North Adams Transcript
NORTH ADAMS -- Whether the city should grant raises to its employees when a Proposition 21Ž2 override is being considered to fund a projected $1.2 million shortfall for fiscal 2012 was the focus of a heated hour-long debate during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
During the meeting, which lasted over three hours, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright brought forward a compensation plan that would increase salaries for the city’s Department of Public Works employees by 1 percent for fiscal 2011. The raises, totaling $9,000, would be retroactive back to the start of the fiscal year on July 1, 2010.
"This raise has been planned for and is currently factored into the fiscal 2011 budget," he said.
The retroactive raise is part of a three-year contract recently settled with the department’s union, which also includes a 1 percent raise in fiscal 2012 and a 2 percent raise in 2013.
Although the council wasn’t approving funding for the retroactive raise at the meeting -- the vote was only to publish the compensation plan as required by law and pass it to a second reading -- several councilors expressed their displeasure that raises had been approved for not only the DPW, but also for the teachers union and the school district’s custodians.
Councilor Marie Harpin, who cast the lone vote against passing the compensation plan to a second reading, said she didn’t understand how the city would be able to fund the pay raises.
"I’m very concerned about this, mayor," she said. "I thought you had stopped all negotiations with the unions at this point? How are we going to fund this over the next two years when we know we’re having problems funding the budget in the coming fiscal year?"
Councilor Lisa Blackmer also expressed her concerns, noting that the council would be having a special meeting Friday to consider putting an override before the voters in June.
"It’s hard to sit here with a notice about a meeting on Friday to set an override vote and hear you ask for raises," she said. "I think it sets a precedent when we get into the other departments. We also already know that we went over budget this year with overtime for the DPW and the Department of Public Safety."
She added, "I find it discouraging to know that we’re going to the public to ask for an increase [in taxes] and that our employees are asking for raises. Part of this is the art of negotiating. From what I’ve heard, what the unions were asking for when they came to the table was unreasonable. People in the private sector aren’t getting raises. State employees are going without raises and have taken furloughs."
Alcombright reiterated that he was only asking for the fiscal 2011 raise, which he had set money aside for in the fiscal 2011 budget. He also clarified that he had stopped negotiations with the unions that had yet to settle with the city.
"At the end of the day, the impact on deficit is negligible," he said. "I think we came to a fair arrangement. I don’t want to be where we’ve been for the last year two years. The contracts are signed. We just paid out $90,000 for retroactive pay raises to the public safety department for raises the previous administration agreed to but didn’t fund.
"I’m asking you to fund the compensation plan. I’ve had 11Ž2 years of surprises and I’m done with it. This is a way to fix costs for three years. We know what the costs are going to be. We have plenty of costs that will continue to increase over the next three years. I don’t know what the cost of oil is going to be in December. I have no control over that. I can control this. I knew it wasn’t going to be a popular decision."
Councilors Michael Bloom and David Bond supported Alcombright’s reasoning.
"I don’t agree with Councilor Blackmer that we’re sending the wrong message," Bloom said. "I think it sends message we’re going to settle for a little amount. At this point, have one behind, and we’ll worry about the rest at a later date. This package isn’t unusual -- we’ve done this in the past in similar economic situations."
Bond said his agreement was based on the fact that if the city failed to fund the compensation plans, it would eventually lead to larger costs -- fees for lawyers and an arbitration which could end with an even higher payout to employees.
"This package was my final offer," Alcombright said. "We went in with zero on the table. I can tell you the other offers are in the same range."
Council President Ronald Boucher, who stepped down from his post to take part in the debate, said he’d feel more comfortable funding the pay increase after the override vote on June 21.
"I don’t know what ‘plan b’ is at this point, should the override not pass," he said.
Alcombright said he hadn’t formed a concrete plan at this point but it would include furloughs, position cuts and the elimination of non-critical services such as the library, senior center and Windsor Lake.
"The contract is done," the mayor said. "All I’m asking for is the fiscal 2011 compensation plan which is already funded. Why would you hold it up?"
After hearing public comments on the issue, including criticism from Council candidate Robert Cardimino, the council voted 8 to 1 to publish the compensation plan. The council will vote on the issue at its next meeting.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email