NORTH ADAMS -- Although the City Council approved some $656,155 in fund transfers to close out the fiscal 2012 budget on Tuesday, much of the evening's debate centered around the role of the council and the budget approval process.
Councilor John Barrett III first took issue with two orders calling for the transfers, which were presented to the council prior to the start of the meeting, motioning for them to be sent to the city's Finance Committee for review.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, who submitted the transfers -- one for $399,205.66 from various accounts with surpluses to accounts with deficits, and another for a transfer of $256,949 from the stabilization account to the Public Safety and Public Services accounts to cover salaries and expenses accounts -- stated the transfers needed to be completed by July 15.
"I apologize for these not being to you sooner," he said, noting that the July 4 holiday and the need to process warrants had delayed the process. The mayor indicated that he, along with Administrative Officer Michael Canales and Auditor David Fierro, were willing to answer any questions.
"I'd like to have time to review this and ask questions," Barrett said. "I also believe many of these transfers could have been and should have been made when the shortages occurred."
Alcombright offered an alternative of holding a meeting at 6 p.m. on Friday, allowing time for councilors to review the transfers and
Barrett said the orders "did not sit well with him" but said he wasn't going to turn down the transfers, as the city needed to balance its books.
"It should go to committee and it should have gone to committee when the shortages occurred and not at the last minute, at the last hour," he said. "I think the message I'd like to send to the council is that it stop now. I don't agree with a lot that is here or many of the answers."
Both transfers passed with eight votes in favor and Councilor Jennifer Breen, who was in favor of holding a meeting Friday, casting the lone dissenting vote in each case.
Barrett also took issue with the approval of the city's Compensation and Classification Plans at the prior meeting, once again stating that they were approved without being properly vetted by the Finance Committee. He also again took issue with the Finance Committee reviewing a draft budget.
"I don't mind being told that you don't agree with me, but don't question what I'm asking here," he said. "Most of you know me and I'm not going to present anything to this council unless I check my facts. The mayor has every right to come in here and defend his budget. That's his job. Our job is to question it and make him convince us to support it."
Councilor Alan Marden, who serves as Finance Committee chairman, said a lot of what Barrett was talking about was "semantics" and that the committee did receive the draft Compensation and Classification Plans from the mayor and discussed the five salary increases in question -- for the city auditor, the assistant information systems manager, the skating rink manager, the Veterans Services Agent and the reinstatement of an employee in the city's water department.
According to minutes submitted in June by Marden, the committee received the draft plans at its June 7 meeting and voted to recommend them.
Alcombright also objected to Barrett's statements, saying he had no problem with the council reviewing the fiscal policies and processes, but he took issue with the former mayor's constant critique of his administration.
"This has been six months of this is the way I did it, as opposed to the way I do it. I just hope that we can get past this because we have a 11 2 years to go with this session, with this council," he said. "I'm not going to keep standing here and wanting to say Councilor Barrett was wrong when he was mayor. Nor do I think he wants to sit there and tell me I'm wrong all of the time. It's got to stop or we're going to keep spinning our wheels over the process. My processes are different ..."
Alcombright added, "I'm at the podium now and this is how I prepare a budget. If the council wants to review things, I'm fine with that. I agree with Councilor Barrett; the council is the check and balance. But I'm fine with my processes."
The council voted 8 to 1 in favor of forwarding a request to the Finance Committee to consider reviewing fiscal policies and procedures submitted by Barrett. Councilor Keith Bona cast the lone vote against it.