Friday, March 17, 2017
“Pittsfield Councilwoman Lisa Tully won't seek third term in 1st Ward seat”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 15, 2017
PITTSFIELD — City Councilwoman Lisa Tully has announced that she will not be seeking a third term representing Ward 1.
Tully, who was first elected to the council in 2013, said she hoped her early notice would enourage other candidates to step up to run for the seat in November's election.
"I want to see more young people get involved in city politics and the healthy debate of local issues during the upcoming election season for this very important position," she wrote in a media release. "It has been an honor to represent the residents of Ward 1 for two terms."
She cited the time constraints of public service.
"While the experience is very rewarding, being a city councilor is also very time consuming," she said. "At this moment in my life, I want to spend more time with my grandchildren while they are still young."
Tully, who is a charge nurse for the radiology/ cardiology department at Berkshire Medical Center, said she intended to remain active in the community.
"Although I will no longer be officially in public service, I will continue to serve the community as a volunteer. I will remain an advocate for the restoration of the house at Springside Park," she said. "I will continue to offer my services to the Morningside Initiative and assist with the annual cleanup. I also plan to get involved in other volunteer activities with the additional free time.
"I wish to thank all of my family, friends and neighbors who supported and encouraged me to put myself out in front of the public and seek a local office," she said. " Don't be surprised to see me return to city government when my nursing career winds down and my grandchildren are older."
"This is a great place to live and I want people to understand that." - Helen Haerhan Moon, candidate for Pittsfield City Council
“Pittsfield City Council: Candidate steps up for Ward 1”
Moon says she was inspired to serve after the election
By Dick Lindsay, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, March 16, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Bullish about the city's future, Helen Haerhan Moon wants to represent Ward 1 on the City Council.
Moon announced Thursday morning she plans to take out nomination papers next month in hope of succeeding Lisa Tully in the citywide November election. The critical care registered nurse at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington is the first Ward 1 candidate to emerge since Tully announced on Tuesday she wasn't seeking a third, 2-year term. The out-going incumbent has vowed to remain active in the community.
A native of South Korea, Moon relocated from Longmeadow eight years ago finding Pittsfield a great place to live.
"I'm running because I believe in the good of Pittsfield," she said in an Eagle interview. "I'm invested in making Pittsfield better."
Following the presidential election four months ago, Moon says she felt compelled to get more involved in her neighborhood, her ward, her city.
If elected, Moon plans to be part of the rejuvenation of the Tyler Street/Morningside area through the state-sponsored Transformative Development Initiative. The TDI project, through plenty of public input, looks to improve the housing, business and social opportunities in the Tyler Street area.
Moon also vows to push forward the restoration of the house at Springfield Park.
"Lisa has done a great job with Springside Park and I want to be an advocate for that," she said.
Moon realizes Pittsfield has issues with crime, drug addiction and other social ills, but she hopes to be part of the solutions to those issues. She also wants to be a voice for everyone in her ward and promises to improve the level of inclusiveness and diversity within the city.
"This is a great place to live and I want people to understand that," she said.
Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.
Mark Tully: “At ceiling, Pittsfield confronts reality”
By Mark Tully, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, March 20, 2017
PITTSFIELD — There is a common misconception that I hear often. People have the impression that since the city is close to the Prop 2.5 ceiling, the voters will be asked repeatedly to pass overrides in order to increase our tax levy. Some people say that there is no way the citizenry will pass a property tax increase. Other people say that once deep service cuts are apparent, the people will pony up and pass an override.
To these people, I have bad news. Proposition 2.5 does not allow for a voter supported override.
A Proposition 2.5 override is not permitted to increase the tax levy beyond 2.5 percent of the "Full and Fair Cash Value" of the community's property. This is the levy ceiling which cannot be surpassed. The only way to increase our levy is to significantly increase the "Full and Fair Cash Value" of the community through growth.
Is there cause for concern? Yes, we must all become aware of the financial dilemma facing our city. At the joint City Council /School Committee meeting at the end of January, a five-year financial forecast was presented by the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston. This study, paid for by a grant, forecasts conservatively what the city's spending will be for five years, based on historical trends and current contractual obligations. Of course, the inevitable increases in health care, salaries and retirement benefits are the main cost drivers. Then the study looks at revenues where property taxes account for over 50 percent with very little growth in sight.
The comparison of revenues to expenditures is shocking. Next fiscal year, we will be more than $3 million short. For FY 2019 we will be more than $7 million short, FY 2020 more than $10 million, FY 2021 more than $14 million and FY 2022 more than $18 million.
These figures represent our cost overruns of doing business in the same manner as we have been doing for last 14 years. Except now, because of the Proposition 2.5 ceiling, we are not allowed to raise our taxes and cannot continue "business as usual."
We must make smart reductions this year and every year in the future. If health care increases 5 percent, we need to either cut a service by the same amount or decrease the health care benefits to employees. If the school department is to receive a contractual $1 million in salary increases, then we need to cut more services in the city budget or discontinue popular but not required school programs. This is not hypothetical, it is our new reality.
An opposition argument I hear often is that we must increase our tax base to solve our revenue shortfall. Yes, increasing our tax base IS the only solution. However that is similar to me saying I need to win the Powerball lottery to plan my retirement. The forecasted spending would require Pittsfield to find second home owners to build 1,000 luxury condos each year. Or a project on the scale of the MGM Casino that Springfield is building. We need to understand that in order to increase our tax levy by $1 million, (which is only a fraction of the annual levy increase), Proposition 2.5 ceiling mandates that we build $40 million of new growth into our value. Growth on a scale of this magnitude is not possible.
Are there other communities in Massachusetts at or near their ceiling? Yes, Springfield is at its ceiling, but it hopes the MGM Casino project stimulates growth. In addition to Springfield, Avon and Holyoke are the only other communities that have been at their ceiling. Pittsfield is next in line, Holbrook and Longmeadow are close but can still increase their tax levies by 6 percent, staving off the inevitable for a few years.
Last year, I had the good fortune to tag along with my wife, [Ward 1 City Councilor] Lisa, to Holyoke. Lisa made an appointment to meet with the Holyoke treasurer and auditor to learn how they operate without being able to increase the tax levy. Holyoke has many challenges and its underperforming school system was a major problem. When the Holyoke school system was taken over by the state last year, ironically, it financially helped the city. This year, to meet budget constraints, Holyoke had to close a fire station; consolidate department personnel and reduce staff by not replacing retirees. These are just a few of the savings Holyoke has to implement each year.
Diet and exercise
So how does Pittsfield move forward in the face of such financial challenges? There isn't a quick solution, this is a way of life change. I think of a Type 2 diabetic when the only way to reverse the disease and regain a high quality of life is through diet and exercise. We must put ourselves on a strict diet, but not a starvation diet because we must also exercise. Any increase to a department's budget must be determined if it will help the city grow and any decrease must be judged on if it will cause the city's growth to shrink. For example, would foregoing school department raises create a negative impact to the city? Or, would foregoing popular school department programs to pay for the raises have a negative impact on our city?
These are the decisions now before us. We cannot have it all. The credit card is max'd out and the savings account is depleted. We are all affected by this and are all in it together.
In closing, when we concluded our interview with Holyoke, Lisa asked the auditor if there is a bright side to being at their tax ceiling. He responded: Yes, because it forces public officials to finally make the unpopular but prudent financial decisions that they should have been making all along.
Mark Tully is a resident of Pittsfield and sales manager for Kidde-Fenwal Controls, an electrical/electronics manufacturer.
iBerkshires.com - Letter to the Editor, February 17, 2017
To the Editor:
Congratulation to the nine all white male firefighter that Pittsfield just hired with federal funds and to the City's Equal Rights and Employment Commission for a job well done. It appears they have made lots of progress in the last few years. The city should be real proud.
“Pittsfield disregarded affirmative action”
Letter to the Editor of The Berkshire Eagle, March 18, 2017
To the editor:
Do we know racism, sexism and other "isms" when we see them or do we just say "Not here." Or do we give great speeches and write articles about the injustice of it all and and then call it a day.
I have to admit that I have been struggling with this issue. I grew up in Windsor, lived many years in Pittsfield and have now lived in Cheshire for many years. What caused me to write this letter was I read recently in The Eagle that Pittsfield appointed nine new firemen. Congratulations to them and to their families. I am sure they will serve the city well.
[The nine recruits are Kyle Bailey, Brandon Bailey, Nicholas Teti, Brendan Shank, Shawn Leary, Craig Eggleston, Michael Herman, Timothy Sayers and Stephen Papa.]
What my concern is that it appears that from the picture in The Eagle that the city appointed nine white, male candidates. Not one word has been said or written about this issue. I am not sure if we just choose to ignore this issue or with the emergence of Trump, this kind of action is condoned.
I have filed with the City Council a petition that calls for a review of theses appointments and the city's efforts to promote fair and equal treatment for all. I believe that the city and all of us can and should do better to insure better treatment and more opportunities for minorities. I urge everyone to write to federal and state officials, especially those in charge of grants to the city and urge them not to award them to the city until they show real progress in promoting affirmative action.
James M. Boyle,
The writer is a former School Committee chairperson and former city councilor.
Dennis Powell of the NAACP speaks during a press conference Wednesday morning regarding the City of Pittsfield’s hiring practices and diversity efforts throughout local government. From left are Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski, City Councilor Peter White, Mayor Linda Tyer, Dennis Powell, City Councilor John Krol and Superintendent Jason McCandless. Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Credit: Gillian Jones, The Berkshire Eagle.
From left, city officials including Maria Richardson, Michael Summers, Robert Czerwinski, and Peter White listen during a press conference Wednesday morning regarding the City of Pittsfield’s hiring practices and diversity efforts throughout local government. The news conference was held in response to a letter to the editor from a former city councilor published in the Berkshire Eagle. The author also filed a petition with the City Council to review the city’s hiring practices in regards to affirmative action. Credit: Gillian Jones, The Berkshire Eagle.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, city officials and community leaders, hold a press conference Wednesday morning regarding the City of Pittsfield’s hiring practices and diversity efforts throughout local government. The news conference was held in response to a letter to the editor from a former city councilor published in the Berkshire Eagle. The author also filed a petition with the City Council to review the city’s hiring practices in regards to affirmative action. Credit: Gillian Jones, The Berkshire Eagle.
“Steps taken, steps needed: City examines diversity in workforce”
By Carrie Saldo, The Berkshire Eagle, March 22, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Work has been done, and there is still much work to do. That's what the president of the local NAACP had to say about the city's minority hiring practices.
Dennis Powell was among those who spoke during a news conference organized by Mayor Linda M. Tyer Wednesday. The event was held in response to a letter to the editor that stated the city disregarded affirmative action, and that leadership was not hiring enough non-white candidates.
Joined by nine community leaders, Tyer said the assertions made in the letter are false. Several of those gathered, including Powell, cited steps Tyer's administration had taken to increase diversity in both paid and appointed positions.
"Are we where we should be? No. Are we where we were? No," Powell said. "Progress has been made, but the process is a slow process because it was never practiced in years past."
Printed in Sunday's Eagle, a letter from James M. Boyle, a City Councilor in the 1990s and School Committee Chairman in the 1980s, pointed specifically to the hiring of nine white, male firefighters as proof city employment lacks diversity.
"I believe that the city and all of us can and should do better to insure better treatment and more opportunities for minorities," Boyle wrote.
In addition, he urged the public to write to federal and state officials, especially those who issue grants, and ask they be denied until the city demonstrates "real progress in promoting affirmative action."
Tyer said while its work to diversify city ranks is far from complete, it is ongoing and progress has been made.
"I just could not allow this false information to go unanswered," she said of her reason to call the news conference about the letter. "It is an absolutely unfair characterization of the city."
She vehemently disagreed with Boyle's call to action regarding grant funding.
She said grant funding supports work in numerous areas of city government including gang prevention, small business development, and a variety of housing programs. She specifically cited the Community Development department which she said received $45 million in grants over the past 12 years.
Boyle also filed a petition with the city that asked city councilors publically state their opposition to "racism and sexism" and should request updates from the mayor, department heads, and school leadership about efforts to diversify hiring.
City Council President Peter Marchetti said the petition would be referred to the mayor's office.
Personnel Director Michael Taylor described the city's hiring as fair, inclusive and added it focuses on "diversity and equality for all."
Taylor said, in an effort to reach a broader group of people, he has organized events to inform the public about qualifications needed for many of its jobs. In addition, its job openings are widely posted and also distributed by the local NAACP chapter.
While the majority of municipal government's approximately 480 employees are white, the workforce did become more diverse from 2015 to 2016.
The percent of African-Americans increased from 3.3 percent to 4.5 percent and Hispanics increased from 3.3 percent to 4.3 percent, according to statistics provided by Taylor. Asians and American Indians employed by the city still represent .2 percent of the workforce respectively.
Those figures do fall short of the broader population demographics.
Of Pittsfield's approximately 43,000 residents 85 percent are white, 5.4 percent are African American, 5.4 percent are Hispanic, 1.8 percent are Asian, and .2 percent are American Indian, according to 2015 information on city-data.com.
Powell pointed out that the local NAACP was instrumental in reviving an affirmative action policy and an advisory committee in 2013 under then Mayor James M. Ruberto. The committee had been dormant since the '90s.
Affirmative action policies typically dictate how an entity will work to improve opportunities for minority groups, which have historically been excluded.
He said the NAACP has been working to hold Tyer, and previous mayors, accountable for upholding its affirmative action policy.
"I see her on the right path," he said of Tyer. "Change starts with local government and I'm really pleased with the change I see occurring here locally."
He referenced the addition of Michael Summers and Yvonne West, both African-Americans, to the Board of Health as two steps in the right direction. Two people of color — Ty Allan Jackson, an African-American, and Helen Moon, an Asian-American — are running for City Council, which he cited as additional proof that a message of inclusion is being communicated to the public.
Powell also spoke highly of the on-going cultural competency training in the public schools and more recently among Tyer's senior staff.
Peter White, chairman of the city's Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, said it meets quarterly to discuss and debate ways to improve the treatment of minority groups, including members of the disabled community.
"We are making sure every effort is being put out there to hire diverse candidates," said White, also a member of City Council.
Among the attempts to increase diversity among its employees, the city may examine the Civil Service process. It requires candidates take an exam to determine eligibility for some jobs.
The test fee is $250 and testing is usually held outside of the Berkshires, both of which can be barriers for applicants, leaders said.
City fire and police departments use the Civil Service process to guide hiring. Results expire after two years and a candidate must pay to retake the exam if they were not hired and still want to be considered for a position.
Tyer said the city will continue to study the challenges of Civil Service hiring and that it would work with state leaders to try and improve the process.
She thanked Boyle for calling attention to the matter and said work on the issue would continue.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or email@example.com or @carriesaldo
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer defends hiring practices during a press conference at city hall. Credit: JD Allen, WAMC.
"Pittsfield Defends Hiring Practices"
By JD Allen, WAMC, March 22, 2017
Pittsfield is promoting diverse hiring practices following allegations over several years that the western Massachusetts city does not conform to affirmative action standards.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer held a press conference Wednesday in response to a letter to the editor in The Berkshire Eagle that was critical of the city’s affirmative action policies. Tyer says the city has worked hard to improve diversity in its hiring practices.
“It is not about a quota," Mayor Tyer says. "It is not about meeting a quota. It is rather about addressing the barriers and creating an inclusive work environment.”
Pittsfield updated its affirmative action plan three years ago. Officials say the number of minority city employees has increased. Last year, Pittsfield employed 48 minorities out of 480 total workers.
The city also has promoted diversity training at public schools, city hall and public safety departments.
Note: The city employs about 480 people; the School Department, about 1,200.
Letter: “City should focus on residents, not on immigrants”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 23, 2017
To the editor:
This past November's election has taught us all many things. It has reminded us that the long shot should never be counted out and sometimes it ultimately prevails. Donald Trump is now our president, an upset to some and a relief to others.
I am of the latter. I am a huge Trump supporter. Why not build the wall and protect ourselves, and to help pay for it, he can start by taking money away from sanctuary cities. I am for veterans before immigrants. Love him or hate him, he is making a nation think about issues we have all taken for granted.
Which leads me to the anger I felt when the city of Pittsfield claimed that it will welcome immigrants with open arms. While working with state Sen. Hinds and Rep. Farley-Bouvier, Mayor Linda Tyer says we will give immigrants all the support possible. Shouldn't that have been a community discussion and not made by the great hierarchy of Western Massachusetts? They are supposed to represent one and all not just a minority of voters. I am sure the city will get some sort of payout for accepting the refugee resettlement community. The question is how much? And will the taxpayer see it? I doubt it. We just keep getting asked to pay more and more.
The mayor should be protecting who is already here. This city is in dire straights. Financially, we are a whisper away from economic failure. Plus there seems to be a spending problem going on even more so within the last few years. We need to make Pittsfield great again and the current administration isn't cutting it.
Getting the same type of people to run for office again won't fix the situation either. There have to be people who truly want change and who will vote for change regardless if the other members agree or not. We don't need more special interests. We need more strong-minded, opinionated people.
If a non-politician businessman can become president, then anything is possible. That includes improving the local government.
“Pittsfield Public Schools to see 'real and substantive cuts'”
By Carrie Saldo, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, March 23, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Anticipating nearly $1.7 million in budget cuts, and the potential loss of 65 positions, the Pittsfield School Committee wants to give itself and the public additional time to mull over the difficult decisions it is facing in fiscal 2018.
Initially, the district had intended to present its line item budget on the same evening as a public hearing about the budget. Instead, the committee will hold separate meetings to release the $60.7 million proposal and then to hear public input on it.
District leaders continue to work toward what they say will be a level-funded budget. With the city at its levy ceiling, and with no potential for a Proposition 2 override, Mayor Linda M. Tyer has asked all areas of city government, including the school department, to deliver level-funded budgets.
Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless presented the committee with the second draft of the fiscal 2018 budget during its meeting Wednesday.
The version cuts 65.3 positions and $1,325,153 from what would be a level services budget. Even with those cuts, the $60,665,421 proposal is $349,083, above this fiscal year, or a 0.57 percent increase.
The draft budget presented earlier this month proposed cutting 57.3 positions — the district has about 1,200 employees — and carried a 0.91 percent increase.
Committee member Anthony Riello asked about jobs saved through attrition. McCandless said about one-third of the positions might be retained that way.
Cuts to the district's pre-kindergarten offerings and contributions to the Helen Berube Teen Parent Program are among the other cuts McCandless pointed out, explaining the district believes other community partners will be able to make up differences in those areas.
He said that does not lessen the blow of the challenges ahead for the district and the students it serves.
"These are very real and substantive cuts, McCandless said.
The budget presented April 5 will include line items and it will be level funded, he said. The district will hold the budget public hearing April 12 and plans to adopt a budget April 26, a few days ahead of the May 1 deadline.
The city cannot ask voters for a Proposition 2 override because there has not been enough new growth in the city's tax base to support that, officials have said.
And the city lost $129 million in property value over the past five years, McCandless said Matthew Kerwood, the city finance director, explained in a meeting last week.
Tyer pointed out Pittsfield is not alone in its struggle to grow.
She said several Massachusetts communities are at or near their levy ceilings. Because of that, she said there may be an opportunity for those communities to work together on a solution. She said perhaps those municipalities could lobby state leaders to rethink the formula surrounding how taxes may be levied.
Tyer also told the committee health insurance premiums are increasing at exorbitant rates and she wondered aloud what would happen if the city stopped offering insurance.
"We would never do that," but if communities did, would it put pressure on insurance companies to stop increasing their rates, she asked.
Despite challenges, Tyer said she is optimistic that some new growth may be identified when the city's three year property revaluation takes place later this year.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
Craig C. Gaetani
“Council candidate says he'll fight for taxpayers”
By Carrie Saldo , email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, March 24, 2017
PITTSFIELD — A champion of the taxpayer.
That is what Craig C. Gaetani said he'll be if elected to the at-large City Council seat up for grabs.
Gaetani is the second person to announce a run for the post being vacated by Kathleen Amuso.
When asked about his campaign priorities he said: "Taxpayers' dollars, taxpayer dollars, taxpayer dollars."
Those were also the priorities he touted during an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2015, a loss he attributes to "trumped up charges" and not being a part of the "good ol' boy" network.
Gaetani, 68, runs Gaetani, Wang Scientific and Engineering Consultants and has said he is an experienced corporate executive with a variety of managerial experience. He worked many years as a corporate biologist, physicist, chemist, and worldwide director of technical marketing for Krofta engineering corporation, Krofta Waters Inc.
He is a cum laude graduate of the former North Adams State College and Berkshire Community College and a Vietnam veteran.
"I know a lot about a lot of things and am reasonable," which he said will make him an "outstanding" member of the council.
Gaetani has consistently voiced his displeasure with past and present elected city leadership for failing to work in the best interests of taxpayers. He said he has filed more city petitions to the council "than all of the councilors combined."
"As city councilor at large, City Council meetings will be very interesting — as the true voice of the taxpayer will be on board — with one goal and that is to serve the taxpayers with every drop of [my] strength," Gaetani wrote in a statement.
Mayor Linda M. Tyer has requested department heads submit level funded budgets for fiscal 2018.
Gaetani said this is a dire mistake.
As a member of the council, he would call for a 7 percent reduction of the budget.
He said he believes the city's Other Post Employee Benefits, promised to all past and current employees, is short by as much as $416 million. He has referred to that account as "the sleeping giant" that will bankrupt the city, during public comment at City Council meetings.
He said he will push for telephone lines at City Hall to be recorded at all times to avoid miscommunication and so that a permanent record can be kept of those calls.
He said he will also petition for a change to council rules to allow any city resident to address the council for any length of time. Current rules limit public comments to 3 minutes and speakers must sign up prior to the meeting to address the council.
Gaetani was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace at a January council meeting after he attempted to address the council without signing up for public comment.
Prior to being arrested, he had asked City Council President Peter Marchetti for dispensation from those rules because he was delayed by poor weather conditions.
He objected to questions being raised by the Eagle about six criminal charges pending in Northern Berkshire District Court calling them an attempt to "dig up dirt."
"It is time to move on from that," he said. "The only thing that holds any water at the present moment is I have not been convicted at all."
He faces three jury trial dates on three separate sets of charges: May 11 for threatening to commit a crime — shooting a city employee — and harassing phone calls; June 13, for two counts of witness intimidation and breaking and entering into a motor vehicle and July 11, for disturbing the peace, according to information from Northern Berkshire District Court.
Gaetani said he will self-fund his campaign and does not have a campaign team.
"I'm a one-man show," he said. "I always have been."
He said he will use his weekly television program "The Gaetani Pittsfield News Hour," which airs on Pittsfield Community Television, to distribute his information to the public. In addition, he intends to submit written statements to the Eagle and other area publications.
Ty Allan Jackson, an author and entrepreneur, announced his intent to run for council in February.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
“Ty Allan Jackson drops out of race for Pittsfield City Council seat”
By Carrie Saldo , firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, May 15, 2017
This story has been modified to add that Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully is not seeking re-election.
PITTSFIELD — The first one in is also the first one out.
Citing an increase in business and travel commitments, Ty Allan Jackson will not seek an at-large seat on City Council.
In February, just days after at-large Councilwoman Kathleen Amuso announced she would not seek re-election, Jackson had announced his intent to run.
His decision to step away was announced via his Facebook campaign page Monday afternoon.
"This wonderful city deserves council members who are going to give their all for the betterment of our city and I realized with my constant travel I would not be able to serve in the manner in which I prefer," the statement read.
The author and entrepreneur credited coverage of his books on CNN and NBC with a spike in speaking engagements requests from across the country.
"This is now the opportune time to take advantage of that national press," he said in a telephone interview. "It would be unfair for my business, as well as the city of Pittsfield to try and pursue both."
Jackson, who had the support of Mayor Linda M. Tyer, Amuso and others, said he was not ready to endorse any other candidates for council.
"I want to see more of who will be throwing their names in the hat," he said.
With the exception of Amuso and Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully, incumbents on both the council and the School Committee have said they intend to seek re-election. And there are potential challengers for all seats, with the exception of Ward 7.
All those who have taken out nomination papers who have not been reported on thus far have either declined The Eagle's interview requests or could not be reached for comment.
Nomination papers are due to the City Clerk by July 24. Once signatures are certified legitimate registered voters, candidates have until Aug. 9 to withdraw from a race.
If a candidate qualifies for more than one race, they need to choose one to run for. A person cannot appear on the ballot more than once during a given election, according to city law.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
IN THE RACE ...
Candidates for city office who have taken out nomination papers thus far:
Ballot qualification requires signatures from 150 Pittsfield registered voters, which have been certified by the City Clerk.
Edward James Carmel
Craig C. Gaetani
Peter M. Marchetti, incumbent (Qualified for ballot)
Melissa Mazzeo, incumbent
Auron C. Stark
Peter T. White, incumbent
Ballot qualification requires signatures from 50 registered voters from that ward, which have been certified by the City Clerk.
Michael Cirullo, Jr
Dina M. Guiel
Kevin J. Morandi, incumbent (Qualified for ballot)
Nicholas J. Caccamo, incumbent
James F. Gleason
Christopher J. Connell, incumbent
William E. Wright
Donna Todd Rivers, incumbent
Craig C. Gaetani
John M. Krol, Jr, incumbent
Anthony J. Simonelli, incumbent
Ballot qualification requires signatures from 150 Pittsfield registered voters, which have been certified by the City Clerk.
Joshua M. Cutler, incumbent
Daniel C. Elias, incumbent
Pamela A. Farron, incumbent
Craig C. Gaetani
Dennis L. Powell
Anthony J. Riello, incumbent
Cynthia A. Taylor, incumbent
Katherine L. Yon, incumbent
Letter: “Little pride, less logic in Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 28, 2017
To the editor:
I moved here about 12 years ago to be close to family, having lived in four states, I have noticed Pittsfield, even Berkshire County, is a place of no respect for one another and its business climate.
This is the only place I have ever lived or visited where the shopping carts are left where one's car was parked, usually six feet from a cart collection point or pushed against another vehicle. Running of red lights seems to be a passion in the county. Does anyone ever get stopped? Infrastructure of roads is a joke: Is it that hard to find someone competent to run a city or town road crew with some common sense and knowledge?
Schools — let's build a monument to some political hacks who do not give any say in the matter to the common taxpayer. I have lived in much larger areas with only one high school, while Pittsfield, with a declining population, needs for some stupid nostalgic reason to keep the one on East Street when the City Hall and Police Department buildings are in disrepair. It does not take a genius to figure it out — one high school, move the police and City Hall to Pittsfield High.
Taxes are a joke, you pay them for services and infrastructure, but we get fewer services and the rest is to redo North Street, as businesses leave. As a senior citizen I will be looking to move as soon as the new school is finished, since taxes will be incredibly high. Sorry, but outside business will not relocate; a fancy new school does not produce an influx of business. This is the pizza/auto parts store capital of Massachusetts.
Mayor and councilors, better wake up.
Dina Guiel, candidate for Pittsfield City Council - Ward 2.
“Guiel challenges Morandi in Pittsfield's Ward 2”
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, March 28, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The City Council's first political contest of 2017 has emerged as a possible showdown in Ward 2.
On Tuesday, Dina Guiel announced she was challenging incumbent councilor Kevin Morandi in the fall. Should a third candidate enter the race, a preliminary contest will be held in September, with the top two vote-getters squaring off in the November general election. Otherwise, Guiel and Morandi head straight for the Nov. 7 ballot.
Guiel said she is campaigning for her ward and the city, not against Morandi.
"I want nothing more than a clean, respectful race," she said in an Eagle phone interview. "This is more about me looking around and seeing what I can do for Pittsfield."
Upon learning of Guiel's candidacy, Morandi told The Eagle he was seeking his fourth, 2-year term.
"Absolutely," he said. "I'm looking forward to another two years as I like representing the constituents of Ward 2."
Guiel grew up in West Springfield, but fell in love with the Berkshires while attending Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. Following graduation from MCLA with a degree in sociology, she earned a masters in public administration and policy analysis from Northeastern University.
In between, she successfully created a youth mentoring program in Springfield and Holyoke, as well as helped create a master plan review for Dedham.
Guiel is currently working to establish a drug addiction program intent on helping addicts get their lives back together.
"Certainly there's a connection between drug addiction and a lack of economic prosperity," she said. "We need to bring jobs to the city."
As a city councilor, the young professional will have economic development for Pittsfield high atop her political to-do list, along with reducing violent crime.
She supports plans to revitalize the Morningside area that includes reuse of St. Mary of the Morning Star, the former Roman Catholic parish in the heart of Tyler Street.
Morandi is also bullish on Morningside and the redevelopment of the neighborhood's vacant properties.
"We need to give Tyler Street its own identity and make it attractive to business," said the self-employed barber.
The Lee native backs the reuse of St. Mary and wants to further champion continued growth at the Williams Stanley Business Park.
Since first elected six years ago, Morandi has preached fiscal restraint and calls on the city to step up efforts to trim the budget without greatly impacting taxpayer needs.
"I will fight hard for services we need, but done a more efficient way," he said. "I really want the city to be a more affordable place to live."
Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233 or email@example.com
“Pittsfield Awards Tax Incentives To Create Jobs”
By JD Allen, WAMC, March 29, 2017
The City of Pittsfield, Massachusetts has awarded tax incentives to two local businesses through the state's Economic Development Incentive Program in an effort to create jobs and stimulate business growth.
Modern Mold and Tool received $145,000 in investment tax credits. It will go toward a $3 million investment to acquire and relocate the company’s expanded manufacturing facilities in Pittsfield.
Shire City Herbal received $74,000 in tax incentives toward a larger property for their company’s operations.
Shire City Herbals has also been working with the city’s Community Development Department and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp for additional tax incentives.
“Mike Cirullo announces bid for Ward 1 Pittsfield City Council seat”
By Carrie Saldo – The Berkshire Eagle – March 30, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Jobs. That's the central focus of Mike Cirullo's bid for the Ward 1 City Council seat up for grabs this fall.
"Jobs certainly fix most else down the line for my priorities," he said. "When people have jobs you see crime go down and there is more money to be spending on education."
His intention to run creates a two-way race for a position held by City Councilor Lisa Tully for the past four years. She has said she won't seek re-election.
Helen Haerhan Moon, a critical care registered nurse at Fairview Hospital, announced her intention to run for Ward 1 earlier this month.
While a political newcomer, Cirullo, 35, has a background in public service.
He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and volunteers with four different entities.
He said his interest in public service shifted from national to local when he left the Massachusetts Army National Guard after nearly 10 years in the beginning of 2015. Through his union, IUE-CWA Local 255, he said he began identifying a number of local groups he wanted to volunteer with.
He now works with Tyler Street Business Group, the Berkshire Regional Employment Board, the Berkshire Central Labor Council and the Pittsfield High School Business Technology Advisory Committee.
"I wanted to volunteer my time, energy, and efforts hoping toward this eventual goal of getting more involved at the next level," he said.
Cirullo said his work with the employment board helped him learn there are typically between 1,300 and 1,400 jobs available countywide.
"But we can't fill the positions that we have in the industries we do have," he said.
As an employee of General Dynamics, he said he knows first hand that there is a need for people with engineering degrees. Vocational jobs, such as electricians, carpenters, and plumbers are also going unfilled.
"There's not enough people who have these hands-on skill sets," he said.
A Pittsfield resident since 2011, he lives on Williamsburg Terrace with his wife Ashley and two sons, Connor, 14, and Michael, 4.
The North Adams native has a degree in business administration from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and graduated from McCann Technical High School.
As for his campaign team, he said he is working with several advisers informally but is also looking for volunteers. In the meantime, he said he's hitting the streets and going door-to-door.
"It's going to be a rather personal approach to the campaign," he said. "I want to take the time to learn the needs and concerns of the people in this ward."
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo or firstname.lastname@example.org
Letter: “Fed up with aggravating Pittsfield parking meters”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 31, 2017
To the editor:
Last Wednesday I made by fourth trip to Pittsfield since the parking meters were installed to see a matinee at the Beacon Cinema. That's four times of wrestling with and trying to pay for my parking, to no avail!
The parking meter told me that my plate number was invalid and then so was my debit card. Grrrrr!
I managed to get a ticket for 30 minutes of free parking and left that on my dashboard. Just as I expected, a bright orange $15 ticket was on my car after the movie! The movie ("Beauty and the Beast") was great, but I will not be going back to North Street any time soon.
“Newcomer Bill Wright challenges incumbent for Ward 4 Pittsfield City Council seat”
By Carrie Saldo , email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, April 2, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Community engagement. That's what Bill Wright says will anchor his City Council campaign.
"If we want to grow as a community we need to work together to make a difference," he said. "I love to see everyone at the local rallies and standing out on Park Square, making the efforts to show that they are here and willing to stand out for what they believe in."
The 45-year-old political newcomer is vying to represent Ward 4. Wright will face councilor Christopher J. Connell, who said he will seek a fourth term.
Having observed city politics for a dozen years, he believes the time is right for new voices on the council.
"I'm not going to set a hard and fast line" on priorities, he said. "I simply feel that if we want to grow as a community we need to work together to make a difference."
Wright has worked the past seven years for Blue Q, a Pittsfield-based company that designs and manufactures a variety of "awesome and artful curiosities," as it website states.
Blue Q received a state grant to implement the Lean manufacturing approach at the company. Made famous by Toyota, Lean teaches a systematic approach to being as efficient as possible. Wright said Lean has resulted in drastic improvement for company productivity — 33 percent in the first week.
He believes his knowledge of that approach could be useful for the city too.
"We just need to look at things a little bit differently," he said especially with budget cuts likely and the city at its levy ceiling.
His role at the company, which doesn't favor job titles, has him working on a wide array of things — from analyzing its Canadian taxes to negotiating UPS rates.
"I help everyone do a little bit of everything," he said. And that variety could also help guide his work on the council, if elected, he said.
He's also the company photographer and a professional photographer in his spare time.
In 2010 he created a series titled the Berkshire Veterans Photography Project, which was displayed in the city at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, the Statehouse in Boston, and the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. He took 100 portraits in six weeks for the project.
"I wanted to get something done," he said. "I went for it and I did it."
Wright has an associates degree from the Colorado Institute of Art. And served in the Air Force, as a law enforcement officer, during the Gulf War.
A native of Bridgeport, Conn., Wright has called the city home since 2005. His wife, Carrie, grew-up in the Berkshires. But the couple lived in several cities before returning to the area to start a family. They have three children, Paige, 14, Parker, 9 and Pilot, 5.
Lynn Wallace, who has received a Community Recognition Award from Downtown Pittsfield Inc, is Wright's campaign manager. Her love for the city aligns with his passion for it, he said.
"A sense of community is extremely important to me," Wright said. "We are a community, Pittsfield as a whole, not just my ward."
He will use Facebook and a website to communicate with the public. But most importantly, he said, he plans to campaign door to door.
"I want to run a really positive campaign," he said. "I'm going to get out there and see what everyone wants."
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
“Billy Keane announces run for Ward 5 seat on Pittsfield City Council”
By Carrie Saldo, The Berkshire Eagle, April 3, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Capitalize on the city's current assets: That's what City Council candidate Billy Keane advocates.
"I don't believe in importing success," Keane said in a written statement. "I believe that Pittsfield's future lies within the facets of the city that already exist."
Keane, 30, is seeking the Ward 5 City Council seat. In his first run for public office he is challenging incumbent Donna Todd Rivers. Rivers confirmed she will seek re-election to what would be her second term.
A real estate broker and musician, Keane intends to help the business and artistic communities grow and prosper.
"Pittsfield as a whole will thrive as well," he said.
Managing broker of Jan Perry Realty & Associates, a director of the Berkshire County Board of Realtors and a member of its Government Affairs Committee, Keane said he has a passion for local business.
He rattled off a number of the businesses he believes are poised to help reinvigorate the city including Shire City Herbals, Lenco Armored Vehicles and Interprint.
"I believe Pittsfield is on the cusp of achieving a level of economic and cultural success that we deserve and should reach for as the `Capital of the Berkshires'" he said. "But in order to get there we need a spirit of positive motivation, enthusiasm and a willingness to work together toward a common goal; I believe I can offer that to the council."
A graduate of E.O. Smith High School in Mansfield, Conn., he's pursuing a bachelor's degree in business administration through the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Degree Completion Program.
Born in Australia and raised in Mansfield, Keane has called Pittsfield home since 2009, when he joined a friend to pursue a music project. At the time he was living in New Iberia, La. and he kept his apartment there, initially.
"I expected to move back, but fell in love with Pittsfield and haven't left since," Keane said.
He and his wife, Waterfall Perry, own two homes in the city. And they live in Ward 5 with their dog and cat.
Keane is also a singer/songwriter who has performed as a solo artist and in groups. He is currently a member of The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow.
"I feel that the combination of my business leadership experience, as well as my deeply rooted connection in the local arts and cultural scene, lends me a unique and effective perspective on the community," he said.
Keane's campaign manager is Caitlin Harrison, who focused on legal studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst and has about a decade of experience in the hospitality industry locally and in Boston. He said they will use Facebook to share campaign information. He also plans to hit the streets to meet with would-be constituents.
"Where we want the city to be? Who we want to be as a city? I think these are important questions to ask" to understand what will help Pittsfield be the best it can be, he said.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @carriesaldo.
Billy Keane: “Invest in business, and our city”
By Billy Keane, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, August 2, 2017
PITTSFIELD — While gauging the ability of the City of Pittsfield to advance economically, socially, and culturally, it is crucial that we maintain a perspective based on historic and contemporary realities yet driven by civic pride, optimism, and a healthy sense of self-worth. Fundamentally, I see a city as an extension of its assets and, yes, its challenges. It is the effective incubation and encouragement of those assets juxtaposed with the sensible and dogged addressing of its challenges that will allow us to continue on our journey of growth and success.
Therefore, there must be a reckoning, an audit to define those assets as well as those challenges. All too easily, particularly on the tail end of budget season, we find ourselves bogged down by the latter without enumerating the former.
Among those assets are our diverse population, our beautiful central Berkshires environment, and our ceaselessly creative arts and cultural communities. Additionally, and more to the core of my intention here, is the striking number of successful and innovative business entities we house within our city limits.
In an effort to showcase some of these thriving economic generators, I have begun participating in "local business tourism," a concept that occurred to me while noting the many businesses located within my Ward 5. My first stop: Interprint. Interprint USA is the American subsidiary of the international German print and design corporation. Its Route 41 facility is a beautifully contemporary edifice of artistry and production employing almost 160 local residents. Founded in 1985 by Bill Hines Sr., the company has since grown to be number one for d cor printing in North America.
Interprint's contagiously enthusiastic managing director Bill Hines Jr., whom I know from our mutual love of motorcycle riding, and executive assistant Kate Reardon, graciously agreed to meet with me to discuss the company's products, their design and manufacturing facilities, and the history and future of their company in Pittsfield. Interprint's products are ubiquitous. From the innovation of waterproof polycarbonate materials for high pressure laminates to gorgeous realist and abstract prints designed by Peter Garlington, their portfolio is extensive. It is their continual innovation and large scale manufacturing, and the excitement shown by Hines himself, that I found most impressive during our visit.
Touring the immaculate and efficient manufacturing plant, one can't help but gaze in awe as Interprint's five enormous machines, run by master printers, technicians, and assistants, churn out impeccably detailed rolls of material, soon to be conveyed to the wrapping station, loaded onto pallets, and maneuvered into the expansive and fully stocked warehouse, ready for shipping. Using organic inks and super-efficient machinery, Interprint's environmental footprint is as clean as its print products.
The economic impact a thriving and growing business like Interprint has on a local community can't be overstated. As Hines walked among his employees, he stopped to describe one employee's rise to becoming a career master printer. This employee started working for the company 10 years prior as an assistant on the 12 on/12 off four days per week shift common to the manufacturing industry. At this point in his career, he has purchased another Pittsfield home, a luxury car for his wife, and is enjoying those comforts of life which he surely earned through those traditional American values of hard work, loyalty, and a tireless dedication to quality. What is showcased again and again throughout the Interprint facility is the ability for eager and hardworking individuals to maintain a successful and lucrative career in manufacturing right here in Pittsfield.
The retention of Interprint in our city cannot be taken for granted or underappreciated. As we contemplate methods by which we can attract business to our community, we must not forget those that already exist here, tangibly and in number.
When Interprint built its newest headquarters, it did so in Pittsfield, not because it was necessitated, but because the company chose to invest in us. It believed it could continue to succeed and thrive here. Through state incentives as well as a TIF agreement with Pittsfield, it validated that decision through sound economic reasoning. This open-mindedness and teamwork comprise the essence of continuity and growth.
When we consider our city's future, when we account for our assets and liabilities, let us do so with a level of self-respect encouraging of hard work, loyalty, and investment in our community. Self-respect begets respect from others, and it is as much an investment as any liquid or physical contribution. Let us continue encouraging local business establishment and growth with creative incentives, positive outlooks, and a level of confidence worthy of our great city. We must continue to invest in ourselves as Interprint and others have chosen to invest in us.
Billy Keane is a real estate broker, a touring musician, and candidate for Pittsfield City Council from Ward 5.
“Billy Keane steps out of Pittsfield City Council race”
By Amanda Drane, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, September 8, 2017
PITTSFIELD — A candidate for the Ward 5 seat on City Council withdrew his candidacy on Friday.
Billy Keane, who had planned to challenge incumbent Donna Todd Rivers, said a family matter arose that needed attending to.
"Sometimes family has to come first," he said, declining to be more specific about reasoning because of its personal nature.
Keane, who also serves as a director on the Board of Realtors and an organizer with the Better Block initiative, extended gratitude for those who supported his candidacy.
Given the ballot was already set, it's unclear whether Keane will be able to officially remove his name. But he wanted to make it known that he no longer is seeking the seat.
Still, Keane said he intends to remain a force for good in his community and would consider running again in the future.
"I'm going to be super open minded to ways I can remain actively engaged in the community," he said.
Reach Amanda Drane at 413-496-6296, or @amandadrane on Twitter.
Letter: “Community should expect safe staffing at BMC”
The Berkshire Eagle, April 4, 2017
To the editor:
The nurses at Berkshire Medical Center continue their fight for safe nurse-to-patient staffing levels in their new contract negotiations with the administration. Although a critical care nurse for 27 years, I recently left my position in the intensive care unit due to, what I perceive as, dangerous staffing levels. Like me, over the last couple of years, more than 40 highly trained critical care nurses have left. It is my view, that this exodus is related to unsafe staffing.
In the past year alone, 280 unsafe staffing reports have been filed hospital-wide, which Chief Operating Officer Diane Kelly disputes. The hospital has developed safe staffing grids which would ensure patient safety, along with state laws limiting the number of critical care patients to be assigned to a nurse at one time, yet it fails to follow these safety measures.
The hospital's new chief of staff, Daniel Doyle, has urged the public not to believe the nurses' recent staffing concerns, insulting us further calling our claims "rhetoric." He points to rating firms such as Leap Frog and CareChex (which cost hospitals money) for favorable ratings. Unfortunately these type of rating companies have been accused of failing to explain the methodology used to rate a hospital. Consumer Reports placed BMC's safety rating at 47 percent, which is low compared to other hospitals. With varied results, hospitals are then free to choose which rating they want to report to the public. Who do you trust? The nurses who are the backbone, ensuring your care, or some flimsy statistics?
If our neighboring hospitals are prepared to settle contracts by increasing staffing levels and ensure safe patient assignments, why doesn't BMC? The chief of staff recently said the nurses are doing a "disservice" by informing the public of the unsafe staffing at BMC while the nurses believe that the public has a right to know of the conditions that may alter their care.
The hospital's audited financial reports showed it made a profit of $31.2 million in 2016. The administration says that the safe staffing proposals would be financially damaging to BMC. As a community that depends on care, the question should be, how can we afford not to?
Bridget Ward, R.N.,
The writer is a post-operative care nurse at BMC.
“Proposed Pittsfield Public Schools budget cuts 73 positions”
By Carrie Saldo , firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, April 4, 2017
This story has been modified to correct the percentage of the teaching force slated to be eliminated.
PITTSFIELD — Budget cuts. That is how the Pittsfield Public Schools will make ends meet — for the next several years.
That's the reality as city school district leaders draft a fiscal 2018 budget, according to Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless.
Nearly 74 positions were sliced to arrive at the proposed level-funded $60,316,338 fiscal 2018 district budget. It does not cut programs for students, although some class sizes will increase.
The positions cut — exactly 73.6, according to the budget proposal — include teachers, paraprofessionals and administrative staff. District leaders have said about one-third of those jobs might be saved through attrition.
"Our only room to cut is through positions — through people's jobs," McCandless wrote in a two-page letter to the community. "No one takes any pleasure in this. It is simply doing what must be done."
About 83 percent of the budget is for personnel and 17 percent covers "everything else," which includes teaching materials, paraprofessional development and utilities.
Available on the district's website, the line item budget is expected to be presented to the School Committee at 6 p.m. Wednesday in City Council chambers. And a public hearing on the budget proposal is set for 7 p.m. April 12 at the Pittsfield High School library.
Keeping the dollar figure the same as this year, a mandate given to all city department heads, meant cutting nearly $3 million.
Almost 40 paraprofessional, and nearly 29.5 teaching positions, about 5.1 percent of the teaching force, would be eliminated.
As a result, some class sizes will increase, McCandless said. But, he added, "these cuts will not reduce programming options for students."
Art, foreign languages, orchestra, advanced placement courses, band and after school activities, were unscathed line items, a promise McCandless made early in the budget process.
He added that student athletic fees would not increase.
The budget does include a few spending increases, other than salaries and benefits, which are contractually obligated.
There is one new line item: a half-million dollars for curriculum. And the line item for out-of-district special education increased about $200,000 to $2,690,367.
The increases were offset by cuts, McCandless said.
Mayor Linda M. Tyer has asked all areas of city government to deliver level-funded budgets.
Pittsfield is at its levy ceiling, meaning it cannot raise taxes to generate more money. The levy ceiling also precludes the city from asking voter permission for a Proposition 2 1/2 override.
Over the long term, the district will consider how to generate more revenue, but that's not an option for several years, which is why the district had to identify budget cuts, McCandless wrote.
This is the district's third budget proposal. Two previous versions cut 57.3 and 65.3 positions from the district.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
IF YOU GO ...
What: Line-item budget proposal presentation for Pittsfield Public Schools to the School Committee
When: Tonight [4/4/2017] at 6 p.m.
Where: City Council chambers in Pittsfield City Hall
What: Public hearing on Pittsfield Public Schools line-item budget proposal
When: April 12 at 7 p.m.
Where: Pittsfield High School library
On the web ...
The district's proposed fiscal 2018 budget can be viewed at www.pittsfield.net
Letter: “If Waterstone will build on GE site, let them”
The Berkshire Eagle, April 11, 2017
To the editor:
Why is everyone so concerned about the aesthetics of the proposed Walmart Supercenter? Have you seen the old Kentucky Fried Chicken building? Waterstone is willing to build on a brownfield! Let them.
In accordance with the almighty Consent Decree, granted in 1999, G.E.'s "brownfield" plan is worth approximately $50 million, designed to bring new commercial life to Pittsfield. It's 2017 and they are still trying to "bring good things to life." Once the brownfield is developed, according to the Consent Decree, there is a provision in which up to $4 million in future revenue from redevelopment of the GE site would be made available for additional natural resource projects by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.
If no one visits North Street, why does Michael Ward think Tyler Street would be better? (Letter, April 9.) All I ask is that the land remediation process be strictly monitored by the EPA. I was diagnosed with a vary rare form of cancer, primary cardiac, non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2003, a year after my property was remediated. GE was sloppy and careless with contaminated soil.
“Residents, businesses, officials decry Eversource rate hike at Department of Public Utilities hearing”
By Carrie Saldo , email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, April 10, 2017
This story has been modified to correct the spelling of Penni Conner's last name.
PITTSFIELD — Disproportionate. Exorbitant. And greedy. Those were among the words used, again and again, by residents and business owners alike to characterize a proposed rate increase by Eversource. They asked the state to reject its request.
Eversource wants state Department of Public Utilities' approval to raise its rates by more than $96 million next year and $50 million annually for the next four years, according to the state's attorney general. If approved, the proposed increase would add $11.64 to the average monthly bill for residential customers who live in the west and $8.45 for those living in the east as of Jan. 1, 2018, according to Eversource.
For Eversource's commercial and industrial customers, the proposal would increase electricity rates up to 37 percent in Western Massachusetts. The rates for businesses in the east would decrease.
Eversource officials have said the proposed increase is needed to offset its operating deficit of nearly $96 million.
The DPU held a public hearing on the proposed increases in Pittsfield Monday night, one of several it is hosting statewide on the issue.
It was standing room only inside the Berkshire Athenaeum auditorium, where about 275 people filled it and an adjacent room.
Jane Winn of Pittsfield spoke of the diverse interests of those at the hearing. Head of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Winn pointed to fellow environmentalists, social justice advocates, business owners, state and local elected leaders and more.
Different though they are, she said they all agree on one thing: "We are all united against this rate hike, please take us into consideration," she said.
Many who spoke at the hearing said they were skeptical of the company's reasons for the proposed increase. They also said the increase is unfair to customers here, who on average earn less annually, versus the more affluent eastern part of the state.
"We are smaller, we are older, we are sicker and we are poorer," State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli said. "Those are four facts that we cannot dispute about Berkshire County."
Electricity rates for commercial and industrial customers in Massachusetts are among highest in the country, behind Alaska, Connecticut and Hawaii.
The proposed increase would impact the bottom line of commercial customers from $41,000 to over $1 million, according to testimony given to the DPU Monday.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer said the city's bill would increase $1.3 million.
"This will undermine growth, threaten job security, and jeopardize the economic prosperity of every citizen," she said.
Brendan Ronayne, senior finance manager for crane currency, said it is in the middle of a five-year, fixed-rate contract with the United States government to make its currency paper. He said it anticipates paying $550,000 more to Eversource while the electric company would receive "excessive" returns.
Pat Begrowicz, owner of Onyx Specialty paper in Lee, stressed the disproportionate nature of Eversource's proposed increase.
She said the company would generate $2.2 million from the 18 largest ratepayers in Western Mass. Meanwhile, 112 similar companies in the east will see their rates decline.
"This exacerbates the divide between east and west," she said.
Attorney General Maura Healey continued her effort to block Eversource's request to hike its electricity rates by as much as 10 percent in Western Massachusetts next year. She told the DPU residential customers in Western Massachusetts are struggling to make ends meet, and businesses are working hard to remain competitive and grow.
"It is time to return money to customers, not to raise their electric bills to benefit a highly profitable utility company," Healy said.
Eversource says it is facing a $35.7 million operating deficit in the west and a $60.2 shortfall million in Eastern Massachusetts.
Penni Conner, Eversource senior vice president and chief customer officer, attributed the company's shortfall to capital investments the company made to maintain infrastructure and services to customers.
Of Eversource's 1.4 million Massachusetts customers, 209,000 live in the western part of the state and 1.2 million live in eastern Mass.
Although the operating deficit in Eastern Massachusetts is larger, the impact of the proposed rate increase would be greater in Western Massachusetts because the rate hike would be absorbed by fewer customers here.
But Conner said Eversource is reviewing the consolidation of its distribution rates to determine if that would lessen the impact on customers in the western part of the state.
Conner also pointed out that customers here have received millions of dollars in the past five years in credits because of revenue decoupling.
If the company was not mandated to give those customer credits Eversource would have used that money "to avoid rate cases like this one," she said.
She said in recent years the company has also improved its service to customers in a number of ways, including tree trimming. She said fallen tree limbs are the leading cause of power outages. She said power outages in Western Mass. dropped 43 percent and are 23 percent shorter than before the merger of Western Massachusetts Electric Company and NSTAR into Eversource.
The DPU began holding hearings on the proposed increase last month and several others more scheduled this month. It will hold evidentiary hearings at the DPU in Boston in June.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
Our Opinion: “Eversource rate increase would be bad for business”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, April 7, 2017
Eversource Energy will go before the Department of Public Utilities Monday with a rate hike request that Jonathan Butler, the president and CEO of 1Berkshire, warns that for Berkshire businesses could "take away growth potential for decades." We don't see that as hyperbole.
Eversource is seeking to raise $95 million in the rate hike, which would constitute an increase of about 10 percent over current rates beginning on January 1 of next year. That translates to a hike of $11.64 per monthly bill for the average customer in Western Massachusetts, according to the office of Attorney General Maura Healey. That is a hard hit for homeowners, but the impact on businesses that use large amounts of electricity it is potentially devastating. Mr. Butler was joined at an Eagle editorial board meeting last week by Patricia Begrowicz, the president of Onyx Specialty Papers in Lee — which along with Crane & Co. and Berkshire Health Systems comprise the three largest Berkshire users of electricity — and Peter C. Stasiowski, the director of communications for Interprint in Pittsfield, to discuss that impact.
For a business based in Lee, the prospect of a rate hike inevitably recalls the decision of Schweitzer-Mauduit International's decision to close four paper mills in Lee and Lenox Dale in 2007. There were a number of economic factors, but a critical one was an increase of $770,000 on that year's electricity bill issued by what was then the Western Mass. Electric Company. Ms. Begrowicz emphasized that the existence of Onyx is not threatened but the hike, if approved, "is absolutely going to affect growth." Mr. Stasiowski made the same point, and if Onyx, Interprint and other Berkshire businesses must curtail hiring and the purchasing of equipment to compensate for a larger electric bill, a struggling Berkshire economy will struggle even more.
Ms. Begrowicz told The Eagle that Onyx's $775,000 electricity bill for 2016 would increase incrementally to $1.2 million in 2019 if the rate hike was approved. In an interview with The Eagle, Pittsfield Schools Superintendent Jason McCandless said the impact on the city's 12 public schools would be "massive," adding to the woes of a department that is facing the prospect of teacher layoffs.
The disparity between the impact on the eastern and western regions of the state is also of concern. Eversource says it will raise $60 million in rate revenue from the east and $35 million from the west, which seems fair on the surface, but that $60 million would come from 1.2 million customers in the heavily populated east while only 215,000 customers — businesses, residents, municipal buildings and so on — which share the $35 million burden for the west. That translates to a $166 increase per customer in the west and $50 per customer increase in the east. The Berkshires shouldn't be subsidizing eastern electricity rates while it carries its only high burden.
Eversource says it is seeking to address a revenue deficiency of $35.7 million in the western end of the state and adds that it has been investing in better technology and other improvements. The company can certainly make a case for a rate hike increase, just not one that Mr. Stasiowski described as "insulting" because of the adverse impact on businesses of such a hike. Ms. Begrowitz also pointed out to The Eagle that her company is already hit with three rate increases a year by Eversource.
For traditional businesses, it appears too easy for Eversource to simply go to state regulators and request a rate hike without finding ways to cut its costs — which businesses like Onyx and Interprint will have to do if hit by the rate hike. Businesses that are unhappy with Eversource rate hikes also have no option of going to another source of electricity.
Eversource is asking DPU for permission to get a 10.5 percent increase in return on equity, compared to the 9.3 percent that was the average return on equity for utilities around the country in 2016. While 9.3 percent should be the absolute ceiling, its impact on Berkshire businesses would be only marginally less than the 10.5 percent increase, and that is without factoring in the unfair imbalance between east and west.
"When so many customers today are struggling to make ends meet and businesses are trying to lower their energy costs to maintain and grow jobs, it is time to return money to customers, not to raise their electric bills," Attorney General Healey testified at a state Department of Public Utilities hearing in Springfield late last month. Ms. Healey will testify at Monday's hearing, which will be held at 6 p.m. at the Berkshire Athenaeum. We urge the DPU to deny Eversource's rate hike request. Eversource has not made an adequate case for it the businesses, municipalities and residents that will be punished by it.
“Forget manufacturing, go with Walmart”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, April 21, 2017
To the editor:
How many more years have to pass, how much more money has to be wasted, before it becomes clear to everyone that manufacturing is not coming to Pittsfield? Nineteen years should be long enough to realize that the only sort of companies the city is capable to attract are an EV World plant and an online music workshop. And yes, Nuclea Biotechnologies, which owes PEDA $10,000.
For a change, there is a real company which wants to build in Pittsfield. Let it do so before it changes its mind! Yes, it is Walmart — so what? It will be convenient for people from the surrounding community to get there, either to shop or to work, and local businesses will benefit from the increased foot traffic. Any new building will look better than a post-apocalyptic concrete pad, and a low-wage retail job is better then welfare.
Mayor Linda Tyer holds a press conference on the city’s new economic development strategy in the Pittsfield City Council Chambers.
“Rolling out the red carpet: Mayor wants to make it easier to do business in Pittsfield”
By Carrie Saldo, firstname.lastname@example.org, The Berkshire Eagle, May 4, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Chris Kapiloff is on the cusp of expanding his city-based company.
To make money, he will have to spend money, which could eat into his ability to compete. But a new move by Mayor Linda M. Tyer could help.
Kapiloff, owner of the LTI Group, is working with a group of business professionals newly assembled by Tyer.
Dubbed the "Red Carpet Team," the group is designed to make it easier for businesses to get established or expand in the city.
Surrounded by business leaders and business owners, Tyer announced the team Thursday during a news conference at City Hall.
It is the first of a three-part economic development strategy she said would help the city better compete for business.
Business owners will no longer need to meet with multiple city departments to get what they need. Instead, they will meet with the Red Carpet Team, which consists of Tyer, and six other economic development officials from the area, region and state, as well as the city's Community Development Office staff.
Kapiloff, whose company makes laminated glass and polymer products, discussed plans to hire additional employees and expand its Federico Drive facility with the Red Carpet Team in the past month or so.
One of LTI's products, a specialty glass that cracks upon impact but stays intact, has been installed in more than 400 schools across the country since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Kapiloff said it has contracts with at least 400 other schools. "We are as busy as we have ever been," he said of the work taking place at its Federico Drive facility.
He said he is optimistic the team will be able to connect his business with incentives that will bring the costs here in line with his largest competitor, located in Alabama.
Kapiloff noted he pays three times as much for electricity than his Alabama competitor, and the minimum wage here is $3.75 an hour higher than it is there.
"I'm hoping the city can help narrow that gap," he said. "And make the cost of expanding here equal to expanding elsewhere."
Tyer said she is committed to keeping Kapiloff's business and attracting others.
As part of the mayor's larger economic development strategy, the city also will launch a new job in partnership with the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which manages the William Stanley Business Park.
That post, a business development manager, will serve as an ambassador and technician for recruiting and expanding business in the city.
"This person will have the pulse of Pittsfield's commercial real estate market and will create and lead a sales and marketing strategy," said Tyer. She said that person would "quarterback" the Red Carpet Team.
Mick Callahan, chairman of the development authority and a member of the team, said the efficiency it offers businesses will deliver results.
"We all have Pittsfield in our name and Pittsfield in our heart but we also have Berkshire County on our mind," he said. "We don't want to miss any opportunity for success."
1Berkshire has an economic development team, but Tyer said the joint position will not be a duplication of efforts.
"They will focus entirely on Pittsfield," she said of the Red Carpet Team.
The development manager would also be well versed in city procedures, eligibility for programs that help businesses, as well as incentives and services available locally and beyond, she said.
The salary for the position would be shared by the city, the development authority and the revitalization corporation.
The City Council will need to approve Tyer's request for about $25,000, the city's portion of the business development manager's salary.
Pending that approval, Tyer said she hopes to have the position filled by this summer.
At large City Councilor Peter White, who attended the announcement, said he's often heard from business owners who were unclear where to direct their questions or ask for help.
"We need one point of contact," White said. "This is the perfect way to tackle the frustrations we are hearing from businesses."
Tyer also announced that MassDevelopment will hold monthly office hours at City Hall. And that she has appointed Deanna Ruffer to lead its Community Development office.
Ruffer, who led the office from 2004-12, oversaw a number of major developments including the renovation of the Pittsfield Common and the redevelopment of the Rice Silk Mill apartments. She left to take a similar post in Chatham.
The City Council will consider Ruffer's appointment on Tuesday.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
Red Carpet Team
Linda Tyer, Mayor, city of Pittsfield
Mick Callahan, board chairman, Pittsfield Economic Development Authority
Cory Thurston, executive director, Pittsfield Economic Development Authority
Jay Anderson, board chairman, Pittsfield Economic Development Revitalization Corp.
Debra Boronski, regional director, Massachusetts Office of Business Development
Julie Cowan, vice president of business development, Western Mass. Regional Office, MassDevelopment
Mike Knapik, director, Gov. Charlie Baker's Western Mass. Regional Office
Staff from Pittsfield Office of Community Development.
“The red carpet treatment”
By Berkshire Eagle Staff, Opinion: Editorial, May 8, 2017
The city of Pittsfield wants to make it easier to compete for businesses by adopting a three-part strategy intended to streamline the recruiting, retaining and expansion process. Last week, Mayor Linda M. Tyer announced the first phase of that project, the formation of a group known as the "Red Carpet Team," that will consist of Tyer and six other regional economic development officials.
Any attempt to streamline services is a good one, especially when it comes to attracting businesses to the Berkshires. The "Red Carpet" team can help eliminate the repetitive "red tape" that businesses often have to go through when they have to deal with a myriad of agencies instead of one.
This one size fits all strategy has already worked on the regional level. In 2010, the jumble of county business organizations that existed at the time were all folded into 1Berkshire to give entrepreneurs a single port of entry if they wanted to do business here. Seven years later, it's apparent that the strategy is working well. 1Berkshire's three remaining founding organizations, the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Creative and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau no longer exist as separate entities, and they are all located at the same building in a centralized location, the historic firehouse building on Allen Street. The Berkshire County Regional Employment Board has also joined them there. The city's new economic strategy also includes the hiring of a business development manager, who will oversee developments for the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which oversees the development of the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires. PERC and PEDA are not located in the same place, they have slightly different functions, and they are not strictly under the city's auspices: PERC is a regional economic development agency that shares staff and space with the city's Department of Community Development, while PEDA is a quasi-public agency, whose board members are appointed by the city. Still, having one person to deal with — Tyer said the business development manager will "quarterback" the Red Carpet Team — will make it easier for businesses to reach those agencies, too. The salary for this position will be shared by the city, PERC and PEDA.
These steps come at the right time. PEDA and the city have already begun to collaborate on different business projects: the establishment of the Berkshire Innovation Center being a prime example.
Finally, MassDevelopment will be holding monthly business hours at City Hall. And the city's former Community Development Director, Deanna Ruffer, will be returning in the same position, if City Council approves her appointment Tuesday night. The city wants to take a new approach to economic development. Forming the Red Carpet Team is certainly a start.
“Pittsfield proposed budget up 3.7%; would tap Free Cash against auditor's suggestion”
By Carrie Saldo, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, May 8, 2017
PITTSFIELD — For the second consecutive year, the City Council will be asked to tap into free cash to reduce the property tax rate.
That request will be part of Mayor Linda M. Tyer's formal budget presentation to the council on Tuesday night.
The mayor is proposing a $156.6 million municipal operating budget for fiscal 2018, an increase of about 3.7 percent over the current year's budget.
A separate request calls for the use of $2.2 million in free cash to keep taxes in check. The city's auditor has repeatedly advised against the use of free cash for that purpose.
It is not yet clear the impact the use of free cash could have on the fiscal 2018 taxes. City Finance Director Matthew Kerwood was not available on Monday. The council narrowly approved the use of $2 million in free cash last year for the current year's budget. Even with the free cash, the tax levy went from $76.78 million to $81.3 million, up 5.9 percent.
Late last month, the School Committee approved a $60.7 million budget for fiscal 2018, a 0.4 percent decrease from the current year. That amount is included in Tyer's proposed operating budget.
With the city at its levy ceiling, Tyer requested that all city department heads submit level-funded budget requests.
Details of the operating budget were not available prior to deadline. Mayoral spokeswoman Roberta McCulloch-Dews said Tyer was working on the budget in advance of its being presented to the council Tuesday night. Tyer was not available for comment prior to deadline.
The proposed budget amount was included in requests from Tyer to the council as part of its meeting agenda. The council must approve a budget by June 30, in advance of the fiscal year, which begins July 1.
In a February report to the council, City Auditor Thomas Scanlon recommended against the use of free cash to reduce the tax rate, which he had done last year as well.
Instead, he suggested the city try to build a surplus because the city is close to its levy limit, the maximum amount it can raise without a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote.
But because the city is also at its levy ceiling — the maximum amount taxes can be raised each year — it cannot request an override from voters.
Regarding the proposed capital budget, new this year, City Finance Director Matthew Kerwood has differentiated between the proposed capital expenditures and enterprise fund capital expenditures. Enterprise funds, such as water and sewer, are paid for by usage fees charged to city property owners.
If the two amounts are approved, it would mean capital expenses of up to about $22.6 million.
Tyer is requesting $8.2 million for capital expenditures and $14.4 million for enterprise fund capital expenditures in fiscal 2018.
The big ticket items in the capital request include LED street light conversions of $3 million and street repairs and streetscape design upgrades of $2.5 million. And the enterprise fund capital requests includes $8.4 million for force main replacement at the wastewater treatment plant and water main and dam upgrades or repairs of about $3.5 million.
Last year, councilors debated the current budget over the course of two weeks. The operating budget was ultimately approved by a 7-4 vote after a five-meeting, 22.5-hour process. Councilors Christopher J. Connell, Kevin J. Morandi, Melissa Mazzeo and Anthony J. Simonelli were opposed.
The capital budget was approved, 9-2, with Morandi and Simonelli opposed.
The increased budget amount could raise the ire of at least one City Council member.
Speaking during preliminary budget discussions in February, Councilor at large Kathleen A. Amuso, told Tyer she expected a reduced budget from both schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless and the city.
"You are the experts in your areas," Amuso said at the time. "We need to look at reductions and I am looking at you to come to us with reductions. I don't want to do it."
Amuso said she was disappointed the city raised taxes more than 4 percent in the current fiscal year.
"That was too high," she said, adding she did not want that repeated in fiscal 2018.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
If you go ...
What: City Council meeting
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Council chambers, City Hall
Pittsfield City Council Agenda on May 9, 2017 – in part –
13. A communication from Mayor Tyer submitting an Order raising and appropriating $156,568,300 for the Fiscal Year 2018 Municipal Operating Budget
14. A communication from Mayor Tyer submitting an Order authorizing the City Treasurer to borrow an aggregate sum not exceeding $8,193,000 for Fiscal Year 2018 capital expenditures
15. A communication from Mayor Tyer submitting an Order authorizing the City Treasurer to borrow an aggregate sum not exceeding $14,390,000 for Fiscal Year 2018 enterprise fund capital expenditures
16. A communication from Mayor Tyer submitting an Order appropriating $2,225,000 from Certified Free Cash to reduce the Fiscal Year 2018 tax rate
“Pittsfield Mayor Tyer releases proposed $163.9M budget”
Would create new consolidated Department of Public Services and Public Utilities
By Carrie Saldo , firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, May 10, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda M. Tyer's proposed fiscal 2018 operating budget will be the subject of six special meetings over the next two months.
The proposed $163.9 million budget, released online Wednesday, reflects an increase of 1.04 percent from the current year. It would mean the elimination of six positions and include the consolidation and reorganization of several departments.
"We have a balanced budget with excess levy capacity," City Finance Director Matthew Kerwood said.
Citing a number of unknowns in the process — including state aid, property tax value, and the amount of free cash that could be used to offset the tax rate — Tyer and Kerwood would not say what impact the proposed budget will have on the city's tax rate. And the potential increase residents could expect.
When a reporter pointed out that the proposed budget is based on a number of assumptions, Kerwood and Tyer still declined to comment.
"I am not trying to be evasive," Tyer said during a phone interview Wednesday. "The budget includes too many variables. We can't give you a number today."
A letter to City Council from Tyer explains her budget objectives: safe, blight-free neighborhoods, competitive public schools and economic growth.
Sixteen of the city's 26 departments are at, or below, level funding, including the mayor's office, schools, police and fire, according to the proposed budget. Level funding was something Tyer asked of each of her department heads.
The schools and public safety are among the most expensive city services.
The Police Department has requested $9.8 million, down 0.2 percent, and the Fire Department's $7 million request is 1.4 percent less than the current year. Late last month, the School Committee approved a $60.7 million budget for fiscal 2018, a 0.4 percent decrease from the current year.
Among the largest percent increases for departments are 33.3 percent for the airport commission, and 30.5 percent for school building maintenance.
Those potential increases reflect a new policy decision, where certain repairs would be paid for with operational funds, instead of borrowing for them, Kerwood explained. Under the current budget, repairs for boilers, elevators and other items are capital expenses.
Fixed cost increases include $3 million for health insurance, and about $594,000 for retirement, and $120,000 for long-term debt payments, principal and interest.
Regarding revenue, about $84.4 million will be generated through property taxes, with the balance made up by state aid, local receipts and free cash; Tyer has requested the use of $2.2 million. That would leave the city with $37,145 in levy capacity.
The city's auditor has repeatedly advised against the use of free cash in its annual budget.
The budget proposal includes some reorganization and the consolidation of a number of city departments. Those include making parks, grounds, parking enforcement, Department of Public Utilities, administration and engineering part of what would be a newly formed Department of Public Services and Public Utilities.
One commissioner would lead that department.
Those potential changes are aimed at "creating savings, greater efficiencies, and enhanced productivity," the letter states.
The budget will be tackled in sections during a public hearing and four other meetings of the Committee of the Whole. The committee, which consists of the entire council, meets to discuss specific issues — in this instance the proposed fiscal 2018 budget.
Budget decisions made by the committee will be referred back to the council for a formal vote. City Council President Peter Marchetti said a budget vote will likely take place June 13 or June 27, depending on the outcome of deliberations by the committee.
If Tuesday's council meeting is any indication, its budget deliberations could be hard fought.
The group spent nearly 50 minutes debating a proposed repair for the former Capitol Theatre marquee, which is the current sign for the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center.
Councilors all said they agreed the marquee should be repaired. But the disagreed where the likely $200,000 needed to pay for it should come from.
The proposed budget includes $150,000 in capital funds for the marquee. But an additional $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds were a sticking point for councilors John M. Krol Jr., Peter White, and Nicholas J. Caccamo, who were against its use.
They said the money should be reserved for things deemed important by community residents who spoke at listening sessions held about the grants. Those items include sidewalk repairs and playground upgrades, they said.
But an effort to deny those funds to the proposed project was defeated when it failed to gain enough votes.
Looking beyond 2018, Tyer said she plans to review the city's health insurance plan, and negotiate with employee unions; consolidate school custodians into the city's building maintenance department; launch a toter system for its trash and recycling; and consider a "home improvement initiative" as part of its ongoing blight remove campaign.
View the proposed budget online:
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
IF YOU GO -
Pittsfield Fiscal 2018 Budget Meetings
Public Hearing, May 22
Up for discussion: Offices of the Mayor, City Council, City Solicitor, City Clerk, RSVP, Council on Aging, Veterans, and Cultural Development
Up for discussion: Pittsfield Public Schools
Up for discussion: Offices of Building Inspection, Personnel, Health, Police, Fire, and Emergency Management
Up for discussion: Offices of Public Services, Enterprise Funds, Building Maintenance, Library, Community Development, and Airport
Up for discussion: Offices of Workers Compensation, Finance & Administration, Information Technology, Unclassified, and Capital Budgets. And the approval of: free cash, revolving funds and a corresponding ordinance, parking revenue, and the budget.
Our Opinion: “Pittsfield must end raid on free cash”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 12, 2017
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer's proposed fiscal 2018 operating budget essentially holds the line on spending in the financially strapped city. Or at least it appears to hold the line, as a variety of unknowns undermine any sense of certainty as the budget process gets underway.
The $163.9 million budget would constitute a 1.04 percent increase from the current year's spending plan (Eagle, May 11). City Hall noted a number of variables — from the amount of state aid to property tax value to the potential use of free cash — in declining to speculate on the budget's impact on the tax rate. These variables, combined with likely challenges to emerge from city councilors during the budget deliberation process, mean the proposal is essentially a starting point. Change to the numbers appears inevitable.
Economic realities have forced departments throughout the city to make difficult reductions, and the use of the city's free cash is tempting way to reduce that impact. Mayor Tyer has requested using $2.2 million of the $3.5 million available in free cash to keep taxes in check, which comes one year after the city used $2 million for the same reason. That request passed the City Council by a vote of 6 to 5.
City auditor Thomas Scanlon recommended against the use of free cash, which is essentially funds left over from the previous fiscal year, to reduce the tax rate for the current fiscal year, and reiterated his objections in a report to the City Council in February. With the city up against its levy limit and unable to call for a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote, Mr. Scanlon maintains the city needs to start building a surplus. In his report, Mr. Scanlon warned that the city will reach its levy limit in 2019 if current trends continue.
That trend will continue if another $2.2 million is taken from the fund. The city risks becoming dependent on a revenue source that shouldn't be depended upon because the amount of revenue cannot be accurately predicted from year to year. This is why the state recommends that free cash, when used, generally be targeted for one-time expenditures like capital projects.
Given the city's financial realities, the mayor and City Council don't have anything in the way of good options when it comes to building a budget. Department heads have held the line on spending or made reductions, with the School Department making particularly painful cuts.
Reaching the levy limit, however, is a major concern as well. If city officials take $2.2 million out of free cash, only $1.3 million will remain available, give or take whatever free cash emerges or doesn't emerge in the year ahead. The city must bite the bullet now and begin replenishing the cash fund before the levy limit is reached and the fund has all but run dry.
“Gaetani, Powell join Pittsfield School Committee race”
By Carrie Saldo, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, May 9, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Two challengers have taken steps to join this fall's race for School Committee.
Craig C. Gaetani, who is a former Pittsfield Public Schools teacher, and Dennis Powell, president of the Berkshire County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, are vying for a seat on the six-member panel.
All of the current members of the committee said they intend to seek re-election. Mayor Linda Tyer also holds a seat on the committee as a function of her office.
Both men have taken out nomination papers for a spot on the committee. Powell declined to comment for this article.
Gaetani says he will eliminate "fat" in the budget and bring much-needed technical expertise to the committee.
The School Committee recently approved an approximate $60.7 million fiscal 2018 budget, a 0.4 percent decrease from the current year.
"There is not one drop of technical expertise on the School Committee," Gaetani said. "There is no one to judge when the city is under or overpaying for something."
Current committee members currently work, or have worked, in education, banking, law enforcement, and human services.
Gaetani, 68, taught biology and chemistry in Pittsfield Public Schools from 1975 to 1981, when he said he lost his job due to budget cuts.
He taught for a six-month vacancy in 1975, was as a science tutor from 1976 to 1977. He went on to teach at Pittsfield High School from 1979 to 1980 and at the former Crosby Junior High School from 1980 to 1981, according to Harry Hayes, public schools director of human resources.
Gaetani traded public employment for the private sector and went to work for Krofta engineering corporation for many years.
He currently runs Gaetani, Wang Scientific and Engineering Consultants.
He is a cum laude graduate of the former North Adams State College and Berkshire Community College and a Vietnam veteran.
"I'm a numbers man," he said. "And in communities the bottom line is the dollars."
Gaetani said too much money is spent on administration and teachers salaries, especially Grades 8 and below.
The budget passed by the committee allocated $1.2 million for administrative salaries, a decrease of 6.6 percent from this year. Those salaries are 1.96 percent of the fiscal 2018 budget.
And $24.1 million is slated to pay for teacher salaries — about 39.7 percent of the budget, an increase of 1.9 percent from this year.
"We have to get a handle on teachers contracts," he said. "It needs to be a more equitable situation."
During budget discussions, which took place over the course of three months, administration and committee members said there was very little excess to cut from the budget.
Arriving at the budget approved by the committee required more than $3 million in cuts, including the elimination of its pre-kindergarten program and nearly 76 layoff notices that will be sent to teachers, paraprofessionals and administrative staff. About half of those jobs may be retained through attrition.
The district's teaching staff rallied together and voted to delay its step pay increase and the administration was flexible on the amount it planned to spend on new curriculum.
Gaetani also has taken out nomination papers for two City Council positions — at large and Ward 6.
If he qualifies for more than one race, Gaetani will need to choose which one he will run for. A person cannot appear on the ballot more than once during a given election, according to city law.
All candidates who collect enough signatures for their respective races must decide prior to the Aug. 9 deadline if they will run.
The six seats on the committee are awarded to the people who garner the most votes.
Gaetani has six criminal charges pending, on three separate cases, in Northern Berkshire District Court.
"I'm going to get these trumped up charges cleared and it's going to be a whole new ballgame," he said.
He faces charges of threatening to commit a crime — to shoot a city employee — and making harassing phone calls; two counts of witness intimidation and breaking and entering into a motor vehicle; and for disturbing the peace, according to information from Northern Berkshire District Court.
The election is Nov. 7 .
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
“On The Record: Pittsfield immigration policy, Walmart petition, Ruffer's return”
By Carrie Saldo, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, May 12, 2017
As debate at the national level regarding immigration enforcement rages, Pittsfield has embraced inclusion policies that disregard immigration status.
Mayor Linda M. Tyer's administration has long said the city welcomes all immigrants. And the city now has documented proof of that stance.
The City Council accepted two immigration policies, and agreed to the creation of an ordinance requiring a 30-day notice of changes to them during its meeting Tuesday night.
"No person that visits our facilities is to be asked about their immigration status, or any question that may violate their privacy as a federally protected class," reads the Personnel Department's one-page 413 policy on immigration.
The Police Department policy, which is 11 pages and subject to review on Oct. 24, says that enforcement of federal civil immigration laws are not the department's responsibility.
The policy was an outgrowth of the Pittsfield Trust Act, which was first proposed in January. That proposed act has been placed on file.
At least a dozen residents have spoken in favor of the policies adopted at City Council over the past month and one against it.
Resident Alexander Blumin, who is running for City Council at large, has said the he would sue the city if the council passed the policy.
Vote on Walmart petition tabled
The City Council won't vote on a petition that called for it to support design conditions for a proposed Walmart Supercenter at the William Stanley Business Park. At least, not yet.
City Solicitor Richard Dohoney recommended the council table the matter, pending a likely public hearing on the developer's proposed plans, Council President Peter Marchetti explained at its meeting Tuesday.
Waterstone Retail, a Needham based developer, has yet to file plans with the city. But it has a purchase and sales agreement with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which manages the business park.
The developer would need a special permit from the council to build the proposed 196,000-square-foot store.
Last month, former City Councilor Mike Ward filed a petition asking councilors to support the project but only if developers agree to a set of requirements that would better integrate the store into the surrounding neighborhood.
A procedural move by at large City Councilor Kathleen A. Amuso blocked the matter from being voted on then. Discussion of the petition was delayed a second time, at Ward's request, because of the absence of Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully, who wanted to take part.
Ward’s idea calls for a multistory, mixed-use building sited near Tyler Street and Woodlawn Avenue. His vision includes storefront windows, entrances from the sidewalk and parking away from Tyler Street. Ward told councilors his proposal is meant to increase pedestrian safety in a neighborhood where walking and biking are common.
Deanna Ruffer will return to the city to once again head up the Community Development Office. She starts in early June.
In approving Mayor Linda M. Tyer's appointment, the council did not discuss the matter. Amuso voted against Ruffer's reappointment.
Ruffer, who led the office from 2004-12, oversaw a number of major developments including the renovation of the Pittsfield Common and the redevelopment of the Rice Silk Mill apartments. She left to take a similar post in Chatham.
The council also unanimously approved the following appointments:
Mary Beth Eldridge, Cultural Council
Peter Bergman, Commission on Tourism
Kathie Penna, Human Rights Commission
Mitchell Kellar, Pittsfield Fire Department lieutenant
Matthew Kiernan, Devon Whalen and Adam Healy, firefighter
The council also unanimously approved the following reappointments:
Thomas Hamel, Board of Registrar of Voters
Marguerite Bride, Cultural Council
Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers was absent.
Carrie Saldo's reporting includes Pittsfield government, education and politics. Reach her at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
“Pittsfield resident, candidate gets probation for harrassing calls, threats”
By Bob Dunn, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, May 12, 2017
NORTH ADAMS — Pittsfield resident Craig C. Gaetani, a candidate for City Council and School Committee, has been convicted of making harassing phone calls and threatening to shoot a city employee in 2015.
Gaetani, 69, who also ran an unsuccessful bid for Pittsfield mayor in 2015, was given a six-month suspended jail sentence, placed on probation for two years and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.
If he violates his probation conditions, the six-month sentence could be imposed.
His case was heard in Northern Berkshire District Court before Judge William O'Grady and was deliberated by a jury of six.
According to court records, Gaetani made multiple phone calls to the Pittsfield Fire Department asking to speak to someone about having junk vehicles removed from property he owns on July 3, 2015.
When he was told the people he wanted to speak with were not available, Gaetani allegedly called the woman an, "a--hole" before she hung up on him.
Gaetani called back immediately, informed the woman that he was going to be the next mayor and he would take away her job and retirement benefits before she hung up on him again, according to court documents.
One minute later, Gaetani called again, this time telling her he was going to "come to her office and shoot her with a gun."
She also showed police a log from June 12 that shows six calls from Gaetani over a 31-minute span about the same junk cars on his property.
During one of those calls, according to court records, Gaetani threatened to burn the woman's house down.
Gaetani, who acted as his own attorney, denied the charges, and, at one point, implicated his brother as the one who made the calls, but later recanted that allegation.
He also called the charges a smear campaign against him in an effort to derail his mayoral bid.
Gaetani lost the primary after receiving a total of 176 votes across the city's 14 wards.
During the intervening 18 months, several motions to dismiss the case, filed by Gaetani, were denied. The trial date was rescheduled and the case was transferred from Central Berkshire District Court in Pittsfield to Northern Berkshire District Court in North Adams.
Gaetani has two more jury trials scheduled in North Adams. On June 13, he is facing charges of breaking and entering and witness intimidation, and on July 11, he will face a disturbing the peace charge.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
“Earl Persip III announces run for Pittsfield City Council”
By Carrie Saldo , firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, May 22, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Diversity. It is lacking on City Council, and concerns of minorities here are not recognized as often as they should be.
Changing that is among the things at large candidate Earl G. Persip III intends to do if elected.
"I want everyone's voice heard," Persip told The Eagle. "I am a person that can talk to everybody and that can relate to everybody."
The 39-year-old Pittsfield native has lived in several city neighborhoods, but most recently he and his wife, Ashley Sulock Persip, moved from the Morningside neighborhood to Ward 3. He is bi-racial, with an Italian mother and an African-American father. And if elected he would be the only person of color on the council.
"It is important for city leadership to understand the economic divide in the city," he said. "In my job I have worked with people from diverse backgrounds and that helps me understand more than most."
As director of operations for the Berkshire Family YMCA, Persip manages the day-to-day operations of its Pittsfield and North Adams locations. And he has held several roles with the organization over the past 22 years.
Beyond diversity, Persip said he will focus his attention on making the city more small-business friendly, reducing the tax rate, and increasing workforce training for youth.
The Taconic High School graduate said a variety of post-high school training, including some on-the-job and courses at Berkshire Community College, helped him develop his career. But he said that is not always the case for city youth.
"Kids who stay around town get lost in the mix sometimes," he said. "I want to see high school graduates have some job training if they aren't college bound. I was lucky enough to find a great job and get the training I needed and I would like to see other people be able to do that."
He said he is encouraged by Mayor Linda M. Tyer's recent announcement about a Red Carpet team meant to streamline business development for those interested in setting up shop or expanding in the city. But he believes there is still work to be done, including reducing the commercial and personal property tax rates.
Persip said he has reviewed the city budget and identified "some things he would question." Citing upcoming budget hearings by the current council, he declined to share specifics.
"I think the city can do a better job at working smarter, not harder," he said.
Persip is a member of the city's Animal Control Commission and Downtown Pittsfield Inc., as well as a Rotarian, but it is his first time seeking elected office.
Long interested in politics, he said began seriously considering a run for council after at large Councilor Kathleen A. Amuso announced she was stepping down in February.
Persip has launched a Facebook page for his campaign, which will be managed by Jordan Wood, who has a background in political science. His wife, a marketing project manager at Jane Iredale cosmetics, will handle that role for his campaign.
But he said door-to-door is the communication style he is most looking forward to.
"I am going to go out and listen," he said. "I am going to let them judge what the real issues are. What kind of struggles they are having every day."
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
“Pittsfield City Council Begins Review of Proposed Fiscal 2018 Budget”
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, May 23, 2017
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer has put forth a $163.8 million budget, which basically puts the city at the levy ceiling.
The budget increase is only 1 percent, with the majority of that going to health insurance, and will leave the city only $31,145 short of the hitting the levy ceiling.
The ceiling is a state restriction on the amount of revenue the city can bring in from property taxes.
"It is important to point out that this constraint has been a decade or more in the making," Mayor Linda Tyer said. "It took us a long time to get her and it is going to take a lot of work to overcome it."
The total spending plan is proposed at $163,859,871, which is $1,693,362 more than last year. However, non-property tax revenues are projected to fall by $1.7 million, so $3.4 million more will come from property taxes.
The operating budget is at $145,191,805, the enterprise budget is at 11,376,495, other expenses are penciled in at 7,291,571.
The city is projecting the need to raise $84,420,700 from property taxes, which will lead to an estimated 80-cent increase on the tax rate for residential and $1.45 for commercial (or $80 per $100,000 of assessed value for residential properties and $145 increase per $100,000 of commercial.)
The mayor said the budget focused on creating safe neighborhoods through investments in police and fire, keeping the public schools "competitive" and maintaining and plowing roads.
But, because of the looming debt ceiling, the budget calls for the reduction of 76 jobs, 70 of which are from the school department, and Tyer said 16 departments are level funded. The school budget is being cut by $250,000, which is leading to the layoffs.
"I am deeply sorry that it has come to this," Tyer said of the employees who will lose their jobs because of the cuts.
The budget is particularly taxed by a 12.9 percent increase in employee health insurance. That accounted for a $3 million increase to the budget operating budget. Tyer added that there was a $594,239 increase in retirement contributions and $120,034 increase in long-term debt. That accounted for $3.7 of the $3.9 million increase in the operating budget.
Tyer said asking departments to level fund means taking a cut because as contractual increases, such as negotiated salary hikes or insurance, grow, level funding means either reducing staff or cutting in other areas.
"As we move through the years we will have to make more and more difficult decisions and focus on our core services," she said.
This budget does reorganize some departments, she said, hoping to create efficiencies. It will also use $2.2 million in free cash to offset the tax rate increase. The use of those funds had been contentious in the past as the auditors urged city officials against using those one-time revenues to pay for the annual operating budget.
At this point, there is a limit on the amount taxes that can be raised, so if it weren't used for that, the city would have to find an additional $2.2 million in cuts to the budget.
"We have consulted with our auditor Tom Scanlon and he said we have no choice but to use free cash to balance our budget," Tyer said.
The mayor said she hopes to start negotiations with the Public Employees Committee regarding the current 85/15 health insurance split to cut on city expenses, looking to consolidate school custodians into one department, implement a toter trash pickup system, and launch a home improvement program in hopes to grow property values.
"I'm optimistic that we can survive this downturn and thrive," Tyer said.
The City Council began its review of the budget on Monday.
“Pittsfield City Council takes first look at budget”
By Carrie Saldo , email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, May 23, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Faced with a series of daunting fiscal realities, a City Council subcommittee has begun reviewing the mayor's proposed fiscal 2018 budget.
Mayor Linda M. Tyer said her $163.9 million proposal was carefully designed to both cut costs, to balance the budget, and fund core city services for residents.
The budget, as proposed, would raise the residential property tax rate by 80 cents, or 4 percent, from the current $19.63 per $1,000 to $20.43 per $1,000 of assessed value. Thus, the tax bill for a home assessed at $200,000 would increase by $160.
The increase is in line with previous years. In 2016 and 2015, tax rates increased by 4.6 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
The commercial rate would add $145 per $100,000.
Citing a number of variables in the process — including state aid, property tax value, and the amount of free cash that could be used to offset the tax rate — Tyer stressed that amount is subject to change.
Because of those variables, and more, Tyer and City Finance Director Matthew Kerwood had previously declined to comment on the impact the proposed budget will have on the city's tax rate.
Stagnant property values and limits of Proposition 2 1/2 have the city between a rock and a hard place. And the levy ceiling constraint is more than a decade in the making, Tyer said.
If the proposed budget stands, the city will have $37,145 in excess levy capacity.
During the first of five meetings the Committee of the Whole on the proposed budget, Tyer gave the group an overview of the budget, which was released May 9. The complete document is available online.
"It is easy to get lost in the numbers and lose sleep over the levy ceiling," Tyer said. "It is important to look up from that work and see who we are as an organization and talk about who we serve."
Her priorities include safe, blight-free neighborhoods, competitive public schools and economic growth.
"It's our job to make sure that we plan for everyone," she said.
The proposed budget reflects an increase of just over 1 percent from the current year. It would mean the elimination of six positions and include the consolidation and reorganization of several departments on the municipal side.
Late last month, the School Committee approved a $60.7 million budget for fiscal 2018, a 0.4 percent decrease from the current year. Seventy positions, including a mix of teachers, paraprofessionals and district positions were eliminated. The district budget is drafted separately but is part of the city's overall budget.
"I am deeply sorry that it has come to this," Tyer said of the potential job losses.
About $84.4 million will be generated through property taxes, with the balance made up by state aid, local receipts and free cash — Tyer has requested the use of $2.25 million.
While the city auditor has advised against the use of free cash, Tyer said she opted to use it to avoid the need for additional budget cuts.
Sixteen of the city's 26 departments are at, or below, level funding, including schools, police and fire, which are among the most expensive city services, according to the proposed budget.
The Police Department has requested $9.8 million, down 0.2 percent, and the Fire Department's $7 million request is 1.4 percent less than the current year.
Among the largest percent increases for departments are 33.3 percent for the airport commission, and 30.5 percent for school building maintenance.
Silence from the public
A public hearing held Monday night on the proposed budget was opened and closed without anyone from the public stepping up to speak.
The budget is being taken up in sections during meetings of the Committee of the Whole.
Monday night, that subcommittee signed off on more than $2.4 million that funds eight areas of the proposed budget.
At large Councilor Kathleen A. Amuso applauded the work of department heads.
"I just want to thank everybody for doing their jobs on this," she said. "When I see some of these items reduced, I do worry. Are we going to be able to meet the reduction?"
At the outset of the budget process she had requested the council receive a budget that included cuts.
Rules of engagement
At the mayor's request, City Solicitor Richard M. Dohoney outlined the authority the council has over the budget process.
He said the council misunderstood some rules last year.
"I wanted everybody playing from the same playbook about what you can and cannot do," he said.
Dohoney said that Massachusetts law and city charter clearly state that the council cannot reduce salary line items included in the budget that are set by ordinance or by a collective bargaining agreement.
"The only way they can be reduced is if the position is eliminated from the budget," he said.
City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo disagreed.
Mazzeo said the phrase "subject to appropriation" gives council authority to reject amounts of money the mayor has allocated for individual employee raises and suggest a new amount.
Dohoney took issue with her interpretation of that phrase.
State law "very strictly regulates how budgets can be dealt with," Dohoney said.
"I hear that you are frustrated by being hamstrung, but that is the role of the executive not the role of the legislative."
Salaries were repeatedly questioned by Mazzeo. She called attention to what she believed to be inconsistent pay increases for city employees.
A pay grade and step system for salaries and raises was set by the council in recent years. Mazzeo said she thought that was designed to eliminate variations in salaries and raises.
"There are some people who have been here four years and are still at step one," Mazzeo said. "Some are just coming on and they are at a higher step. I just don't get the disparity."
Michael Taylor, city director of personnel, said some of the variation is caused by the city's bi-weekly pay cycle. He attributed other differences to salary decisions made by previous administrations.
He added that the city is developing a policy for pay raises for department heads, which are currently at the discretion of the mayor.
During about an hour of discussion on Monday, the council subcommittee gave unanimous preliminary approval to the following eight areas of the proposed fiscal 2018 budget:
Office of the Mayor: $200,846, level funded
Council Vice President John Krol Jr. pointed out Tyer chose to decline a $2,735 cost of living increase and instead kept her salary at $95,000.
"I commend the mayor for doing it but I also recognize it is stunting the growth of the salary," he said.
City Council: $103,892, level funded
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell questioned $1,250 budgeted for advertising and marketing. He said as of April 30 just half of the budgeted amount for the fiscal year had been spent.
"Little bits, add up to a big chunk eventually," he said.
City Clerk Jody Phillips said the money is spent on things like legal ads, paper, and signs for council budget desks.
City Solicitor: $217,813, level funded
City Clerk: $326,522 level funded
RSVP: $79,045, 0.6 percent increase
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony J. Simonelli asked what area the organization, which is essentially a volunteer clearinghouse, serves.
Cheryl Whalen said the program primarily services Pittsfield organizations.
It is funded by the city and federal grant funds.
Council on Aging: $292.652, a 0.2 percent decrease
Veterans Services: $1,081,853, 0.6 percent decrease
Krol pointed out the majority of the budget is reimbursed by the federal government.
Cultural Development: $104,585, a 1.5 percent decrease
Connell pointed out rental revenue that the office brings in. And Krol pointed out several of the department's events, such as Third Thursday and the 10x10 festival, are completely funded by local organizations and grants.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
BUDGET MEETINGS ...
The Committee of the Whole will conduct a series of meetings in the coming weeks to discuss budgets for various city departments:
• May 25: Pittsfield Public Schools
• May 30: Offices of Building Inspection, Personnel, Health, Police, Fire, and Emergency Management
• June 1: Offices of Public Services, Enterprise Funds, Building Maintenance, Library, Community Development, and Airport
• June 6: Offices of Workers Compensation, Finance & Administration, Information Technology, Unclassified and Capital Budgets. And the approval of free cash, revolving funds and a corresponding ordinance, parking revenue and the budget.
BUDGET STEPS ...
• After the mayor releases a proposed budget, the council has 45 days to adopt a budget. If it does nothing, the document proposed by the mayor is automatically enacted, according to the city’s attorney.
• The Committee of the Whole, which consists of the entire council, meets to discuss specific issues — in this instance the proposed fiscal 2018 budget. Budget decisions made by the committee will be referred back to the council for a formal vote.
• City Council President Peter Marchetti said he is determined to bring in a budget on time and plans a vote for June 13. If consensus cannot be reached he said nightly special meetings would be called to meet the 45-day deadline.
• To view the budget online, go to cityofpittsfield.org/alert_ detail.php
Bob Heck is running for a councilor at large seat.
“Bob Heck Announces Campaign For Pittsfield City Council”
iBerkshires.com Staff Reports, May 23, 2017
Pittsfield, Mass. — Former radio host Bob Heck plans to seek a seat on the City Council.
Heck announced on Monday that he plans to run for an at-large seat on the council. The Alden Avenue resident is the former host of "Bob Heck in the Morning" on Live 95.9 and later on WBRK. He now owns and operates an entertainment business for weddings, parties, and bars and taverns throughout the county.
"The council has big decisions to make on the William Stanley Business Park, trash collection, and how to fund the city as we are at our levy limit. I'm very concerned about how this will affect our school system. The next two years will have a direct impact on my two children, as well as the many parents and teachers in our community," Heck wrote in a statement released Monday.
Heck will be graduating from Berkshire Community College in June with an associate degree in business administration and plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in economics at University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the fall.
He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and two children, Kendall and Ashley, both of whom attend city schools.
Heck is the ninth resident to take out nomination papers for an at-large seat. Others include Alex Blumin, Ed Carmel, Craig Gaetani, Ty Allan Jackson (who later announced he would withdraw from the race), incumbent Peter Marchetti, incumbent Melissa Mazzeo, Earl Persip, Auron Stark, and incumbent Peter White. So far only White and Marchetti returned papers. Kathleen Amuso said she would not seek re-election. There are four at-large seats on the council.
In other races, Michael Cirullo, Gabriel Ecklund, and Helen Moon took out papers for Ward 1, none of them have been returned yet.
Dina Guiel and incumbent Kevin Morandi took out papers for Ward 2, with Morandi returning his to be on the ballot.
Incumbent Nicholas Caccamo and James Gleason took out papers for Ward 3, neither have returned them.
Incumbent Christopher Connell and William Wright took out papers for Ward 5, neither have returned them.
William Keane and incumbent Donna Todd Rivers took out papers for Ward 5, neither has returned them.
Gaetani and incumbent John Krol took out papers for Ward 6, neither have returned them.
Incumbent Anthony Simonelli took out papers for Ward 7 but hasn't returned them yet.
For the School Committee, all six incumbents took out papers but none have returned them yet. Challenger Dennis Powell took out and returned papers to become a candidate, and Gaetani took out papers but hasn't returned them.
Our Opinion: “Pittsfield confronts harsh realities of budget process”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 25, 2017
The Pittsfield budget process has begun, and has been the case for some time, the task is to stretch two little money over too many obligations. That task becomes more challenging with each passing year.
Mayor Linda Tyer on Monday presented her proposed $163.9 million budget for fiscal 2018 to the City Council meeting as a whole Tuesday night. Though subject to change based on variables like state aid and property tax value, the budget proposal would raise the residential property tax by 4 percent, which is in keeping with tax rate increases of the last two years.
The city's departments are largely level-funded, but increases in costs beyond the city's control, such as health insurance, strain the budget. The proposal would trigger potential losses, as the School Committee budget calls for the elimination of 70 positions, although fewer layoffs may ultimately be required. The mayor is proposing the use of $2.2 million in free cash, and while she acknowledged in an editorial board meeting at The Eagle Monday that using dwindling free cash reserves does not constitute "best practices philosophy" she believes the city could not afford the additional job losses that would have resulted if the free cash had not been used. The free cash is now down to $1.3 million and while more may be found in the year ahead, a day of reckoning may come when this tool can't be employed and particularly painful cuts cannot be avoided.
Mayor Tyer told Eagle reporters and editors that a $3 million increase in health insurance costs contributes dramatically to the city's budget problems, adding "it seems like no one is working on the problem." Certainly, no one is working on the problem in Washington. The Affordable Care Act enabled millions of Americans to get insurance but it didn't get at the issue of rising costs. The Republican health care plan passed in the House weakens or eliminates the best provisions of the ACA without addressing rising costs either. The state is wrestling with the cost problem but is largely hamstrung by Washington's inaction.
The ever-escalating health insurance burden is a reminder that there are aspects of a municipal budget that the municipality has little or no control over. What the city can do is explore alternative insurance plans and options and when contracts come up insist on an employer-employee divide that mirrors the private sector as closely as possible.
Salaries came up for discussion at the City Council Monday night, and the members of the United Educators of Pittsfield, the city's teachers union, should again be applauded for voting to delay their step pay increases for six months, saving $300,000. However, automatic step increases in salary have diminished in the private sector through years of a stagnant economy and they have to be revisited when contracts come up in the public sector. That may not eliminate job cuts but it could result in fewer of them.
The public schools' two pre-kindergarden classrooms are hanging on by a thread financially. Originally targeted for elimination, the pre-K program was rescued by the teachers' delay of step increases and $50,000 in state funds secured by Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat. Still, there will likely be a waiting list as the city will not be able to fully accommodate demand.
Studies attest to the importance of pre-kindergarden education in establishing a base that assures success in the classroom through high school. The city is wise to focus its pre-K resources on students served by Conte and Morningside schools as students from low-income areas statistically find the early years of school challenging, but there is so much more than can be done. As is the case with health care, Washington has consistently let down municipalities when it comes to pre-K funding, and the budget submitted by President Trump makes no reference to pre-K. This is an investment in education that pays dividends for years but it is routinely shortchanged.
If there are cuts that could possibly be made, we hope city councilors will specify them in the course of the next few weeks rather than announce their general dissatisfaction with the budget and tax increases when the process is complete, as has been the case in the past. Stagnant property values, the levy limit, and rising health insurance costs put the city in a bind that defies easy resolution. Pittsfield must continue to explore ways of attracting new residents and businesses to build its tax base, a necessary, long-term process that unfortunately doesn't change current realities.
Letter: “Pride proclamation is a big step forward”
The Berkshire Eagle, May 25, 2017
To the editor:
Mayor Tyer's proclamation before the City Council Tuesday inviting the people of Pittsfield to celebrate June as LGBTQ Pride Month calls upon the people of Pittsfield to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in favor of equal rights and diversity.
This is an important step toward the integration of LGBTQ (or LGBTQI) people in Berkshire County. As we celebrate June Pride Month, for the first time we have an LGBTQI rally at Park Square on Saturday, June 10 from 1 to 2. On Thursday June 22, there will be a presentation at the Berkshire Athenaeum entitled "Out in the Berkshires: A conversation with the LGBTQ community, from 6:30 to 8:30. On Saturday, June 24 there will be a pride festival and parade at the Common in Pittsfield from 2 to 5. And on Saturday, June 3, a member of Rainbow Seniors will do a presentation on "Homophobia and Misogyny'' from 2 to 4 at the Athenaeum.
Rainbow Seniors is a group of older LGBTQI people in the Berkshires. We have lived through much change and been active in that change. We remember the Stonewall Rebellion which started our revolution. We remember Ellen DeGeneres' first TV kiss; our exhilaration or terror at coming out; and our dear ones dying of AIDS. Some of us were passionate members of Act Up, Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers many years ago.
Now we are part of the graying rainbow working to make the Berkshires a more welcoming place for people like us. We hold potlucks, host groups addressing topics of concern, as well as picnics and trips to see theater and dance.
Those of you who are heterosexual may not realize the special courage it takes to be out, particularly in a rural area like ours. Many of us have lost family, friends, jobs, homes, places of worship. We have been threatened and harassed and classified as mentally ill or sinners. This is why the mayor's proclamation and the pride events are such a joy to us.
Talk to your LGBTQI family members, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues about their experiences. Share our pride. Visit us at www.rainbowseniors.org. And come celebrate pride with us.
The writer is a member of Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County.
“Edward James Carmel announces run for at-large Pittsfield City Council seat”
By Carrie Saldo, The Berkshire Eagle, May 25, 2017
PITTSFIELD — A representative who knows what life on the streets is like.
That's what Edward James Carmel plans to bring to City Council.
"The group needs someone like myself, who has been homeless and who has a good sense of what goes on in this city 24 hours a day," he said.
The 61-year-old political newcomer is running at large. He is among 10 people who have taken out nomination papers for the city's four at large seats, three of whom are seeking re-election.
Carmel, who lives on Columbus Avenue, said he was homeless for two years starting in 2009.
"I have everything I need now because I worked for it," he said.
He said he would press for increased enforcement of landlord-tenant agreements and opportunities for youth programs such as sports and reading.
"I want to see a place where these kids can develop. We have super kids who are super sports-oriented in this city," he said.
Carmel is troubled by having witnessed a number of drug dealers squatting in city apartments, which he said were rented by others.
"I need other people next to me to work with the Housing Authority and Health Department to eradicate these people," he said.
He said he would also work with state legislators to secure money to build a "multimillion-dollar stadium" in the city.
"Wahconah Park should be in the river as far as I am concerned," he said. "It is old-fashioned and out of date."
The father of five has been a city resident for 30 years. He grew up in Hinsdale and attended Wahconah and Taconic high schools.
Prior to retiring, Carmel worked in construction and a myriad of positions.
"I've worked every job from milking cows to a crosswalk guard," he said. "My experiences in between are insurmountable."
Brenda Ovitt, his fiancee, will serve as his campaign manager. He said the two are working on organizing an event at a local coffee house.
He plans to campaign door to door to help residents learn about his platform.
Nomination papers are due July 24; the date to withdraw is Aug. 9. Eight or more qualified candidates for at large seats would result in a preliminary election in September.
Other at-large candidates thus far are Alexander Blumin, Craig C. Gaetani, Bob Heck, Peter M. Marchetti, incumbent, Melissa Mazzeo, incumbent, Auron C. Stark, Peter T. White, incumbent, and Earl G. Persip III. Perspective candidate Ty Allan Jackson dropped out of the race last week. At-large councilor Kathleen A. Amuso is not seeking re-election.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
Letter: “Neglected cemetery needs city's attention”
The Berkshire Eagle, May 25, 2017
To the editor:
At this of time of year, cemeteries are uppermost in many people's minds. We think of our loved ones who have passed and we decorate their graves with flowers and flags.
There are two cemeteries in Pittsfield that are not often mentioned or thought of. One is better known than the other and that is the East Part Cemetery at the eastern end of Williams Street. Sarah Deming, the mother of the first white child born in Pittsfield, is buried there, commanding more attention to that cemetery than the West Part Cemetery on outer West Street. The East Part Cemetery is mowed and taken care of each year by the management of the Pittsfield Cemetery on Wahconah Street through an agreement made with the city of Pittsfield in 1933.
The West Part Cemetery was well taken care of many years ago by a neighbor in that area. That person passed away and the cemetery has been sadly neglected. It is the city's responsibility to manage it, which it did for awhile when it was brought to its attention but has not continued to do so. There may not be any family members still alive who can attend the graves but the grass should be mowed in the summer. Some years ago the Berkshire Historical Society in conjunction with City Councilor Gerald Lee was successful in getting care for the cemetery for a few summers.
If there is anyone in the neighborhood who would like to fulfill that responsibility I'm sure the Pittsfield Department of Public Works would appreciate hearing from you.
Councilor Melissa Mazzeo disputes the role of the council. Credit: JD Allen, WAMC.
“We are confronted now by a perfect storm of state law limitations and stagnant property values,” Mayor Linda Tyer says. “Those are the factors that have brought us to this predicament. It took us a long time to get here and it’s going to take us a long time and a lot of hard work to overcome because there is no single solution.”
Despite being advised by the city auditor not to use free cash to balance the city budget, Tyer says this year the city doesn’t have much of a choice.
The city is obligated to fulfill employee pay raises and pensions, and a $3 million hike in health insurance.
Source: “City Council Budget Hearings Began In Pittsfield”, By JD Allen, WAMC, May 25, 2017.
“Pittsfield schools aim to attract more kids”
City looks at number of students choosing to go elsewhere and how to draw in new ones
By Carrie Saldo , firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, May 27, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield Public Schools wants your kids.
And to that end, the district may begin aggressively marketing its educational offerings to increase its enrollment.
Pittsfield's school system has seen a drop in student rolls both from overall population loss and school choice — which allows public education funds to follow students — for more than a decade. The district saw 926 fewer students in the past 10 years. And it will likely see 893 fewer students at the end of the next decade, according to projections from the New England School Development Council.
The recommendation to market city schools outside of its borders came from members of a City Council subcommittee Thursday during the second of five meetings on the proposed fiscal 2018 budget.
"If we attract students from other districts it could mean more money to do what we need to do — instead of needing to cut or level fund the budget," Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell said.
The district cut nearly $3 million to make ends meet in its proposed fiscal 2018 budget.
Meanwhile, it lost about $2.7 million in fiscal 2016 as Pittsfield students opted to attend schools in other districts — primarily Richmond and Lenox. And it only took in about $500,000 in choice funds from other districts, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said.
The Committee of the Whole, a council subcommittee, gave unanimous preliminary approval Thursday to a $60.06 million schools budget, a 0.4 percent decrease from the current year. The council is slated to vote on a budget June 13. Ward 1 Councilor Lisa I. Tully was absent.
Choice is powerful
Several councilors suggested that the district ramp up its marketing to students and parents outside of the city.
Connell recommended the district create a video to market the new Taconic High School, set to open in fall 2018. He said it could be shared online and may spark an interest in the school from students outside the district.
"We should appeal to the students because they are the ones who will be pressing their parents, if they like the video, to possibly go there," Connell said. "I think we need to reach to them directly."
The district earns about $5,000 for each student that choices into the district, but vocational tuition is at least $17,000 per student, McCandless said.
Earlier this year, the district did launch an advertising campaign that proclaimed: "Choice is powerful. Choose more with the Pittsfield Public Schools."
The campaign used billboards and postcards to tout its numerous advanced placement and vocational courses, sports and arts, as well as a diverse student body. About 20 to 25 percent of the 1,568 enrolled in district high schools are students of color.
District leaders, School Committee members, and city councilors have said those are among the attributes that set education in Pittsfield apart from its neighbors.
McCandless thanked the councilors for their suggestions. And he said the district, which has a small marketing budget, will continue to think of new ways to reach prospective students.
Concerns about cuts raised
At the outset of the evening, City Council President Peter Marchetti discussed its authority over the budget. He said councilors, working at the subcommittee level, could reduce, but not increase, the proposed budget. If it did vote to reduce the budget — which it did not — the School Committee and the district would decide where to make the cuts.
Councilors did question the district's decision to cut a truancy officer, who works with students and families to assure school attendance, the reduction of its pre-kindergarten classes, and the addition of a vice principal at Pittsfield High School, among other things.
McCandless and the councilors thanked district teachers and paraprofessionals who approached the district and offered to essentially take pay cuts, in the form of delayed step increases and reduced professional development days.
The move saved the district more than $300,000, which was used to help restore some teaching and paraprofessional positions.
Future budgets look 'dire'
McCandless told the councilors he expects the budget, which was difficult and even "painful" to balance this year, to be "dire" for at least the next five years — a point he has also raised at School Committee meetings in recent months.
He said he doubts offerings for students will remain unscathed in future budgets.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
On the web ...
School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless's reports to the committee is available at pittsfield.net. The proposed fiscal 2018 city budget is at cityofpittsfield.org
“Error in Pittsfield budget prompts questions”
By Carrie Saldo , email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, May 31, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Some fact checking may be in order.
An error that was discovered in the city's proposed fiscal 2018 budget during a meeting Tuesday has at least one City Council member on edge.
"How do we know if there are other errors in the budget," at large Councilor Kathleen A. Amuso asked. "How do we know the data is right?"
A council subcommittee is in the process of reviewing the proposed budget and is expected to vote on a final number June 13.
An error in the proposed building inspection budget prompted the concern.
The temporary labor line item, in the current year's budget, should have been listed as $7,500 instead of $3,000.
City Finance Director Matthew Kerwood took responsibility for the error and said he would review the nine budget sections the Committee of the Whole has approved preliminarily.
Kerwood said the error was a simple mistake. Department heads manually input budget information into spreadsheets, which are then compiled to form the larger budget document. That document is finalized by Mayor Linda M. Tyer and her staff and submitted to the council.
"This one was wrong," Kerwood said. "And I will take the blame for that."
He said he would report his findings, if any, during the committee's next budget hearing, set for 7 p.m. Thursday.
In the third of five meetings scheduled for the committee, it gave preliminary budget approval of $17.8 million for six city departments up for review. Budgets for building inspection, and the departments of health, police, fire and emergency management were approved, preliminarily, without changes.
A move suggested by Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell, to reduce the personnel department budget by $5,000, was narrowly approved.
Councilors voted 6-5 in favor of a reduction in the city physician line item, with Peter Marchetti, Peter White, Kathleen A. Amuso, John M. Krol Jr., and Nicholas J. Caccamo opposed.
City Personnel Director Michael Taylor said because pre-employment medical evaluations are required, the line item fluctuates based on new hires and turnover in the city.
- Offices of Building Inspection: $369,892, 4.9 percent decrease
Questions were raised about the elimination of a senior clerk position and the potential impact on revenue.
Building Commissioner Gerald W. Garner said it's unclear how the additional work will be absorbed by other staff members. He said the position cut could mean less inspection revenue for the department.
Tyer said she would consider reinstating the position if it proves to have a negative impact of the department's revenue.
- Personnel: $199,322, 13.3 percent decrease
Councilors Mazzeo and Morandi asked for additional information on $26,000 budgeted for assessment centers — a form of civil service testing.
Instead of a written exam for police and firefighters, the city will begin using assessment centers for some positions. In that testing model, candidates are rated on performance during a number of exercises in the assessment. The test is customized specifically for the city, Taylor said.
"It gets a better quality candidate as opposed to us using the standard civil service test," he said.
- Health: $456,795, 3.5 percent increase
Councilors Mazzeo and Morandi asked about raises.
Health Department Director Gina Armstrong explained the raises were the result of union contracts, which were renegotiated in February.
Police: $9,800,049, 0.2 percent decrease
That includes 69 patrol officers; eight detectives; one safety officer; 12 sergeants; five lieutenants; three captains, and a chief.
Council Vice President Krol questioned the amount of scheduled overtime in the proposed budget. The department hired 15 new officers but overtime remained the same.
Police Chief Michael Wynn said new officers needed time to train, and therefore the addition has yet to result in decreased overtime hours.
"You are essentially paying two officers to act as one during those weeks of training," he said.
In addition, he said the department has been impacted by long-term absences.
- Fire: $7,026,034, 1.4 percent decrease, approved without discussion.
That includes 58 firefighters; nine fire captains; 13 fire lieutenants; four deputy chiefs, and a chief.
- Emergency Management: $26,400, 1.9 percent increase, approved without discussion.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
BY THE NUMBERS ...
• As proposed, the $163.9 million fiscal 2018 budget reflects a 1.04 percent increase.
• It would raise the residential property tax rate by 80 cents, or 4 percent, from the current $19.63 per $1,000 to $20.43 per $1,000 of assessed value. Thus, the tax bill for a home assessed at $200,000 would increase by $160. The commercial rate would add $145 per $100,000.
• Citing a number of variables in the process, Mayor Linda M. Tyer has stressed the budget's impact on the tax rate could change.
• The proposed budget would cut six municipal and 68 school district positions. Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless has said it hopes to save about half of those jobs through attrition.
• With the city's finances tight, departments were asked to submit budgets that were level funded or below.
“James Gleason announces bid for Ward 3 Pittsfield City Council seat”
By Carrie Saldo , firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, May 30, 2017
PITTSFIELD — It is time for a new point of view on the City Council, and James Gleason says he can provide that.
"My constituents' wishes are my agenda," Gleason said. "If I get elected I work for them. I think a lot of people forget that."
Gleason, 55, is a lifelong city resident and a political newcomer. He is running in Ward 3. Incumbent Nicholas J. Caccamo is seeking re-election.
Gleason said his first run for office was spurred by opposition to what he described as a "tax-till-they-can't-pay-any-more philosophy."
The Taconic High School graduate said he would work to reduce taxes, expand the city's park space, and create a more business-friendly environment.
He said there is currently too much emphasis placed on arts and culture.
"You can see where the arts and culture philosophy has gotten us," he said. "Close to receivership and at the tax levy limit. You need jobs before you can start the arts and culture ventures."
Gleason spent 15 years as a public schools custodian. He retired in 1999. Prior to that he worked for Eaton Paper.
He said he would also work to bring back former popular events such as the winter carnival.
"I think they are trying to change a lot of traditions here," he said. "Things that used to happen here don't."
Gleason has a Facebook page, through which he encouraged people to contact him on and share their ideas for ways to improve the city.
He said he is still considering if he will organize a campaign team.
Nomination papers are due July 24; the date to withdraw is Aug. 9.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
Nurses at Berkshire Medical Center voted on Wednesday to reject the hospital's latest contract offer. Berkshire Eagle file.
“Berkshire Medical Center nurses reject hospital's 'best and final' contract offer”
By Carrie Saldo, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, June 1, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Registered nurses at Berkshire Health Systems have rejected a contract the company called its "best and final offer."
Of the 495 Massachusetts Nurses Association members eligible to vote on the contract offer, 405 voted against it, or 82 percent, according to union spokesman David Schildmeier.
The union represents about 800 registered nurses employed at Berkshire Medical Center; 616 are voting members.
The vote follows eight months of contract negotiations, and more than 20 bargaining sessions, between the nurses union and Berkshire Health Systems, which operates the medical center.
The parties are at odds over salaries, the number of patients nurses are required to care for at once, and a number of other points.
The rejected contract had been proposed publicly last month by Berkshire Health Systems as its “best and final offer.”
“We are all disappointed,” said Brenda Cadorette, chief nursing officer and a registered nurse at BMC. “We have been bargaining in good faith. I think these are fair proposals; it is equitable and fair.”
As a member of management, Cadorette is not represented by the nurses union, and was speaking on behalf of BHS.
Cadorette and Arthur Milano, vice president of human resources at BHS, said much of its contract proposal was based on requests from nurses during bargaining sessions. He said those contract additions include changes to staffing participation and 10 percent raises over three years.
Schildmeier said nurses are eager to get back to the negotiating table and added that they intend to propose a number of dates to resume talks with administrators.
“We want to reach a fair and equitable settlement,” he said. “What they put out on the table is not at all supported by the nurses.”
Milano said only time will tell what happens next.
“Given what we have done, what we have been through, there is not a lot else that we can do,” he said. “So we will just have to see where this takes us.”
Contract proposals to date
The hospital has proposed a total of a 10 percent wage increase over three years, with a 1 percent increase the first two years and 2 percent in the third year.
The nurses are seeking a one-year contract with a 3.5 percent wage increase. That includes a 1.5 percent wage increase, retroactive from when negotiations began in September, and an additional 2 percent as of June 1, for a total of 3.5 percent, Schildmeier said.
“We have also indicated that this is not our bottom line on wages,” he said. “There is room for negotiation.”
Additionally, the health system’s proposal includes annual 2 percent step increases for those within the wage scale, lump sum payments of 2 percent annually for those at the top of the pay scale, and increases to evening and night shift payment differentials.
Regarding health insurance, the hospital wants to change the nurses' payment from 10 percent to 20 percent, which it said would bring payments in line with all of its other employees. The plan does not have a deductible and has low, or no, co-pays.
But nurse union representatives have said the nurses already pay more than some for health insurance. And they said doctors and managers pay between 40 and 70 percent less than nurses for family health insurance plans.
Nurses also said they are being asked to care for too many people at once, which increases the risk that something could go wrong with patient care. They said they have repeatedly requested additional staff.
Hospital officials said staff has been added: 200 employees following the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital in March 2014, 60 of whom were nurses.
They say the union's approach is too rigid, and they noted staffing guidelines at the hospital are appropriate and meet the best practices of the American Nursing Association.
In the BHS proposal, administrators are holding to nursing association guidelines, but they have agreed to allow for increased direct participation by nursing staff.
The contract also would allow nurses to be involved in staffing decisions and it would include a response system for nurses to report temporary staffing shortages.
Nurses want contracts changed to include the number of patients they are expected to care for at one time, a move the union has lobbied for elsewhere in the state.
Hospital leaders said the union is pushing a statewide agenda for mandatory, fixed staffing ratios that has little to do with local needs, a charge nurses have said is "completely false."
Union representatives have said the top priorities for bargaining were decided among its Pittsfield members. Those priorities are staffing guidelines, health insurance and salary.
A private, nonprofit, Berkshire Health Systems' affiliates include Berkshire Medical Center, the BMC Hillcrest Campus, Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, the North Adams Campus of BMC, Berkshire Visiting Nurse Association, BHS physician practices, and Berkshire Healthcare Systems, which provides long-term care for the elderly.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
“Tight times mean less in the budget for marketing Pittsfield's downtown”
By Carrie Saldo, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, June 3, 2017
PITTSFIELD — How much money should the city spend to market the downtown?
City councilors sparred over the matter during a meeting Thursday night as they continued combing through the proposed fiscal 2018 budget.
A City Council subcommittee met for the fourth of five scheduled meetings, giving a preliminary OK to another $18.7 million in proposed spending.
It reviewed proposed budgets for public services, enterprise funds, building maintenance, the Berkshires Athenaeum, community development and the Pittsfield Municipal Airport.
Funding for Downtown Pittsfield Inc., as well as weed control for Onota Lake, and a new business development manager position drew the bulk of comments made by councilors, meeting as the Committee of the Whole.
Council Vice President John M. Krol Jr. lobbied, unsuccessfully, for additional funding for Downtown Pittsfield Inc.
Mayor Linda M. Tyer budgeted it for $24,185 in fiscal 2018, a 25 percent decrease from the current year.
"The downtown is our front doorstep," Krol said. "The positive impact you get for the additional money has a dramatic impact on what we are trying to accomplish."
He said that includes having a vibrant downtown, which helps employers recruit new workers.
His motion for Tyer to revisit the proposed budget and place additional funding for the organization in it was defeated, 6-5, with councilors Peter Marchetti, Donna Todd Rivers, Kevin J. Morandi, Anthony J. Simonelli, Lisa I. Tully and Peter White opposed.
"We've made tough choices to eliminate full positions and I can't see sending [the budget] back," to the mayor, White said.
Downtown Pittsfield Inc. works to increase economic activity in the city by promoting the downtown to residents and visitors alike as a place to live, work and play, according to its website.
It is funded in part by the city's Office of Community Development, member businesses, and donors, such as The Berkshire Eagle, Greylock Federal Credit Union and Berkshire Health Systems.
Speaking during public comments, Downtown Pittsfield Inc. President Jesse Cook-Dubin said the organization has maintained services, despite consistent budget cuts from the city.
"We have made an incredible amount of progress," he said. "We can't continue to have the fee be reduced and exist as an organization."
Tyer said the cut to Downtown Pittsfield Inc. was among the many difficult decisions made to help balance the proposed budget.
"This is not a reflection of my dissatisfaction with that organization. They do amazing work," she said. "We had a philosophy that we wanted to try and share the burden across as many constituencies as possible. So that is why you see that reduction."
As proposed, the $163.9 million fiscal year 2018 budget reflects a 1.04 percent increase. Getting there meant cutting six municipal and 68 school department positions. In addition, 16 of the city's 26 departments are at, or below, level funding, including the mayor's office, schools, police and fire.
Councilors floated suggestions to Tyer for alternative ways to support Downtown Pittsfield Inc. within her budget proposal.
As part of the mayor's larger economic development strategy, she plans to launch a new job in partnership with the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp. and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which manages the William Stanley Business Park.
That post, a business development manager under the Office of Community Development, would serve as an ambassador and technician for recruiting and expanding business in the city. The three entities would split the cost of the salary.
Marchetti suggested the business development manager position could include some marketing of the downtown and its vacant storefronts, which could relieve some of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s responsibilities.
"It could be a short-term fix," Marchetti said.
White proposed that Tyer shuffle funds back to Downtown Pittsfield Inc. if money for the business development manager goes unused.
Three members of the public, in addition to the majority of councilors, spoke in favor of money for stepped up weed remediation at Onota Lake — part of the public services budget.
Resident George Haddad said the excess weeds have a negative impact on property values, and hamper boating and fishing. In addition, he said the weeds are a problem for swimmers.
"It is a big safety issue," he said.
The lone change the council made to the proposed budget was a $4,300 decrease to public services.
Councilor Christopher J. Connell proposed the reduction after he noticed a salary in that budget was overfunded.
The council is likely to vote on a final budget June 13.
The committee will revisit the mayor's budget, to which it had granted preliminary approval on May 22. It will specifically review some salaries that Mazzeo had questioned, Kerwood said.
The mayor has consolidated four departments into the larger Department of Public Services.
Mazzeo questioned the consolidation of leadership and whether it is allowed. She pointed to an area in the city charter that requires a specific number of department heads with specific titles.
City attorney Richard Dohoney is expected to weigh in on the matter at the next meeting set for Tuesday.
Footage provided by Pittsfield Community Television made this reporting possible.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
What's next ...
The Committee of the Whole will hold its final budget review session at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall. Up for discussion are budgets for the offices of workers compensation, finance and administration, information technology, mayor, unclassified and capital spending. Also the approval of free cash, revolving funds and a corresponding ordinance, parking revenue, and the budget.
“'We are on thin ice': Pittsfield Council panel warily clears initial budget”
By Carrie Saldo , email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, June 7, 2017
PITTSFIELD — "The chickens have come home to roost."
That's where the city's fiscal 2018 budget stands after years of using free cash to reduce its tax rate, Mayor Linda M. Tyer told a City Council subcommittee.
But previous years' leadership had a choice. This year the city does not, she said.
During its more than 3 1/2-hour meeting Tuesday, the Committee of the Whole gave preliminary approval to $156.5 million to fund individual city departments.
As part of its approval, the council signed off, 8-3, on the use of $2.2 million in free cash.
Councilors Anthony J. Simonelli, Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin J. Morandi voted against the use of free cash.
"We use this money and we are on thin ice basically with what's left," said Ward 2 Councilor Morandi. "We better hope that nothing major happens."
The city currently has about $7 million in reserves — $3.5 million in certified free cash and about $3.6 million in stabilization.
For more than a decade, and during times when the city could have afforded to save it, free cash was instead used to reduce the tax rate, an approach Tyer said she would not have taken. It's also something Auditor Thomas Scanlon has advised against for at least the past two years. He said best practices dictate saving that money.
But the city is not in a position to act on that advice, Tyer said.
While in this instance the use of free cash will not reduce the tax rate, the money will keep the city from making an additional $2.2 million in budget cuts, Finance Director Matthew Kerwood said.
"Just because previous administrations did it does not make it right to do it now," said Simonelli, who represents Ward 7. He added that he was not blaming Tyer's administration, but merely making a point.
The proposed budget has been described as bare-bones by Tyer as well as members of the School Committee and City Council. And arriving at the proposed budget meant cutting six municipal and 68 school department positions. As proposed, the budget is about a 1 percent increase from the current year and 16 of the city's 26 departments are at, or below, level funding.
Given the tight times, Simonelli asked how the city will handle next year's budget.
"Is the city done?" he asked.
Kerwood said the city would endure.
"We are managing this situation the best that we can given the limited tools that we have," he said.
But precisely how city leaders will manage is up for discussion.
"It is going to get more and more difficult," Tyer said. "We are in an absolute Catch-22."
Monday's meeting was the last of five sessions the council spent reviewing the proposed fiscal 2018 city budget; the council is likely to vote on a final version June 13.
Over the course of those meetings, the council approved about $10,000 in reductions. And another $90,000, found to be an accounting error, was removed from the proposal.
The final fiscal 2018 budget will be about $7.3 million more than the council approves. That additional amount accounts for state assessments, school choice payments and other items, Kerwood noted.
During its discussion of the unclassified budget Tuesday, Council Vice President John M. Krol Jr. pointed out its health insurance contract is "crushing" the city budget.
Under former Mayor Daniel Bianchi, the city left the state's Group Insurance Commission and instead opted into a three-year contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The contract resulted in an initial savings, but costs are expected to increase $3 million in its final year, fiscal 2018.
"Anything we hoped to do with this budget was dashed when we received this increase," Tyer said.
The increase has also contributed to job losses.
"The worst thing for me this year — people are going to lose their jobs," at-large Councilor Kathleen A. Amuso said.
Amuso said she regrets that salaries for city employees have not "significantly" increased in the past four years and many, including Tyer, opted not to take a raise. Still, she said to avoid additional job loss next year employees may need to give a bit more.
Pondering ways to reduce costs in years to come, Amuso appealed to city employees to consider increasing its cost share for insurance.
"I hope if we all work as a team again, if we can say everybody takes a little hit," maybe jobs can be kept, she said.
A public employee committee would need to approve any changes to health insurance.
Tyer said she tried to have non-union city employees, such as herself, increase their insurance contribution. She said they can't.
"We are looking at every possible avenue to get this cost under control," she said. "State law prohibits that change."
Motions made, defeated
The proposed budget for an employee mitigation fund was a sticking point for at-large Councilor Melissa Mazzeo.
The fund was established, by agreement between city employees and leadership, when Bianchi contracted with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The council approved $300,000 for the fund this year, $50,000 more than its contract with employees called for.
Mazzeo proposed rectifying the error by reducing the proposed fiscal 2018 line item from $250,000 to $200,000.
The council shot down the measure 7-4.
Councilors Mazzeo, Morandi, Simonelli and Christopher J. Connell were in favor of the reduction.
City Solicitor Richard Dohoney said the move could be a breach of its contract with the employees, but asked for more time to confirm that. He said he would report back to the group during its meeting next week.
But Mazzeo disagreed with Dohoney.
She said the bottom line would be the same. Therefore the council could reduce the fiscal 2018 amount.
An attempt by Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell to reduce the workers' compensation budget by $15,000 was defeated 8-3.
Councilors Connell, Morandi and Mazzeo supported the reduced amount.
The proposed budget allocated $190,000 for workers' compensation. This year about $137,000 has been spent, which is why Connell said he wanted it reduced.
Krol was among those who voted against the move. He pointed out workers' compensation is unpredictable.
"I prefer to be able to put money back into free cash at the end of the year [if it goes unspent]," he said. "As opposed to the administration coming back to the council for more money."
The capital budget, which was debated last month, was again a point of contention for some councilors. It was ultimately approved by 10-1; Mazzeo was opposed.
The $23.6 million budget includes general fund capital expenses, $9.2 million, as well as $14.4 million for water and wastewater operations. The current year capital budget is $11.8 million.
Mazzeo along with Connell, Morandi and Rivers disagreed with $3 million budgeted for an LED street light conversion. But they did not make a motion to reduce the proposed amount.
They raised concerns they've heard from residents about a number of broken street lights and pushed for money to repair lights first.
"I can't support doing this," Mazzeo said. "This is a huge safety issue that it is so dark in certain areas."
Director of Public Services Director David Turocy said the repairs and the conversion could be accomplished simultaneously.
"It is not an either/or proposition," he said.
The conversion would reduce energy use and save about $350,000 annually, decrease maintenance, and improve the quality of lights on the street, he said. Turocy added that about 30 percent of the material and installation costs could be reimbursed through a state grant.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
“Pittsfield City Council OKs budget; job cuts, tax hikes in offing”
By Carrie Saldo , firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, June 14, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The numbers tell the story.
As many as 74 jobs lost. More than $2 million taken from free cash. A potential increase of about $160 in the typical residential tax bill.
Those are among the actions necessary for the city to continue operating at its current levels in year ahead.
The City Council on Tuesday gave unanimous approval to the $156.4 million fiscal 2018 municipal operating budget. It includes $60.7 million for city schools and $23.6 million for capital expenses.
Additional revenue is tough to come by for the city. Little property value growth and the limits of Proposition 2 1/2 have the city strapped for cash, Mayor Linda M. Tyer has said. And paying for contractual obligations, such as a $3 million health insurance increase, has prevented potential new initiatives she said she might have brought forward.
Instead, a level-funded budget was the mandate Tyer worked for.
The budget represents an increase of about 1 percent over the current year. It could raise the residential property tax rate by about 80 cents, to $20.43 per $1,000 of assessed value, an increase of about 4.1 percent.
That means a tax bill for a home assessed at $200,000 would increase by about $160. Tyer has stressed that rate could change based on a number of variables in the process.
Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Christopher J. Connell have been the most vocal about trying to identify cuts in Tyer's budget proposal. The discussions during six meetings in the past month yielded about $140,000 in reductions by the council, approximately $90,000 of which was attributed to an accounting error.
The pair sought to shave another $100,000 from the budget on Tuesday night, but those efforts were defeated by their colleagues.
Mazzeo said councilors' "hands are tied" when it comes to making many cuts; for instance anything that the city is contractually obligated to provide. She has repeatedly expressed frustration about that and other things throughout the budget process.
Other councilors have described the budget as lean, and praised Tyer and her department heads for bringing a budget to it that was nearly level funded — 16 of the city's 26 departments are at or below that mark.
Looking ahead, Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas J. Caccamo said the city needs to work at "maximum capacity" and likely with less funding. He also recognized the employees whose jobs have been cut and he thanked them for their work, which ends at the end of this month.
The lone cut approved by the council Tuesday was to the city's employee mitigation fund, which Mazzeo raised concerns about last week, saying it was overfunded in the current fiscal year budget.
The fund was established by agreement between city employees and leadership when former Mayor Daniel Bianchi switched health insurance coverage from the Group Insurance Commission to Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2015.
Contract costs for the city were expected to decrease under Blue Cross, but employees, concerned their co-pays and deductibles would increase, negotiated the mitigation fund.
Under the terms of the agreement, union employees from that time share part of the savings the city receives — 25 percent or up to $250,000 during each of the three years of the contract.
Mazzeo raised questions about the city's payments into the fund and the obligations of the contract during a meeting last week. City Finance Director Matthew Kerwood reviewed the account and said Tuesday it was overfunded.
Mazzeo suggested the council cut the amount budgeted for by $50,000, but did not make a motion. She said even with that decrease the city would have been able to meet the terms of the contract.
At large City Councilor Kathleen A. Amuso made a motion to cut the fund by the $39,169. That amount reflects the excess money in the fund, according to Kerwood.
An amendment to Amuso's motion by Connell to cut $50,000 was defeated 6-5. Amuso's motion then passed 10-1.
Looking to another area of the budget, Connell made a motion to cut $52,500 budgeted for the health department inspection vehicles. The motion failed 7-4 with councilors Anthony J. Simonelli, Kevin J. Morandi, Mazzeo and Connell in favor of the cut.
According to the budget narrative, at least two health department sedans have body rot and will not pass inspection.
Instead of buying new vehicles, Connell suggested the health department use vehicles being phased out of the Department of Public Services. But Commissioner David Turocy said there are none available.
Mazzeo said the inspection vehicles are driven about 16 miles per day and the damage to its current fleet is unacceptable.
"Ride together," she said. "Double up if a car is not available."
Health Department Director Gina Armstrong said inspections are conducted at a variety of locations, often at the same time, which would make carpooling difficult and inefficient.
Morandi said he was angry the vehicles were poorly cared for.
"You better take care of it, because it is not yours; it is the city of Pittsfield's," he said as a blanket statement to any employee that drives a city vehicle. "There is no need for a vehicle to be in that kind of condition."
He added that lack of care and maintenance is part of the reason the city faces tight fiscal times.
"We really need to start cutting things, some of us tried last year to make reductions and it didn't go," he said. "We owe it to the taxpayers of Pittsfield. We work for them."
Tyer and others have said there is a maintenance plan in place for vehicles moving forward.
The budget was finalized after months of public discussion about the city's financial health by city leaders.
The Committee of the Whole, a council subcommittee, reviewed Tyer's proposal during five meetings over the past month. But Tyer, Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless and others have discussed the budget process since last fall. And when Tyer delivered her proposed budget to the council in mid-May, she made good on a promise to deliver a budget to the council about a month earlier than what had been standard.
The final fiscal 2018 budget will be about $7.3 million more than approved by the council. That additional amount accounts for state assessments, school choice payments and other items that does not require council approval, Kerwood said.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.
“Pittsfield Approves $156.4M Budget, $22.4 Million In Capital”
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, June 14, 2017
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council approved a $156.4 million operating budget and $22.4 million in capital borrowing.
The $156,429,586 for the city and enterprise operations was approved Tuesday and is $39,168 less than the budget preliminarily approved last week.
That deduction was made after Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood discovered the mitigation fund, created for through a union negotiation for a health insurance switch three years ago, was overfunded.
The total spending plan proposed by Mayor Linda Tyer was $163,859,871, which is $1,693,362 more than last year. The budget consists of $145,191,805 for city operations and the enterprise budget is at 11,376,495, for a total appropriation of $156,468,754.
The "other expenditures" line consists of a few items such as assessments, school choice or other offsets from state aid. The biggest driver of the change is that the City Council authorized the use of $2.8 million of retained earnings, which is essentially free cash from enterprise funds, as a revenue source. Additionally, the city used $970,000 in free cash this year to offset overages in the police and fire overtime lines, which is not included in the new budget. The other expenses dropped from $10.8 million to $7.2 million.
Through a series of five budget hearings, the City Council reduced the city's appropriation for the budget by $138,694.
Those reductions came from the mitigation fund, a decrease in the city physician line of $5,000, $4,300 to correct a miscalculation of the inspector of weights and measures' salary and a $90,246 discrepancy in the bottom line of the Public Services budget.
The approval places the city $175,839 under the levy ceiling - a restriction on how much revenue can come from property taxation. There is no override for the levy ceiling. The administration entered the budget process expecting some room under the ceiling but the health insurance premiums came in 12.9 percent higher than last year, costing the city $3 million - a total which obliterated most of what the city had left.
This year, the city is looking to use $2.25 million in free cash to offset the tax rate. In prior years, that was advised against based on those being one-time revenues that should be used for one-time expenses instead of essentially being an offset of annual operations.
However, with the city so close to the levy ceiling, the city doesn't have the option of using free cash in other ways. Kerwood said it is the only way to have a balanced budget.
"In this particular situation you are not, in fact, lowering your tax rate," Kerwood said. "Absent that $2.25 million you would have an unbalanced budget."
If free cash isn't used, then the City Council would have to make another $2.25 million in reductions to the budget.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli was particularly frustrated with the situations because for years the auditor had suggested against the use of the funds that way. And again, the City Council is approving the use of those funds.
"We've been warned for the last three years, don't do it. And we keep doing it," Simonelli said.
The difference, however, is that for decades when the council made that decision is was a conscious one to avoid raising taxes. Now, the free cash is being used as a revenue source to keep the city's budget from hitting the ceiling.
The city has $3.5 million is certified free cash and $3.6 million in stabilization. The stabilization account is one the auditors have suggested building in years past but it hasn't been bolstered much.
Tyer said if she had been in office 30 years ago, knowing what she knows now, she would have implemented a policy of putting at least $500,000 per year away in stabilization. But, that didn't happen and with no excess levy capacity, "the chickens have come home to roost."
The council approved the use of $2.25 million in free cash by an 8-3 vote.
The City Council also authorized the borrowing of $8.1 million for capital projects and another $14.3 million for capital projects.
“Case against Gaetani moves north after Central Berkshire judge is subpoenaed”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, June 15, 2017
NORTH ADAMS — Pittsfield City Council and School Committee candidate Craig C. Gaetani is expected to stand trial in July on multiple charges, including an accusation he impersonated a judge in order to compel a couple to drop a pending criminal case against him.
A motion has been filed to subpoena Central Berkshire District Court Judge William Rota to offer testimony in the case.
Gaetani, 69, who has taken out nomination papers for both at large and Ward 6 city councilor positions as well as School Committee, is acting as his own attorney in three separate, but related, criminal cases.
Those cases have been joined and are scheduled to be heard during a jury-waived bench trial in Northern Berkshire District Court on July 28.
Gaetani has pleaded not guilty to charges of misdemeanor breaking and entering into a motor vehicle and two counts of witness intimidation.
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Gaetani said, "I'm innocent of everything."
The case stems from a June 24, 2016, incident in which Gaetani is alleged to have broken into a motor vehicle to retrieve the car's title from inside during a dispute over the vehicle's ownership.
Then, while that case was in progress, Gaetani allegedly threatened one of the victims in the case in the hallway of Central Berkshire District Court by raising a hand to her, insisting the case was going to be dismissed and yelling, "Everyone is going to pay!"
Following that, Gaetani was alleged to have contacted the victims in the vehicle matter via telephone in October 2016, identifying himself as "Bill Rota," and said he was representing Gaetani.
In that conversation, the caller is alleged to have asked the couple to drop pending charges against Gaetani, and in exchange, Gaetani would drop a complaint against them.
"That's the deal. Take it or leave it," the caller allegedly said before the conversation ended.
One of the victims told police they had numerous conversations with Gaetani in the past and was positive it was him who placed that call.
The motion to subpoena Rota, filed May 31, said he would be called to testify that he was not the individual claiming to be Rota who called the victims.
Gaetani, who also ran an unsuccessful campaign for Pittsfield mayor in 2015, was convicted by a jury in May on charges he made a series of harassing phone calls and threatened to shoot a city employee.
He was given a six-month suspended jail sentence, placed on probation for two years and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.
Gaetani filed a civil suit in Berkshire Superior Court in 2016, seeking to have construction on the Taconic High School project halted and put to a citywide vote.
That suit was dismissed by Judge Daniel Ford in August 2016, who ruled Gaetani's complaint was "deficient as a matter of law."
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
"Rhonda Serre challenges incumbent for Ward 7 Pittsfield City Council seat"
By Carrie Saldo , email@example.com - The Berkshire Eagle, June 15, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The city is poised for greatness. And City Council candidate Rhonda Serre wants to be a steward of that process.
"There is lots of positive momentum and it is exciting to be on the brink of Pittsfield's transformation from a one-company town to a vibrant, multicultural, economically empowered community," she said.
The Ward 7 candidate will face incumbent Anthony J. Simonelli, who is seeking re-election.
Her announcement brings with it what could be contested races for all 11 council seats.
Serre, 50, said infrastructure maintenance, crime prevention, and jobs are her top priorities.
With many employees clocking-in virtually she said Pittsfield should leverage its assets — a relatively low cost of living, when many students face mounting debt, a vibrant arts scene, and ready access to outdoor recreation — to attract young people.
"What 25-year-old wouldn't want to live here?" she asked. "They need a quality of life and a cost of living that can support them and that is what we have."
She said successful marketing requires private-public partnerships but, above all else, vocal locals are key.
"People are the greatest network," she said. "One person saying, `I love it here, come visit me' goes so much further than an ad in the New York Times."
Regarding crime prevention, she said, if elected, she plans to support the inroads made by the Police Department around community policing.
"I want to make sure that the spirit stays positive and continues to rise above the din of what's been happening nationally," she said.
And when it comes to Ward 7, she said special attention needs to be paid to its smaller, narrow streets, which are often challenging to plow in the winter.
"The citizens of Ward 7 need a hand in catching the city's attention and someone who will jump in and advocate for what their street needs," she said.
Currently employed at Elder Services of Berkshire County, Serre works in outreach and advancement.
Economic development is something she is passionate about and has been a past focus.
She spent five years as former U.S. Rep. John Olver's economic advisor, and two years at Mass Development as vice president of business development. She has a Master's of Business Administration from the Umass Isenberg School of Management and a bachelor's degree from the College of Saint Rose.
A resident of Berkshire County since age 6, Serre and her husband, Shawn Serre, relocated to the city in 1991.
"Shawn was from North Adams and I was from Lee," she said. "We split the difference for future grandparents sake at that time."
The couple have a son and a daughter, both graduates of Taconic High School.
A member of the Resource Recovery Committee, which studied options for revamping the city's trash removal process, Serre has also served as a committee member of the state Democratic Party.
A Facebook page and her campaign team, which includes treasurer Karen Winslow, will help her share her messages. But mostly Serre said she will focus on face-to-face interaction to learn constituent concerns and ideas.
"I really want to celebrate. That is the most important thing," she said. "Part of making Pittsfield attractive is being proud of who we are and having hope and faith that this will be our renaissance."
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
From left to right: Pittsfield City Council candidate Dina Guiel, incumbent Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, candidate Helen Haerhan Moon and incumbent Councilor Donna Todd Rivers.
“Women's Caucus endorses 4 in Pittsfield City Council race”
By Carrie Saldo , firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, July 13, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Four women running for City Council have received the endorsement of the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus.
Each of the candidates was vetted by the newly minted Berkshire County chapter of the caucus, which made its recommendations to the statewide organization.
Council incumbents Melissa Mazzeo and Donna Todd Rivers, as well as newcomers Dina Guiel and Helen Haerhan Moon received endorsements, which will result in campaign support for the candidates from the caucus.
But the nascent nature of the local chapter of the caucus, established this winter, has uncovered a challenge. Some female candidates seeking office weren't considered because of a deadline for endorsements set by the statewide chapter.
"This is a huge change for the state organization," said Andrea Harrington, a co-founder of the Berkshire County chapter. "We are very much in the process of talking about how we will handle these additional races."
The nonpartisan caucus, which met with five would-be city councilors, four in Pittsfield and one in Springfield prior to the deadline, works to get women elected to public office and appointed to public policy positions.
Harrington said members of the local chapter are working with the statewide organization to determine if it will hold a second round of endorsements for this region.
Women in Pittsfield and North Adams entered the races for city council, city clerk and mayor after the deadline for the local chapter to submit its findings to the statewide organization.
Endorsements for statewide races, such as the special election being held for State Representative in North Adams, will likely be made by the state chapter, Harrington said.
Moon said she was pleased that the statewide chapter is helping draw attention to female candidates, who are historically fewer in number than men.
"If we want to see change happen we have to start from the ground up," she said. "No one is just going to run for Senate. It is exciting they are taking this on and that there is a network across the state supporting me."
Guiel, too, is looking forward to that support.
She said she is encouraged by the mentorship she's receiving from members of the local chapter, and the ability to learn from past candidates in the group is invaluable.
"They are not just picking women in general, they are picking women who are engaged and informed," she said. "And to be considered among that group is honoring and humbling."
The four endorsements are among 19 made by the group for women seeking election in municipal races across the state earlier this week. At least another 15 endorsements are in its pipeline and if finalized will be the most endorsements it has made in recent years, according to a statement from the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus.
"We are pleased to endorse such terrific women candidates who know that municipal government is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to advocating for the issues women and their families care deeply about," said Linnea Walsh, state caucus co-chair. The "endorsed candidates are highly accomplished in their own right and believe in the goals of political parity."
The state chapter made its local endorsements based on input from the Berkshire County chapter.
Harrington and Amy Diamond, another local caucus co-founder, met with the candidates to determine whether they would endorse them. Prior to that, each candidate was asked to submit a questionnaire that inquired about a range of issues including their thoughts on early childhood education, equal pay for equal work, and economic development.
"All of the candidates are exactly the kind of leadership that we want to see advance here on the local level," Harrington said. "They are bright, they are all hardworking and they are all people who really care about this community."
The caucus will help the women with "boots on the ground," door-to-door campaigning and other outreach. It may also provide some financial support, Harrington said.
Mazzeo, seeking a fifth at large term on the council, said the help is welcome.
It was a now defunct political group called WHEN — Women Helping Empower Neighborhoods — that inspired Mazzeo to get into politics.
"This is reminiscent of that, but it has more political clout," she said. And she said she hopes other women will join.
The Berkshire County chapter of the caucus is scheduled to meet Aug. 2 in North Adams.
For information about the Berkshire County Women's Political Caucus, visit mwpc.org/berkshire-chapter
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo
Letter: “Pittsfield parking is unfriendly to visitors”
The Berkshire Eagle, July 21, 2017
To the editor:
A week ago my wife and I went to the Wednesday afternoon showing of "Ragtime." We loved the show but had a horrible time finding a parking spot.
Parking for the public is really not always for the public in Pittsfield. A permit is needed, which I suppose means local residents only. We could not pay at the meter and had to move from one lot to another until finally on McKay Street we found a lot accepting strangers and their money to the area.
I never experienced in the U.S. a place making it so hard for visitors to park. Unless this is rectified, during our next year's holiday in the Berkshires we will not want to have a repeat experience, meaning no visit to Pittsfield. We had given ourselves about 1 1/2 hours to get from Lenox to Pittsfield, eat a quick lunch and enjoy the show. In the end we had a quick snack and just made the show. Not fun.
Bal Harbour, FL
“Gaetani found guilty: Nets more than 2 years probation”
By Bob Dunn, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, July 28, 2017
NORTH ADAMS — A candidate Pittsfield City Council and School Committee has been convicted of breaking into a vehicle and witness intimidation.
Craig C. Gaetani, 69, was given a two-year jail sentence, which will be suspended for a period of two-and-a-half years of probation, during which time he must have no contact with the victims. If he violates his probation conditions or finds himself in new legal trouble, that jail sentence could be imposed.
Judge David Frank presided over the four-hour bench trial in Northern Berkshire District Court.
Gaetani, who acted as his own attorney, maintained his innocence after the verdicts and claimed the charges were "political sabotage," apparently referring to his current bid for office. He made similar claims regarding his criminal charges during his 2015 mayoral bid, calling them a "smear campaign."
Gaetani broke into a parked vehicle on June 24, 2016, and retrieved the vehicle's title from inside. He had sold the car to a Pittsfield man, who later signed the title over to his daughter-in-law.
During a Sept. 29 pretrial hearing in that case in Central Berkshire District Court, Gaetani confronted the couple involved in the dispute over the car, raised his hand to them, told them they would "pay" and yelled that they were liars.
He was acquitted of a second count of witness intimidation for having allegedly called people with whom he was in a legal dispute, identified himself as "attorney William Rota," said he was representing Gaetani and offered to drop a pending civil against them in exchange for the couple dropping criminal charges against Gaetani.
Judge William Rota, an associate justice of the district court, who practiced law as a defense attorney in the Pittsfield area before being appointed a judge, testified Friday that he made no such phone call. One of the witnesses who said Gaetani contacted them posing as Rota testified he was "pretty sure" it was Gaetani on the other end of the phone.
Before the jury-waived trial began, Gaetani said he needed a continuation, citing a health emergency involving his brother, but soon after abandoned that request.
Gaetani asked several witnesses during cross-examination whether they knew the definition of perjury, asked another if they ever underwent electroconvulsive therapy, and asked another if they were aware he was a physicist. He also made mentions of his television show, which airs on public access, his unsuccessful 2015 campaign for Pittsfield mayor and his current political bids.
He asked one of his two witnesses if he had any "dynamite" information on the victims, prompting an objection from Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Daniel Hespeler, which was quickly sustained.
Following the verdicts, Gaetani asked Frank to consider a sentence of six months of probation.
Hespeler asked Frank to consider a sentence of six months in jail, considering the charges and Gaetani's prior conviction in May of threatening to shoot a city employee during a series of harassing phone calls in 2015.
"When he doesn't get what he wants, he gets violent," Hespeler said of Gaetani.
In his earlier case, Gaetani was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and two years of probation.
Because the charges on which he was convicted Friday were already pending when he was found guilty in May, they did not trigger the imposition of the suspended sentence.
Gaetani has an open case on a charge of disturbing the peace from a January 2017 City Council meeting after he tried to address the council without signing up for public comment. That case is tentatively scheduled for a bench trial in January 2018.
Meanwhile, Gaetani has garnered enough signatures to be considered for the Sept. 19 primary, according to the Pittsfield City Clerk's office, but will have to decide by Aug. 9 which offices he will actually run for.
He has taken out nomination papers for School Committee, at large city councilor and Ward 6 city councilor.
Gaetani ran for Pittsfield mayor in 2015, but he lost in the primary against former Mayor Daniel Bianchi and current Mayor Linda Tyer.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
Letter: “Ashamed of Pittsfield at Korean War ceremony”
The Berkshire Eagle, August 4, 2017
To the editor:
I was embarrassed to be a resident of Pittsfield to stand out in front of City Hall for a Korean War remembrance ceremony. Not only did the mayor not grace us with her presence but the place is in disrepair in regard to the window flag decorations that are all balled up and dirty. The flag on the pole on the front is dirty, and the flag on the old firehouse is torn and shabby. The war monuments are both overgrown with bushes.
Only two of our City Council members (thank you) thought it was worth their time to honor the "Twenty sons of Pittsfield who gave their lives during 'the forgotten war'" or the living Korean War veterans who attended. Not only that, the citizens of Pittsfield couldn't give up 20 minutes to attend and honor them either. I didn't count but I am sure there weren't 20 people in the audience.
Pittsfield, you should be ashamed. I hope next year as we honor the Korean War veterans for the war's 65th anniversary, we as a city show more class.
Letter: “Two court convictions unfair, to be appealed”
The Berkshire Eagle, August 13, 2017
To the editor:
Dear city residents:
Over the last two years, you have seen my name in regard to four court cases. In May and July I was found guilty of two of the four, and both were all over the front pages of The Berkshire Eagle. In the two cases I won, you saw nothing.
In the first trial I was charged with threatening to burn down the house and shoot a Fire Department employee. I have subsequently learned that Homeland Security monitors Fire and Police Department calls and to date I have found no proof that any such call was made to the Fire Department. If I made that call, I would be in mail now.
In July I was found guilty of breaking into an automobile which in fact was my automobile and I sold and financed the car to the plaintiffs. I am in the process of filing appeals in both cases and feel confident that I will have these verdicts overturned. The assistant district attorney should have known that there was no proof that I had committed these crimes, but he proceeded and got lucky. I will also file prosecutorial misconduct charges as a result.
I am still a candidate for office in the Pittsfield elections. I am not a quitter, but because I know the appeals could go on for a long time I ask for your support at the ballet box in November as I know how to solve many of this city's financial problems. [Gaetani is running for an at large seat but welcomes write-in votes for Ward 6 and for School Committee.]
I am a decorated, disabled Vietnam veteran, have a background in biology, chemistry and physics, have been a high school and an adjunct professor of these disciplines. I successfully designed and built the city's two WROFTA drinking water and filtration plants, saving city residents more than $70 million as to what the city almost built.
I am no quitter and I am moving forward. I hope to be elected to a city position because I am prepared to get the ball rolling to save the city many more millions of dollars with the ideas I have, as I did in the 1980s.
See my TV show on PCTV, Channel 15, on Mondays at 1:30 a.m. and Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. You will see that I am serious about representing you and I will do my best for you, the taxpayers and ratepayers.
Craig C. Gaetani,
“Pittsfield election slate finalized”
By Eoin Higgins, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, August 14, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The dust has settled, and now we know who's running for what.
The deadline for filing withdrawals or objections to nominations for office in Pittsfield was Aug. 9, and now the field is set.
In Ward 1, Helen Moon is facing off against Michael Cirullo for outgoing Lisa Tully's seat. Tully is not running for reelection.
In Ward 2, Dina M. Guiel is challenging incumbent Kevin Morandi.
In Ward 3, James F. Gleason is challenging incumbent Nicholas J. Caccamo.
In Ward 4, William E. Wright is challenging incumbent Christopher J. Connell.
In Ward 5, William Keane is challenging incumbent Donna Todd Rivers.
In Ward 6, incumbent John Krol is running unopposed.
In Ward 7 Rhonda L. Serre is challenging incumbent Anthony J. Simonelli.
Of the four at large seats on the council, one is being vacated, by Kathleen Amuso.
There are six candidates for the four seats, including the remaining three incumbents: Melissa Mazzeo, Peter T. White, and Peter M. Marchetti.
They are being challenged by Edward James Carmel, Earl G. Persip III and Craig C. Gaetani.
At-large candidate Craig C. Gaetani told the council on Tuesday that he welcomed write-in votes from the public for the seat in Ward 6 as well as for a position on the School Committee.
The city charter restricts candidates to one printed name per ballot. Thus while Gaetani can stump for write-in votes for Ward 6 and the School Committee as well, his name will only appear in the at large slot.
That could present a problem as far as the charter is concerned. City Clerk Jody Phillips told The Eagle that both the council and committee charters don't allow members to hold more than one compensated position in city government.
"It's my understanding that the stipend would preclude that from happening," said City Solicitor Richard Dohoney.
Phillips said that if Gaetani won two seats on the council, vacancy rules would likely apply to whichever one he didn't select.
That won't be her responsibility, though — Phillips is not running for another term as clerk. Michele M. Cetti is running unopposed to replace her.
Gaetani was sentenced to two-and-a-half years of probation stemming from his conviction in July on charges of breaking into a vehicle and witness intimidation. A disturbing the peace charge from a city council meeting in January 2017 is expected to be heard in January 2018.
There are six candidates for the six seats on the School Committee. William Joseph Cameron and Dennis Powell are the newcomers, and they will run alongside incumbents Joshua M. Cutler, Daniel C. Elias, Cynthia A. Taylor and Katherine L. Yon.
Pamela Farron and Anthony Riello are not seeking re-election.
There is no need for a preliminary election. Candidates will draw for ballot position on Sept. 26; city elections will be held on Nov. 7.
Reach staff reporter Eoin Higgins at 413-464-4872 or @EoinHiggins
Linda Tyer: “Crime data attest to progress in Pittsfield”
By Linda Tyer, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, August 17, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Creating a place where people want to live, work, and visit requires, first and foremost, a sense of safety and security. Every aspect of community life depends upon public safety initiatives that stabilize neighborhoods and inspires a diverse business landscape.
A top priority of my administration has been strengthening law enforcement through strategic planning and investments that complement the work of our engaged community partners. Pittsfielders have invested in their government and in their community by extending their time, talent, and treasure. Every once in a while it's important to highlight the outcomes of our work while acknowledging that every day we are presented with opportunities to be and do better.
Encouraging crime stats
A recent review of data collected and collated by the police department's crime analyst suggests promising benchmarks related to crime in the city. An evaluation of incidents in which a criminal charge was attached for the past three years for the six-month period between January through July was undertaken. The number of criminal incidents during this time frame indicates a consistent decline.
The overall rate went down 1 percent between 2015 and 2016, and decreased by another 18 percent between 2016 and 2017. Additionally, the numbers of criminal incidents in the summer months alone also decreased over the past three years. There were a total of 446 incidents in June and July of 2015. This June and July, that number is down to 287.
While we can't attribute this decline to any one specific factor, we do know that there are cumulative efforts on multiple levels to keep our city safe and help our citizens to achieve their maximum potential. Contributing factors include enhanced work around prevention by way of outreach and mentoring programs, a growing initiative to create opportunities for those impacted by poverty, greater access to home ownership to stabilize families, the addition of law enforcement personnel, and state-of-the-art technology like ShotSpotter to combat gunfire.
There is greater community emphasis on tackling the opioid crisis through prevention, intervention, and recovery. Among other things, first responders are trained to create bridges to treatment and support for those who find themselves in a life-threatening opioid crisis.
Strength in numbers
Another striking data point is Pittsfield's unemployment rate. The current rate is 5.2 percent compared to 10.2 percent in 2010, 9.2 percent in 2013, and 7 percent in 2015.
These numbers reflect that a great deal of good work is happening every day by a lot of people who care deeply about Pittsfield. The strength of this collaborative effort and investment makes a difference.
At the same time, I understand that when a serious, violent crime occurs it shatters our sense of safety and security. Together, we have, and will continue to, take a firm stand against crime and support initiatives that lift people up.
I extend my deepest thanks to the Pittsfield Police Department, an exemplary law enforcement agency, and to our many community partners who are so vital to our city's success.
Linda Tyer is mayor of Pittsfield.
The Lantern on North Street is closing. Caroline Bonnivier Snyder - The Berkshire Eagle.
“The Lantern: Lights out in 2 weeks”
By Tony Dobrowolski email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, August 17, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The Lantern Bar & Grill on North Street, a downtown Pittsfield mainstay for more than half a century, will be closing in two weeks, owner Mark Papas confirmed on Thursday.
Papas, whose family has been associated with the business in various incarnations since 1916, declined to comment further. Papas, who had a knee replacement in 2016, said he will release a statement describing the reasons why the iconic eatery is closing within the next two weeks.
The Lantern, which has been located on the corner of North and Linden streets since the early 1930s, is known for its hamburgers. Many people consider them to be the best hamburgers in the city.
A photo of a mirror inside the restaurant with the words "closing soon" written on it was posted on GoPittsfield's Facebook page on Thursday. By mid-afternoon the post had drawn 49 responses. Judging by their words the majority of the respondents were shocked.
"Say it isn't so!", "oh no!!" "what, why?" and "this is too sad," were some of the responses.
"Please be fake news," wrote Bernadette Kennedy.
"Very sad, you will be missed," Shannon Freeman posted.
Donald "Chip" Elitzer of Great Barrington and Jim Bouton of South Egremont were frequent patrons of The Lantern during their two attempts to place an independent league baseball team at Wahconah Park in the early 2000s.
"It was our favorite place to go, have a burger in one of the booths and talk about our next course of action, " Elitzer said Thursday. "The Lantern was a landmark for us and I'm sure for a lot of other people.
"Really sorry to hear about it," he said.
Downtown merchant Steven Valenti, who owns Steven Valenti Clothing for Men, on North Street, said he was "blown out" by the news. A Pittsfield native, Valenti said he has been going to The Lantern since he first began working on North Street in 1965.
"They're an institution," Valenti said. "I've dined there throughout my whole career. That's one of those places that's just been there forever."
Roberta McCulloch-Dews, a spokeswoman for Mayor Linda M. Tyer, said the mayor's office declined to comment on The Lantern's closing because it didn't have all the information on why it will close.
The Lantern's origins trace back to 1916 when Papas' grandfather, Gus Papas, and his business partner, William Yerazunis, operated a lunch cart on Summer Street. They later formed a restaurant on the corner of North and Linden that was known as "The Puritan," a watering hole described as a place for "serious drinkers" in an article that was published in The Eagle in 1984.
Gus Papas died in 1949. His son, William G. Papas, who is Mark's father, bought out Yerazunis in September 1952 to become the sole proprietor. He renamed the restaurant "The Lantern." The restaurant was renovated in 1960. A grill and takeout menu were added in 1965.
Contact Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.
The Lantern on North Street is closed.
“The Lantern closes — glimmer of hope for return”
By Tony Dobrowolski firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, August 30, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The iconic Lantern Bar & Grill on North Street officially closed on Tuesday [8/29/2017], but the closure may only be temporary, owner Mark Papas said.
"I'm contemplating the future," Papas said in a brief telephone interview on Wednesday morning. "My plans right now are that I'm effectively closed."
Papas, whose family has been associated with the business since 1916, announced in mid-August that he planned to close the Lantern within two weeks, but did not say why.
Since then, The Eagle has learned that a deep fryer in a recently installed cooking system was not adequately covered by the device's fire suppression system, which left it out of compliance with the city's fire regulations, according to Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski. Under the current conditions, if a fire started in that area of the kitchen, the suppression system would be unable to put the blaze out, he said.
The issue needs to be fixed in order for the restaurant to stay in operation at its present location on the corner of North and Linden streets, where it has been since the 1930s.
"It didn't fit under the existing (suppression) system," Czerwinski said, referring to deep fryer, known as a fryolater. "This was new equipment that he put in, and he wasn't made aware when he put it in that he needed to make revisions to his suppression system."
The Fire Department learned about the problem from a vendor who worked on the new system, Czerwinski told The Eagle.
"It was brought to our attention by the company that works on the ventilation and extinguishing system that they were not in compliance," he said. "He gave [The Lantern] 30 days to come up with a plan, and when he didn't comply they passed it on to us.
"He can make the alterations to the existing ventilation system, whatever he chooses to do," Czerwinski said of Papas. "That's his prerogative, but he won't be allowed to operate like that. We've given him some leniency, but he has to get that fixed."
When asked how much time the city would give Papas to fix the problem, Czerwinski said, "That remains to be determined. It should be done pretty quickly, I would say at the most within the next 30 days. We have not given him that deadline. We're trying to listen to him and see what he's going to do here."
Papas declined to comment on the Fire Department's actions, but he said the cost to bring the cooking system back into compliance would be "considerable."
"It's not just that unit," Papas said. "It's everything it basically triggers."
A somewhat similar situation that involved a range hood system and fire suppression system that were found to be out of compliance caused the popular Cafe Reva on Tyler Street to close in September 2013. At the time, the costs of making those repairs were estimated to be between $28,000 and $30,000. Cafe Reva was forced to close when the building's owner, who is based in New York City, decided not to make the repairs. That storefront has been vacant ever since.
City officials, including Czerwinski and Mayor Linda M. Tyer, met to discuss the situation involving The Lantern on Monday.
"It's certainly a good business on North Street, and we don't want to lose it," Czerwinski said when asked what was discussed at the meeting. "Can other arrangements be made? He's concerned he may have to make alternate plans and may have to close down for awhile. He's concerned right now about what he's going to do for his business."
Papas said Wednesday that The Lantern's future has yet to be determined.
"There really is no timetable right now," he said. "I'm looking at a couple of different options."
The Lantern's origins go back 100 years when Papas' grandfather, Gus Papas, and his business partner, William Yerazunis, operated a lunch cart on Summer Street.
The two men later formed a restaurant at the corner of North and Linden known as "The Puritan." It became The Lantern after Papas' father, William G. Papas, bought out Yerazunis in September 1952.
Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.
“Legality of museum’s plan to sell Rockwell paintings is questionable”
The Boston Globe, Letter, August 23, 2017
I am surprised, especially in light of the objections of the Rockwell family (“Keep Rockwell paintings in the Berkshires,” Opinion, Aug. 7), that there has been no public report (as far as I have seen) of anyone raising the question of the legality of the Berkshire Museum’s plan to auction off two Norman Rockwell paintings that were acquired by gift to the museum.
In Massachusetts a gift of specific property for the use of a charity is subject to an implied trust that it will be used for the charitable purposes for which that corporation is organized (Wellesley College v. Attorney General of Massachusetts, 1943). When a gift of property is made that is specifically related to that corporate mission, that trust becomes more limited, and requires that that property be used for that mission.
I think that for a museum that displays art to sell a painting that was gifted to it is as much a breach of that trust and a violation of the intent of the donor as it would be for a land trust that falls upon hard times to sell some of its gifted real estate for development to keep the enterprise afloat. I hope that the Massachusetts attorney general weighs in on the issue.
Daniel C. Perry, New Bedford, Massachusetts
Letter: “A thank you on behalf of marching veterans”
The Berkshire Eagle, August 23, 2017
To the editor:
I would like to extend a thank you to all the wonderful people who took the time out of their schedules to support the Veteran Suicide Awareness 200-mile ruck march that started here in Pittsfield on Thursday and ended shortly before noon on Sunday at Plymouth Rock.
Thank you to the Pittsfield Police Department for ensuring the safety of the marchers, especially Officer Darren Derby, who escorted the group through the city. Thank you to the VFW, Marine Corps League, American Legion, and the Legion Riders for their nice welcome at Park Square. Thank you to Ernie Weider for installing the flags around the park and along East Street in the early morning hours.
Thank you to our local politicians, veterans and residents for coming out to cheer these great soldiers on. Thank you to Soldier On for a quick water break for the marchers as they passed by on West Housatonic Street. Finally, a big thank you to Mayor Linda Tyer for proclaiming Thursday Veteran Suicide Awareness Day in Pittsfield. One life lost is one too many.
Jim Clark, Pittsfield
The writer is director of veterans services for the city of Pittsfield.
“Corner Office Convos: Mayor Linda Tyer”
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, September 5, 2017
Pittsfield, Massachusetts — It has been quiet in city politics this summer. The City Council held just two meetings in the last two months. There haven't been any major ribbon cuttings or announcements.
But that doesn't mean nothing has been happening. Mayor Linda Tyer says her administration has been working behind the scenes over the last months on a number of initiatives she expects to roll out in the coming months.
"September and October are going to be very exciting months for the city of Pittsfield. We've got a lot of things we've been working on over the summer months that will come forward now to the City Council, things like formalizing the agreement between the city, PEDA, and PERC, completing the job description for the business development manager and getting that through the final process so we can post the job and start looking for somebody to fill that position," Tyer said.
The big news this past spring for the city was a new partnership with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp. to share a business development manager. That is coupled with what the mayor dubbed "the red carpet team," in which an array of city and private officials come together to meet with businesses and provide a unified menu of assistance to help them grow or move to Pittsfield. The city also brought back Deanna Ruffer to head the Department of Community Development, a moved eyed to bring a greater focus on economic development to that office.
This summer, the administration has been working with the two partner organizations to craft a job description for the new business development manager, who will serve as the point person to meet with businesses, find out their needs and desires, and put together packages to help. That shared position between the three agencies also requires the crafting of an intergovernmental agreement, which has been in the process this summer as well.
"I've said at length that it is important for our small businesses that are here now to know they have access to these resources," Tyer said.
One of those local businesses already here and looking to expand is Laminated Technologies Inc. Owner Christopher Kapiloff was one of the first to experience the city's red carpet team approach. His company has locked into a massive contract that will require a $3 million expansion. He has been offered space to build in other parts of the country, where he'd be paying less in labor and electricity, but he has ties to Pittsfield. He met with the team asking for help in making the numbers work.
Tyer said on Friday that she's formalized a proposal to help keep the company here and will be putting forth a request to the City Council to use some of the General Electric Economic Development funds for it. The hope is that the company's expansion can take place in the city, providing more jobs and economic activity.
"We've worked closely with them in putting together a proposal that I think is supportive of them and fair to us for what we want to use economic development funds for," Tyer said. "We're really looking forward to that conversation with the City Council."
And Tyer has somewhat eyed her next focus when it comes to economic development: the outdoor recreation economy.
Years ago, the city identified that it was missing out on the economic activity brought on by the strong cultural institutions in the North and South County and put forth an effort to strengthen that economy in the city. Tyer says outdoor recreation is essentially the same concept — the city is not getting enough out of a piece of the economy that is already here.
"How do we create an outdoor recreation economy that compliments the art and culture economy that is here now? I really believe strongly that this is an asset of our, this beautiful natural environment we have here that we could be capitalizing on in a way that showcases our city, showcases our region, brings in an economy that is certainly vibrant," Tyer said.
Outdoor recreation is something enjoyed by people of all ages and Tyer wants to tap into that economic activity.
"To me, it is an obvious next economy, sort of the way 12 or 15 years ago to the obvious economy Pittsfield hadn't tapped into is the art and culture economy and we managed to build great momentum behind that," Tyer said.
The mayor is also starting to plan out a new initiative when it comes to fighting blight. The city currently has a code enforcement program and performs a number of demolitions each year, but that's not enough to raise property values significantly. Tyer is now kicking around the concept of a new program to help residents make improvements to their homes.
"Is there a way for the city to put together what I am referring to a home improvement initiative? We would obviously seek partnerships with state agencies, local business leaders, and financial institutions. But how can we use our own resources to provide a program that would allow people to have access to greater funds for home improvement projects, specifically exterior," Tyer said.
That concept is in its infancy but Tyer said a focus would be on helping people repair porches, windows, paint, or repair roof — construction work that spruces up the appearance of the neighborhoods, helps residents with those needed projects, and increase property values. She is also still determining whether such a project will be limited to a targeted area or citywide.
"One of our big challenges fiscally has been our stagnant property values. Demolitions along are not going to get us out of that," Tyer said.
The city has pretty much hit its levy ceiling, a limit on the percentage of property values any municipality can tax. The limit does not come with the possibility of an override vote, and the city is just barely under that cap. Tyer said part of the reason why the ceiling hasn't gone up much is because property values have remained mostly flat.
"This is a fiscal challenge we are going to be confronted by for a period of time, our forecasting shows that. We've just got to always be thoughtful about how we can continue to provide service to our community with these limited resources," Tyer said.
"Some of it has to do with modernizing some of our old systems."
Tyer said some of the ways to continue keep service levels up is to find more efficient ways to provide it. She said in the next four months or so the City Council will be getting a proposal to move to an automated trash collection system. She said that program "put a check mark in a number of boxes" from increasing recycling to keeping the city cleaner to saving money.
"We're going to need to do a lot of education and public relations around this. But this is one of those important strategies around how do we modernize our systems so we are using our limited resources most effectively?" Tyer said.
When Tyer took office it was estimated that she had about three years before the city hit this point. But as she was planning her second budget in the beginning of this year, the health insurance premium went up dramatically — leaving the city will little room.
"We knew it was looming but I didn't expect it to collide as quickly as it did and confront me in my second budget. We saw that it was coming and we did some planning to prepare ourselves for it through the Community Compact and the long-range forecasting, improving the budget document," Tyer said.
Approaching that ceiling led to a number of layoffs — particularly in the School Department — but also hastened Tyer's efforts to find more efficient and creative ways to provide the services.
"It most definitely sharpens our focus. What are our top priorities? We don't have the flexibility of doing things that no longer work, or doing things that don't have the largest return on our investment. We have to focus our resources on what is the most productive work that we can do for the people of Pittsfield?" Tyer said. "Every day the department heads and managers are looking for ways to be better at the work they are doing."
One of those changes coming before the City Council, and what has been taking up some of the administration's time this summer, is a restructuring of the information technologies department.
"We wanted to really set it apart from finance, give it its own footing, give it a director's position that participates in our senior management level meetings and planning sessions. We are moving through that process now. We created the job description and that will be coming back to the City Council for Sept. 12," Tyer said.
She has also been planning on entering Bloomberg's Mayor's Challenge, which is a nationwide competition — with financial rewards for winners — to craft new and innovative ways to run city government.
She withheld much of her idea but says she'll be working with stakeholders to finalize the plans before the Oct. 20 submission deadline. Tyer hopes the city will win it all and bring home $5 million but said the process of working with department heads and community stakeholders has already proven to be helpful management wise.
"There has been some really great work around assessing community strengths, what are our most pressing issues. It has been a good brainstorming, think outside of our everyday routine, what do we envision for our future exercise," the mayor said.
Tyer has a luxury that other mayors had not had at this point in their terms: She can start thinking about the next two years. Tyer is in her 20th month of being the city's first four-year mayor. At this point in time, most of her predecessors were gearing up for re-election campaigns.
But the City Council is up for election, so that brings a level of unknown to the process. While the councilors may be campaigning, she expects them to remain working throughout the fall on those next initiatives.
"We have an 11-member body that is seated now and we have work to do. We are going to keep putting work in front of them. They have an obligation to continue doing the work while being in the midst of an election. I believe the 11 members that are there believe in that commitment and will continue to work on the things we put before them," Tyer said.
"I think the candidates that are running are engaged, paying attention, and learning as much as they can, and reaching out to their constituents. I'm observing what people are saying about what they believe in and they value and they imagine for our city."
Despite having an opportunity to campaign for candidates that will support her initiatives, Tyer says she is taking a seat in the press box for this election. She said she will be keeping a neutral stance and listening to the candidates but won't advocate for any particular candidate.
Well, except one.
"The candidate I will stand behind 100 percent is Peter Marchetti. He has been a colleague, friend, adviser. I consider him a partner in leadership and he absolutely, 100 percent, has my support. Without a doubt people will hear me talk about Councilor Marchetti," Tyer said.
"But other than that, I'm just going to be like all the other citizens of our city, observing what everybody has to say."
While blight and economic development plans are still unfolding, Tyer had taken aim at her top priority in her first year in office: crime. Recently, the mayor reviewed statistics that showed the crime rate has decreased by some 18 percent between 2015 and 2017.
She said those numbers aren't just a result of a $1 million investment in the Police Department or the $600,000 to implement a gunshot detection technology, but a culmination of decreasing unemployment rates and effective mentoring programs.
"There are a number of things happening all at the same time that I believe are attributing to this improved situation. It is the number of community activists that are engaged in community mentoring programs, and it not just one there are several. It is certainly related to the unemployment rate in our city and better interventions in opioid addiction. We hired 15 new police officers in the last year and a half, we brought ShotSpotter online - those are strategies law enforcement can use to strengthen their presence in our community. There are a lot of things that I believe are at play here," Tyer said.
"It is a positive outcome but I am not in anyway naive enough to think we will get to a situation where we have no crime in our community. But, when there is good news we need to celebrate that and acknowledge all of those involved."
As the leaves fall and a cooler air takes over the city, Tyer hopes to see some of these new initiatives start to heat up.
Letter: “Will PD again cover for 'rogue cop'?”
The Berkshire Eagle, September 8, 2017
To the editor:
There is a phrase those involved in law enforcement use to describe a police officer who fires seven bullets into the body of a knife-wielding, intoxicated man and kills him. It is "rogue cop." This is the second trigger-happy incident for Officer Colello since joining the Pittsfield force, and very little internal investigation should be required to justify removal of Colello from further police work.
I have every confidence that this dirt on the Pittsfield Police Department will not be brushed under its rug.
James M. Lamme,
“Pittsfield resident shot multiple times in city parking lot”
By The Berkshire Eagle, September 10, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Police are investigating a shooting early Sunday that injured a city resident.
About 1:30 a.m., city police responded to reports of gunfire at 101 Fenn St., according to a statement released Sunday by Pittsfield Police Capt. Jeffrey Bradford.
The victim, a 32-year-old city resident, had been transported to Berkshire Medical Center with multiple gunshot wounds before police arrived.
The statement did not identify the victim or include any information about their condition.
Members of the detective bureau and crime scene services recovered numerous shell casings and other evidence in a parking lot at Fenn and First streets.
Police were alerted to the shooting by the city's Shotspotter system, which was installed earlier this year.
The incident remains under investigation.
Rinaldo Del Gallo, III: “Forum on immigration, environment Monday”
By Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, September 19, 2017
PITTSFIELD — A Pittsfield City Council candidates forum on immigration and the environment has been set for Monday, Sept. 25 at the Berkshire Athenaeum at 6 p.m.and running to 8:50. It is being sponsored by Manos Unidas and Berkshire Green and all candidates for City Council have been invited. The event is free and open to the public. If time allows, there may be questions from the audience at the end.
The pool of questions that may be asked will be provided in advance to the
candidates, and many of the potential questions are provided in this piece. The idea is to get a feel where the candidate stands on local issues concerning immigration and the environment. While this is an unusual format, it prevents surprise and showcases skill sets where City Council agenda items are known in advance.
Questions regarding immigration could be: Should Pittsfield openly declare itself to be a "sanctuary city"? Is the current "Policy 413" of the Pittsfield Police Department regarding our treatment of undocumented immigrants after arrest the right policy? Is there any reason to work with ICE in any circumstance — don't we lock up dangerous criminals anyway? What can we do as a city to make Pittsfield safer for immigrants in the wake of President Trump's immigration polices? What would you like to do locally to improve the lives of immigrants?
Questions regarding the environment might be: If the current proposed ban on single-use plastic bags were being put to a vote for today, would you vote for it? (This can be read at berkshiregreen.wordpress.com) What would you do to help plan or commit Pittsfield to transition to 100 percent renewable energy for city uses of energy? Would you favor requiring all new city vehicles, including buses, to be electric or hybrid? What would you do to enforce the ban on recyclables in our trash? Would you favor a ban on lawn pesticides on city property, and would you favor a city-wide lawn pesticide ban? What would you do locally to protect pollinators? What environmental measure would you like to undertake?
Should Pittsfield follow Cambridge, Mass. and adopt the green building requirements found in Article 22 of the Zoning Ordinance which promotes environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient design and development practices? Would you favor Pittsfield adopting Cambridge's "Building Energy Use Disclosure" Ordinance passed in 2014, which requires owners of larger buildings to report energy use to the city and to publicly disclose the data?
Would you favor any bans on a new artificial turf field in Pittsfield? Would you consider extending the ban on foam polystyrene (Styrofoam) to include rigid polystyrene (the red cups for instance)? Would you favor a ban on drive-up windows save for people who have a handicap license? Would you favor banning gas-powered leaf blowers as they have in Newton? What particular piece of legislation or program would you like to pass to improve Pittsfield's environment?
Do you favor hiring counsel to look into the Consent Decree to see whether GE has adequately cleaned up the area now known as PEDA and the William Stanley Industrial Park, which reportedly is still laden with PCBs preventing further development?
I have spoken to Chief Wynn of the Pittsfield Police Department who has advised me that he will make himself available to go over Policy 413, which was based on a plan adopted in Chelsea. We extend our gratitude for his doing so.
Rinaldo Del Gallo, III is an occasional Eagle contributor.
“Pittsfield City Council approves $1 million in economic development funds for Berkshire Innovation Center”
By Amanda Drane, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, September 26, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Councilors unanimously approved a motion on Tuesday to allocate $1 million from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to help close the funding gap for the stalled Berkshire Innovation Center.
Officials said during the meeting it's "highly likely" that Gov. Charlie Baker's administration will kick in another $2 million to further fill the financial hole, estimated to be close to $4 million, upon the city's commitment to the $1 million, leaving a roughly $1 million hole.
Councilors also unanimously approved $580,000 from the fund to help LTI Smart Glass, a company that specializes in laminated glass and polymers, with its expansion. The planned addition would bring manufacturing work to the headquarters that is currently outsourced to other states.
With regard to the innovation center, councilors agreed "now is the time" to rev the engines on a project that gained traction in 2014 with a $9.7 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, but then sat seemingly still for the past two years after officials discovered the $3 million hole in funding, which grew by another $1 million or so over that time period.
The 20,000-square-foot center would make available advanced technologies and resources for manufacturing companies, particularly for the smaller and mid-sized companies for whom it is more difficult to invest in the type of equipment required to excel in the rapidly evolving field.
Another key part of the center, Mayor Linda Tyer said, is to provide valuable job training for the manufacturing field. She said she commonly hears from owners of such companies that it's difficult to find skilled workers to fill the jobs.
"We have an obligation to try to train the workforce for the jobs that are available," she said.
Tyer said she's been talking with state leaders about how to get the project back in motion.
"They are committed to this project," she said before the vote. "But they want to know that we're committed."
Members of the governor's office didn't say in advance of the meeting whether or not the state would provide additional support.
"The administration will continue to work with the Berkshire Innovation Center, local delegation and stakeholders to advance opportunities for growth and investment in Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts," said Billy Pitman, Baker's press secretary.
Conditions for the city's award say funds will be provided only if the state contributes an additional $2 million and if the project breaks ground within a year.
Leaders of the project also said during the meeting that the center's budget could be cut to address the remaining gap — estimated at $900,000 to $1 million — and operating costs could also be covered by grants.
At the start of the discussion, Melissa Mazzeo moved to waive a council rule that would have sent the debate back to committee. She asserted councilors already devoted "countless hours" to the issue.
"This is the last piece of a puzzle that we've been dealing with for a long time," she said, adding the original 10 business members remain committed to the project despite the delay. "Everyone's still at the table and I think that speaks volumes for what we're trying to do."
The Economic Development Fund is a $10 million settlement that the city of Pittsfield received from General Electric as part of the PCB cleanup agreement. Under the terms of that agreement, GE provided $1 million annually to Pittsfield for a 10-year period that ended in October of 2010.
The last time the city used money from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund was last year, when it awarded $562,000 to Covanta to keep the business — and corresponding jobs — in the city. The fund, established in 2000, had a fund balance of $4.6 million as of Aug. 31.
Reach Amanda Drane at 413-496-6296, or @amandadrane on Twitter.
Letter: “City officials, police play strike politics”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 4, 2017
To the editor:
I find it ironic that on the front page of Wednesday's Berkshire Eagle about the BMC nurse's strike, the mayor and the city's police department expressed concern about public safety because of the striking BMC nursing staff.
Mayor Tyer's spokeswoman stated, "The role of the city is to provide safety." Police Lt. Gary Traversa said he expected a round-the-clock presence for the 24-hour strike and said the police have contingency plans in place in the event of a civil disturbance. "It definitely puts some stress on personnel," he said.
These statements were published on the same day The Eagle also informs us, sadly, of yet another loss of life from a shooting ("Woman dies after Dewey Avenue shooting"). Are the city administration and police playing politics? Or are they truly afraid of a gathering of caring professional health care workers exercising their right to strike?
I would rather our police force "be stressed" from combating the shootings and violence in our city and protecting our nurses who are striking in the "combat zone."
Mark Tully, Pittsfield
“Pittsfield woman dies after Dewey Avenue shooting”
By Bob Dunn, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, October 3, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Police are investigating the shooting death of a city woman Monday night on Dewey Avenue.
Asiyanna Jones, 22, was found in a car suffering from a gunshot wound shortly after a report of shots fired about 10:45 p.m., according to a statement released by the Berkshire District Attorney's Office.
Jones was taken to Berkshire Medical Center, and then flown to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. She was pronounced dead about 4 a.m. Tuesday.
Her death marks the city's second shooting-related homicide of 2017. Police said that's in addition to 11 other shootings in Pittsfield in 2017 that resulted in some type of non-fatal injury.
The statement did not identify a suspect in the shooting nor a potential motive. Pittsfield Police have referred all questions regarding the shooting to the District Attorney's Office.
An autopsy to determine the cause of death is expected to be performed Wednesday at the Holyoke office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Investigators from Pittsfield Police as well as Massachusetts State Police and the Berkshire County Law Enforcement Task Force had a section of Dewey Avenue cordoned off with yellow caution tape and were still investigating the scene at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Residents from about a block away reported hearing a series of gunshots Monday night in the otherwise quiet neighborhood.
Estimates on the number of shots varied between three or four to nine or 10.
One woman said after the shots, she heard male and female voices yelling, but could not make out what was being said.
All said city police arrived very quickly following the shots.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer recorded a brief statement and posted it on her Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.
"I am deeply saddened by this and any other acts of violence that take place in our city," Tyer said. "Because this is an active investigation, I am limited in what I can share."
"But I want to reiterate that this matter has the full attention of the city and our law enforcement partners," Tyer said.
"I also want to encourage those in the community who may have information related to this or to any other crime to please say something," Tyer said. "You may have information that is vital to the work of our law enforcement agencies and we need your help."
Police are asking anyone with information about the circumstances leading up to Jones' death to contact the Pittsfield Police Department's Detective Bureau at 413-448-9705.
"In the days and weeks ahead, please be assured that many, many individuals are hard at work behind the scenes on this matter," Tyer said. "We know that you're counting on us and we'll do our very best."
The investigation is being conducted by members of the Pittsfield Police Department with assistance from the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office, state police detectives assigned to the District Attorney's Office, members of the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force, the Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Services Section and the Massachusetts State Police Firearms Identification Section.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
Our Opinion: “Community's key role in pursuit of justice”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, October 8, 2017
The Pittsfield Police Department Friday night put out a Facebook post seeking help in finding the killer of 22-year-old Asiyanna Jones that in its eloquence gets to the heart of a neighborhood's and a community's responsibility to seek justice and make their streets a safer place. If that responsibility isn't met, there are limits to what authorities can accomplish.
Residents reported hearing gun shots at about 10:45 last Monday evening, just before Ms. Jones was found in a vehicle on Dewey Avenue. Two days later, the state medical examiner ruled her death a homicide, concluding that she was shot in the head. On Friday came the post from police, which said that the department had been "working all hours of the night" to find the killer (Eagle, October 8).
Reportedly there were several people at the scene of the killing and the post from police asked witnesses to come forward. That none have come forward could be attributed to a variety of reasons. Anyone complicit in the killing is unlikely to acknowledge their guilt. There is the fear of retribution. The murder of David Glasser for testifying against Adam Lee Hall six years ago, one of three murders that Mr. Hall and two others were convicted of committing, shows that this fear can be legitimate. There is distrust of the police department, although Pittsfield police have in recent years raised their profile in high-crime neighborhoods to build trust with residents. Then there is the code of silence that has hindered the efforts of so many cities to get criminals off the streets.
"This is not about 'snitching,' 'ratting' or telling on someone," read the police department post. "This is not about your pride or your fear. It's about justice. This is about doing what's right, period." Doing what's right is not always easy, but it is essential in not only confronting a terrible individual crime like this one but in ridding communities of a criminal element.
Crime-plagued areas also struggle economically, and those two elements fuel a vicious circle leading to more crime and more losses of business. It isn't fair that crime can fuel the perception of Pittsfield is a crime-plagued city, but unfortunately, perception is often reality.
Neighborhoods in Pittsfield have set up crime watches to protect themselves, and the police department and City Hall are actively confronting both the perception and the reality of crime in the city. For law authorities and elected officials to succeed, however, residents who are aware of the specifics of a crime must overcome their fears, their inclination to stay on the sidelines, their misconceptions about what it means to go to the police, and do what is right so justice can be done.
Anyone with information about the death of Aslyanna Jones is asked to contact lead investigator Detective Matos at  448-9700, extension 390.
“Violent crime in the Berkshires: North Adams highest rate in Mass.; Pittsfield ninth-highest”
By Bob Dunn and Adam Shanks, email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, October 8, 2017
PITTSFIELD — According to recently released FBI statistics, two Berkshire County cities have the dubious distinction of having some of the highest per capita rates of violent crime in the state.
North Adams has the highest rate of violent crime in Massachusetts, at 1.38 percent. Pittsfield has the ninth-highest, at 0.79 percent.
North Adams and Pittsfield are the only two Berkshire County cities or towns among the 10 highest rates in the state.
The rates are calculated based on the population of each city divided by the number of violent crimes reported.
Pittsfield police Chief Michael Wynn said that while the figures reflect an increase in violent crime in 2016 from 2015, they don't provide a complete picture.
Wynn said the numbers are a snapshot of the 2016 calendar year but don't acknowledge the decline in property crimes in Pittsfield, such as burglaries and car thefts, from the same time period.
The number of property crimes declined from 1,270 in 2015 to 1,016 in 2016, according to the FBI.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer said she's aware of and shares the same concerns and anxieties that news of high crime rates can cause but assures the public that Pittsfield is a safe city.
"We are not naive to assume that we're not dealing with crime. We have a certain element of our society that has chosen to conduct themselves in a criminal manner. And, at the same time, we are doing our best to make the proper investments in the Police Department," Tyer said.
Among those investments is Amanda Steben, the city's crime analyst, who compiles daily data from the department and is able to develop a more current overview of the state of crime in the city, rather than reacting to the FBI's annual data, which represent the previous year.
"That alone helps us be better decision-makers," Tyer said.
Wynn said the data show that Pittsfield is on track to have a lower violent crime rate in 2017 than it did last year.
The city's data from Jan. 1 to Oct. 6, show a total of 238 incidents of murder, robbery (armed and unarmed), aggravated assault and sexual assault.
According to the FBI, there were 340 reports of violent crimes in the same categories for all of 2016 in Pittsfield, which is trying to bolster the ranks of the police force.
"While we know that our current police station is not sufficient for a modern law enforcement agency with all of the challenges they have, we are still challenged with, `How do we pay for it?'" Tyer said.
Wynn said that in 2014-2015, the state's Police Advisory Committee recommended 100 to 120 officers for a city with Pittsfield's population.
Wynn said that for planning purposes, the city worked with a population of about 70,000, to account for the number of people who regularly travel into the city but are not among the 45,000 to 46,000 permanent residents.
"Our authorized strength under the current budget is 99 (officers)," Wynn said. "Our actual strength roster today is 89, which is up significantly from where we were in 2016."
"We're chipping away at it," Wynn said, adding that any uptick in violent crimes can't be attributed solely to money or personnel.
"We certainly can't put it on the staffing or the budget, because [Tyer] has been working with us, determined to increase our staffing, and stabilize and increase our budget," Wynn said. "We're seeing the benefits of those increases now, in 2017.
"We're in better shape now than we were during the reporting (period)," Wynn said.
The news of the FBI statistics comes about the same time as police and the District Attorney's office are investigating the shooting death of 22-year-old Asiyanna Jones on the night of Oct. 2 on Dewey Avenue.
Because that incident is under investigation, Wynn couldn't comment on it specifically but did say that people should not be concerned about being a victim of random crime, which is rare.
"There's no information from any of the investigations we have, not only in the 2016 reporting period, but prior to that and this year, that would suggest that there's randomness to any of these personal violent crimes," Wynn said.
"These are people who are known to one another, in most cases have history together," he said.
"It's tragic and it's unfortunate, but the vast majority of our aggravated assaults and violent crime occur in residential neighborhoods. Our downtown ... and our shopping areas are some of our safest areas in the city," Wynn said.
"I always tell (people), there is absolutely no reason to be afraid to walk down North Street," Steben said.
"I look at every single call that comes into the Police Department, and the fear is just not justified," Steben said. "It's a perception, but it's not based on reality."
"We have a highly trained, highly professional and dedicated Police Department prepared to respond to crimes when they occur, to investigate crimes after they occur and to monitor, through our data, areas where there's an uptick or concern that might need a pivot in strategy and tactics," Tyer said. "That is what I would reassure the public about."
Pittsfield's rate of 0.79 percent is based on 340 violent crimes reported in 2016 among a population of 43,031. Those crimes include three murders, 37 rapes, 39 robberies and 261 aggravated assaults.
Pittsfield's violent crime rate in 2015 was 0.65 percent and based on 284 violent crimes and a population of 43,450. That figure includes four murders, 38 rapes, 34 robberies and 208 aggravated assaults.
By comparison, the city of Billerica, which has a 2016 population comparable to that of Pittsfield, had a rate of 0.1 percent, based on 43 violent crimes during that time period.
Springfield had a 2016 rate of 1.03 percent, Worcester's rate was 0.89 percent and Boston's rate was calculated at 0.7 percent.
Nearby, Albany's rate was 0.86 percent and the rate in Bennington Vermont, was also 0.86 percent.
In North Adams, there were 181 violent crimes reported in 2016: 152 aggravated assaults, 20 rapes and nine robberies in a city of about 13,162.
The total number of violent crimes reported in North Adams in 2015 was 143, with 129 aggravated assaults, eight robberies and six rapes, according to the FBI.
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright said he has met with North Adams police Director Michael Cozzaglio in response to the most recently released figures.
"We need to work harder on trying to mitigate crime and trying to figure out why these things are happening in our community and what we should be doing to help prevent these before they happen," Alcombright said.
Anyone who looks at the report "could certainly" look at North Adams as unsafe, Alcombright acknowledged.
"I'm all around the city all the time, and I certainly don't feel unsafe, and would think that most people don't feel unsafe," Alcombright said. "But numbers don't lie, and if it's a cause for concern for people, we need to be looking harder at why these things are happening."
Alcombright said the city officials will continue to meet and try to determine the root of the city's high crime numbers.
He noted that cities with similar socioeconomic demographics like Lawrence and Holyoke are below North Adams.
"There probably needs to be some research done on this," Alcombright said.
Nine other Berkshire County cities and towns had data available for 2016. Adams, 0.3 percent; Becket, 0.1 percent; Dalton, 0.18 percent; Egremont, 0.08 percent; Great Barrington, 0.16 percent; Lee, 0.22 percent; Lenox, 0.16 percent; Stockbridge, 0.2 percent and Williamstown, 0.16 percent.
Statewide, the violent crime rate remained at 0.38 percent, with only a slight increase in the total number of violent crimes reported, from 25,562 in 2015 to 25,677 last year.
Nationally, the number of violent crimes jumped from 1.2 million in 2015 to 1.25 million in 2016, an increase of 4.1 percent, according to the FBI.
The FBI also reported that, in the U.S., aggravated assaults accounted for 64.3 percent of violent crimes reported to law enforcement. Robbery accounted for 26.6 percent, rape 7.7 percent and murder 1.4 percent.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.
Letter: “Elect water mgt. expert to Pittsfield City Council”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 11, 2017
To the editor:
For the past 2 1/2 years, I have tried to tell city residents what is right and wrong in city government on my television show on PCTV's Channel 16. My goal in running for city councilor-at-large is to insure that every taxpayer dollar spent is accounted for.
I am the co-inventor, designer and builder of the city's two Krofta water filtration plants, which saved the city's taxpayers and ratepayers more than $70 million. I built many other plants after Pittsfield, saving our clients hundreds of millions of dollars.
The city is being told by its consulting engineers that the water and sewer plants will need up to $200 million in upgrades. I say that figure is ridiculous. The city should put out a request for proposal (RFP) for consulting engineering companies that will review new technologies that can be used to address problems identified by the DEP and EPA at both the water and wastewater treatment plants.
The city should also recreate the water and sewer commission, but only engineers and scientists should be appointed to it. Pittsfield faces millions of dollars of potential upgrades, and only engineers and scientists can determine if these costs are acceptable.
If I am elected to the City Council I will be an expert on water and wastewater needs. The Council has no one with scientific and engineering knowledge and I will be able to guide members in making informed decisions on what we need to do at the two plants.
I am a decorated Vietnam veteran and at 70 years of age, I have dedicated the rest of my life to try to do the best I can for the greatest number of individuals in the city. Anyone who has seen my TV show (Monday at 11:30 a.m., Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m.) know that I have many ideas to make our city better for everyone.
Having been a leader in any job I have ever had, I feel confident that I will be able to elevate councilors to be real advocates for the taxpayers and ratepayers of the city. I take this situation very seriously, and I ask for your support on Nov. 7.
Craig C. Gaetani, Pittsfield
The writer is a candidate for councilor at large.
Letter: “Finally, Pittsfield has first female firefighter”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 17, 2017
To the editor:
When I was in high school, through the mid- and late-1970s, Pittsfield proudly announced that it had hired the city's first African-American firefighter. While we all — "we" meaning my generation — were exclaiming, "It's about time!", others were not quite so supportive. There was much talk of it on both sides of the fence, and I don't mind telling you that I found much of it disgraceful. My children's generation might find it shocking and more than a little sad that cities could get away with such racism, such a short time ago, I know I do.
Now, I see that the city is proudly exclaiming the hire of its first female firefighter, and I say, it's about time! I've heard over the years that it was too much, too expensive, to ask for separate sleeping quarters and bathrooms for women, which by the way, I also heard in the '70s when the hiring of an African-American man was up for debate. I've heard much more insulting things about the subject, but the most insulting, the most shocking, is that it has taken until 2017 for this hire to come to fruition. Especially when there have been female volunteer firefighters in small towns for decades.
My how far we've come! I guess that depends upon which side of the fence one is looking through, doesn't it?
Lisa Amuso, Canaan, N.Y.
Letter: “Misplaced uproar”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 17, 2017
To the editor:
If people were in the same uproar about the crime and deterioration in our area as they are about the Berkshire Museum's art sale maybe we would see incidents start to decline and Pittsfield would become a place families would like to move to rather than move out of.
Michelle O'Brien, Pittsfield
Letter: “Pittsfield must wake up to its crime problem”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 20, 2017
To the editor:
With the second armed robbery in less than a week it's about time Pittsfield officials come to grips with the fact there is a major crime/drug issue in Pittsfield. The city needs radical change to deal with the crime/drug situation. The police chief is totally ineffective and the administration is abysmal.
The city is best known for its medical marijuana dispensary, methadone clinic and crime — surely not something to be proud of.
How does the saying go, "the first step in dealing with a problem is to first admit there is a problem"?
Jeffrey M. Costa, Pittsfield
Letter: “Crane's good intentions violated by museum”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 20, 2017
To the editor:
Most museums honor their founder on the 100th anniversary of his death. I said "most."
This year marks 100 years since Berkshire Museum founder, Zenas Crane, passed from this earth. But rather than honor their founder with fundraisers or other events, the trustees have chosen to dishonor Crane's legacy by announcing plans to dismantle his collection of fine art and gut the building he worked so diligently to construct.
Crane spent the last 15 years of his life caring for the museum, adding several additions to the building and many priceless paintings to its galleries. He requested his friends, relatives, and others, give their art to the museum to build its collections. He specifically asked for paintings!
Upon his death, in 1917, Mr. Crane left the Berkshire Museum $200,000. That was the largest sum from his estate left to any single institution. And there were many benefactors. Only family members received more than the museum.
When Crane and others donated their art to the museum, they believed it would remain in Pittsfield forever! That was their intent and expectation — to have their art remain in Pittsfield forever! Massachusetts law required it to remain.
To make the museum accessible to all county residents, Crane chose the central location of Pittsfield for his museum. The Berkshire Museum became Mr. Crane's creation, his "window on the world" meant for his fellow Berkshire County citizens.
His love of nature is why he included the nature collections. But it is also why he was attracted to the fine Hudson River School paintings. They were a way to combine nature and fine art into one gift! Nothing could represent Mr. Crane's love of nature and art better than those exquisite paintings!
"Here He Still Liveth" is etched into a plaque inside Berkshire Museum. It is dedicated to Zenas Crane. One has to wonder if it will still apply once the museum has been gutted and Mr. Crane's paintings and other treasures have been auctioned off.
Linda Lykkebak, Orlando, Florida
The writer is a native of Pittsfield.
“Pittsfield's city engineer vacancy since January causes delay in road improvement projects”
By Amanda Drane , email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, October 23, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The city has been without an engineer since January, and the void contributes to a backlog of road improvements that the understaffed department has been unable to get to.
City councilors recently passed several street-level recommendations from the city's Traffic Commission to reduce speed limits and increase signage, but Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy asked for their patience in implementing them. He called the delay in getting work done over the past year "a workload issue" stemming from the vacant position and construction season.
He said road improvements take a lot of research and work to accomplish.
"There's just a lot of paperwork and legwork in getting these things done right," he said.
Turocy said he's done about a dozen interviews but currently has no candidates in line for the vacant position, which comes with an annual salary between $70,000 and $75,000.
Turocy said the job is simply "too big for those willing to work for that amount."
The former city engineer, Matt Billeter, left the job in January after 16 years with the department. He said morale in City Hall was low, the politics were stressful and the pay was too little — slightly less, he said, than the salary range the city is currently offering.
"I was never afraid to stand up for what's right and I felt like that was a very, very lonely place to be in the city," he said. "Dealing with egos — it really gets to you after a while."
Billeter now does facilities management for Berkshire Health Systems.
And while he said the decision to leave City Hall was more about the environment than the salary, he said "they're not realistic with their pay."
Several municipal engineers told The Eagle industry standards would peg the position's salary at no lower than $80,000, accounting for population, miles of roadway, miles of water infrastructure, and cost of living.
Still, Mayor Linda Tyer said exciting things are happening in the city and the engineering position is a way to get involved with them.
"Anyone interested in the city engineer position would find the work professionally rewarding and challenging," Tyer said. "There is a can-do spirit in our organization that intends to capitalize on all the opportunities that come our way."
The city engineer is responsible for investigating all traffic- and parking-related matters in the city and preparing plans for construction and improvements, according to the city's job description. The city engineer is also responsible for overseeing the Engineering Division and attending Traffic Commission meetings, and is expected to have an engineering degree, a license to practice civil engineering in Massachusetts and a minimum of five years' experience in civil engineering.
In addition to finding someone to fill that position, Council President Peter Marchetti said the city also must address a procedural issue in which councilors have approved recommendations from the Traffic Commission without any traffic orders that would make the measures legally binding.
"That piece, I think, has been missing for a long time," Marchetti said. "Somewhere along the way the process changed, and it shouldn't have changed."
This led to some confusion among councilors, who said under the previous commissioner the legal orders were included as part of the commission's recommendation.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell said it's been over a year that approved measures have been going into "the abyss" after the council votes on them.
"Right now I'm not 100 percent sure of where we stand, of how we're doing this," Connell said.
Of constituents who have waited more than a year for improvements in their neighborhoods, Connell said, "they're upset."
Reach Amanda Drane at 413-496-6296, or @amandadrane on Twitter.
Our Opinion: “Pittsfield's divisions are cultural and tangible”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, October 23, 2017
The racial, economic and social divide plaguing Pittsfield exists even if it cannot be seen. There is also a geographic divide, however, that is tangible and contains the roots of the larger cultural divide.
Pittsfield's urban renewal efforts of half a century ago did damage beyond the destruction of defining buildings like the train station. As Dennis Powell, the head of the Berkshire president of the NAACP, observed Sunday at a forum on the city's divisions, urban renewal was an "incubator for institutional racism." Unattractive and isolating public housing projects were built in the poorest neighborhoods and the young people growing up there went to the three city elementary schools in those neighborhoods. As a result, as Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, executive director of Multicultural BRIDGE, said at the forum, schools have been "resegregated," a discouraging outcome decades after the civil rights movement sought to assure the integration of schools.
All this makes it easy to scapegoat the WestSide for Pittsfield's problems of crime and drugs, problems that exist in many sections of the city. The distinct challenges facing the WestSide, however, are products of failed urban strategies and economic realities, and that section of Pittsfield is afflicted by them, not the cause of them.
If there was a simple solution it would have been found by now — in Pittsfield and in any number of American communities facing the same dilemma. The basis for whatever progress will be made begins with communication, and Sunday's forum, "Healing Pittsfield: A Conversation About What Divides Us," sponsored by the Pittsfield Area Council of Congregations and held at the First Baptist Church, is part of that process. As Mr. Powell pointed out it is a conversation that must include many from across the city, including city councilors, business owners, the police department and professionals.
Hope going forward comes largely from the city's young people, who aren't as likely to be burdened by deep-rooted and paralyzing attitudes and beliefs as are their elders. The key is getting them involved and keeping them here in the city. Panelist John Bissell, the president and CEO of Greylock Federal Credit Union, has a high school-age son and said Sunday that the conversation about racial issues among young people makes him optimistic. The fourth panelist, Rabbi Josh Breindel from Tample Anshe Amunim, added that young people must be given the opportunity to be heard and then taken seriously or they will conclude that their efforts to affect change are fruitless.
If they give up and move to greener pastures never to return, the city loses the agents of change it needs to close those persistent divides and move forward. Some of those divides are as rooted in the earth as a school building or housing projects, but some are products of attitudes, perspectives and prejudices. And those can be changed. That begins with dialogue, all across the city.
“Pittsfield Ward 1 candidate Michael Cirullo halts campaign”
By Amanda Drane, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, October 25, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Ward 1 candidate Michael Cirullo says he's no longer actively seeking the City Council seat.
His name will appear on the ballot on Nov. 7 nonetheless, as the ballot was already finalized.
"I have ended active campaigning," he told The Eagle.
That leaves Helen Moon as the only candidate actively seeking the Ward 1 seat.
Cirullo said the decision to halt the campaign came because no one wanted to hear hard truths about the city's financial situation. Going door to door telling people we have to close two schools, he said, made him wildly unpopular.
"I'm not what I think of as a politician. I'm not a speech-giver," he said. "I'm a numbers guy."
Plus, he said he didn't get the endorsements he'd hoped for and got caught up with selling a building for his work. Cirullo works for General Dynamics and is the business agent for IUE-CWA Local 255.He said that as a political novice he didn't realize how hard it would be to get people on board with cuts to services. He said the city needs to look at the money coming in and reduce accordingly.
"The arts, parks are great when we can afford them," he said. "There is no magic bullet — it needs to be consistent, steady growth."
He said his first run-in with politics has been disenchanting, but he's intent on staying involved in the community.
"Someday maybe there'll be an appetite for the things I'm talking about," he said.
Reach Amanda Drane at 413-496-6296, or @amandadrane on Twitter.
Letter: “Pause sale of art gifts to people of Berkshires”
The Berkshire Eagle, October 29, 2017
To the editor:
Last December, I had the pleasure of singing with the women of the Berkshire Concert Choir during the Festival of Trees at the Berkshire Museum. We sang holiday music in the beautiful upstairs Zenas Crane room. The acoustics are wonderful for singing and the beauty of the room added to the joy of the event.
While I was at the museum, I wanted to check on the Hudson River School paintings to make sure they were still there. Why? A premonition? Perhaps. Maybe I was just thinking that they could have been loaned out to another museum for a show. I breathed a sigh of relief when I was greeted by the magnificent "Valley of Santa Ysabel, New Granada" by Frederic Edwin Church, and all seemed as normal. But now, here we are in a situation where the Hudson River School paintings sit at the auction house waiting for the highest bidder. I can hardly believe it still.
These masterworks are part of our heritage, a unique style of landscape painting that started in the Hudson Valley. As a former resident of Newburgh, N.Y. on the Hudson River, I can testify that these paintings are treasured in so many museums and historical sites all over the world, not just in the Hudson Valley.
For those in the Berkshires who may not understand why they should be important to us, just take a look outside or take a drive and see our fabulous Berkshire scenery. The mountains, the splendid fall colors, the yellow twilight, the colors of the sky during the approaching storm — these elements of nature are what inspired the masters! They used the light and darkness of nature and brought it to a whole new level.
These are gifts to the people of Berkshire County to touch our souls. I am sorry for people who seem to have no feeling or appreciation anymore for these masterpieces. What is to become of these works? If they go to private hands, they may be stored in sub-par conditions and deteriorate, or never be seen by the public again. Does the museum board really care so little about this exquisite artwork and so much about this great "new vision"? Do the board members really know the particulars of what this "new vision" will consist of? I am not saying there is anything wrong with new ideas, but why are they selling off the treasures we already have? What about the Crane Room? Will it stay the same or be changed? Does anyone know?
I ask the museum board to pause the art sale and have discussions with the public. There are always other ways to raise funds and to update exhibitions and the museum building itself.
Karen Ketcham, Adams
Ward 1 City Council winner Helen Moon celebrates with friends and supporters at Tavern on the A on Tuesday night. Photo credit: Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle
City Councilor at large winner Earl Persip III celebrates with friends and supporters at Patrick's Pub on Tuesday night. Photo credit: Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle
City Councilor at large winner and Council President Peter Marchetti talks with Mayor Linda Tyer as he celebrates with friends and supporters at the Polish Falcons on Tuesday night. Photo credit: Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle
“Moon, Persip win 1st terms on Pittsfield City Council”
By Amanda Drane, The Berkshire Eagle, November 7, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Newcomers Helen Moon and Earl Persip III earned seats on the City Council on Tuesday, and incumbents Chris Connell and Kevin Morandi staved off challenges in their respective wards.
Turnout was low amid dreary, chilly weather, as only 23 percent of the city's 27,755 registered voters showed up at the polls — down from about 71 percent during last year's presidential election and 42 percent in the last general election in 2015.
In Ward 2, Dina Guiel lost her challenge to Morandi by 44 votes, according to unofficial tallies. She attributed her loss to the low turnout.
"I'm obviously disappointed by the outcome, but the numbers show Ward 2 is ready for change," she said, promising to run again and remain active in the city. "This just shows me how bad I want it next time."
Morandi said he's happy to once again care for the residents in his ward.
"I'm really looking forward to serving again," he said. "They can count on me to do my best for them."
Incumbent City Council President Peter Marchetti was the top vote-getter in the at large races. Persip, a newcomer, joined incumbents Peter White and Melissa Mazzeo to win the other at large seats.
"I am humbled by the support," Marchetti said. "I'm looking at the numbers and am overwhelmed."
Connell defended his seat as Ward 4 councilor by 100 votes against challenger Bill Wright. Incumbent Ward 7 Councilor Tony Simonelli more handily fended off challenger Rhonda Serre.
"I'm very happy. I'm thankful, obviously, to the voters, to the residents of Ward 7," Simonelli said. "They appreciated my hard work and they showed it tonight."
Incumbent Ward 3 Councilor Nick Caccamo also defended his seat, with a strong showing against James Gleason. Moon won her bid for Ward 1 councilor, as did incumbent Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers and Ward 6 Councilor John Krol.
Voters also elected six School Committee members: Dennis L. Powell, Cynthia A. Taylor, William Joseph Cameron, Daniel C. Elias, Katherine L.Yon and Joshua M. Cutler. They all ran unopposed.
Michele M. Cetti, who ran unopposed, will be the new city clerk.
The newly elected officials will be inaugurated at 10 a.m. Jan. 2 in City Council chambers.
At the polls Tuesday, voters said they wanted to see leaders address crime rates and devise new ideas for addressing the city's challenges.
Zach Durso said he'd like to see councilors give more straight answers, and address the lack of infrastructure.
"That's one of the things I did like about Dina," he said of Guiel, who worked on transportation issues in Boston.
Kate Lauzon, chairwoman of the Morningside Neighborhood Initiative, said she hopes the fresh faces will help bring neighborhoods together and tackle drug issues in the city.
"I'm hoping they'll bring some new, out-of-the-box ideas," she said, adding that she thinks current councilors Marchetti and White have been shaking things up instead of staying stagnant. "I think there definitely needs to be some change."
Nycole Gallagher said she voted for Persip because she'd like to see more diversity on the council. Desiree Giardina, who voted for Tony "Mr. Sim" Simonelli, said she'd like to see the council do more to address crime.
"I hope they definitely look at the violence that's going on in Pittsfield," she said, adding that working with youths to keep them busy and fulfilled could help address it.
With all the challenges facing Pittsfield right now, Joe Maffuccio said he voted for experienced incumbents.
Jay Lopez said he'd like to see councilors lower the city's unemployment rate and spend money more efficiently.
"I think the City Council has some work to do after tonight," he said.
Eagle staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf contributed to this report.
Reach Amanda Drane at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.
The state Attorney General's Office on Friday asked the Massachusetts Appeals Court to stop Monday's sale of artworks from the Berkshire Museum pending a fuller review. Eagle File
“Appeals court justice stops art sale”
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, November 10, 2017
This story has been updated to include information about the Friday night order from Justice Joseph A. Trainor.
PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire Museum cannot sell works from its collection next week as planned, pending an appeal won Friday by the state's attorney general.
On Friday, Attorney General Maura Healey asked the Massachusetts Appeals Court to stop the museum's art sale, three days before the scheduled start of auctions Monday.
That motion was allowed late Friday by Justice Joseph A. Trainor of the appeals court.
Trainor entered an order saying that after reviewing submissions to the appeals court, he allowed the attorney general's request for an injunction prohibiting the museum from "selling, auctioning, or otherwise disposing of any of the artworks that have been listed for auction" starting Monday.
"The balance of the risk of irreparable harm to the petitioner and the respondent in light of each party's chance of success on the merits," the justice said, "weighs in favor of the petitioner."
The injunction against the sale is in effect until Dec. 11, but can be extended by the Attorney General's Office, Trainor said, if it knows the date by which its review of the sale will be complete.
In its appeal, the Attorney General's Office asserted that Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini erred in his handling of an earlier request for an injunction. The judge had ruled Tuesday that the sales can go ahead, a decision that has now been stayed.
"The issues before this court include the trial court's abuse of discretion through clear errors of law related to ... the charitable trusts pursuant to which the Museum holds these items," the filing says.
The office is acting in its statutory role as the overseer of charitable assets in the state. In this case, it argues that the museum's works must be maintained for the intended beneficiaries, which it defines as the people of Berkshire County.
The Attorney General's Office also claimed that the museum has violated its "duty of care" to the public.
"The balance of harms," the office says in its filing, "strongly favors entering an injunction in this case."
Requests Friday evening for comment from the museum's attorney, William F. Lee, and from the museum's spokeswoman, Carol Bosco Baumann, were not answered.
Trainor is handling what are known as "single justice" applications this month to the court.
Appellate court rules allow parties in civil cases such as this to seek a stay in the judgment of a lower court, pending appeal. The motion has to show that it's not practical to return to the lower court. The AG's appeal makes that claim.
According to court rules, the justice considering the appeal can act with or without holding a hearing.
The museum announced July 12 it would sell 40 works in all in an effort to raise as much as $60 million. Trustees voted to remove works from the collection to finance renovations and to provide a bulwark against future financial stress for the nonprofit.
They said the deaccession of art was driven by a wish to overcome recurring deficits that they said threatened the 114-year-old museum's existence.
Museum groups have criticized the sale, saying it violates longstanding ethical principles and would set a bad precedent that could lead to works now available to the public going into private collections.
The Attorney General's Office came out on the losing side in a ruling Tuesday by Agostini.
The office last week joined a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction against the sales so it could have more time to review the case.
Agostini denied a request to stop the sale. He found that all plaintiffs other than the Attorney General's Office lacked standing, in two combined lawsuits, to bring the action.
Criticism of action
Darrell Rocha, a spokesman for Sotheby's, said earlier Friday that the auction house was confident Monday's sales would take place.
"It is regrettable that the Attorney General's Office — rather than take heed of Judge Agostini's extensive and carefully reasoned decision, and despite its own unqualified admission that the Berkshire Museum's Trustees have acted in good faith — has now, three days after that decision was issued, filed an 11th hour appeal rehashing the same arguments that were so thoroughly rejected by the court," Rocha said in a statement provided to The Eagle.
He said the money raised will "allow the Berkshire Museum to serve its community for generations to come."
Lee, the museum's attorney, said earlier Friday, before the motion was allowed by the appeals court and the auctions halted, that the attorney general's action posed a threat to the institution.
In an affidavit filed for the Berkshire Superior Court case, the chief operating officer of Sotheby's said that the eventual "hammer" prices for the art could be reduced if sales are delayed.
"Continuing this litigation jeopardizes vital educational, cultural and economic resources in a struggling community, placing the special interests of a portion of the well-funded arts community over people, especially young people, really in need," Lee said in a statement provided by the museum.
Lee defended Agostini's ruling, calling it "a very clear legal decision [that] rejected the arguments the Attorney General repeats in this misguided appeal."
In his ruling Tuesday, Agostini found that other plaintiffs in the case lacked legal standing, including three sons of the late Norman Rockwell and residents of Berkshire County.
Margaret Rockwell, whose husband is a grandson of the artist, said in a statement that the family is pleased that the attorney general filed an appeal.
"Norman Rockwell gave 'Shuffleton's Barbershop' and 'Shaftesbury Blacksmith Shop' to the Berkshire Museum. They were given as gifts to the people of the Berkshires. They should remain in the Berkshires, as he intended, and they should be exhibited for all to enjoy," she said.
Attorney Nicholas M. O'Donnell, who sought an injunction in the lower court against the sale on behalf of three residents of Lenox, said he and his clients are still considering their options, but applaud the step taken Friday.
"My clients support the Attorney General's petition," O'Donnell said.
The motion filed Friday by the Attorney General's Office, he said, "explains well the important components of the Superior Court's ruling that warrant reversal on appeal, which support an injunction against the sale until that appeal is resolved."
Michael B. Keating, who represented the three Rockwell sons and other plaintiffs, filed a response Friday in support of the appeal.
The response says that his clients agree that "irreparable harm will result if the Museum's planned sale is not immediately enjoined."
Keating's response faults Agostini for not giving due weight to evidence that the sale involves "substantially all" of the museum's assets. He notes that the attorney general provided evidence to the court, drawn from the museum's records, "that proves this point, and this evidence was evidently ignored."
Further, Keating comes to the attorney general's defense against criticism in Agostini's ruling.
The judge lambasted the office for its response to the question of the art sale, saying it had four months to act and labeling it a "reluctant warrior."
"The Museum's own records," Keating's response states, "show that it decided to pursue this sale no later than October 2016 and intentionally withheld the information from the Attorney General and the public."
He adds, "The Attorney General's office should not be faulted for pursuing a diligent and thorough investigation before taking the unusual and consequential step of alleging breaches of duty by the trustees of a charitable institution."
In a phone interview, Keating said he hoped Trainor would be receptive.
"We're hoping he'll understand it's an emergency," he said. "He's got to be persuaded from the filing itself that it deserves a hearing."
Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, had pressed Healey's office to fight the lower court ruling. The council announced Sept. 20 that it opposed the art sales and suspended funding to the museum pending the outcome of the case.
"The Attorney General clearly sees the critical importance of getting this decision right," Walker said Friday, "as it stands to have a lasting impact on museums in Massachusetts and across the country. The AG makes a strong and compelling case for an injunction to stop the sale of the art on Monday."
The injunction is raises the hopes of the members of Save the Art-Save the Museum, which opposes the deaccession.
The group plans two events Saturday to protest the sale — a rally outside the 39 South St. museum in Pittsfield and a gathering in front of Sotheby's U.S. headquarters on York Avenue in Manhattan. Both events run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Before the justice's decision came, members of the group were hopeful.
"My fingers are crossed," said Hope Davis, a founding member of the group who has a home in Great Barrington.
Carol Diehl, a spokeswoman for Save the Art, said she believes trustees are wrong to think they own the art in question.
"The public owns the art and they are the custodians," Diehl said.
She said she expected the attorney general to challenge the lower court's finding. "I'd have been surprised if she did all that work and didn't follow up on it," Diehl said of Healey's office. "Everybody's watching."
Another group member, metal artist Linda Kaye-Moses, said she waited anxiously this week for the Attorney General's Office to act.
"We've all been kind of hanging on by our thumbs," she said. "We think it's a just cause or we'd not have been so persistent."
Kaye-Moses said she hopes the Attorney General's Office pursues every legal recourse it can to stop the sale. That now includes taking the case to a wider review, based on the appeal.
"I'm hoping that there's more coming down the pike from the AGO and that it would fight all the way," she said.
In its filing Friday, the Attorney General's Office said that because the first sale was set for Monday, returning to Berkshire Superior Court to seek a stay in the decision pending appeal "is not practicable."
The office restates arguments from its earlier briefs concerning its mission to protect charitable trusts.
"The sale of the 40 items planned for auction would violate charitable trusts pursuant to which the Museum holds those items and result from a violation of the duty of care," it states in its motion.
The motion claims Agostini erred by concluding that the museum held the right to sell its most valuable works.
"The Museum holds this art in charitable trust to promote the study of art and any proceeds must be used accordingly in the absence of a court order," the motion states.
On the issue of the sale of two paintings by Rockwell, the Attorney General's Office argues that Agostini "assumed facts about the artist that were not in evidence" and the court "erred in ignoring restrictions on the Museum's use" of the works.
The motion also takes issue with Agostini's finding that an 1871 act of the Legislature that referenced Pittsfield did not mean items from the collection of what was then the Berkshire Athenaeum could not leave the community.
In a final point detailed over the course of four pages in the motion, the Attorney General's Office argues that Agostini "disregarded numerous and significant failures by the Museum's trustees and erred as a matter of law in concluding that the Museum exercised due care in deciding to deaccession its 40 most significant pieces of art."
The office says trustees failed to exercise "prudent" care of the assets under their trust by "setting an unreasonable $60 million goal that far exceeded its $25.6 million need to sustain operations which could only be funded through the drastic deaccession of the 40 items."
The appeals court needed to act, the motion states, because if the works are sold next week there is little chance of getting them back from buyers.
That point was heard and accepted by Trainor, it appears.
Pausing the sale, the office argues, does not harm the museum.
"If the Museum is able to demonstrate that it has the legal authority to sell the objects, the Museum may sell the works of art at any time."
Any lost revenue due to a delay in the sales, the office states, is a problem the museum itself created by signing a contract with Sotheby's without seeking court approval.
Sotheby's had planned to auction off seven works owned by the museum Monday, including two paintings by Rockwell — "Shuffleton's Barbershop" and "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop" — that carry by far the highest bid estimates in the 84-piece sale.
"Shuffleton's" had a bidding range of $20 million to $30 million. The range for "Shaftsbury" was $7 million to $10 million.
Those sales were the first of 13 planned next week in a total of four auctions. More sales of Berkshire Museum works were to follow in coming months.
Plaintiffs whose standing was not allowed by Agostini included James and Kristin Hatt and Elizabeth Weinberg, who were represented by O'Donnell.
Thomas, Jarvis and Peter Rockwell were represented, in a suit filed Oct. 20, by Michael Keating, of the Boston law firm Foley Hoag. They were joined as plaintiffs by Tom Patti, Tom Patti LLC, James Lamme, Donald MacGillis, Jonas Dovydenas and Jean Rousseau.
Patti said Friday he is grateful the attorney general acted.
He praised Assistant Attorney General Courtney Aladro, who led the review, and her office "for acting as guardians of the museum's 40 irreplaceable artworks."
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
Letter: “BHS 'facility charge" is unfair, confusing”
The Berkshire Eagle, November 20, 2017
To the editor:
I received a bill from Berkshire Health Systems in the mail recently. My husband had been a patient there, visiting the doctors in the Medical Arts Complex building. I knew he had paid his co-pay, so I didn't understand the reason for the $20 invoice.
I called BHS, and much to my surprise I was told that this was a "facility charge." I was informed that if you have a doctor who has an office on hospital property you are assessed a charge for use of the facility. This charge also applies to blood work, X-rays, MRIs and any procedure that is performed on hospital grounds.
I paid my co-pay. This is why we have the extra coverage in addition to Medicare. We shouldn't have to pay over and above what the insurance pays.
So now, when you get these bills, you'll know. BHS paid $4 million to bring in those nurses during the lockout of our nurses. Now they want us to pay for it. I think not.
Ann Clark, Lanesborough
Letter: "BHS facility charge doesn't raise bills"
The Berkshire Eagle, November 22, 2017
To the editor:
In response to a Nov. 21 letter to the editor titled, "BHS facility charge is unfair billing," I would like to clarify the billing process used by Berkshire Health Systems.
Berkshire Medical Center (BMC) and its physician practices are part of what is called an integrated healthcare system. Government regulations involving integrated systems changed the way we bill health insurance plans for services that take place at our physician practice locations. While previously, one consolidated bill was issued for an office visit, the newer regulations allow for practices considered "outpatient clinics' to assess a facility charge. Such a change did not alter the total charged amount, but rather allowed for a splitting of the charge.
The majority of BHS physician practices are classified as outpatient clinics and therefore fall under these regulations. As outpatient clinics, we have been able to provide expanded access to uninsured and underinsured patients in our community and are able to purchase lower cost medications in such locations.
This billing practice is not new, and was instituted several years ago in these physician clinics. The patient's out-of-pocket obligation for clinic charges can vary from insurer to insurer and is entirely dependent on the patient's individual coverage plan. This clinic charge is not applicable to MRIs, X-Rays and Laboratory testing.
As always, should any community member have a question relating to their billing, please call the BHS billing customer service at 413-358-4053, or toll free at 844-276-5663, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Laurie Lamarre, Pittsfield
The writer is vice president, revenue cycle, Berkshire Health Systems.
Property owners in Pittsfield will see a slight increase in taxes in the coming year, and will feel more of the burden shift to residents rather than business owners. A recommendation to that effect came from Mayor Linda Tyer, above, and her administration because of an increase in the city's property values, and it was approved Tuesday by the City Council. Eagle file photo
“Taxes going up with property values for Pittsfield”
By Amanda Drane, The Berkshire Eagle, November 28, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Property owners in the city will see a slight increase in taxes in the coming year, and will feel more of the burden shift to residents rather than business owners.
A recommendation to that effect came from Mayor Linda Tyer and her administration because of an increase in the city's property values, and it was approved Tuesday by the City Council.
Finance Director Matt Kerwood said he previously had budgeted about $2.25 million in free cash to balance the budget — it was either that or reduce services, he said. But he said a recent state valuation, conducted every five years, found that city property values are up 3 percent. That finding translated to a subsequent bump in the levy ceiling, allowing the city to raise more in taxes than previously anticipated.
Therefore, homeowners will see their annual tax bill increase by $38 per $100,000 in property valuation during the coming year, or about 1.94 percent more than last year, while commercial property owners will see an increase of $20 per $100,000, or about 0.5 percent more.
The increase means the city will collect $1.2 million from taxpayers rather than dipping into free cash, a city fund whose purpose is stabilization. Best practices advise against that, Kerwood said.
"It is the appropriate and prudent thing to do," he told councilors.
Still, Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell asserted that the move would leave more money in free cash than is necessary. He said he'd prefer to see more money in residents' pockets, and so he proposed taking about $500,000 more from free cash and reducing the proposed tax burden.
"We have an opportunity right now to give the residents of the city a little bit of a break, and I think we should take that opportunity," he said.
That motion failed, and Connell cast the sole dissenting vote in the decision to reduce the free cash appropriation.
The change lands the current residential tax rate at $20.01, and $39.98 for commercial, at a shift rate of 1.628 percent. The shift rate dictates how much residential taxpayers contribute versus commercial taxpayers.
Pittsfield's percentage increase in property taxes from 2014 to 2017 puts it 10th in Massachusetts for largest increases during that time.
Despite the high percentage change, officials said the city's rates are on par with cities of comparable size and resources — Gateway cities, namely — citing Fitchburg as a prime parallel.
Reach Amanda Drane at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.
“City takes power choice away from its residents”
The Berkshire Eagle, November 28, 2017
To the editor:
I just received a letter from the city of Pittsfield's Community Choice Power Supply Program stating that the city has signed me up for NextEra Energy Services as the Community Choice Power Supplier. I was confused by the letter; I don't know if any other readers were. So I called the mayor's office.
There is a law from 1997 (Chapter 164), giving permission for competition and permission for cities to change their residents' power supplier. For the past three years, I field on the average eight phone calls a week from different power supply companies, wanting to change my power supplier on my electric bill. I know I'm not alone with these phone calls. Now, instead, I get city government changing my utility bill without proper notification.
The mayor's office did state that there is going to be a notification and the letters might have come out a bit too early. In my opinion, 30 days to opt out of this program is not enough time for this to be done properly. I also stated to the mayor's office that when I opt out of this program, I am hoping not to receive any calls from NextEra energy services, and if I do, I will be giving the telephone number of the mayor's office.
Right now, I am paying a lower basic rate than what the city's letter is stating, and it was also lower in May 2017. It also does not guarantee future savings. Yes, it is a fixed rate for three years, but under dramatic circumstances, these rates can change. I hope all Pittsfield residents think about this power supply program and understand that the city of Pittsfield has now taken it upon itself to change its personal supplier of electricity (EverSource will still transmit), but unless it opts out, Pittsfield will now control its supplier of electricity.
Doesn't it seem like Pittsfield should control its own spending in city government and not worry about my personal spending?
Charlene Wehry, Pittsfield
“Pittsfield Sets FY2018 Tax Rates”
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, November 29, 2017
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The average homeowner can expect to see a 5.1 percent increase in the tax bills.
The City Council approved a tax rate Tuesday night of $20.01 per $1,000 worth of value for residential properties.Last year's residential tax rate was $19.63 per $1,000 of value.
The average single-family home is valued at $181,582, which results in a tax bill of $3,633.46 - for an increase of $176.24 from last year. The tax rate for residential properties is increasing by 38 cents per $1,000 of value.
The tax rate for commercial properties is set at $39.98 per $1,000 of value, up from $39.78 last year.
The median commercial property owner can expect the tax bill to decrease by $24.05 per year. For commercial property, the tax rate is increasing by 20 cents per $1,000 but the median commercial value had dropped by $1,600. The median commercial property is now valued at $198,000.
The council set the tax rate on Tuesday to fund the budget it approved in the spring, which calls for $85,428,188 to come from the taxpayers.
The tax rates were set in a way to move further toward a more even split between commercial and residential properties. Years ago, the city adopted a split tax rate that put much more of the tax burden onto the shoulders of businesses.
But in recent years, the City Council has slowly been chipping away at that shift to bring the two more closely aligned. If both types of properties were considered equal this year, the city would have a $24.56 tax rate.
The largest driver in determining this year's rates was an increase in taxable value determined through a re-evaluation. That had led to a lower tax rate increase than previously predicted, more room under the levy ceiling, and more in free cash reserves.
Every five years the state requires all properties to be reevaluated and assessors this year determined a 3.5 percent increase in total taxable value - an increase from $3,360,079,672 to $3,478,372,726.
"You will see a significant change in the single family," Assessor Paula King said.
The value of single-family homes increased by $60.3 million - while the number of homes in total decreased by eight. King said the trend has been homes under $300,000 are selling for more than in previous years while the high-end homes valued at above $750,000 are declining.
"The two and three family homes are continuing to decline," King said, saying those have dropped in value by .3 percent, indicating that those homes that are typically used for apartments have not been maintained and are selling for less than in years past.
Council Vice President John Krol said that is particularly an area he'd like to see some increased value moving forward.
"I think that is something collectively we need to recognize. We need to encourage development in those 2-3 family homes," Krol said.
The city saw a boost in value for condominiums, particularly because a few had gone from being tax exempt to on the tax rolls. And the city saw a huge jump in apartment values - to the tune of 6.4 percent. About three-quarters of the increase in apartment values are because of Berkshire Town, which hadn't been on the tax rolls at all prior to this year.
"We are seeing rents go up but also that Berkshire Town for the past 40 years has been on a Chapter 121A, which is old school TIFs. They've been in this agreement for 40 years and they've come out of it this year. That's added $6.5 million worth of value to the residential class," King said.
The city saw minimal changes to commercial and industrial real estate values.
But, public utilities are taking a large hit this year in personal property tax value - to the tune of $37.2 million. That is because the city is assessing those utilities differently than in the past.
"This is Eversource, Western Mass Electric, and Berkshire Gas. The reason for this pretty dramatic increase is that in prior years we have always taken the net book value that has been provided to us by Western Mass Electric and Berkshire Gas. Those values are then provided to the Department of Revenue and the Department of Revenue certifies those values. We just took those values," King said.
Now, the assessors are doing their own assessment of the commercial entities and King said, "there are several court cases that have ruled in favor of assessors using this form of valuing." The new way to assess leads to a $22 million increase in personal property value for Eversource and $14.3 million increase in personal property value for Berkshire Gas.
Krol had no objections to seeing those values be increased saying, "they certainly make plenty of money off our residents."
The city also saw a 10.1 percent increase in personal property taxes from individual partnerships, driven by places like Joann Fabrics and two McDonalds changing ownership models. However, corporations have dropped by $1.1 million in personal property taxes.
A half dozen solar projects have also led to $5.2 million in new value, a 264.1 percent increase. Those include projects on Berkshire Boulevard, Churchill Street, East Acres, Cloverdale, and West Housatonic Street.
Those new values combined led to a $45.8 million increase in the new growth calculation (though the change to the utilities personal property assessments isn't part of that calculation), which is then included in determining the city's levy ceiling.
The city had set a budget expecting to be just short of $40,000 under the levy ceiling, projecting the same stagnant growth the city had seen in years prior. The boost in new growth is leading to the city to being about $1.5 million under the ceiling heading into the next year.
The budget predictions back in the spring had bumped the city so close to the levy ceiling, that Mayor Linda Tyer then felt it was needed to use free cash to offset the tax rate and keep the city underneath it. The city is not legally allowed to go above the ceiling, a state restriction limiting the amount of revenue that can come from taxpayers.
For multiple years, auditors have suggested the city avoid using free cash as a funding source for the budget - saying the one-time revenue source should only be used for one-time expenses and not to pay for annual operating costs. But, in order to balance the budget, the mayor had proposed to use $2.25 million to offset the tax rate.
The significant bump in tax value has given the city some breathing room. The City Council approved Tyer's request to lower that free cash amount to $1 million, which in turn boosts the city's free cash total to about $4.5 million.
"With reducing it to the million, I don't believe we are creating an onerous tax burden," said Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood.
Kerwood said it is financially prudent to keep the free cash as reserves or use it to avoid borrowing. For example, Kerwood said if the City Council approves the new trash pick up system, that money can be used for the upfront costs of purchasing toters instead of borrowing and having to pay for them in the future.
"It is an appropriate and valid use of free cash," Kerwood said. "It would eliminate the need to borrow, which honestly I don't want to do for the toters."
However, Councilors Melissa Mazzeo, Anthony Simonelli, and Christopher Connell felt more consideration of how much free cash to use to lower the tax burden was warranted. Connell asked what the tax rate would be under different numbers of using free cash.
"If we have an opportunity to reduce that number by changing this reduction, then I think we should go through that first," Connell said.
But, the city's accounting team based the tax rate proposal on the $1 million and would have needed new calculations based on a different levy number. Mazzeo said she wished the financial team had talked to councilors ahead of time and provided options for the impacts using different amounts of free cash would have on the budget.
"I think residents will want to use the money to lower their taxes rather than do something they might not want to do," Mazzeo said.
Kerwood estimated that for every $1 million less the city needs to generate in tax revenue results in a 30-cent decrease in the tax rate. Connell responded by suggesting the city use $1.5 million to offset the tax rate, a half million more than the mayor requested.
"We have this opportunity right now to give the residents of this city a little bit of a break and I think we should take this opportunity," Connell said.
The mayor, however, said she would not agree to use a different amount on the spot. The mayor needs to approve that order and if she didn't, then the City Council can't set the tax rate. There was a brief conversation about pushing the hearing off until the next meeting, but ultimately seven of the 10 councilors present were confident at the $1 million mark.
The increased values are a good sign for the city's finances and King said she expects values to continue to increase. The assessors make adjustments to the values every year and do a closer look every five years.
"It does look like the trend is continuing. We are seeing good sales in 2017," King said.
Home sales are a major driver of assessments. Even if a person doesn't do anything to improve a property if similar properties are selling for more, the assessment increases.
December 1, 2017
Pittsfield’s fiscal year 2018 municipal budget equals a $156.4 million (or $156,429,586) operating budget ($145,191,805 for city operations and an enterprise budget of 11,376,495), plus $7.2-million in “other expenses” for a total municipal budget of $163,859,871, plus $22.4 million in capital borrowing.
Prior to the recent re-evaluation, the city of Pittsfield was $175,839 under the levy ceiling. Pittsfield had to use $2.25 million in free cash to offset the tax rate to stay under the levy ceiling under Proposition 2.5. Last spring, the city council approved the use of $2.25 million in free cash by an 8-3 vote.
This above information is dated June 14, 2017 from journalist Andy McKeever, iBerkshires.
On Tuesday evening, November 28, 2017, Pittsfield set the tax rate to fund the fiscal year 2018 municipal budget it approved last spring. The re-evaluation determined a 3.5 percent increase in total taxable value - an increase from $3,360,079,672 to $3,478,372,726. The re-evaluation gave Pittsfield a $1.5 million margin under the levy ceiling heading into the next year, which is 2018. The City Council approved Mayor Linda Tyer's request to lower the free cash amount to $1 million, which in turn boosts the city's free cash total to about $4.5 million.
The bottom line is the average homeowner in Pittsfield can expect to see a 5.1-percent increase in the tax bills.
This above information is dated November 29, 2017 from journalist Andy McKeever, iBerkshires.
The city will collect $1.2-million more from taxpayers rather than dipping into free cash. Pittsfield's percentage increase in property taxes from 2014 to 2017 puts it 10th in Massachusetts for largest increases during that time.
This above information is dated November 28, 2017 from journalist Amanda Drane, The Berkshire Eagle.
The following is my opinion:
Every fiscal year, Pittsfield politics increases its municipal budget by about 5%, which is unsustainable over the long-term. Every fiscal year, Pittsfield politics adds well over $10-million to its debt-load via its annual capital budget. On top of its financially unsustainable operation and capital budgets, Pittsfield politics also has hundreds of millions of dollars in OPEB debt.
The bottom line is that Pittsfield politics public finances are unsustainable and the city government is on the path to insolvency and possible future bankruptcy!
- Jonathan Melle
Letter: “Pittsfield needs more than auto parts stores”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 4, 2018
To the editor:
I was happy to read that the former St. Mary the Morning Star Church will be made into an apartment complex instead of a Dunkin' Donuts.
The city of Pittsfield should promote new businesses to fill vacant properties, such as the Old Country Buffet site that has been empty for quite some time. Auto parts stores seem to be cropping up on every corner, but when the residents need a one-stop shopping center, such as a Walmart Supercenter, to create new jobs and more taxes for the city, it doesn't happen. Pretty soon, Pittsfield will be known as the "auto parts capital of Massachusetts."
With the mall stores leaving at a fast pace, I am asking that the city try to attract new businesses such as a Christmas Tree Shop and more restaurants versus auto parts stores to make use of vacant properties.
Letter: “Pittsfield parking kiosks a boondoggle”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 5, 2018
To the editor:
Let me see if I've got this right. Our taxes paid for the paving of the First Street parking lot and installation of kiosks. Now we have to pay again to park there. Then, if we overstay a time limit, we get a parking ticket. Whose boneheaded idea was this?
If you travel North Street during the day on a weekday, you will notice that more than 50 percent of the spaces are empty. At this rate, it will take years just to pay for the kiosks.
Should've put in the bypass. Then again, we've already been bypassed.
Alan R. Will, Pittsfield
“Wastewater upgrades in Pittsfield put sewer rate hikes in pipeline”
By Amanda Drane, The Berkshire Eagle, January 20, 2018
PITTSFIELD — Residents will see their sewer bills rise, officials say, as the city performs $74 million in wastewater treatment upgrades required by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Finance Director Matt Kerwood said he is working with consultants Tighe & Bond to evaluate the project's impact on city rates.
"We will have to raise rates to pay for these improvements," said Public Services Commissioner David Turocy, adding that the city's wastewater system is supported entirely by ratepayers and is separate from the city's general fund budget. "These new rates have not been set yet but will be through the upcoming budget process."
Mayor Linda Tyer said the City Council authorized the project's design phase last winter and must now vote to approve $74 million in borrowing during its next meeting Tuesday. If the council doesn't vote during the next meeting, Tyer said, there could be financial consequences, as construction is mandated to begin this summer.
"Any variation from that schedule could result in fines being levied on the city by the EPA," Tyer wrote in a letter to councilors.
A representative of Kleinfelder, the engineering firm working on the project, will give a presentation at the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.
In 2008, the EPA set new limits on the amounts of aluminum, phosphorus and nitrogen that wastewater treatment plants can discharge into rivers — the Housatonic River, in the case of Pittsfield. Existing equipment at the city's plant on Holmes Road cannot accommodate the revised effluent limits, Turocy said.
"They are the critical concerns for the Long Island Sound," Turocy said of the aforementioned elements, as that body of water is where local discharge ultimately lands.
Pittsfield previously appealed those changes to the EPA, but was rejected in 2009. The city then appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2010, that court upheld the EPA's decision. In February 2011, the city received a specific administrative order from the regional EPA office in Boston that spelled out a timetable for feasibility studies, design and construction phases of the upgrades required to bring the plant into compliance.
The order also calls for regular testing of discharge levels for the pollutants and specifies that regular reports be submitted to state and federal environmental regulators.
Interest rates on the borrowing will likely fall between 2 and 4 percent, Turocy said. The state granted the city access to a low-interest revolving fund set aside for these types of projects under the Clean Water Trust Act.
The plan is to begin the contractor prequalification process this month and send the project out to a formal bid in March.
Reach Amanda Drane at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.
If you go ...
What: Presentation on wastewater treatment project
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday [January 23, 2018]
Where: Council chambers, City Hall, Allen Street
Michael Coakley, the new business development manager for Pittsfield, is greeted at City Hall on Monday by Mark McKenna of the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Committee. Ben Garver - The Berkshire Eagle
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer introduces Michael Coakley as the city's new business development manager during a press conference Monday at City Hall. Coakley, of Lenox, will be responsible for promoting capital investment, job growth and economic development for Pittsfield. Ben Garver - The Berkshire Eagle
“Pittsfield names new economic development 'quarterback'”
By Amanda Drane, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, January 29, 2018
PITTSFIELD — A key component of Mayor Linda Tyer's economic development strategy was realized on Monday with the announcement of a new business development manager.
Michael Coakley, of Lenox, will begin in the new role on Feb. 5. He's worked for 30 years in sales and marketing, the last 20 of which were spent at Winstanley Partners in Lenox.
"This is a really great day for the city of Pittsfield," Tyer said during a press conference. "This is a real shift in the way we think about economic development."
In his new position Coakley will work to attract new business to Pittsfield and support existing ones. Tyer also hopes the position will make it easier for businesses to navigate city processes in dealing with one person.
Funding for the new position will be shared between City Hall — where Coakley's office will be — the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp.
"We have come together to break down economic development silos," Tyer said, with Coakley serving "as our quarterback."
Tyer announced plans for the post last spring as part of her "Red Carpet" initiative, which aims to streamline the processes businesses use to get what they need from city government.
The boards of PERC and PEDA approved the job description last year, the posting of which attracted 29 applicants. PEDA is charged with the development of the William Stanley Business Park. PERC is a regional economic development agency that is headquartered at Pittsfield's Department of Community Development, and shares some staff members with it.
Christina Wynn, a PEDA board member, said Coakley's background proves he'll be "a force to be reckoned with."
"I have no doubt he's going to jump into this role with both feet," she said.
Coakley said he grew up playing basketball at the Boys and Girls Club and graduated from Taconic High School.
"Pittsfield's very important to me," he said. "I can't wait to get to work."
Reach Amanda Drane at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.
Our Opinion: “City's new economic QB must address skepticism”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 30, 2018
While politicians have been known to stretch sports analogies beyond the breaking point, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer's naming of a new business development "quarterback" for the city (Eagle, January 30) is an apt job description for exactly what is needed at this point in its history — an aggressive, resourceful player to whom a diverse team looks for leadership, direction and a winning offensive strategy.
Ever since major local employer GE reduced its presence and ultimately withdrew from the Shire City altogether, Pittsfield has watched its population and optimism melt away while awaiting rescue in the form of new outside business and, possibly, local startups that would employ its willing labor force. It is understandable that a skepticism flourished over the years as one initiative after another failed to come to fruition. The context surrounding Monday's announcement that 30-year sales and marketing veteran Michael Coakley of Lenox would be spearheading the push toward economic redevelopment may ultimately turn out to be a major factor enabling this mission's success.
For any long-term stategy to achieve its goals — be it in the business environment or on the football gridiron — everyone involved needs to be working in unison. It is encouraging, therefore, that Mr. Coakley's position and its associated expenses are being funded through three sources with similar goals. The city of Pittsfield (whose City Hall will house Mr. Coakley and his office), the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation are officially on the same page. We urge him to work with 1Berkshire, as the city and county economies are closely linked.
The new development manager faces daunting challenges, among them being a lack of faith among the public that there is any way out of the city's economic doldrums. Therefore, one of his most important priorities is to engender confidence and optimism and demonstrate that he is not just another functionary thrown at the problem and who is destined to ultimately fail. He must lay out a set of priorities that reflect a coherent strategy, welcome and listen to the wants and needs of residents and businesses in crafting that strategy, and, help the city scare away the ghosts of GE that continue to haunt it.
The disintegration of Walmart's plans for a supercenter at the idle William Stanley Business Park provides an opportunity to explore better options for the former GE property rather than wait around for a white knight to swoop in and save the day. In today's ruthless economic reality, wherein cities are engaged in cutthroat competition to attract businesses, a confident, steady and committed representative — strengthened by support from all levels of the community — is an absolute imperative for Pittsfield to prevail in this environment. We hope that he and related agencies will pursue imaginative projects for the property and pursue them.
More generally, Mr. Coakley's job now is to aggressively present Pittsfield and its environs to the outside world as a locale that is eager to do business and offers good schools and a good standard of living at relatively low cost. In this way, the citizens of the city may come to believe that while a prosperous era has come and gone, another much different yet successful era could arrive.
Letter: “Many have joined effort to fight hunter in region”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 29, 2018
To the editor:
As the 2017 autumn season rolled into winter, many community activities were focused on helping to end hunger in the Berkshires. To name a few: Church World Service CROP Hunger Walk in Pittsfield raised over $7,100 in September; South Congregational Church organized the Thanksgiving Angels and baked pies and donated turkeys for the annual holiday prepare-your-own dinner and hundreds on Thanksgiving were served hot meals at The Christian Center and American Legion.
The Berkshire Eagle and Stop and Shop raised funds for turkey dinners for families in need at Christmas; The Salvation Army had a turkey campaign; Bread for the World collected signatures for its Citizens Petition to address in Congress the threat of deep funding cuts in programs that help families move out of poverty and feed their children; and The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts helped support over 36 food pantries and meal programs in the Berkshires. Local volunteers and donors have given generously of their time and talents to those suffering food insecurity.
But, there are still 1 in 8 people in Western Mass. facing hunger every day; 1 in 6 are children. Andrew Morehouse, executive director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, wrote a commentary entitled "We must unite to eliminate hunger" (Eagle, Dec. 28, 2017). You might like to view more details at www.coalitiontoendhunger.com.
Please help our neighbors and our legislators seek an end to hunger.
H. Richard Noble, Pittsfield
Letter: "Public needs to know what museum is hiding"
The Berkshire Eagle, January 29, 2018
To the editor:
In a recent article, Larry Parnass asks who is paying the Berkshire Museum's legal bills, now estimated to be "north of $1 million."
The Berkshire Museum is not a private corporation, but a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, which exempts it from property and corporate taxes and allows it to accept contributions and donations, until now tax-deductible, including works of art and culture. As such, the creation of community trust through fiscal transparency should be the museum's first priority.
Taxpayers and donors have a right to know where their money is going. If the museum is indeed footing the legal bills, is this the function the citizens intended their taxes to subsidize? Is this what contributors expected when they donated?
Sotheby's, of course, has a huge stake in the outcome, as it could open the floodgates to the collections of the nation's 35,000 other museums. If Sotheby's is financing the legal team, it means that a publicly-supported institution is being held hostage by an international corporation that will not want to lose its investment by allowing the museum to withdraw at any time from litigation that could take several years to resolve — all the while keeping the museum severed from conversation with the community it serves.
What is the Berkshire Museum hiding? The public deserves to know.
Carol Diehl, Housatonic
Letter: “Let's think of development in innovative ways”
The Berkshire Eagle, February 1, 2018
To the editor:
It is good to see the City of Pittsfield appoint an active economic development specialist, even though I was recently told by a city councilor that helping business was not the job of the city. I hope that this will help us move past the "Economic PTSD" that seems to have gripped the city since GE left.
As newcomer here, it has surprised me how the city continues mired in denial, anger, depression and bargaining about the current economic realities. We seem to have a big industry fetish that won't let go, while we seem to ignore the vital smaller industries and commercial enterprises here. We are not going to get another GE, and we can be angry and depressed about it as long as we want without changing this reality.
We do have countless well-paying jobs going unfilled, however. There is a movement to revitalize vocational education in the schools, while keeping up the parallel efforts of Berkshire Works and BCC. Could we really invest in becoming a city that has highly qualified workers for all sorts of new jobs?
Could we focus on accommodating smaller industry and commerce, with reasonable but less strict building codes, zoning requirements and fast-tracking? Could we make a point of recruiting and supporting businesses owned by minorities, women, immigrants, and other challenged classes? Could we work with downtown landlords to help facilitate an economic boom in very small, low-capital investment shops that increase foot traffic — wacky, funky, unusual sorts of businesses that attract people under 40 and those with less income — because lots of foot traffic creates a buzz that draws people to all the retail establishments? Could we befriend the city's youth, rather than demonize them, and bring them in as paid interns, clerks, helpers who are mentored in the arts of shopkeeping, business and multi-class communication? Could we turn the homeless into city ambassadors who politely escort folks to evening events as Schenectady has done? Could we put up signs so ordinary mortals can understand the new parking kiosk system, and leave a few places for hassle-free quick parking?
The key thing, I would say, is that Pittsfield needs to act like it wants workers, a diverse and rich assortment of business, commerce and industry that is attractive to younger entrepreneurs, tourists, investors, and people looking to raise families here. If we did this, we would finally move from the unhealthy cycles of grief that trap us into a new era of re-engagement with 21st century realities. This would give hope to those on the lower end of the economic system, which would reduce criminal and addictive activity, too. The biggest obstacle to growth is how we think about it in unhelpful ways — and this is something we can readily change!
Rev. Ralph W. Howe, Pittsfield
“Alternatives to trash tote spending”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter, February 1, 2018
To the editor:
I applaud Pittsfield Mayor Tyer on her plan to hold neighborhood meetings to explain the proposed garbage tote collection system. It is obviously an issue that has many more questions than answers. Hopefully many of these questions will get explanations the are needed.
I have some thoughts on this matter: Could the proposed money being spent on this initiative, $1.4 million, be better spent elsewhere? Two areas come to mind: Street repair and tax relief.
There is no question that many streets in Pittsfield are in need of repair. Whether this damage is seasonal or not the need is evident and this would be money well spent.
The other area is tax relief. As the population of Pittsfield ages and a greater number of its citizens live on fixed incomes, the annual tax increases present financial difficulties. Using this money to reduce the tax rate, which would not create significant relief, would at least be an indication that the mayor has the citizens of Pittsfield in her thoughts.
Dan Keegan, Pittsfield
Letter: “Citations rather than totes to combat blight”
The Berkshire Eagle, February 2, 2018
To the editor:
The totes idea is right up there with the parking kiosks. It would make it harder (and costlier) for law-abiding residents who don't abuse the system just because some do.
I'm a senior citizen with a bad back and I have an 80-foot driveway hill to place my trash out at roadside, even if it's not plowed out from an overnight snowstorm (and I don't put it out the night before pick-up is scheduled). I don't want to have to make that trip twice to bring the empty toter back up the hill to store (who knows where) until the next week's pick-up.
If blight caused by some is a problem then simply issue citations to the property owners. And if that doesn't resolve the issue, follow up with fines assessed to their tax bills. The cost of implementing this program is just one more burden on the resident taxpayer.
David Potts, Pittsfield
Letter: “Complaints about totes and roads”
The Berkshire Eagle, February 2, 2018
To the editor:
I am very much against the mayor's proposal for the new garbage system of collection. As a former city inspector, I am aware of the problems with trash and garbage collection. There are already a number of CMRs (Code of Massachusetts Regulations) that, by law, cover the bad situations and need to be vigorously enforced by the health department. A 45-gallon receptacle will just add to the problems and just seems to be political rhetoric for a problem that can be solved with enforcement rather than more dollars from city residents. Please, let us do the right thing.
Merrill Road was repaved just last year. I am sure that you will agree that it is already a disaster. I don't know who acted as the clerk of the works but this job could not have been properly inspected before the final contractor payment. Almost all of the re-dug manholes and storm drains have sunk and create a driving hazard. Taxpayers deserve a resolution to this problem.
Vic Ostellino, Pittsfield
“Pittsfield Council, School Committee Hear Report On Financial Condition”
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, January 31, 2018
Pittsfield, Mass. — A recent re-evaluation has given the city a chance to both preserve its reserves and raise its levy ceiling. But health insurance is threatening to take those funds in the coming years.
The City Council and School Committee gathered Tuesday night for the annual report on the financial condition of the city. Auditor Thomas Scanlon of Scanlon & Associates said the city's reserve total is in a "good" range but he'd still like to see more. Right now the city has $8.1 million in reserves — the same as 2017 — which is 6 percent of the total budget.
"I'd like to see your reserves closer to 10 percent," Scanlon said, adding that there is a common link between communities with strong finances having strong reserves.
Scanlon says between 5 and 10 percent in reserves is good but above 10 percent is even better. To build those, the city has gotten away from using its free cash, which is a reserve, to offset the budget as much, something Scanlon has advised the city to do multiple times. That has allowed the city to keep the same total amount in reserves as last year.
"Your starting to wean yourself off of using free cash to offset the tax rate, which is good," Scanlon said.
Free cash is various funds that were not spent and additional revenues that the state certifies each year. Traditionally, the city used much of that to lower the tax rate. But that essentially builds a structural deficit. A city or town doesn't know exactly how much it will have from year to year so funding salaries or other reoccurring expenses is not advised. Instead, Scanlon suggests using those funds for one-time projects such as capital repairs or to bolster the stabilization accounts.
"It is a habit and like any habit, it is difficult to break," said Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood, who said he is hoping to craft a 2019 budget without using any free cash.
The use of free cash in this last year is a little more complicated. The city was butting up against the levy ceiling, a calculation limiting the amount a municipality can collect in taxes, and Mayor Linda Tyer put forth a budget that would have used $2.25 million in free cash to balance it. At the time, that was seen as the way to avoid further cuts to the budget by getting the amount the city pulls from the tax levy under the ceiling.
But there was also a re-evaluation. When the fall came, properties values showed a significant increase. Those higher values created a higher levy ceiling. Kerwood and Tyer returned to the council and dropped the free cash request down to $1 million.
The city, however, is still close to the ceiling.
"You are dropping the ability to tax and that is going to hurt your budget flexibility," Scanlon said, calling the levy capacity is essentially a reserve as well and one that bond agencies will look at to determine rates.
Kerwood is estimating a levy ceiling of 88,002,830 for fiscal 2019, which assumes a 1.2 increase in total value. This year, the city used 85.4 million of its capacity.
Kerwood said he is looking to craft a budget that keeps the city $1.5 million under the ceiling. Kerwood said department heads have been asked work their individual budgets to show a 2.5 percent reduction in expenses while still keep the same level of personnel.
"FY19 budget will continue to present us with serious challenges that we must address with a number of strategies that control costs, foster growth, and encourage collaboration," Kerwood said.
Coming in with level service personnel may provide to be difficult. Kerwood is estimating an 11.1 percent increase in health insurance. That estimate is somewhat conservative at this point but estimates have given a range from 0 to 11.1 percent, varying per community. Kerwood said Pittsfield tends to have a higher increase than the average 4.6 percent. And that's why he penciled in the top amount.
Employee benefits already account for 24 percent of the city's budget. The city budgeted for $24.5 million for health insurance and is currently on pace to spend it all. Kerwood said he is working with the Public Employees Committee, a group of various union representatives, at cost control measures.
"We're working very very cooperatively with the PEC to address this issue. If we are successful, and I am confident we can be successful, we can move the needle on that number," Kerwood said.
The finance director isn't expecting much help from the state either. He said state aid over the last five years has been relatively flat. This year the governor's budget shows increases to Chapter 70 school aid and unrestricted government aid. But, at the same time, the city is seeing increases in the cost of school choice out and charter school tuition.
Kerwood said he is also going to budget based on the governor's numbers and hope the House and Senate raise the revenues up further.
"The governor's numbers are always the floor," Kerwood said.
Kerwood is also being conservative with his local receipts estimates. Last year the city took in $13.3 million in receipts while the budget was based on $11.7 million. Kerwood kept that estimate the same for 2018. Those additional funds are able to be rolled into free cash and could ultimately be used to build the city's stabilization.
"We are seeing an increase on our local receipts on an annual basis," Kerwood said, but he said those revenues can fluctuate so he'd rather estimate them too low. "I have a conservative approach to local receipts. I always have and always will."
Nonetheless, the city is still in a very precarious position when it comes to its financial well-being. For this year and the years to come, the city will be tiptoeing around that levy ceiling.
"It took us 10 years to get to this point and we are not going to get out of it in two or three," Kerwood said.
He also touched on the city's current debt. In all, the city owes $135,654,407 in long-term debt. Kerwood said for the upcoming year he is expecting $11.1 million will be spent on debt services. However, a number of debts will fall off in 2020.
The Taconic High School project is mostly part of that total figure already with $30 million of the city's share of the project bonded already. He said he's structured bonding in an effort to avoid peaks and valleys from year to year in the city's future debt service. The city has $5 million in bond anticipation notes for the project and Kerwood said it is likely that would be bonded long-term when the project is complete and the total number is known.
"You don't want to borrow more than you need. So you kind of really need to wait until the end of this," Kerwood said.
Letter: “Unanswered questions about city tote system”
The Berkshire Eagle, February 5, 2018
To the editor:
The issue of the proposed tote trash system has been discussed frequently in The Eagle. While the concept may be good, there appears to be many unanswered questions on the proposed system for Pittsfield.
Cost effectiveness: If there are two different sizes, it would seem that the truck would need to have two different methods to lift the smaller and larger totes. Are there going to be two different mechanical systems or only one that would require an individual to change the settings on some computer model? If there are two different methods, this could lead to higher costs. Two different molds for two different sizes could also increase costs.
Functionality: The proposed 45-gallon tote is too small for the average household. The comment was made that with the recycling tote taking both paper and plastic each week, it would reduce the trash. Many of us already recycle and giving me a 96-gallon tote for both plastic and paper is certainly not going to impact the amount of trash that I generate each week. Human nature being what it is, extra trash will just be thrown into the recycling tote or perhaps into even more creative places.
A comment was also made that if a household produced more trash than would fit into the 45-gallon tote, they could purchase extra bags for a fee. The mayor stated that the extra fees would be justifiably paid by those who generate more trash. Paying a fee for extra bags is nothing more than another tax.
The idea of paying for what you generate is not in and of itself a bad one, but we are starting out of the gate with insufficient capacity. People will become frustrated and find other ways to get rid of their excess trash.
Startup cost and savings: A figure of $1.4 million has been given as the up front cost. Has there been a detailed study done of similar cities that already have a tote system and what was their cost? How does that compare to the proposed system for Pittsfield? This cost needs to be stated on a per household size. Stating the absolute amount of $1.4 million is somewhat meaningless otherwise.
Against that cost, what are the proposed savings on a yearly basis and what is that based on. Again on a per household basis.
Lastly, what is the break even? Are we looking at five, 10 or 50 years? The break even may tell us all we need to know.
There needs to be detailed transparency on this cost analysis and, if the system is put into place, yearly accounting of the savings. The transparency for the proposed tote system should start with details of what is involved in the cost and what will be the real savings. And why a 45-gallon tote that simply will not be big enough.
Kathleen Connor, Pittsfield
Letter: “Pittsfield procrastinating on trash, water plant”
The Berkshire Eagle, February 5, 2018
To the editor:
I can remember the big fuss about the blue recycling totes when they were first introduced. Everyone was up in arms. People complained about having to separate paper and metal with the alternate week pickups.
Going to one container for all recycling is smart and will hopefully make people recycle. I am sure accommodations can be made for people who will have issues with the big containers. Trying to have someone go around and enforce a law concerning trash would be really expensive and inefficient.
People have forgotten that the incinerator needs upgrades and cost-cutting measures to maintain its operations. If it closes, just think what it will cost the city for trash pickup. If no one wants to streamline and upgrade the system, then the city should get out of the garbage business and go private, then watch the public scream.
Now to the wastewater treatment plant. I read an irresponsible comment that the city should wait and see if Trump's EPA will reduce the standards for the plant. That shows great environmental concern. How long have we been kicking this can down the road and how much more has it cost us for not acting?
People are up in arms about GE not cleaning the river or the land in Pittsfield adequately, but we can dump waste from the treatment plant? Inaction and not facing responsibilities is what has cost us. People should realize it costs money to get services and run a city, and if you don't have proper maintenance and upgrade programs, it will eventually cost you more in the end, or we could do nothing and let or grandkids pay for it.
John Fitzgerald, Pittsfield
“Spiking health insurance costs concern Pittsfield officials”
By Amanda Drane, The Berkshire Eagle, February 6, 2018
PITTSFIELD — About a quarter of the city's budget goes to employee benefits and insurance, officials revealed during financial meetings last week.
School Superintendent Jason McCandless said it's more costly to insure employees in the Berkshires than anywhere else in the state, and Finance Director Matt Kerwood said he expects insurance costs for employees will rise by 11 percent, or about $2.7 million, in the next fiscal year.
The context of the discussion was a joint meeting of the City Council and the School Committee as budget season gets underway.
"Our overall cost of doing business in that realm is greater than other places in the state," McCandless said, adding he couldn't explain why but "the numbers do not lie."
The city expects to spend $24.5 million on health insurance in the current fiscal year, ending June 30. Kerwood said city officials are working with members of the city's Public Employee Committee to address the increases.
"We could move the needle on that number," he said, noting that spiking insurance costs is not an issue unique to Pittsfield and "there's no silver bullet."
"We have a shared responsibility, employee and employer, to really address this issue."
Still, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said 11 percent feels like a "particularly hard hit" and he wanted to know why insurance costs are higher in the Berkshires.
Kerwood said he was unsure of the reasons why, but it likely has a lot to do with access. He said the lack of options means a lack of competition, which likely drives up rates.
To compensate for shrinking revenue sources and rising fixed costs, Mayor Linda Tyer's administration asked department heads to reduce spending by 2.5 percent — without cutting personnel — as they draft budgets for the upcoming year.
"Expenses are outpacing revenues," Kerwood said.
Projected revenues for the upcoming fiscal year are up by about $1.6 million, Kerwood said. Property values are up, Kerwood said, which is a step in the right direction.
"I'm not prepared to call it a trend, but that is good news," he said. "That is what needs to continue to happen."
Tom Scanlon of Scanlon & Associates told city officials on Tuesday the overall financial picture looks slightly better than last year. He said he was pleased to see less spending coming from free cash, which should be used primarily for reserves and one-time expenditures.
Still, Scanlon said he'd like to see the city have more money in reserves and would like to see the city increase its tax levy capacity.
"FY19 will continue to present us with serious challenges," Kerwood said, asserting the city must "control costs, foster growth and encourage participation."
"It's important that everybody be working off the same page, the same sheet of music."
Reach Amanda Drane at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.
Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" will be on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge for a period of 18 to 24 months - after it is sold to an unknown nonprofit museum in the United States. The deal, which stemmed from the monthslong battle over a plan to sell 40 artworks, is pending before a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.
The Berkshire Museum will be allowed to sell artworks including Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop," which will be displayed in the Berkshires for up to two years after its sale to an unspecified nonprofit U.S. museum. Eagle file
"'Shuffleton's Barbershop' to be sold to U.S. museum; will be shown at Rockwell Museum"
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, February 9, 2018
PITTSFIELD — If approved by the state's top court, the Berkshire Museum will sell Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop," its most valuable work, on the way to drawing $55 million out of its collection and resolving a standoff that has mesmerized the art world.
But in a concession, the work will be sold to a nonprofit museum in the United States, not at auction to a buyer anywhere in the world.
And four months after that transaction, the acclaimed painting, considered Rockwell's masterwork, will spend 18 to 24 months on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
The museum and Attorney General's Office on Friday revealed details of their effort to resolve a dispute over the legality of art sales. Their agreement capped months of court battles and rallies that split museum supporters and, to a degree, the community itself.
The divide remained Friday, as members of Save the Art, a community group, assailed the agreement as not in keeping with the museum's mission.
"The 'compromise' agreement ... is flawed," the group said in a statement. "It flouts all standards of museum best practices and fails to honor the Berkshire Museum's duty to the community's cultural past or its future generations."
Instead of protecting the public trust, the pact violates it, the group said.
The agreement is considered a breakthrough in the long-running dispute and could influence how museums view potential sales of works in their collections.
The museum's plan must be approved by a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, but that is considered likely given the state's endorsement. The agreement includes requirements the museum report to the attorney general on steps it will take to sell the 40 works it listed for sale last summer.
The art will be sold in three batches, with specific works to be selected by the museum.
Sales must stop when proceeds reach $55 million, the agreement says. That is the figure that the Attorney General's Office decided, after a months-long investigation, that the museum needs to shore up its finances.
That means that not all 40 of the works will necessarily be sold, depending on prices obtained through sales.
With the agreement, the attorney general and museum avoid an extended fight through the appellate level, consuming months or years of time and expense.
Because the petition represents the views of both sides, and contains an agreed-upon set of facts, the court can review and judge them much faster.
The museum and state are expected to drop pending actions before the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Lawyers for two other groups of plaintiffs have said they will review the agreement before deciding whether to continue to contest the sales.
The sale of "Shuffleton's" is expected to take place "relatively quickly" after securing court approval, a museum official said.
By selling works to cover operational expenses, the museum broke ranks with trade associations. Ethics codes of those groups say revenues from the deaccession and sale of art should only be used to address the needs of museum collections.
For months, fears of losing "Shuffleton's," Rockwell's acclaimed scene of musicians in the back room of a darkened barbershop, galvanized opposition to the sale. Rockwell gave the painting to the museum in 1959.
The painting, which appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on April 29, 1950, had been valued by Sotheby's at between $20 million and $30 million.
Its next owner remains a mystery. The museum declined to identify the prospective buyer or to say how much will be paid for the painting.
While the agreement preserves public access to "Shuffleton's Barbershop," the fate of the other painting the artist gave to the Pittsfield museum, "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop," will not be known until it is grouped into one of three lots that the museum can sell, under terms of the deal.
The agreement paves the way for the museum to raise nearly all of the money trustees said they needed to overcome recurring deficits of over $1 million a year and to embrace a shift to science and nature programming.
But in the weeks ahead, the museum must prove to a court, through what's known as a "cy pres" petition, that it could not survive without selling assets.
That's a win for lawyers in Attorney General Maura Healey's office, who in court filings faulted the museum for planning sales without complying with laws governing nonprofits and public charities.
"Importantly, the agreement adheres to Massachusetts charities law and sets an important precedent for other museums that charitable organizations must act transparently," said Emily Snyder, a spokeswoman for Healey.
Snyder said the standards will now be met, and they include a need to "seek court approval to modify restrictions and sell charitable assets in accordance with their charitable mission and demonstrated financial need."
Even critics of the museum's planned sales found reason to applaud the fact that after months of litigation, the Attorney General's Office and the museum found a way to keep the painting widely considered to be Rockwell's best available to the public.
Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, said Friday she was pleased that "the beloved Rockwell painting" will be shown in the Berkshires for nearly two years. Her group had criticized the museum's plan; the council pulled its funding to the museum for this fiscal year.
"While today's legal action is not the outcome we had sought, there are some important benefits to the citizens of the Commonwealth," Walker said in a statement to The Eagle.
Walker said that in addition to preserving public access to "Shuffleton's Barbershop," the agreement bolsters the state's claim that public charities like the Berkshire Museum need to conform to the law and not seek to sell off significant portions of their holdings without authorization.
"They should not consider this a precedent, nor should any museum consider deaccessioning as a viable solution to financial difficulties," Walker said.
Both Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, lauded the agreement, in comments provided by the museum's public relations staff, as good for the city and the museum.
Tyer noted the attorney general's "exhaustive" investigation and Farley-Bouvier said the plan will preserve "an institution so critical to our children."
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said it will be important to work to bring the community together to back the museum as it goes forward.
"This is not the time for a victory lap. This is not the end of the story," he said. "The museum will be on most solid ground when there is healing that takes place.
Elizabeth McGraw, president of the museum's board, said she too hopes for reconciliation.
"We all need to take a deep breath and come together," she said.
"It hasn't been easy," she said, when asked how the board responded to the investigation and community questions. "When things are tough, your true character comes out. The board chose to keep the museum open for this community. Imagine the empty shell of a building. That's what kept me up at night."
She added, "We have a lot of healing to do in the community. The board is fully aware of that."
That work presumably starts with activists allied with Save the Art. The group has called for changes in leadership at the museum and on its board.
"By leaving intact the current museum leadership, despite clear evidence of poor management and bad stewardship, the accord does nothing to protect the collection from future sales," a statement from the group said. "The deaccession of the museum's finest art treasures strikes at the heart of the principles of public trust, and sets a precedent that will undermine cultural and historical institutions in the Commonwealth and across the country."
The group said Friday members are studying the agreement and plan to raise further questions about it.
After the initial sale of "Shuffleton's Barbershop," all of the remaining 40 works the museum marked for deaccession and sale will be eligible to be sold.
Proceeds up to $50 million could be used for any purpose, according to the agreement, including to enhance its endowment. Any sum after that up to $55 million can be used for the benefit of the museum's overall collection, including its planned New Vision renovation.
Because the work will be sold in lots, proceeds may inadvertently top $55 million. In that case, the agreement calls for that money to be put into a separate fund to benefit the museum's art collection.
McGraw said Friday she does not know whether the museum will take steps to retain Rockwell's "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop."
She also said she does not know the identity of the intended buyer of "Shuffleton's."
In court briefs and public statements, the museum has insisted that without an influx of money, the institution that philanthropist Zenas Crane founded in 1903 could be forced to close within eight years.
Outside experts, including the Massachusetts Cultural Council, questioned whether the nonprofit's financial condition was as dire as reported.
The attorney general's probe determined that the museum's financial condition was indeed an emergency. Through the agreement, the museum must go through legal steps to win a court's approval to sell the works — a step it did not take last year.
By establishing a series of phased sales of art, Healey's office is calibrating the amount of money raised to the museum's actual need — as it determined them through its review, officials with the office said.
Along the way, protecting "Shuffleton's" from disappearing into a private collection emerged as a way to break the logjam.
The office was determined, officials said, to enforce accountability and transparency from the museum, which they viewed as key to restoring public confidence in the institution.
When trustees announced plans to sell top pieces from their collection, they said they faced no restrictions on sales. Proceeds from auctions, they said, would add $40 million to their endowment.
They also planned to apply another $20 million in auction proceeds, and other funds, to the renovation and re-invention project they dubbed the New Vision.
The petition to the SJC is expected to be reviewed by Justice David A. Lowy, the single justice sitting for February.
In a joint filing Monday with the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the two sides had signaled they were ready to find common ground.
"The AGO and the Museum have agreed to resolve [their] differences and will file a petition for judicial relief," a status report signed by both sides said.
One line in the report pointed to a compromise that was to be spelled out in the document filed Friday: "The AGO will support the relief requested by the petition."
That relief turned out to be the agreement to sell works, but only after petitioning the SJC for permission and only letting "Shuffleton's" go to a nonprofit buyer willing to keep it in the public domain through exhibits.
A spokesman for the Norman Rockwell Museum said Friday the institution was still digesting the news of the deal — and the fact that the painting could be in its custody for up to two years.
As they drafted the petition together, lawyers for both the state and museum sought to resolve a key problem: They disagreed about the legality of the proposed art sales.
After completing its probe, the Attorney General's Office held the position that the artworks were restricted from sale. But the museum said nothing barred the sales.
State prosecutors have been in the driver's seat since they managed to halt auctions at Sotheby's in New York City that were to start the week of Nov. 12. Sotheby's has custody of the art.
The auction house will continue to represent the museum in the future sales. The museum will face no penalties as a result of the shift in how the works are sold, according to the museum.
On Nov. 10, the Attorney General's Office won the first of three injunctions granted by Justice Joseph A. Trainor of the Appeals Court. Those orders prohibited the art from being sold.
The last injunction expired Monday, but by then the two sides had an agreement, which included a promise by the museum not to sell works until the court entered an order on the matter.
According to people familiar with the SJC's single justice system, it is routinely used to resolve issues involving nonprofits and public charities overseen by the Attorney General's Office.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
Berkshire Museum/Massachusetts Attorney General's Office Final Settlement Summary 020818 by The Berkshire Eagle on Scribd
February 10, 2018
I read the Berkshire Eagle's news story about the agreement between the state and Berkshire Museum on the sale of 40 pieces of art to fund the museum's endowment so it won't have to shut down within the next 8 years. The state is agreeing with the museum's deaccessioning but with legal conditions. The museum gets to raise $55 million to replenish its diminishing endowment.
The agreement needs to be approved by a single SJC Judge. It is a done deal.
My Opinion: Pittsfield politics wins once again! The state and local power-brokers control the political system in Pittsfield. Pittsfield politics is a one political party system like China and other authoritarian countries. If you are not a political hack, insider, Good Old Boy (multi-generational, interrelated local families), political machine Democrat, you have NO real voice in Pittsfield! If you speak out against this travesty of a so-called state and local "democracy", you become an official outsider, you lose your job, and you are the target of vicious rumors. If anyone wonders why the Berkshire Museum won its state legal battle over deaccessioning priceless local and regional art pieces, look no further than the terrible state of Pittsfield politics! They won! The people lost, once again!
- Jonathan Melle
“AG's legal options limited in Berkshire Museum case; art sale opponents regroup”
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, February 12, 2018
PITTSFIELD — Back in September, the Attorney General's Office was just a few weeks into a "review" of the Berkshire Museum's proposed art sales. The office suggested privately to museum officials they might need a court's permission.
That wasn't welcome advice four months ago.
But on Friday, that same remedy provided a breakthrough in one of the art world's most high-profile battles.
If it succeeds in a petition to the Supreme Judicial Court, the museum will be back in the driver's seat, able to sell premier works from its collection to heal its troubled finances.
So what was that legal fuss all about?
Interviews with attorneys and a review of correspondence and court documents suggest an answer: The state's top prosecutor, which in November lost the only court ruling to date on the issue, faced the likelihood of coming up short again, due to a state law that gives the office oversight of public charities, but limited say over how they are run.
Rather than take a stand against what the art world decried as an unethical deaccession, Healey's office appears to have clung to a narrower role in public charities law, much to the disappointment of those opposed to the sale.
"That represents a capitulation, and that is more than disappointing," Hope Davis, an art appraiser with a home in Great Barrington, said of the state's role in the agreement. "The solution is very short-sighted and very painful."
While the deal announced Friday will keep Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" accessible to the public, and include a lengthy exhibition in the Berkshires, that painting and as many as 39 other works would likely be sold to owners outside the county.
Members of Save the Art, a local group that lobbied against the sales, plan to meet Monday to discuss their options.
Lawyers for two groups of plaintiffs who fought the sales and have cases pending before the Massachusetts Appeals Court said they plan conferences Monday with their clients.
Margaret Rockwell, who manages the Norman Rockwell Family Agency on behalf of the late artist's descendants, said family members have mixed feelings about the agreement — regret, and partial relief.
"We are relieved that the Berkshire Museum and the Attorney General have come to a compromise that will keep 'Shuffleton's Barbershop' available to the American public," Rockwell said. "We regret that the painting won't stay permanently in the Berkshires."
Under the agreement revealed Friday, "Shuffleton's" would be purchased by a nonprofit museum that has agreed to loan it, 120 days after the transaction, to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge for exhibit for up to two years.
Neither the sale price nor the buyer were identified Friday by the museum.
Elizabeth McGraw, president of the museum's board, said Friday she did not know if it will be possible to retain the other painting Rockwell gave to the museum, "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop."
Margaret Rockwell said the family pressed to keep "Shuffleton's" in the public realm. "If 'Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop' and other treasures from the collection have to go to auction, then we hope a public institution will be able to purchase them," she said.
The agreement allows the museum to arrange sales that include such a provision, even if such restrictions lower their market prices. That statement protects the board from any future claim it failed to honor its fiduciary duty to the museum.
Laurie Norton Moffatt, CEO and executive director of the Rockwell museum, said her institution did not participate in settlement talks between the attorney general and the Pittsfield museum.
The Stockbridge museum was "not a party" to the agreement, she said, and only learned last week it might be called upon to play a role in the resolution of the case.
That came in the form of not-so-hypothetical question: Would it accept a loan of "Shuffleton's Barbershop" if it were purchased by another museum?
Norton Moffatt indicated the answer was easy.
"Of course the museum said that it would be very pleased to accept a loan of this very important work for as long as the prospective institution was willing to loan it," she said by email Sunday, in response to questions from The Eagle.
After floating the idea of getting a judge's approval for the art sales, through a legal doctrine known as "cy pres," Healey and her office's lawyers were sucked into a vortex of litigation.
They went from advising the museum to facing off as a plaintiff intent on holding up sales until it could complete a full inquiry.
In November proceedings before Judge John A. Agostini of the Berkshire Superior Court, Healey's office emerged as the only party with legal standing to hold up auctions that were just weeks away.
The museum had said it needed to raise $60 million or more by selling works and using the money to pursue renovations, bulk up an endowment and embrace a new kind of multimedia programming.
Last week, as a final injunction barring auctions of collection items expired, Healey's office and the museum devised an agreement that, if approved, will end their sharp disagreement over the legality of the art sales.
Healey's office made the case Friday that terms of the deal will limit art sales to $55 million, compel the museum to file reports with the state and could keep some of the 40 works in the collection.
On top of that, "Shuffleton's" would be owned by a nonprofit museum and get an extended run in Stockbridge.
But critics of the sale question why the Attorney General's Office backed away from its own assertions in court filings that museum trustees had mismanaged their affairs and that restrictions on the works prevented their sale.
"They're making a big deal of the protection of 'Shuffleton's,' which is a straw man," said Carol Diehl of Housatonic, a sale critic. "Because 'Shuffleton's' is being sold, and is leaving the Berkshires."
"We really didn't get anything," she said of community members who pressed Healey's office to halt the sales.
Leslie Ferrin of Cummington said that when members of the Save the Art group confer Monday, one of the questions they will explore is the wider impact of the agreement, on museums and public charities in the state.
"What precedent does this set and what does it mean to publicly managed assets," she asked.
In a statement over the weekend, two leading museum groups warned that the agreement could set a precedent that jeopardizes the well-being of collections.
The American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors joined in a statement to call the sales the Berkshire Museum plans "a violation of the public trust" and not the right way to address money problems.
"While the negotiated agreement with the Berkshire Museum may satisfy legal standards, it falls far short of ethical standards and best practices for museums. This is indeed a sad day for the arts community in the Berkshires and the museum community across the country," the groups said.
Raymond Jacoub, a Pittsfield attorney who has researched legal issues related to the museum's plan and followed the case, said the deal gives trustees "most" of what they wanted.
"I can only speculate, but the terms probably favored the trustees because of ambiguity in the law," Jacoub said.
While the museum's charter included restrictions on what it can do with items in its collection, the state law that governs Healey's oversight is limited.
Jacoub notes that under Chapter 180 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the attorney general has power to investigate the conduct of charitable corporations, to ensure they are meeting their purposes and obligations.
In the early going, that appears to have led Healey's office to flag potential violations in its 1932 charter, and farther back, its 1871 corporate charter, which said no property owned by the organization, then operating as the Berkshire Athenaeum, could leave Pittsfield.
The museum disagreed, saying from the outset that none of the works were restricted from sale.
Even so, before the state secured the first injunction, concerns over the legal ramifications of the 1871 law caused the museum to pull 19 of the 40 works from auction lists.
But in the end, the museum had an option: adopting the attorney general's recommendation to get court approval to change how it operates.
That is what a "cy pres" action allows.
It was the "fix" always available, it appears, to the museum.
In an interview Friday, McGraw, the board president, declined to say whether seeking that court approval would have been advisable from the start.
"We can't go backward," she said. "Things happen for a reason. We're in a good place right now, and the museum's fate is secured."
Jacoub said that if Healey's office had pressed on, it might have been able to win a further injunction by arguing the museum had failed to petition for a "cy pres" change.
"But then all the trustees would have needed to do was to file such a petition," he said.
"Absent a new law that governs art museums that prohibits the sale of art in violation of museum association guidelines, the attorney general likely decided to cut its losses after weighing the strength of the law," Jacoub said, "and the resources and energy required to continue litigation."
In a letter to the museum's lead lawyer, attorney Courtney Aladro of Healey's nonprofit and public charities divisionsaid it is not the role of her office to substitute its judgment for a nonprofit board, "nor necessarily endorse ... its specific decisions."
That stance allows Healey's office, in this case, not to be seen as backing how the museum went about its planned art sale.
Even so, the office went on record, with Aladro's letter to museum lawyer William F. Lee, that the museum "reasonably concluded that it does not have any alternative sources for the significant infusion of funds it needs in order to continue to fulfill its mission ... ."
On the issue of how much money that requires, the probe that Aladro led came to side with the museum. It did so after looking at earlier estimates, including from a museum consultant, that $25 million, or even less, might be enough to stabilize its finances. The museum says it had run an average annual deficit of $1.1 million over several years.
Aladro's letter explains the state's reasoning for allowing the sale of the two paintings Rockwell gave the museum, despite its finding that donor intent should prevent any such transactions.
The museum cannot raise the amount of money it needs, Aladro said in her letter to Lee, without selling the Rockwell paintings. And if forced to keep them, it would have to sell an even larger number of pieces from the collection.
The SJC case
In its filing to the SJC, the museum needs to show its continued survival is "impossible or impracticable" if it adheres to existing restrictions. That is the standard used in "cy pres" cases. Healey's office says its investigation supported the museum's claim that it faced closing.
Documents pinpoint issues in the case a justice in Boston will soon take up.
While no timetable is set for a decision, the museum is asking the court to advance the case quickly, perhaps in time for spring art sales, to avoid being affected by any slump in the art market.
In its main filing to the SJC, signed under the penalty of perjury, museum officials say the institution got into financial trouble despite "robust fundraising operations" due to shifts in the economic climate in the Berkshires that deprived them of major donors.
With an endowment valued at $6.2 million at the end of 2017, the museum said, it risked closing in the "next several years." Last summer, the estimate was six to eight years.
Further, the filing says that major building needs have gone unaddressed.
The museum asks the court to act quickly because the unidentified buyer's offer is time-limited.
In its original plan, the museum said it sought to raise $50 million through art sales (though auction estimates said the total could be higher). It now seeks to raise $55 million. That is because of higher operational costs and expenses stemming from the delay in the art sales, the museum says, and a "changed" fundraising climate.
For its part, Healey's office secured a promise from the museum to consider the interpretive value of works to be sold, not only their possible sale prices.
The museum must report to Healey's office on the progress of sales and the implementation of its "New Vision" at least 14 days before any of up to three batches of works are sold by Sotheby's, following the initial sale of "Shuffleton's."
While it must be alerted about the number and identities of art works up for sale, the state has no say on what is sold, under the agreement.
Six to 12 months after the museum reaches the $55 million ceiling on sales, it must provide a final report to Healey's office, including on the status of its New Vision project.
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
"Lenox plaintiffs seek say on SJC review of Berkshire Museum art sale"
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, February 13, 2018
PITTSFIELD — Lenox residents who sued to stop Berkshire Museum art sales will press on with their fight, despite losing a big ally.
The attorney for James and Kristin Hatt and Elizabeth Weinberg says his clients are "stunned" that the Attorney General's Office reached an agreement with the museum last week, after faulting the museum's conduct as recently as in a Jan. 16 court filing.
That settlement paves the way for the sale of up to 40 works from the Pittsfield institution's collection. It sets conditions on the sales and needs to be approved by the state's top court.
The first work to be sold will be Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop." In a condition applauded by many, the buyer will be an unidentified nonprofit museum, rather than a private collector.
And the new owner has agreed to lend the painting for exhibition for up to two years at the Stockbridge museum that bears the late artist's name. The sale price for the painting was not disclosed.
Nonetheless, the two Lenox residents had sharp words Tuesday for the office of Attorney General Maura Healey, saying lawyers there failed to protect museum members who oppose the sale from "any further dissipation of the museum's mission."
"This proposed outcome abandons the protective duty and oversight that the museum's members expected from the Attorney General's Office," the Hatts said in a statement through their lawyer. "This agreement does not even attempt a compromise, and instead liquidates the core holding of the museum into funds to be used with no oversight."
Emily Snyder, a spokeswoman for Healey, said the office engaged in an "extensive and careful" investigation of the proposed art sale.
"This agreement adheres to Massachusetts charities law, ensures the survival of the Berkshire Museum, and preserves 'Shuffleton's Barbershop' for public view," she said, when asked to respond to the Hatts' comments.
Nicholas M. O'Donnell of the Boston law firm Sullivan & Worcester LLP said his clients will seek to intervene in the newly filed case before a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Suffolk County. That kind of filing, if allowed by the court, can come from any party that can be shown to have an interest in a case or be affected by its outcome.
If granted intervenor status, the Lenox residents can be expected to reprise arguments that emerged through four months of litigation. The development could impede the museum's request for quick action by the SJC.
A separate group of plaintiffs is considering its legal options, according to Michael B. Keating of the Boston firm Foley Hoag.
That group includes three of Rockwell's sons — Thomas, Jarvis and Peter — and others from Berkshire County.
The issue of the art sales has been contested in two Massachusetts courts and is being watched nationally.
In a breakthrough Friday, Healey and the museum announced they had come to terms, days after the state concluded its investigation into the sale and a series of injunctions blocking sales expired.
O'Donnell questioned Tuesday how Healey's office could execute an about-face on the art sales, just weeks after saying in a Massachusetts Appeals Court filing that museum officials breached their fiduciary duties.
He said his clients will also continue to contest, in the Appeals Court, a Berkshire Superior Court judge's finding Nov. 7 that they lacked legal standing on the issue.
The Lenox plaintiffs sued in October to block the sales, the second group to challenge the museum's plan to use proceeds to build an endowment able to protect it from yearly budget deficits of over $1 million.
If sanctioned by the SJC, the museum will be allowed to sell up to $55 million worth of art. The agreement puts no restrictions on how the museum can use most of the money.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
February 19, 2018
Re: Open letter to the Boston Globe Editorial Idiots
Dear Boston Globe Editorial Idiots:
In response to your editorial endorsing the “deaccession” of priceless art by the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, it is a shakedown! I grew up in Pittsfield where my father was involved in Pittsfield politics decades ago. My observations from that time and now is that Pittsfield politics shakes everyone down for money to serve their own selfish political purposes.
Ideally, a locality would use public dollars to invest in institutions and its people. However, Pittsfield politics has always done the opposite. To be clear, they use public dollars to shakedown taxpayers to stay in power by investing in the vested and special interests, specifically the "Big 3”, which consist of the public school, police, and fire unions.
The Berkshire Museum is selling two Norman Rockwell paintings the artist once donated himself, in addition to several Hudson River artworks, among many other historic art pieces to grow its endowment. Never underestimate the power of greed! The power elite in Pittsfield politics supporting this done deal will fill the coffers of their friends in the banking, construction, and political fields.
The Boston Globe Editorial Idiots should not have used the phrase “museum police” to describe the majority of people who have dissented against this travesty that will set a precedent for other museums and not-for-profit organizations to sell their assets to fill their coffers during financial hardship. I endorse free speech and the power of dissenting voices when politicians and bureaucrats exploit the people and their institutions for their own selfish ends.
Over the decades, I have grown frustrated by the Boston Globe Editorial Idiots concerning their support of the “Big Dig”, “Romney-care”, and now the Berkshire Museum shakedown!
- Jonathan Melle
Letter: “City shouldn't overspend on proposed water projects”
The Berkshire Eagle, February 20, 2018
To the editor:
Having been instrumental in co-inventing, designing and building the Krofta patented sandfloats which are used as the primary purification units in the city's two Krofta drinking water filtration plans and also having been the principal negotiator for the project in the mid-1980s, I consider it my moral obligation to the taxpayers and ratepayers of Pittsfield to comment on two upcoming projects with a combined cost of more than $165 million.
The city at present has a fully functional sewage treatment plant meeting interim standards established by both the state DEP and federal EPA. The existing plant needs a little additional help to meet a little bit tighter standards for aluminum and phosphorus as ordered by the DEP and EPA. There are many ways to meet these new standards, including changes in operating procedure and utilizing existing equipment at the sewage treatment plant.
The city's consulting engineers — and there are three different firms; why do we need so many? — are proposing to literally rebuild the entire plant with a cost of $83 million. I say that this is preposterous, and if this proposal flies an individual who pays $150 quarterly for water and sewer will be paying a $600 bill quarterly, for a total water and sewer bill of $2,400 a year.
My proposal is to beef up the biological and chemical processes already in existence at the plant. This will cost the city peanuts, and will slash the consultants' $83 million project cost by at least 50 percent and possibly more.
One may ask if such a savings is possible. The answer is yes. In the 1980s, we took a project proposed at $150 million down to $32 million. I am referring to the two Krofta plants we built for drinking water purification for the city.
We should use every aspect of the sewage plant because its hardware is already there and we need not spend a dime more than we need to. This is the one and only way for the city to go.
One more thing. The city's consultants are calling for $75 million in upgrades at the city's two water treatment plants. I co-designed and built these plants along with my partners Dr. Miles Krofta and Dr. Lawrence W. Wang. These plants meet every single requirement of the DEP and EPA drinking water standards. Why change anything? It would be insane to spend $75 million, and if we did, we would not get any higher standards then we get by doing nothing.
I have built five water filtration plants in the U.S. and saved municipalities hundreds of millions of dollars. The Croton water project had a projected cost of $7.2 billion but was built for $3.2 billion. The two lead engineering companies on that project were taught by Dr. Wang and me during their time as our students at the Lenox Institute of Research in the mid-'80s. I mention this project to show how much can be saved by using innovative technology.
Everyone should call their city councilors and ask them to do anything they can to drastically reduce the costs of these projects. The Council must not approve these preposterous and costly projects.
Craig C. Gaetani, Pittsfield
The writer is former worldwide director of technical marketing for Krofta Engineering Corporation and Krofta Waters Inc.
Izinna Lytle, 31, joins the Pittsfield Police Department this week. She'll be the first-ever black woman to serve as a police officer in Pittsfield.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, left, poses with newly graduated officer Izinna Lytle, and her uncle, Dennis Powell, who is president of the NAACP's Berkshire County Branch.
“Pittsfield Police Department's new officer is first black woman on city's force”
By Amanda Drane, The Berkshire Eagle, February 25, 2018
PITTSFIELD — Izinna Lytle, who joins the ranks of the Pittsfield Police Department today, will be the first black female police officer in Pittsfield's history.
The Taconic High School graduate said she wants to inspire young girls in Pittsfield to be strong for their community in the same way now-Detective Kim Bertelli-Hunt once inspired her.
Growing up one of eight children to a single mother in the Wilson Park Housing Projects, Lytle says she looked up to Bertelli, who came to the projects regularly as part of the DARE program.
"Seeing her — I just thought she was the baddest thing ever, and I loved it," Lytle said. "Seeing her really inspired me."
Police work became her dream, she said, and her mother encouraged her to follow it. After her mother died of an aneurysm the year Lytle graduated high school, she said she knew she had to keep pushing.
"She's my biggest inspiration," Lytle said of her mother. "It's something she knew I wanted to do."
Lytle said she kept moving forward, obtaining bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice, with support from her siblings and her uncle, Dennis Powell, president of the NAACP's Berkshire County Branch.
She said it's important for people in the community to feel reflected in the department, and she hopes to help build more trust in the city's West Side.
"If people could see more people who look like them, they might be more apt to go to the police," she said. "I believe that the department is moving in the right direction."
Lytle said she'd like to show minority children it's possible to push past adversity and follow your dreams.
"I want a child to see it and believe that they can do it, too," she said.
Amanda Drane can be reached at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.
“City Council votes down $74M project mandated by EPA”
By Amanda Drane , The Berkshire Eagle, February 28, 2018
PITTSFIELD — The City Council has rejected a plan to borrow $74 million for required upgrades to the city's wastewater treatment plant.
The vote Tuesday night ramps up pressure on the city, which is facing fines from the Environmental Protection Agency if it fails to meet the mutually-agreed-upon Aug. 1  deadline to start construction. The city also stands to lose a low-interest loan it won from the state's Clean Water Trust if it doesn't borrow money for the project by June.
Mayor Linda Tyer on Wednesday said avoiding the fines is her No. 1 priority.
"Obviously, last night's vote is highly concerning to me, and at this point, I'm going to reconvene our team and come up with a set of next steps," she said. "We are under a mandate and, yes, it's unfunded, but it is a mandate."
The motion, which required a "supermajority" of eight votes to pass, failed with seven votes in favor during a marathon meeting that ran well past midnight. Four councilors voted against the borrowing: Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell and Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers.
A spokesman for the EPA said Wednesday he was aware of the vote.
"These upgrades are necessary to comply with permit limits in place for discharges from the facility," said Dave Deegan, a spokesman for the EPA's New England office. "Our understanding is that the hearing is a step in the process for the city to determine how to comply. We are confident the city is aware of its obligations under the Clean Water Act, its permit and related EPA enforcement orders."
The issue dates to 2008, when the EPA set new limits on the amounts of aluminum and phosphorus — and later, nitrogen — that wastewater treatment plants can discharge into rivers. Existing equipment at the city's plant on Holmes Road cannot accommodate the revised effluent limits, according to Public Services Commissioner David Turocy.
With the Clean Water Act loan, the city would be able to borrow at a 2 percent interest rate for the project, but city councilors argue that the price tag is still too high, given the city's strapped state, and another required project of similar size is just a year or two out of sight.
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon said during the meeting that she understands the financial concern involved, but environmentally, the upgrades fall within "our global responsibility in terms of protecting the environment."
Yes, there are other contaminants in the Housatonic River, she said, but "why are we contributing to that problem?"
"We're just continuing to kick the can down the road," she said.
Finance Director Matt Kerwood has said bidding and preparation for construction would take months, given the project's size, and the city has already spent $8 million on technology research and design for the wastewater upgrades.
Mazzeo argued that the city is doing its best to honor its commitment to the environment, but the EPA keeps coming back every few years with new "unobtainable" requirements without much explanation.
"Five more years, it'll be something else," she said. "We, without a doubt, are doing the best we can."
Connell said he has been so critical of the project because he took part in a committee formed by former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to study the proposed project. He said the committee recommended a public-private partnership in the face of overwhelming new standards and requirements, but Tyer, the current mayor, has not moved on that.
"It was up to her to take that next step," she said. "We studied it for a year, and that was our conclusion."
Tyer said Wednesday she decided against privatizing the city's water infrastructure because she didn't want the city to lose control of water rates.
Looking at the murky road ahead, Tyer said she will set out in search of a clearer path.
"I happen to believe that it's important the city does its part in protecting public waterways," she said. "At the same time, I'm going to pursue every avenue to find any kind of mitigating solutions to save costs and find funding sources to help us with this enormous project."
Reach Amanda Drane at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.
Letter: “Former Krofta employee's claims invite skepticism”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 9, 2018
To the editor:
I happened to read a letter printed in The Eagle Feb. 21 and I saw in that letter that a former employee of Krofta Engineering is claiming to be the "co-inventor" and "builder" of the Krofta treatment equipment installed at the Pittsfield water plants. I knew the writer during my many years with Krofta as a genial (though not modest) member of the municipal sales staff.
To my knowledge, he had no engineering or technical training, and had no input into the design or installation of any equipment. I do not have data or recent knowledge of the city water or wastewater systems, so I will not comment on claims of different technical approaches or the costs thereof. I urge your readers to consider the reliability of the source when they evaluate any claims written in letters to the editor.
Dan Guss, State College, Pennsylvania
The writer is a former vice president of Krofta Engineering Corporation.
Letter: “Councilors wisely blocked costly waste treatment plan”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 28, 2018
To the editor:
I am responding to the Eagle editorial of March 3 regarding the Pittsfield sewage treatment plant. First, everyone must understand that there are two types of plants — a sewage treatment plant which receives waste from your home and a water plant which cleans reservoir water before it is sent to your home.
I have built both types of plants all over the globe, including water treatment plants for Pittsfield, Lee and Lenox. I was former worldwide director of technical marketing for Krofta Engineering Corp. I was also a consulting chemist/biologist/physicist for the former Lenox Institute of Research and was a graduate level adjunct professor of biological, chemical and environmental flotation engineering.
The four city councilors who voted not to approve the $74 million for upgrades at the sewer treatment plant were correct in doing so and clearly had the city's taxpayers in mind. What I and those four councilors know that the seven who voted to approve the project don't know is the kind of impact it would have on the ratepayers of this city.
The city administration has already paid the city's consultants $9 million. I and the four intelligent city councilors questioned the consultants about what they did for $9 million and couldn't get any answers. I put on my science and engineering hat and gave a 45-minute presentation to the Finance Committee, which effectively stopped the project. in its tracks and rightfully so. Do you citizens realize what would happen to your sewer and water bills if these projects were to progress? You would be looking at sewer and water rates six-to-nine times higher than they are now.
The Eagle editorial laments the fact that the City Council lost its opportunity to borrow money at 2 percent interest for the project. There is always money available for municipal water projects and always will be, so that argument holds no water. The city being penalized by the EPA is another scare tactic by The Eagle. Because the city has already spent $9 million, which we don't know what we got for, on the project, the city can go before the EPA and show that we are serious and are looking for innovative and cost-effective technology.
It has been announced by EPA Director Scott Pruitt that the Clean Water Act has been suspended for two years as they put together new guidelines which are more friendly to businesses and municipalities alike. The city should stop worrying about fines as there will not be any.
Good job to the magnificent four; Mazzeo, Connell, Morandi and Rivers. I hope they will follow my lead again when we start talking about a $75 million upgrade at the water plants. We five will assure that not a dime more of your hard-earned tax dollars will be spent on that project either.
Lastly, I would like to address a recent letter to the editor from Dan Guss, a former Krofta employee ("Former Krofta employee's claims invite skepticism," March 9.) His letter was mean-spirited and very unprofessional.
I was tapped by Dr. Miles Krofta to be the worldwide director of technical marketing for a new division of Dr. Krofta's corporation, Krofta Waters Inc. In my capacity, I would negotiate and oversee the facilitating of all municipal projects, and also be involved in the design and building of these facilities. If there is any doubt by anyone as to my involvement in overseeing all municipal projects one could contact former Pittsfield DPW Commissioner William Forestall as we worked together just about every day on the Pittsfield project.
Craig Gaetani, Pittsfield
Letter: “Kudos to administration for backing of BIC”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 20, 2018
To the editor:
Last week, Berkshire residents had a firsthand look at Gov. Baker's and Lt. Gov. Polito's support for economic growth in the Berkshires, announcing that after years of delays, the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield has been fully funded and will break ground this summer.
An additional $2.3 million in state funding was key to getting this across the finish line, and we can give credit to the governor, lieutenant governor and local development leaders for their commitment to getting it done.
Berkshire County can appreciate that the governor and lieutenant governor prioritized this project as they recognize the game-changer that it will become. The Berkshire Innovation Center will support education, training and job opportunities across the county. From encouraging research, to supporting innovative businesses looking to grow, to fostering more workforce training — the center will allow us to imagine a future based upon sustained economic opportunity for all.
Most important, the center will provide a unique opportunity for us to close the technology and innovation sector gap between Eastern Massachusetts and Berkshire County. We are fortunate to have a governor and lieutenant governor who have stepped up to the plate to help make those game-changing investments happen.
Dr. Robert Reilly, Lanesborough
First look: “Mayor Tyer proposes $167.65 million municipal budget”
By Amanda Drane, The Berkshire Eagle, May 4, 2018
PITTSFIELD — The city is poised to spend $2.9 million more in 2019 than this year, but will not have to lay off any employees.
Mayor Linda Tyer and her team completed work this week on a $167.65 million municipal spending plan for the coming fiscal year.
The plan reflects a spending increase of 1.8 percent over the fiscal 2018 budget, which saw the reduction of dozens of School Department staff.
This time around, Tyer said she was able to avoid layoffs with an unprecedented agreement regarding employee health insurance, positive real estate trends and department heads who worked to keep costs down.
"We're seeing slow and steady positive trends," she told The Eagle on Friday. "This budget preserves all current staffing levels."
The budget will be formally presented to the City Council at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the library at Pittsfield High School. A series of hearings also will be held in the coming weeks to review items in the various departmental budgets. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
Tyer said fixed costs contributed to the increase, as did two new initiatives she's proposing. The new programs include $5,000 to help Personnel Director Michael Taylor recruit a more diversified municipal workforce as positions open up, and $385,000 to expand and consolidate the school district's therapeutic program at the elementary level.
"These are surprisingly low-cost initiatives that could have high impact," Tyer said.
As for the rising fixed costs, Tyer said, they include: a $525,000 increase in health insurance, a $1.11 million increase in retirement contribution, a $1.29 increase in long-term debt payments, and a $94,787 increase in trash collection.
Tyer underscored the need for long-term planning.
"We need to know as much as we can about our long-range expenses," she said.
To balance the budget, Tyer proposes using $1 million in free cash, noting she and Finance Director Matt Kerwood have begun the process of backing away from that practice. For fiscal year 2019, Tyer said, they agreed they would budget only $1 million from free cash, leaving $3.5 million in the pot for reserves.
"We set that benchmark," she said. "We're trying to get away from this practice of using free cash."
Built into the budget is an excess tax levy capacity of $636,161.
Tyer said she's proud of the work that went into the document.
"There's more work to do," she said, but "successes are accumulating."
Amanda Drane can be contacted at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.
Budget process ...
Here's a breakdown of public meetings about the fiscal 2019 budget. All meetings will begin at 7 p.m. in the library of Pittsfield High School unless otherwise noted:
Tuesday: City Council gets first look at the budget.
May 16: Mayor Linda Tyer will give a budget presentation and the City Council will begin budget hearings. Line items to be reviewed will include the funds for the city solicitor, veterans affairs, city clerk and cultural development.
May 17: Budget hearings continue. Areas on the docket include the Health Department, building inspector, personnel, airport, library and community development.
May 21: City councilors will hear from the RSVP program, police and fire departments, and emergency management.
May 29: City councilors will consider the School Department's budget.
May 31: City councilors will consider spending on public services, enterprise funds and building maintenance.
June 5: (location TBD) City councilors will consider spending on workers compensation, finance and administration, IT, unclassified categories, free cash, revolving funds, parking revenue and the overall budget.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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