MAYOR’s BUDGET GOOD BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH … TAXPAYERS TO FOOT BILL FOR ALLEGRONE LEVY BREAKS … AIRPORT MANAGER SNUBS ANGRY RESIDENT … plus ‘DID YOU KNOW THAT …’ FEATURES SEVERAL ITEMS THAT WILL HAVE YOU STEAMING
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, JULY 18, 2012) — Those who argue that the 2.5 percent take hike under Mayor Dan Bianchi‘s FY13 budget is reasonable can make a reasonable case. The hike is about half of what the good citizens of Pittsfield have become used to, and it certainly represents a step in the right direction. You probably sense, though, a “however” on the way.
What Middle Class?
Given the hemorrhaging being done by the vanishing middle class (especially mid- and lower-middle), THE PLANET says the increase adds more salt to a wound that needs healing ointment, not a 2.5% scrub out with a Brillo pad. There are many avenues to a flat budget or even one that tightens the belt and actually lowers taxes. Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski have had to reduce their expenses, but then again, they aren’t government. They can’t tax themselves. And yet, as one of our astute readers commented yesterday, with all the smart people on the council, school committee, and the corner office, none of them can’t figure out how to flat-line the budget or, God forbid, reduce taxes by cutting spending.
Many Ways to Reduce Taxes by Cutting Spending
One way to produce a flat budget would be to get another 10% from municipal employees in contribution toward their health insurance. The 10% combined with the same amount of free cash Bianchi produced in his budget would just about produce a flat budget. This would be a win-win. Taxpayers win by not having to pay more money in taxes. Public employees win by retaining what is still a great deal on health insurance, certainly one far better than they would get in most for-profit companies in the dreaded private sector. They currently pay only 15% of the cost of their health insurance. Taxpayers pick up 85%. The 10% adjustment would produce a 25-75 split, still more than generous.
Another avenue of approach is to reduce the overtime in the city, which pretty much goes on in a rampant, unsupervised, and unaccountable manner. A sounder approach to Ot through better management of existing resources could trim millions.
Still additional funds are available by the millions from the Pittsfield School Department, which currently runs with an excess of administrative overhead and an unsustainable salary-benefit compensation for its many employees. It’s long been shown that simply pouring dollars into public schools (always the politician’s answer) does not translate into education success. With a trimmer, more competent, leaner and more responsive administration, performance could be boosted with a savings of millions. All that’s lacking in Pittsfield is the political will.
Lowering taxes in Pittsfield could be done with excess strain providing the reductions are aimed at the fat. That would mean going after every “protected” program, firing every incompetent, and reassigning or getting rid of workers who are there because they know someone, not because they can do the job. Start first the the School Department, an obese, underperforming leviathan that consumes two out of every three dollars the city of Pittsfield generates — or is that “degenerates?”
To survive the municipal elections next year, Bianchi must come up in a far bigger way for taxpayers than he did in his first budget. He’s got the smarts to do this, but does he have the will to assert himself as a Fearless Leader. The city needs more than just a quiet bean counter. It needs someone who will rattle the windows and tear down the walls, if necessary, on behalf of The Little Guy.
ALLEGRONE CONSTRUCTION GETS 10-YEAR TAX BREAK ON HOWARD BUILDING
The Little Guy never gets a tax break, but if you’re Connected, such a favor doesn’t seem so rare to come by. Take the case of Allegrone Construction Company. It’s bad business for taxpayers.
In a little publicized vote taken late last month, our Right Honorable Good Friends approved a large, 10-year tax break for Allegrone to encourage the company’s plans to develop housing on the upper floors of the Howard Building on the corner of Fenn and First streets and the Onota Building at 74 North St. Allegrone’s plans for the Howard include 14 housing units costing $4.6 million. This is a short-sighted move that will do nothing for the city.
Government Should Stay Out of the Free Market
We remind one and all of the following:
* Allegrone is a privately held company.
* Capitalism works best when government doesn’t engineer free markets.
* The 10-year tax break, as an “inducement” for Allegrone to get involved in a private venture that would likely not float in the free marketplace, epitomizes such economic engineering at its worst. It may be well-intentioned, but as dollars and sense, it won’t add up for the public.
* Why do taxpayers have to play venture capitalist when private lenders are afraid to back projects such as Allegrone’s Howard Building housing? What do the private lenders know that the city of Pittsfield doesn’t? Why are city councilors and the mayor so keen on stepping over the line and getting mixed up in what should be a pure capitalist venture?
* If the housing market is robust enough, Allegrone Construction is free to invest its own money into the project, taking the reward if its market bet is good, losing out if not. Tax breaks skew this picture.
* Will my Right Honorable Good Friends in government never learn that when government messes with the private sector to produce these quasi-public-private monstrosities, the taxpayers always lose. Of course, that’s assuming that the council cares what taxpayers need as opposed to the needs of a well-heeled constituent such as Allegrone.
The council waived taxes that would have been owed from the entire value of the investment’s first year. Tax breaks in a diminishing amount (90%, 80%, 70% etc.) continue for the decade. Next time your property tax comes due, ask city hall for similar breaks. See how far that takes you.
One sure way to avoid taxes is simply not pay them, let your property rot, and stick the city with the cost of tearing the building down. Case in point: The Pennell Building.
CITY, AIRPORT MANAGER GERMANOWSKI UNRESPONSIVE TO RESIDENT’S COMPLAINTS
THE PLANET prides itself on being Voice of the Little Guy. Once again, we prove it.
We publish the following letter, sent recently by Scott Barker to Mayor Bianchi, Mark Germanowski (Manager, Pittsfield Airport), and his ward councilor, Ward 5’s Jonathan Lothrop, and the four at large councilors.
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Dear Mr. Mayor et al.:
> My main concern now with this airport construction is that it is too complicated for you folks to figure out.
> 1. Fourth of July construction? You have now lost all of my respect and goodwill. And, have you lost your minds? (Did all of you realize this? I’m curious to know.)
> 2. Now there’s no construction here on Friday, July 6? Is the parade today? No mail service today? City, state, and local offices closed today? Are people having family gatherings today?
> (Of course, I’ll take any peace I can get up here.)
> 3. Now, did it ever, ever occur to you to publish the schedule or inform the residents of this? Of course not. Why? Arrogance, stupidity, or both?
> In the future, here’s what you do: about a week or two ahead of time for a special day, such as, oh, I don’t know, July 4, publish the schedule ahead of time in the Eagle. AND, send a note to the area residents explaining why you think it is necessary to allow construction on such a holiday. But say that there will be no construction on a another day, such as today. How about a monthly update for the residents concerning percentage completed? Maybe a diagram or two? When can we expect the end of this hell?
> Seriously, is this too hard?
> 4. I know, I know, it is too complicated for you because most or all of the workers don’t live anywhere near here. I wonder if the people of Pittsfield know this. Yeah, “it’ll bring jobs”–for people from other states and countries! And, isn’t a waste of tax dollars to pay them double time for the holiday?
> 5. The best thing to do would have been to stop construction for the whole week. Sort of a nice mid-summer break if you will. But that would indicate you actually have concern for the residents–and some common sense.
> 6. Last year we had about 20 to 25 people over on July 4. What would have happened if we planned the same thing this year? Hum? What do you say to that? As it was, I ate my lunch on the porch while wearing earplugs.
> I have communicated my concerns to the Mayor and Mr. Germanowski a few times, so they’ve heard about my concerns before.
> Oh, and don’t try to tell me you don’t hear from other residents. Back earlier in the year, the Mayor tried to tell me that he hadn’t heard complaints from other residents. About two or three weeks later I read in the paper about a meeting of city officials and area residents about it–we were never notified of the meeting.
> People think the blasting is the problem–it is NOT.
> Or is that that you’ve never been up here during the day to hear just how loud it is for 10 hours a day? I assume Mr. Germanowski knows. Or do you realize that it is from 7 am to (almost) 5 pm Monday to Friday? You can hear the noise from Bousquet!
> This is just a dereliction of duty, and you should all be ashamed of yourselves. I mean, can we trust you to even regulate parking spaces in the city?
We thank Scott Barker for sharing this letter with us. Barker tells us that only Bianchi, Lothrop, and Mazzeo responded to his letter. THE PLANET wonders what prevents Germanowski or the others from extending a little bit of common courtesy and good will by meeting with the letter writer. A small show of good faith would go a long way. Germanowski is a servant of the people. THE PLANET expects him to respond to Scott B. If he does not, we shall ask Mayor Bianchi to order Germanowski to do so.
Just so coincidentally, THE PLANET has learned of a meeting regarding the airport runway extension issue. Germanowski addresses it to “Area Resident of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport,” whatever that means. Here’s a copy of his message:
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Well, Mr. Germanowski, it seems that Mr. Barker didn’t hesitate to contact you and that you hesitated much to respond. Hope you can land a better performance at the meeting at Crosby.
DID YOU KNOW THAT …
— The School Committee, using taxpayer money, sends Dupere Law Firm $3,000 a month in retainer fee to serve as its legal council? But wait, it gets better. Taxpayers also pay for turnpike tolls and parking fees the firm retains to travel from Boston to Pittsfield and back. What a country!
— Mayor Bianchi appointed Richard O’Connor to the disabilities commission?
— N. Tracy Crowe, the new deputy superintendent of the cash-rich Pittsfield Public School, will make $120,000 a year, plus what the school committee referred to as “extensive benefit changes?” Benefits could top $40,000 a year. Dan Elias was the lone dissenting vote on the contact, calling it “way too much.” This year’s budget included “only” $101,707 for the position. This means the school committee gave the deputy super a raise of over $18,000 a year, not counting the unholy contents of the “extensive benefit changes.” Did they bother to ask you, Joe and Mary Jane? Nah,we didn’t think so.
— The School Committee continues to spend taxpayer money like sailors just embarking in the port of Shanghai for a weekend leave after six months at sea? According to committee member Terry Kinnas, school officials went ahead and purchased 333 iPad tablets for Advanced Placement students without the committee knowing.
Her Arrogance, Deupty Supt. Barbara Malkas, the school department’s Grand Apologist, brushed off Kinnas’ concerns, saying, “They [the iPads] arepurchased, they have been distributed, and we have already launched professional development for staff.” In other words, “We do what we want around here, see? Screw taxpayers.”
THE PLANET expects more from administrators such as Malkas. We also condemn in the harshest terms the imperious attitude that she embodies in her actions. Kinnas asked a reasonable question regarding what seems to be a shady purchase of the laptops without the informed consent of the full school committee. It seems they snuck this by, substituting a subcommittee recommendation for an actual purchase OK. Since when can a subcommittee authorize purchases?
Was the law broken? And is it true that school committeewoman Kathleen Amuso has a child in the Pittsfield schools who will be the direct beneficiary of one of the iPads? If so, did Amuso recuse herself from the issue. Kinnas says she did not. My good friends, when will We the People demand an end to such nonsense?
“EVERYWHERE IS FREAKS AND HAIRIES, DYKES AND FAIRIES, TELL ME WHERE IS SANITY? I’D LOVE TO CHANGE THE WORLD, BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. SO I LEAVE IT UP TO YOU.” — ALVIN LEE
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.