Article

BIANCHI TO ASK FOR NEARLY $3 MILLION TO BUY NEW BUS FLEET FOR SCHOOLS … ARE TAXPAYERS BEING TAKEN FOR A RIDE?

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, MARCH 25, 2014) — THE PLANET will be the first to inform you of item #6 on tonight’s city council agenda: “A communication from Mayor Bianchi submitting an Order authorizing the City Treasurer with the approval of the mayor to borrow an aggregate sum not exceeding $2,766,075.00 for the purchase of school buses.”

The first reaction: The last thing Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski needs is the mayor ordering the city treasurer to borrow nearly $3 million.

As for buses, the only bus We The People are interested in at the moment is the one that takes Dan Bianchi out of town. The most ineffectual mayor in Pittsfield’s recent history just does not g.e.t. i.t. With a bill of approximately $400 million in unfunded OPEB liabilities, not counting the regular payments of tens of millions for health insurance premiums for public employees, and a city budget that keep growing concomitant with a corresponding shrinking of the tax base, the warning lights on the city’s dashboard are flashing like bulbs on a Christmas tree: “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Or maybe Bianchi does get it and just doesn’t care. Maybe what his critics say of him is true, that he’s just padding his pension and in less than two years, that as a pol he’s as fake as John Travolta‘s hair, and that he’ll leave city employment only to continue with what is even now his real job, the one he holds at Global Montello Group as manager of natural gas, electricity, and fuel oil. The company still lists him on its website as a manager. Bianchi still maintains his offices at 100 North St., Suite 301. He also disappears for large stretches of time from the corner office often to be seen entering 100 North Street, about a one- minute walk from city hall, if our spies at city hall report accurately.

So there you have it, Bianchi’s request for millions to buy busses. The questions fly more quickly than George Reeves:

* What made the city change its mind about purchasing rather than renting? Hadn’t the previous school committee decided to rent for being more cost effective?

* Who recommended the change from rental to purchasing? Why?

* The current fleet was purchased in 2007. What kind of maintenance have the buses received? Good, fair, or poor? What about drivers? Do they take care of their vehicles? Are the buses truly in that bad shape? If so, why were they driven into the ground so fast? If not, why get rid of them?

* You mean to say the city could not squeeze another couple years out of the fleet?

Supporting Documents Smoke It Out a Bit

In the supporting documents to the mayor’s request on #6, we find a letter from Kristen Behnke, who holds the two-breath title of assistant superintendent for business and finance, addressed to Bianchi and dated March 20:

Hung out to dry.

“As you know, last night the Pittsfield School Committee unanimously approved a contract with New England Transit Sales Inc. of Tyngsboro, MA for the replacement of the bus fleet. Attached to this communication is a summary of the purchase information, a copy of the bid document, which includes bid specifications, as well as the proposed contract with New England Transit Sales Inc. The proposed contract will be sent to New England Transit Sales Inc. for signature, if approved by the City Council. … [T]he School Committee has twice made the commitment to the City Council to fund the bus fleet out of the School Committee’s budget; the proposed contract meets that commitment.”

* Approved by the school committee on March 19 and sent to the council for approval for March 25 meeting, with contracts all prepared, ready to send and sign — Doesn’t that strike you as more than a bit rushed?

* When, prior to March 19, had this particular contract been discussed to a sufficient extent to warrant this rush?

* Does the mayor, the treasurer, and the school department seriously expect our Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council to have had enough time by tomorrow night to make an intelligent review and assessment of this major expenditure, given the hurry-hurry-hurry?

* The plan is to trade-in the current 52-bus fleet for 43 newer buses. Why nine fewer? Did taxpayers foot the bill for nine unnecessary busses for seven years, or is this a reflection of the more than $4 million the Pittsfield schools lost to school choice in the most recent year?

* Was there some “creative” accounting in awarding the bid to New England Transit Sales? Consider: NETS was one of four companies to bid on the contract. It was the highest bidder (Dattco, $3,394,068; Anderson Blue Bird Bus Sales of New England, $3,470,630; O’Connor Bus Sales, $3,545,915; and NETS, $3,645,075).  Nonetheless, Behnke’s “Enclosure No. 12″ in the support package says NETS offered “the lowest total cost.” How does she perform this miracle? By figuring the trade-in allowance. Dattco is listed as offering $574,719; Anderson, the exact same figure, curiously enough; O’Connor, $754,000; and NETS $879,000.

Think of your own experience. You’ve probably dickered with a car salesman on the value of a trade-in. You know it’s a game — a fakery that benefits the dealer every time. The trade-in value are not real dollars at all. They simply are a deduction from the sales price. Say the vehicle you want costs $22,000. The salesman knows he’s going to make out like a bandit if he clears $15,000.  That’s what he actually wants and would price the car in a transparent transaction. So what does he do? He offers you  ”$4,000″ for your clunker. You don’t see a dime of it. The “$4,000″ is subtracted from the asking price. It’s one of the oldest cons going.

And, from all appearances, in the capable hands of Behnke, the city fell for it!!

THE PLANET also adds that the school department shall be requesting a city bond for the full purchase price. In other words, the total cost will be considerably higher than the $2,766,075 being requested because of the cost of debt service to the bond. Benhke says in “Enclosure No. 12″ (part of the fine print, of course), that “It is anticipated that the buses will cost approximately $570,000 per year … over a five year [sic] term.” That amounts to more than $100,000 above the listed cost to taxpayers: $2,850,000 as opposed to $2,766,075. They don’t tell you that in the billboard version, do they?

Taxpayers, Back of the Bus Please

The city is paying $83,325 each for 36 77-passenger buses, $94,825 each for three “wheelbase” bus models, $94,625 each for two “wheelbase” buses, and $85,825 for two “wheelbase buses” (the only difference in the “wheelbase” buses is the number of wheelchairs they can accommodate).

On the trade-ins, the paperwork suggests the fake game as THE PLANET outlined above. NETS will “allow” $18,000 apiece for 11 of the 52 city buses, $17,000 apiece for 40 buses, and a mere $1,000 for one bus. We wish someone would explain the $1,000 bus. It’s the same make and model years as the other 51. That works out to an average of $16,903.85 per bus for trade-in allowance. Comparing this to the average purchase price of the 43 new buses — $84,769.19 — shows the city getting 20%.

Profit margins being what they are, don’t you have a sinking suspicion that NETS would have been just as happy if the city (Behnke, apparently, or was it Sue Carmel?) had been a better horse trader and insisted on more value for each of the buses? The current vehicles can’t be that run down. In fact, THE PLANET witnessed three city school buses in action today — #103, 130, and 137 — and from the outside seemed to be in pretty good shape.

Folks, the whole thing comes off as a set of tactics in advance of a scheme that someone, or a bunch of someones, want to keep from due deliberation. THE PLANET would advise that, at the least, the council table this motion and put the skids to allow for more scrutiny of what was done on school side.

Better yet, why not run the current fleet for another year or two? THE PLANET suggests it could do so with better maintenance and more careful drivers.

“Charter Objection,” anyone?

———————————————————————————-

“I’ll get on the bus, forget about us, and put the blame on me …”Tony Orlando and Dawn, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

42 Responses to “BIANCHI TO ASK FOR NEARLY $3 MILLION TO BUY NEW BUS FLEET FOR SCHOOLS … ARE TAXPAYERS BEING TAKEN FOR A RIDE?”

  1. Joe Blow
    March 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Why are we not looking into privatizing the school bus operation? I bet it would save a lot of money. Is there a reason this can’t happen?

    • Scott
      March 25, 2014 at 8:47 am #

      For real I see kids three houses down being picked up and dropped off. I walked from Lincoln st to Herberg.

  2. Nota
    March 25, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    I used to thumb to school, then they outlawed that. What is the new distance from a school that prohibits one from taking da Bus’. Th e B Bus is always empty, what gives? Most parents bring da Kids’ to school anyway.

  3. Sparkie
    March 25, 2014 at 8:02 am #

    Don’t forget to tune into PCTV at 7 pm this evening to watch the Pittsfield City Clownsil meeting or better known as the fleecing of the tax payers by the magnificent 11. Also there are some sub-plots that will be interesting to watch this evening.
    * With only 9 items on the agenda will Her Honor the highest President Motor Mouth Mazzeo get thru a meeting WITHOUT a procedural gaff.
    * Will Tony “the goon” finally rub out Johnnie “pretty boy” Krol before or after the meeting?
    * Will Mark ” national security head ” Tully bring in the forces to prevent skulking, squawking and stalking?
    * How many School Committee shout outs will Kathy ” thank you note” Amuso give out tonight?
    * How many dollars will Chris “Alright, O.K. “Connell give to the cookie jar for his whatnots?
    * Will Linda “aka Lisa” Tully finally say anything of substance?
    * Will Churchill” Sleepy” Cotton make it thru the meeting without dozing off?
    * Will Crazy Kathy Degnan ever understand that “flip-flops” are worn on your feet in the summer and not used as precedence for legal opinions?
    * What new trick does “bold Barry “have up his sleeve that will send Solicitor Degnan to the “Google Bar”?
    * One final question, who out there can help Sparkie know, when “Mayor Danny Do-little” is misleading the public?
    So don’t forget to tune in for these and many other action packed items as the world turns in the Pittsfield City Clowncil Chamber.

    • Dave
      March 25, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

      Answers to Sparkie the fire fighting mechanical dog (or who controls the levers)
      .1 Better question would have been will she give up the chair at any point to debate (I put the over/under at 15 times this year)
      .2 He is dreamy isn’t he?
      .3 Who would watch without the skulking squawking and stalking, not to mention the sulking when your motion fails,
      .4 There are 7 members, so I say at least…….7
      .5 people have speaking mannerisms, I don’t think it’s an issue if they are making points…. but I put the over/under at 17-would be 70 if it was a longer agenda
      .6 NO
      .7 Doesn’t matter, you can’t hear anything he says anyway.
      .8 No because you can call flip-flops sandals, and so it depends on what you want her to call them.
      .9 Hopefully Barry rise above his self proclaimed superiority and works for the betterment of the city as he was elected to do.
      .10 Isn’t that in the job description? Look at everything through rose colored glasses. If you disagree, please give me an example of the last Mayor that actually told it like it was.

  4. jlo
    March 25, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Dan – I believe the buses are nine years old. To those who may not remember, the Public did vote on Privatization when the current buses were bought, and it was 75% in favor of running our own system.

    After reviewing the available information, I am convinced that we need to responsibly replace what we have before the maintenance issues wind up costing us more, or worse, the bus fleet is grounded, as it was back in 1990 when the whole fleet was found to be unsafe by the Inspectors at the State Police.

    In short, maintenance costs money. At some point the cost of buying new becomes more fiscally responsible than constantly replacing motors and the like. I am convinced that we have arrived at that point.

    Your readers may recall that the plan was originally to lease buses, however there were complications regarding the bidding process which delayed this effort and after further analysis, the decision was made to buy outright, which I am convinced is actually cheaper in the long run.

    • Dave
      March 25, 2014 at 10:13 am #

      Beyoncé, wasn’t there another original plan to buy a couple of buses each year out of the PSD budget to update the fleet? How did that work out? Unfortunately, “further analysis” in these parts usually have taxpayers digging further into their pockets.

      • Dave
        March 25, 2014 at 10:14 am #

        oops meant jlo, mixed up my Divas.

        • jlo
          March 25, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

          Mix ups or not -I have folowed the issue closely and have read all the material. I think that is what I was elected to do. I have shared my conclusions with you on this matter. You are free to disagree, of course.

          I look at it like this, at the point in time when you are spending about the same amount on maintinence as you could on a new bus payment, I know its time to sell the old buses and get a new ones.

          From talking to the School Department it seems that we are close to that point now. If we wait another year or two, the value of the buses only goes down. It all about finances.

          • Joe Blow
            March 25, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

            May not always agree with you on every issue but I appreciate you take the time and explain your position on this site..

          • B
            March 25, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

            Can you really trust anything that the school department says? It seems that those schoolbuses should be lasting a lot longer than they have. Now I know why they’re not lasting, the drivers are driving the buses over every pothole in Pittsfield.

          • danvalenti
            March 26, 2014 at 10:01 am #

            No. The school department cannot be trusted, especially when it comes to numbers.

    • Scott
      March 25, 2014 at 11:31 am #

      Jon, thanks for your input but with all do respect it comes off as a crock of you know what. Keeping up on maintenance is way cheaper thn buying new IF the maintenance is kept up on.

      • Hurdygurdy Man
        March 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

        From a bus driver I know (and she’s one of the good ones) the problem has been the two DV mentions, the first is poor and sloppy maintenance by far the worst of the two..the second is too many drivers beating the crap out of buses…third that DV doesn’t mention is the lousy condition of city roads .

      • Joe Blow
        March 25, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

        I also believe a private company could provide a better and cheaper alternative.

  5. Deb S
    March 25, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    I know this is off topic but another non profit just bought up some property on Francis Av in Pittsfield. It’s called Co Act Inc., and they are based out of Stockbridge. They also have a website.

    • Dave
      March 25, 2014 at 10:03 am #

      Is the old Women’s Club on Wendell Ave, now a non-profit? I know it is a “Center for the Arts”. On the sign is an ad for a lawyer’s office in Suite 4. Can you collect rent and still pay no property taxes as a non-profit? This is only a question, as I don’t know if this property is tax free.

  6. Nota
    March 25, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    America is chicken shit, they give the impression they are scared of there own shadow. They talk a lot of shit, but don’t do anything. Concerning the rest of the free world. Very hypocritical concerning the world situation. Putin doesn’t give a care about anybody, he’s going to rebuild Russia to it’s original status, by annexation. He is going to be revered with more furver than Lenin. We makes concessions, sign agreements, he doesn’t give a rats arse!

  7. Pat
    March 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    I say get new roads first. What good will new buses do when children are traveling in these buses on treacherous roads full of dangerous pot holes, frost heaves, and roads that are literally falling apart?

    Where are the priorities?

  8. amandaWell
    March 25, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Thought the All American Pot Hole Machine was supposed to take care of that?

    • Pat
      March 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

      The All American Pot Hole Machine was, I thought, supposed to work in terrible cold winters like this one has been, but potholes were filled on my street about a month ago, and the potholes appeared again several days later. It seems the machine is not working properly or the city doesn’t know how to use it. Also possible that the holes are so bad this time what with the bad salt they used that was eating up the roadways, that the usual fixes will not work this time.

  9. Pat
    March 25, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    In addition, this is off topic, but curious what Dan and others think about the editorial in todays Berkshire Eagle that basically is making excuses for city leaders for not hiring more blacks and hispanics in the city. To me this goes straight to what is wrong with Pittsfield which is that this city preachs diversity and how wonderful it is constantly, but the Democratic leaders don’t practice it.

    Pittsfield has hiring issues to be sure and they don’t just revolve arounds blacks and Hispanics. Whites are also discriminated against since it’s all about who you know in the city which determines whether you get the job. To me this is the whole problem of why nobody is getting hired unless you know someone. Obviously Blacks and Hispanics do not have the networking clout to get the jobs which is the same for many whites in the city. Pittsfield believes in discriminating equally among all races.

    • Scott
      March 25, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

      Yeah like the eagle preaching opinions to hire local when they fired an entire department and outsourced the jobs to India. How many minorities does the eagle have working for them?

    • dusty
      March 25, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      I wonder if jlo reviewed all the available information regarding that subject and will share his thoughts with us. I hope Bianchi isn’t the only one busting his hump to make things more fair.

    • Joe Blow
      March 25, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

      I have a lot to say about this issue and will post soon about it….not that anyone cares what I think . We are being extorted an the groundwork has been in play for months

    • B
      March 25, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

      Maybe we need to treat our hiring practice like the show “The Voice”. When we get the resumes in we cross off the name and give them a number, if we like what the resume says then interview that person who had that number. We should put the applicant behind a screen so that people doing the interviewing cannot see what they look like, we can even do a do over for their voice. Problem solved!

  10. amandaWell
    March 25, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    I don’t understand, tonight’s meeting is supposed to be short, yet last week a gentleman came to the CCM to discuss minorities hiring or lack thereof, in the City Jobs. Why can’t this body discuss this tonight, seeing it has a light agenda?

  11. C.J.
    March 25, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    Berkshire County’s unemployment numbers just rose exponentially with the closing of the North Adams hospitial and affliated organizations.
    Sure hope the new Berkshire Works wiz kid is all he’s cracked up to be.

  12. Nota
    March 25, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    NCAA tournament?

  13. Jonathan Melle
    March 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Over 500 workers are going to lose their jobs at the end of the week because the Hospital in North Adams in closing.
    Pittsfield’s problems seem small compared to North Adams!

  14. Nota
    March 25, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    What do you think the a Planet has been talking about. Stop wasting money at the School Administration and new buses,start cutting not spending, we aren’t bullet proof Mayor.

  15. amandaWell
    March 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    Oh, wait until a certain Councilor gives us the “we are made by the state to spend this money or else” (grade is already in D-.

  16. Ron Kitterman
    March 25, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

    @ Dave 42 Wendell Ave was purchased by Lisa Whitney 6/29/12 for $225,000 to my knowledge she is an attorney but it isn’t a non profit.

    • ed shepardson
      March 26, 2014 at 7:48 am #

      Ron, The Whitney Center for the Arts is registered with the state as a non-profit.

  17. ShirleyKnutz
    March 25, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    Jlo…how come you skirted the issue of bus replacements were promised to come out of the school budget after the last purchase??? If any councilor votes for this the people should call for a recall/impeachment!!! They obviously are not for the taxpayer!!!

    • Spider
      March 25, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

      Shirley K. and Dave: I also remember, as you both have stated, that the plan was to have a certain number of buses purchased each year out of the School Dept. budget.

      Promises, promises…..And, as usual, the School Dept. and School Committee will not be held accountable. It will fall back on the taxpayers to pick up the tab.

      • B
        March 25, 2014 at 7:45 pm #

        Does the City Councilmen have the nerve to tell the school department to line item in their budget for the buses, balance their budget and if not have to go back to the drawing board. Just don’t pass the budget for the school department.

  18. Bill Sturgeon
    March 25, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    I don’t know a great deal about the School Bus issues. So forgive me if my questions appear foolish.
    Has anyone conducted a survey to determine:

    1. Do we still the same number of buses as in the past?
    2. Do we still the same large School Buses or can we substitute
    smaller more fuel efficient buses?
    3. Does anyone have the number of children who walk to school?
    Observing the number of parents dropping off the kids at both Taconic and Pittsfield High Schools I am not sure that we still need the same number and size School Buses as we needed in the past.

  19. Mad Trapper
    March 25, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    Dear Dan,

    North Adams Health has went under.

    Can I THANK OBAMA?

    I have paid, not for OBUMMERCARE. But Blue Coss/Shield located at NA Hospital. Who is responsible? Timmy Jones?

    How much did Timmy Jones take home this/last year? a little more than me/

    Best,

    Mad Trapper

  20. Mad Trapper
    March 25, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    Dear Dan,

    How is the loss of North Adams Hospital going?

    My PCP is located in the facility

    Remember, OBummer said you can keep your BLA BLA BLA……

    Thanks Barry Sotero, you fake SOB.

    Best,

    Mad Trapper

  21. Pat
    March 25, 2014 at 8:10 pm #

    Obamacare is just beginning to effect all of us. North Adams Regional Hospital closing is just the beginning of this nightmare.

  22. Mad Trapper
    March 26, 2014 at 1:52 am #

    P.S. Too Late for the Fake Barry, Re-elect NOBODY