Editor's note: This is the second article of a two-part series examining the year ahead with North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.
NORTH ADAMS -- Despite the prospect of the next five fiscal budget cycles being very "tight," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright says he remains optimistic about the coming year, as the city's business community continues to grow and add jobs.
"I think this budget is going to be tough, but I'll know more next week after the Massachusetts Municipal Association conference," he said Tuesday during an interview at his office. "We were kind of poised for some increases -- at least in our own mind, with the market coming back, in municipal state aid. With last month's announcements of the emergency 9c cuts, we wonder if that's a not-so-subtle message to not expect much come July 1. We're forecasting for the budget now. We're putting in numbers of flat funding for state aid."
One area of the budget he expects to see savings in is the health insurance line item.
"We have begun the process of talking with our unions about health insurance reform," he said. "It's a topic that has come up before, but we were prevented from doing anything with it because of our medical insurance trust settlement with the unions. That agreement ends this year and we're already in discussions."
The mayor added, "Beyond that, it's very difficult to look at the budget and find places to cut that would make the kind of difference you need to balance your numbers. [Administrative Officer] Michael Canales and I have worked over the last couple of weeks to spread some numbers. We really think that with a good deal of discipline, we could see our budget balanced in the next five years, without setting up budgets with structural deficits."
At this point, Alcombright doesn't foresee anything "big or different" in the budget.
"I don't see any layoffs at this point, but we really won't know what the complete picture looks like until we put the numbers together," he said. "We also really have to be mindful of how we grow our budget. We can't be growing it by 3 to 4 percent a year; which we really haven't done."
One opportunity in the works is a special tax assessment agreement with Crane & Co., which hinges on the creation of 75 new jobs at its Curran Highway plant.
"We will be negotiating that over the next four to six weeks and then hopefully it will be approved by the Massachusetts Office of Business Development in March," he said. "We should see those jobs by early fall."
Those jobs will be complemented by an additional 100 new jobs being created at the Walmart Supercenter on Curran Highway, which is slated to open later this year.
"We should be hearing about some job fairs over the next month for new positions," Alcombright said. "At the last [City] Council meeting, I diffused the rumor that current employees would need to reapply for their jobs. There's going to be 100 new jobs available, 40 of which will be full-time."
There's also potential for more growth through the Partnership for North Adams.
"Right now, the Partnership is working with a planning entity to look at opportunities in the city. My direction to them was ... that we need to look at all sectors and every opportunity," he said. "I think it's wonderful to have someone from outside the area who could really come up with some ideas or solutions for our vacant churches. ... I'm hoping very much that the Partnership can help us find some answers."