NORTH ADAMS -- The city's draft fiscal 2014 budget of $36.6 million calls for an increase of $333,178 or .92 percent -- an increase Mayor Richard J. Alcombright hopes to see drop to .75 percent by the time a finalized budget is submitted in June.
"This budget does reflect a reduction in staffing by about 5 1/2 positions; reductions in capital spending, and it reflects departmental consolidations," the mayor said Monday, during a meeting of the city's Finance Committee.
City Councilor Alan Marden, chairman of the committee, began the meeting by emphasizing no action or recommendations would be made until the finalized budget was submitted and reviewed.
Additional meetings to review the draft budget are scheduled for this Wednesday, and Tuesday, May 28, both at 5:30 p.m., at City Hall.
Alcombright stated the city would "once again not end the year well" in regard to closing out the fiscal 2013 budget.
"Expenses very much out of our control have once again driven us to the edge of our reserves," he said. "At this time, we have annualized expected overruns in police salaries, fire salaries, snow and ice, veterans services and health insurance. We will at best eke out the year."
He added, "Three years ago, I lobbied for a Proposition 21 2 override, which I believe all members of this Finance Committee supported. When that was defeated, I was criticized because I did not make the cuts anticipated when the override failed. I did make some cuts, but not all, with the hopes that revenues would bounce back. That has not been the case."
Alcombright said he believes that if the Proposition 21 2 override had passed, the city would not have had to drain down its reserve accounts in order to set the tax rate and cover account overages at the end of the year.
"We have a very significant problem here in the city. I am convinced it is not a spending problem as much as it is a revenue problem," he said. "There is no appetite to raise fees or look at overrides, so once again we have cut where we can and consolidate where possible."
Councilor John Barrett III, who was in attendance at the meeting, said that he believes part of the current "cash deficit" position of the city was caused by the raises that were approved after the override failed.
"I maintain that if we had not granted a lot of pay raises, most of which went to the school department, we wouldn't be in the box we're in," he said. "When I was in office, cuts were absorbed by the money that was set aside. We didn't give pay raises and we didn't fill positions."
Examples of departmental consolidations were given during the review of the general government and public services departmental budgets.
Public Services Commissioner Timothy Lescarbeau noted that he planned to add a position to the water department by filling the job from within the department and eliminating a laborer position.
City Councilor Nancy Bullett expressed her concern that eliminating a laborer position from the Public Works Department would cause more deferred maintenance at the city's public fields.
"Doesn't this stretch them thin? In general terms, our recreational facilities are important to our community and I'd hate to not have a sufficient amount of people to maintain them," she said.
Administrative Officer Michael Canales noted that by consolidating the city's seasonal workers into a single line item, Lescarbeau could easily direct them to areas where work needs to be done.
In addition, he said a similar consolidation in the treasurer/collector's and auditor's offices will result in a net savings of $18,000.
"The clerks in these offices are sharing the responsibilities of a position that has been eliminated. It's created efficiencies in both offices," Canales said, noting the savings comes after compensating three employees who are taking on the additional work.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email