NORTH ADAMS -- While an update on Western Gateway Heritage State Park private development plans caused fireworks at City Hall on Tuesday, city councilors later quietly approved fiscal 2013 budget adjustments totaling $600,971 proposed by the mayor.
The approved budgetary changes represent $172,309 in cuts and $428,662 in transfers from the city’s reserves.
With the changes, the city’s reserves will stand at $960,698, down from $1,389,360, as of Jan. 1.
City councilors logged few objections to individual line items at the meeting.
Councilors John Barrett III and Marie Harpin opposed a cut in city spending on North Adams Public Library supplies by $25,000, a figure replaced by a transfer from the library’s gift account.
Barrett worried that state aid collected by the library to help run its book lending programs could be in danger should the city drop funding too low, and thought the library’s gift account funds should be used as its officials see fit and not for items previously paid for by the city.
"It doesn’t set well with me on this particular thing," Barrett said. "... I think it’s a very important service that a lot of our citizens use."
Mayor Richard Alcombright responded, "the library director [Rick Moon] seems confident that this will work." Administrative Officer Michael Canales said he would look into the matter.
Barrett and Councilor Alan Marden later
Most of Tuesday’s approved budget reductions included some "backfilling" -- or support by way of fund transfers from reserves or gift accounts.
Notably, these include reductions to police officer and firefighter salaries by $100,000 and $98,662, respectively, replaced in full by transfers from the Parking Meter Reserve Account and stabilization fund. A $200,000 cut to trash removal services is mitigated by $150,000 from the Landfill Reserve Account. Savings of $56,269 were had through the nixed public safety commissioner’s salary -- but Alcombright asked that $27,500 be left for potential department head raises.
A Heritage State Park discussion, on the other hand, began the meeting hotly.
Barrett, who asked that the issue be made an agenda item at the meeting, opposed the mayor’s plan to rely on private investment to improve the park. He said the strategy failed during the 80s and 90s, while he was mayor, leaving the park in dire financial and physical condition.
"I see something that failed 30 years ago and can’t work now," Barrett said.
Alcombright agreed that the idea was the same, but said conditions now are different. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is involved; the city recently received an $881,488 MassWorks grant for park improvements; the Ashu willticook Rail Trail is set to be extended from Adams and closer to the city; and Mount Greylock sees increasing visitors each year.
"There are plenty of things, I think, that are different today than back in the 90s," Alcombright said.
The plan, he pointed out, is supported by the state departments of Transportation and Conservation and Recreation, and the Governor’s office. The city cannot afford to improve the park on the strength of its own coffers, he added.
At one point, Barrett’s objections and repeated calls for a "point of information" after trying to comment elicited numerous gavel strikes and shouting from Council President Michael Bloom.
Another of the councilors took a different tack.
Despite being in favor of the overall plan, Councilor Jennifer Breen called City Solicitor John DeRosa’s involvement in drafting a request for proposals document for the park a "clear-cut conflict of interest."
"At this point I don’t think this is a legal transaction, quite honestly," Breen said. "I can’t imagine going forward with this without checking."
Breen suggested consulting the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office over the matter.
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