.

"The issue we have to decide collectively is how it best should be spent," Ruberto said.

"You're going to have a lot of pushing and shoving outside your doors once this passes," Ward 3 Councilor Linda M. Tyer said. "Whoever has the sharpest elbows will probably win."

Fixing the city's roads is an issue for which several councilors have long advocated.

"For the last two years I have filed petitions for money for the city's streets," Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop said. "I think this is long overdue, Mr. Mayor."

No strain on city's finances

In answer to a question from Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, City Treasurer G. Richard Bordeau said that borrowing an additional $5.7 million would not strain the city's finances.

Pittsfield's current outstanding bond debt is $51 million, Bordeau said, with all but $1 million of that sum scheduled for school construction costs, which are considered to be outside the debt limit set by the state.

Pittsfield's debt limit is $125 million, which represents 5 percent of the total valuation of city property, Bordeau said.

"We're in good shape relative to the amount of debt that we have," Bordeau said.

The council last night also gave preliminary approval to the second biggest item in Ruberto's $123 million city spending plan — a $36.7 million allocation for unclassified expenses.

This account includes the city's line item for health insurance, which at $19.8 million represents half of the unclassified budget.

The city's health insurance expenses are scheduled to increase by roughly 7.5 percent, or $1.4 million, from the current $18.1 million sum.

Bordeau said the increase is the result of a combination of inflation involving the cost of prescription drugs that are higher than most medical plans and the city's need to make provisions for the number of people who are scheduled to enroll in the program.

'Enrollment isn't static'

"The additional enrollment is a big factor in growth and cost," Bordeau said, "because the enrollment isn't static."

If the enrollment projections are lower than what the city expects, Bordeau said leftover funding would be put back into the city's general fund.

"So a 7.5 percent (increase) could be 6.5 this year?" Bianchi asked.

"Right," Bordeau replied.

The unclassified expenses also include a $600,000 increase in the amount of contingency funding, from $225,000 to $820,000.

Bordeau said contingency funding is slated to pay for negotiated pay raises for collective bargaining unit employees. The increase in that item might not be enough to cover fiscal 2008 raises for School Department employees, he said.

The council also approved a $1.3 million budget for finance and administration, which includes a $100,000 increase in revaluation expenses, from the current $90,000 to $195,000.

Bordeau said that fiscal 2008 is a revaluation certification year for the city of Pittsfield, and that officials will begin working with two contractors to revalue all of the city's property, which hasn't been done in many years.

The council holds its final budget hearing tonight at 7, with the School Department and city clerk budgets under consideration for preliminary approval.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Council OKs school budget

By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff

The Berkshire Eagle

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

PITTSFIELD — Following a long debate in its fifth and final budget hearing last night, the City Council voted unanimously to give preliminary approval to Mayor James M. Ruberto's entire $123 million fiscal 2008 budget proposal, shortly after it approved the city's $48.7 million contribution to the school budget.

The council, which cut no funding from the mayor's budget proposal during five hearings over the last three weeks, is expected to grant final approval to the city budget on June 26 at its next regularly scheduled meeting.

The city's contribution to the school budget, the largest item in the fiscal 2008 spending plan, represents a $2.3 million or 6.3 percent increase over last year. The $48.7 million city contribution, combined with an additional $600,000 in revenue from the school choice, Richmond tuition and revolving accounts, will bring the total school budget to $49.3 million, around $400,000 shy of the $49.7 million spending plan that the School Committee approved in May.

As a result, the School Department will be unable to fund all of the $822,000 in "critical" requests it has proposed for some 16 full-time positions designed to provide academic support at all educational levels throughout the school district. Most of those positions are geared for programs designed to improve Pittsfield's low graduation and dropout rates.

Once the council gives final approval to the city budget, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Sally Douglas said the School Committee will go back and tweak its budget to try and fund all of those requests.

The School Department had asked the city to fund some of those positions, which includes five teachers that were normally funded by federal Title 1 funding. The federal government through the state Department of Education has suggested the city schools use their Title 1 funding next year for academic support programs after the city's public schools were placed in "corrective action" because they failed to make their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards on the MCAS tests for three years in a row.

Ruberto said the School Department made legitimate funding requests like all other city departments and that he and City Treasurer G. Richard Bordeau decided to fund programs that would be sustainable and solve some of the School Department's problems.

"I think a 6.3 percent increase is unprecedented in Berkshire County," Ruberto said. "We're here to invest in education."

During discussion, School Department officials conducted a detailed presentation that focused primarily on the $822,000 in critical requests. School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso said the School Department this year approached the budget process in a different way, focusing more on districtwide issues instead of the needs of individual schools.

"I know this is difficult, but we wanted to present the budget to you in a different way this year to show you what we went through," Amuso said.

Many councilors said they were impressed.

"In the four years that I've been here, this is one of the best information presentations," said Ward 7 Councilor Anthony V. Maffuccio, a frequent critic of the school budget during his tenure on the Council. "This is probably going to be one of the first School Department budgets I'll support as an elected official. On the municipal side, we're concentrating on the neighborhoods, and now we've stepped up to the plate for education."

Before it discussed the school budget, the council also voted unanimously to approve a $247,628 appropriation for the City Clerk's office.

Thursday, June 21, 2007 5:40:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

City Council approves $123.1M for fiscal '08

By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff
The Berkshire Eagle

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

PITTSFIELD — There were no last minute requests to cut funding from the city budget last night. There was no debate either.

With two councilors absent, the City Council last night voted unanimously and quietly to give final approval to Mayor James M. Ruberto's entire $123.1 million fiscal 2008 city budget. The vote for approval was 9-0; Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony V. Maffuccio were not in attendance. The budget goes into effect on July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Last night's final vote was understandable given the circumstances. Last year, the council fought over every expenditure in the mayor's spending plan before reducing an anticipated 3.7 percent tax increase by one percentage point. But this year the council cut no funding from Ruberto's spending plan during three weeks of budget hearings that began on May 30, and gave unanimous preliminary approval to all but one of the mayor's suggested appropriations for 35 city departments.

Maffuccio, who voted against the city solicitor's budget, was the only councilor to cast a dissenting vote during the council's entire review of Ruberto's suggested spending plan.

The council also voted unanimously last night to give final approval to appropriate $2.5 million in free cash to reduce Pittsfield's fiscal 2008 tax rate. As things stand now, Ruberto's budget proposal will require a 4.2 percent tax increase on the average city home, which will amount to about $100 more per year in fiscal 2008 for the average Pittsfield taxpayer. Tax classification hearings, however, don't take place until the fall.

Finally, the council also gave unanimous final approval for the borrowing of $5.7 million for a variety of fiscal 2008 capital improvements. Of that sum, $3.5 million, or 61 percent, is slated for the reconstruction and resurfacing of city roads and sidewalks.

In other business, the council voted 6-3 in favor of the first reading of an ordinance that would add a new section to the city code prohibiting food vendors from setting up within 30 feet of a licensed food establishment. Council President Gerald M. Lee, Councilor at large Matthew M. Kerwood and Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L Bianchi cast the dissenting votes. The council is required to approve two readings of an ordinance before it can go into effect.

The vote on a first reading was taken after the council voted 8-1 in favor of adding two amendments to the ordinance. Ward 3 Councilor Linda M. Tyer, who helped draft the proposal, said the first amendment would allow a temporary suspension of ordinance regulations for vendors who apply for special permits for city activities such as street fairs. Under the second amendment, the provisions in the ordinance would not apply to vendors participating in the city's annual Fourth of July Parade. Pittsfield already has a separate ordinance that regulates parade vendors.

The council had tabled a first reading of the proposed ordinance at its last meeting on June 12, after Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti raised questions regarding how it would effect vendors at such events such as Pittsfield's annual Ethnic Fair.

'Precious resources'

Bianchi, who also voted against the amendment, said the city had expended the "precious resources" of the city solicitor's office crafting an ordinance that he believed would not be enforceable.

"A lot of work has gone into it, and a lot of energy has been expended on an ordinance that wasn't needed and will probably never be enforced," Bianchi said.

Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi had originally proposed the ordinance to settle a dispute over how far the city's lone licensed hot dog vendor, Ernie Jordan, could set up from a North Street burrito shop.

The council also voted to continue until July 10 public hearings on several zoning changes surrounding the proposed Hospice House project at 877 South Street. The ordinance and rules subcommittee has canceled its regularly scheduled meeting tomorrow night, during which those changes were slated to be discussed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007 1:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have lived here for 41 years. I am retired and with the current tax & cost of living environment I am seriously considering moving. Last winter I kept the house at 62 degrees during the day, I actually wore a jacket and thin gloves ... I have canceled premium tv services, can't afford to drive very far ... taxes & fees keep going up. It appears that this government has lost touch with the average citizen. The average citizen has to balance their budget ... make tough choices on cutting back just to survive. Government solution is to raise taxes and fees. I do not want to move .. but I may have to. I feel like the government doesn't care about people like myself!!!!

Monday, August 13, 2007 1:02:00 PM  
Blogger scottpconnors said...

Citizens of Pittsfield unite! It’s time for a change. It’s time to oust King Jim and his minions out of office. An administration that cares more about how far a hot dog cart is from a restaurant and giving away millions to private for profit companies like the Colonial Theater and the Barrington Stage Company, while granting another private for profit business like Spice a thirteen year tax break, certainly does not have the best interests of the citizens of Pittsfield at heart.



King Jim and his minions should be concerned with offering fair and decent wages to city employees, instead of asking them to take a loss in their paychecks, while King Jim and his minion’s deep pockets gets richer and richer. In the current city budget, King Jim and his minions were all granted raises, funny none of them took pay cuts, but other city employees are being forced, not asked, but forced to.



I urge every small business owner in Pittsfield to contact King Jim for your million dollar gift, or your thirteen year tax break. Why should only certain select for profit businesses be entitled to these perks? You’re a business owner, what’s good for one is good for all! It’s time for the citizens of Pittsfield to stand up and elect mature, professional administrators for this city, not school yard bullies. Your vote counts, make the change!

Monday, August 13, 2007 11:22:00 PM  
Blogger scottpconnors said...

Citizens of Pittsfield unite! It’s time for a change. It’s time to oust King Jim and his minions out of office. An administration that cares more about how far a hot dog cart is from a restaurant and giving away millions to private for profit companies like the Colonial Theater and the Barrington Stage Company, while granting another private for profit business like Spice a thirteen year tax break, certainly does not have the best interests of the citizens of Pittsfield at heart.



King Jim and his minions should be concerned with offering fair and decent wages to city employees, instead of asking them to take a loss in their paychecks, while King Jim and his minion’s deep pockets gets richer and richer. In the current city budget, King Jim and his minions were all granted raises, funny none of them took pay cuts, but other city employees are being forced, not asked, but forced to.



I urge every small business owner in Pittsfield to contact King Jim for your million dollar gift, or your thirteen year tax break. Why should only certain select for profit businesses be entitled to these perks? You’re a business owner, what’s good for one is good for all! It’s time for the citizens of Pittsfield to stand up and elect mature, professional administrators for this city, not school yard bullies. Your vote counts, make the change!

Monday, August 13, 2007 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger scottpconors said...

Pittsfield Emergency Dispatchers have not had a raise since 2004, and we are now being told that we must take a pay cut. The pay cut is the end result of the increased cost of the 80/20 split in health insurance that the Mayor wants to impose, the proposed wage increase results in a net loss.

Pittsfield Emergency Dispatchers starting rate is $12.62 an hour ($24,609) a year. Our top rate is $13.75 an hour ($26,812) and it takes four years to reach top rate. The City of Pittsfield Dispatch Center has a 50% turnover rate and we cannot get qualified applicants to apply.

We are currently being offered a two year contract with a 3% raise each year and are being told that for every month we don't sign 1/12 drops off the table.

The median starting salary for dispatchers across the state of Massachusetts is $15.85 an hour ($30,907) a year as of 2004. (Information from a competitive wage study presented to the city and the mayor by the Pittsfield Emergency Dispatchers).

This letter is a plea for you to step up to the plate and help out a group of city employees who are being forced to take pay cuts and who haven't received a raise in three years.

Please contact your city councilor and the Mayor and demand something be done!! This has to be a grass roots effort!! PLEASE HELP!!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 6:49:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

9/7/2007

Dear Rinaldo:

The following (below) is all the information that I have collected about this issue of the City of Pittsfield transferring its pension assets to the state government, while leaving its pension liabilities (debts) with the city government (or local taxpayers).

From the news article link you sent me, it seems that Governor Deval Patrick is finding ways for the state to profit off of the cities and towns. If Governor Deval Patrick was sincere about local pension reform, then he would also have the state government assume the local pension liabilities too. Pittsfield Mayor Jim Ruberto is playing up to the Governor by voluntarily gifting him Pittsfield's pension assets!

Thank you for the response, Rinaldo!

Best regards,

Jonathan A. Melle

--

09/06/2007

Dear Rinaldo Del Gallo III, et al,

On 9/11/07, the Pittsfield City Council will consider voluntarily transferring its pension assets from the city's pension account to the state's pension account. Well, what about the city's pension liabilities (or debts)?

So let me get this straight. The state is assuming Pittsfield's pension assets, while the city is keeping its pension debts. AND this is all being done VOLUNTARILY!

THIS IS THE WORST EXAMPLE OF FINANCIAL (MIS)MANAGEMENT THAT I HAVE READ ABOUT EVER! PITTSFIELD NEEDS LEADERSHIP! I wish Rinaldo Del Gallo III was a local elected leader for my native hometown. He would not let this sort of thing happen to his beloved city government!

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul always has the support of Paul. Unfortunately, Peter is the Pittsfield taxpayer, and Paul is the state government commiting grand larceny against the Pittsfield taxpayer!

In Dissent,

Jonathan A. Melle

--

On the Agenda: Pittsfield City Council

September 06, 2007

The Pittsfield City Council will meet on Tuesday, September 11, at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall on Allen Street.

Here is the agenda:

COMMUNICATIONS FROM HIS HONOR, THE MAYOR

2. A communication submitting an Order authorizing the Retirement Board of the City of Pittsfield to voluntarily transfer assets of the retirement fund to the Pension Reserves Investment Trust

--

The Rosenberg Report - Vol. 51
Wednesday, 08 August, 2007

Senate Accomplishments

We have reached the halfway point of the first year of the 185th session of the Legislature and the Senate has taken up 17 major pieces of legislation, includin...a revision of local pension investments.

Pensions

To produce a greater return on investments, this law directs the assets of underperforming local pension systems into the state's pension fund. The law will allow the state to review the investment performance of local pension funds. The assets of those funds will be rolled into the state system if their assets are less than 65 percent of their liabilities, and if the funds have an average 10-year rate of return at least two percent less than the state's current rate of 10.51 percent.

--

Jonathan:

I really have not studied this issue so I am not prepared to talk about it. I could go read the full text of the petition (which is not available online) by going to city hall.

What I think is happening is simply allowing the state to invest the pension funds because it historically might be doing better on return.

Here is the company's website:
www dot mppf dot org

Here is a Boston Globe article on the subject: (news article below)

That's about all I know. Obviously, "underperforming" pension funds starting looking more "cautious" and "conservative" rather than "underperforming" when there is a downturn in the business cycle. Risk and reward--that sort of thing.

Sorry Jonathan, I have no real opinion either way on this subject. Maybe someday I will.

Rinaldo

--

NEWTON

Pension board hit over returns
Growing chorus for state control

By Connie Paige, Globe Correspondent

February 18, 2007

A new proposal by the governor and a recommendation by a local blue-ribbon commission are turning up the heat on the Newton Retirement Board to increase returns from the city's $250 million pension fund.

On Wednesday, the board is set to consider whether to transfer management of the fund to the state.

The blue-ribbon commission reported, for example, that the city would have gained $12 million more last year if the local pension fund had been managed by the state.

A better return "frees up city funds to be used for other purposes, like salaries and benefits of city workers," rather than covering the pensions of retired city employees, said the commission's chairman, Paul Levy , president of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center . "I should be in favor of that, just like a taxpayer would be. Plus, I am a taxpayer."

The Newton board may not have a choice in the matter if state lawmakers approve a proposal made last week by Governor Deval Patrick. He recommended the state take over local retirement funds that lagged behind the Pension Reserve Investment Trust's investment returns by an average of 2.25 percentage points or more over the last five years, and were less than 80 percent funded -- a measure of how much money a fund has compared with its projected obligations.

Newton's investment returns of 4.61 percent over the last five years are 2.43 percentage points less than the state gain of 7.04 percent ; the city is also funded at only 66.2 percent , state records show.

At least one member of the Newton Retirement Board favors state management of the fund.

"As comptroller of the city," said David Wilkinson , "I think the recommendation of the blue-ribbon commission makes absolute sense." Wilkinson stressed that he was speaking for himself and not the five-member board.

"Turning over $250 million . . . is not something you just do overnight," Wilkinson said. "We're trustees, and we have to act in the best interests of our members."

Wilkinson said he could not respond to Patrick's proposal because he was not familiar with it.

Mayor David B. Cohen also endorsed the panel's recommendation to switch to the state Pension Reserve Investment Trust.

But board members cautioned that the state's investment strategy could be riskier than their more conservative approach.

"If we're taking a higher risk and the market takes a dive, we're going to suffer a lot more" than the state does, "because we're smaller," said the Retirement Board's chairman, Nunzio Piselli .

The blue-ribbon commission, appointed last year to assess the city's financial condition , said the Newton pension plan would have earned $30 million more over the past decade had it invested with the state fund. A comparison of returns for 1995 to 2005 shows Newton outperforming the state in four years .

The decision to transfer to the state trust now rests with local retirement boards. By state law, board membership is stipulated as the city's comptroller, two members elected from among the city's active and retired workforce, a fourth appointed by the board itself, and a fifth appointed by the mayor.

Wilkinson has been on the board since 1992.

The employee-selected members are Francis Capello , president of the firefighters' union and a board member since 1996, and a police officer, Paul Bianchi , a member since 2003.

The board picked Richard Heidlage of Newton, a lawyer in the state attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and a board member since 1997.

Cohen appointed Piselli, a retired Department of Public Works employee and a board member since 1994.

They receive a $3,000 annual stipend for making decisions on behalf of the city's 1,782 active employees, 1,194 retirees, 152 disabled retirees, and 447 people who once worked for the city and have not yet retired.

The board uses Segal Advisors to help manage its portfolio.

In 2005, after a consultant showed that the state had been getting a higher return in recent years, the board decided to put 5 percent under the state's management.

The board will find out the results of the move on Wednesday.

Another recommendation from the blue-ribbon commission -- to replace at least two members of the board with investment professionals -- drew quick reaction.

Wilkinson pointed out that the only member who could be replaced under the law is Heidlage, who once represented the Massport Retirement Board and wrote a book on pension benefits.

Wilkinson said Heidlage offers expertise when the board decides whether to grant disability benefits -- something that can cost the city $1 million per retiree over the life of the pension.

"I would really hate to see us lose the benefit of his good work," Wilkinson said .

When told of the law's requirements, Levy suggested that the city create an investment committee to advise the board.

--

On the Agenda: Pittsfield City Council

September 06, 2007

NEW BUSINESS

33. A petition from Peter Arlos requesting the Council vote to take all necessary steps to enable the City to join the state's health insurance program as part of the Municipal Partnership Act

The Rosenberg Report - Vol. 51
Wednesday, 08 August, 2007

GIC

With the goal of potentially saving municipalities $120-$180 million a year in health costs, this local option for cities and towns would allow them to buy their health insurance through the state insurance plan commonly known as the Group Insurance Commission. GIC rates are expected to rise by just 5 percent in 2008 compared to 11.3 percent for all other Massachusetts employers. Decisions to join the GIC will require 70 percent approval from a municipality's union employees and retirees.

Friday, September 07, 2007 4:37:00 PM  
Blogger scottpconors said...

Mayor Ruberto will not give our city's Emergency Dispatchers the raise they deserve! While he gave himself a $4,000.00 a year raise!! Our dispatchers are vital for the safety of the citizens of Pittsfield. These dispatchers have not recieved a raise in 4 years and are over $4.00 an hour below the Massachusetts average.

Ruberto wants to bring culture and the arts to Pittsfield, which is fine. What happens when someone attending one of these events has a medical emergency? Or, god forbid a fire, or any other issues that requires police, fire, and ems to respond? Ruberto clearly thinks nothing of the civil servants in this city!!!
DO NOT vote for Ruberto on election day!!

Please Pass This On!!

Thursday, November 01, 2007 8:20:00 PM  

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