Article

COUNCILORS WEIGH IN WITH PRE-BUDGET REVIEW COMMENTS … ONLY LOTHROP AND COTTON FAIL TO RESPOND

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, JUNE 5, 2014) — When the question of the school bus fleet came up, We The People were strongly against. Being used to tightening the belt and getting the extra year out of the clunker, most citizens wanted to see the current fleet retained — even though many believe as THE PLANET does that city should privatize buses and get the schools the heck out of the transportation business.

They especially felt this way after learning of the measly trade-in value, which was not so much an indication of the condition of the buses but of the lousy job of negotiating done by Kristen “Tex” Behnke, business manager of the Pittsfield Public Schools (annual compensation: $97,500+bennies). The schools wanted to buy 42 new buses to replace the fleet of 53. We The People wanted the city to keep the 42 best buses, sell the rest, and make do. When THE PLANET asked if 11 school bus drivers would be dismissed to match the smaller fleet, we got no answer.

In the end, The People’s wishes were for naught. The city council, squeaking by on a 7-2 supermajority (Mordandi, Simonelli), ignored taxpayers.  It was if there was no protest whatsoever.

As if to scrub the fresh wound out with a Brillo pad just to make it sting more, Supt. Jake “JIV” McCandless told taxpayers, after the vote, that the schools would hire a consultant to “do a second look.” Bet you didn’t know about that, eh? Here is JIV, who was so great in the Lee schools that they’re still trying to figure out how to make ends meet (and which explains the glowing nature of JIV’s references from South County), saying after the nasty deed was done that the schools will be spending more big bucks on yet another consultant who will be paid to confirm the bus action ex post facto.

If Dale Carnegie himself found his unfortunate lot to be a citizen of this backward city, he would find no reason for hope or optimism. The Suits have shut you out of your own government, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski.

——- v000v ——-

That is the state of affairs as the city council gets ready for its review of The Empty Suit’s exorbitant FY15 budget proposal. What are the odds, ladies and gentlemen, that this inflated document comes though untouched?

As we shared with you earlier this week, THE PLANET contacted every city councilor to get their thoughts prior to the review. We print the responses today. Keep in mind that two factors mitigated against an intelligent pre-review review by our Right Honorable Good Friends: (a) The mayor, borrowing a page from Machiavelli, submitted the budget on super short notice at a special meeting conducted at noon last Friday, and (b) to help ensure that the review will be perfunctory, the budget review is set for a marathon session this coming Saturday at city hall chambers. Just the thing and “normal” set of people will want to do with an early-June Saturday morning.

That’s how badly TES wishes to stack the deck against taxpayers.

In any case, here are the councilor’s responses to my request for comment and these specific questions:

* At initial glance, does this seem to be a responsible budget or not?
* Do you anticipate raising any hard questions about areas of the budget that concern you?
* Will you expect additional cuts from what was presented to you Friday? If so, where might they be?
* Would you be in favor of readjusting the 85-15% split on health insurance for public employees so that the lower number is boosted more in the taxpayers favor?
* Add anything else you wish.

——-v000v ——-

LISA TULLY, WARD 1 — I am not yet ready to answer your questions for Tuesday.  Your questions are very thoughtful and I will answer them completely once I have done all my homework.  This Thursday, I will be in City Hall to ask questions on the budget and I may pose the same questions you have to us.  Then, the City Council meets Saturday at 9am – 2:30 to begin the budget review.  The following Wednesday evening, I have a meeting at my house to review the budget with some residents in Ward 1 and hear their concerns.  

I appreciate you asking these important questions and I will not leave them unanswered.

KEVIN MORANDI, WARD 2 — I think the budget needs to be looked at a lot closer since it is up roughly 4.1 million dollars more than the FY 14 budget. Just off the top of my head the school dept. and  some capital budget items. I think we always should be looking to cut something if it is warrented and always keep the taxpayers in mind. I can’t give you any additional cut areas at this time. I am in the process of going through this budget with a fine tooth comb. I think looking at the 85-15 % split for health insurance for city employees is something that definately should be looked at. Thank You.    

NICK CACCAMO, WARD 3  At first glance, this looks like a very responsible budget with a minimal increase to the overall operational budget of the city. My primary concern is the $1,000,000 borrowing for street improvements. I think this is too low. Road repair is a highly visible improvement that will benefit all the residents of the city. I would have liked to see a larger investment in this line item. 

CHRIS CONNELL, WARD 4 — I need more time to review the budget. I have been spending most of the last few days reviewing the proposed pay increases that are coming up tonight at O and R . By Thursday I should be ready to discuss the budget.  Thanks.

JONATHAN LOTHROP, WARD 5 — Did not respond.

JOHN KROL, WARD 6

PLANET: At initial glance, does this seem to be a responsible budget or not?

It is responsible as far as I can see. There are areas where I have questions, which I will ask Saturday.

PLANET:  Do you anticipate raising any hard questions about areas of the budget that concern you?

I am not sure how hard they will be – but, yes, I will have questions.

PLANET: Will you expect additional cuts from what was presented to you Friday? If so, where might they be?

There may be motions to make cuts, but generally, I wouldn’t anticipate a majority supporting any cuts. 

PLANET: Would you be in favor of readjusting the 85-15% split on health insurance for public employees so that the lower number is boosted more in the taxpayers favor?

This is not within the hands of the council, this is negotiated between the administration and the unions. As you recall this was a hotly contested negotiation sticking point between the teachers and Mayor Ruberto in 2005/6. With the sky-rocketing cost of health insurance, considering the possibility of everyone sharing a little more in this significant cost is very reasonable.

PLANET: Add anything else you wish.

Not at this time.

TONY SIMONELLI, WARD 7
*Responsible budget?  I really need to look at it closer.
*Hard questions?  I do expect to ask questions and will be looking for areas to trim.
*Additional cuts?  Without viewing the budget yet I can’t exactly tell you where, but yes, I hope there are areas to cut.
Sorry not to be more “informational” but without looking through the budget I hate to speculate.

MELISSA MAZZEO, AT LARGE — I am working on the budget as best as I can and do not have enough to say yet. 

KATHY AMUSO, AT LARGEI am going to be reviewing the budget this week.   I cannot make any comments at this time.

CHURCHILL COTTON, AT LARGE — Did not respond.

BARRY CLAIRMONT, AT LARGE — I’m starting my work on the budget today [June 1], and have no opinion at this time.  I’ll give it a fair shake and see if I think there are places we can save the taxpayers some money.

I really don’t like the idea of only having seven days to review a $140+ million budget.  I also don’t like the idea of the marathon Saturday session.  What taxpayer is going to watch on a Saturday for six or more hours.  It feels like this is being done in hopes that the taxpayer’s won’t get to see what is going on. Maybe it’s just me, but that is how it feels.

——- v000v ——-

There they are, the comments from which you can read the tealeaves for yourself. For THE PLANET, there are several observations to note:

THE PLANET loves:

— Tully’s agreement that we have asked “important questions” and especially her promise to get answers

— Morandi’s use the phrase “a fine toothed comb.” We also love that he has not backed away from looking at the 85-15 health insurance split.

— Krol’s frankness in saying he doesn’t see a majority “supporting any cuts.” Yet as much as we love the honesty, we deplore the implications of what he’s saying.

— Simonelli’s openness to looking for cuts.

— Same with Clairmont, expressing a willingness to look for budget reductions.

——-v000v ——-

Finally, we hope the council can pin down the mayor on how much is being proposed. Is it $141 million or is it $148+ million? TES’ arbitrary numeral yo-yo-ing can only bring out the suspicions in even the most innocent and trusting soul.

——————————————————————————-

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. O Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”The Animals, (1966).

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

32 Responses to “COUNCILORS WEIGH IN WITH PRE-BUDGET REVIEW COMMENTS … ONLY LOTHROP AND COTTON FAIL TO RESPOND”

  1. PopKornSutton
    June 5, 2014 at 6:38 am #

    Again,the single most possible reduction (insurance) can only be administered by the administration?

  2. Mike Ward
    June 5, 2014 at 7:44 am #

    Kudos to Krol and Morandi for offering an opinion on the health insurance split. This is a question that certainly could have been answered without reading the mayor’s FY15 budget.

    • Spider
      June 5, 2014 at 9:47 am #

      Exactly….you either think it should be changed….or you don’t!

      I don’t know of any business in the private sector that offers 85/15 to their employees…..some don’t even offer insurance. I sure wish I had that option.

      But as usual, this city’s administration lives in their own little fantasy world. And they get away with it.

  3. Scott
    June 5, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    TES doesn’t want community involvement maybe it’ll rain on Sat and there will be a high taxpayer turnout after all.

  4. dusty
    June 5, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    Did Mr Caccamo really say that a 4 million dollar increase in the budget was “minimal”? Sounds like he wishes it were more. Perhaps Bianchi wrote his reply for him.

    Not surprised in the least that councilor arrogant did not reply. He does not give a crap what people think. He is da man!

    Amuso, well, no one expected too much from her anyway. She will do as requested as she did on the school committee.

  5. Nota
    June 5, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    Lo FLop doesn’t have time to respond, he’s concentrating on his acting this summer at the Colonial Theatre.

    • Sillence Dogood
      June 5, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

      All The World Is a Stage afte rall

  6. amandaWell
    June 5, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    What’s the character, a stump? if you want to catch acting at its best, tune in tonight at PCTV.

  7. outfox
    June 5, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    So as I read the 85-15 percent split, it appears to me that Pittsfield is providing sudsidized, dare I say it, *socialized* medicine to it’ employees…Hey, we were Obamacare before Obamacre was cool!

    If the teachers in Pittsfield had the numbers, e.g., high test scores at the state and national level, this amount if subsidation might be be warranted, but as it is now, I say in the next round of negotiations with the teacher’s union, let ‘em walk. Take a hard line with the union; let’s see a picket line if that’s what needs to happen. In turn, this will give “the children” more free time to run around getting each other knocked up, and that, in turn will require ” the children” to go on welfare and food stamps and the ither available subsidies. Well look at that, I guess they did learn something from their teachers after all!

    Are We the people allowed to sit in and observe classes being taught?

    • T-bone
      June 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

      I agree 1000percent outfox. Next contract take a hard stance. Let em walk for ‘The Children’.

  8. Nostradumbass
    June 5, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    Prediction:

    This budget will pass with a tax increase to the taxpayers of Pittsfield.

    It ALWAYS does!

    Thats how things are done in Pittsfield politics.
    Wait till next year when the budget will top $150,000,000.00

    Sure, maybe they will trim it a little so some councilors can save face, but expect a tax increase citizens of Pittsfield.

    - Ben Dover
    and take it like a man in prison

    *Remember, it does not matter what the mayor and councilors promised when running for office, (that was just campaign retoric to get elected) it matters what they do now.

    • joetaxpayer
      June 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

      Agree,then the eagle will tell how little it is to the avg, taxpayer, and will not mention the fact that tgs 10 + years are smothering our city.

      • danvalenti
        June 5, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

        Yeah, the old bullspit about “well, it’s only $5 a month.” As you know, JOE T, there are many fmailies in Pittsfield for whom the $5 a month will be a budget breaker. Unlike TES, they can’t raise more by stealing from other taxpayers.

    • danvalenti
      June 5, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

      We used this post on PV-TV tonight!

  9. amandaWell
    June 5, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Does this Mayor have any control over any of the hirings he has made, since elected?

  10. T-bone
    June 5, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    Just heard that another one has jumped ship Pam Tobin from Downtown Pittsfield Inc. Way to go mr. mayor I mean TES.

    • Dave
      June 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

      I told you this departure was coming a while ago. It is the perfect time to end this useless arm of the public sector. If I remember correctly, there was a meeting of a bunch of North St business owners that wasn’t a DTPI gathering that was mentioned in a BB article and they were thrilled with the turn out.
      That is how it should work—- NO PUBLIC HANDOUTS NEEDED!!!! It is the perfect time to end this useless entity,
      Ok that is my $45,000 saved for this budget, as the soup Nazi used to say NEXT!!!!!!

      • danvalenti
        June 5, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

        The $50K spent on Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has been up to now a waste. With Kate Maguire apparently to become involved with that group at a high level, we have guarded optimism.

    • Sillence Dogood
      June 5, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

      No great loss here as she was the empty skirt

      • danvalenti
        June 5, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

        The Empty Skirt — TES II?

  11. Nota
    June 5, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Ah, yes No Soup for You! NO Parking Toby…adios!

  12. italia
    June 5, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    Thirteen years ago today, the citizens of Pittsfield rightly slew Goliath.

    • danvalenti
      June 5, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

      A reference to the defeat of the Civic Authority.

  13. joetaxpayer
    June 5, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    I would like to thank all councillors who responded to you. But why anyone of you people elected to office fail to make any cost saving measures.Let me remind you, are elected by the citizens of Pittsfield. Why such a group of highly regarded and elected people cannot get there shit together pisses me off! I could save the City over 100,000 + per year with 1 suggestion.Screw those raises, make them earn it,every dept. head or employee who comes up with a cost saving idea gets a bonus

  14. Winchester 73
    June 5, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    Holy cow Planet, the generalisimo sketch was brilliant and ffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuunny!! Loved how “he” went into city hall for a permit to dictate. Your show is the best thing to happen to the city sine well, your blog

    • danvalenti
      June 5, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

      We were rather pleased with tonight’s show, going up against some last-minute technical issues (solved, by the way, with great work from our crew behind the scenes). Glad you liked The Generalissimo. Like McArthur, he shall return.

  15. Citizen
    June 5, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    Your comparing apples to oranges. [REDACTED PER THE WEBMASTER]

    • danvalenti
      June 5, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

      We didn’t get a chance to read this, but our WEBMASTER has been trained to spot and redact irrationality, idiocy, and such. Our staff is trained to keep THE PLANET at the highest possible levels of quality, balancing that with our desire to promote Free Speech (note the capitals). We would invite the commentator to contribute more enlightening observations, ones that will move the discussion forward.

  16. Jonathan Melle
    June 5, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    Dan Valenti is the only journalist/blogger who covers Pittsfield politics who writes about Pittsfield’s finances. Everyone else writes about the revitalization of downtown Pittsfield with arts and culture. North Adams and Pittsfield are similar municipalities who invested in downtown revitalization and the arts since the collapse of their local economies that depended on manufacturing from GE and Sprague. Both North Adams and Pittsfield are acutely financially constrained. North Adams is financially insolvent, while Pittsfield is nearing insolvency. Both communities have the same demographics with low median incomes, dependency on Senior Citizens for their diminishing tax base, and youth that either leave the area or end up on welfare and/or in jail. I lived in Pittsfield for most of my life, and I even lived in North Adams as a young adult, so I know what I am writing about from personal experience.
    Pittsfield and North Adams depends on state aid for a good chunk of their municipal budgets. State aid was higher — not adjusted for inflation — 13 years ago than it is today for Pittsfield and North Adams. That means costs have gone up with inflation, while state aid has been cut, which leaves huge gaps in funding Pittsfield and North Adams’ municipal budgets. Where are the Berkshire delegates to Beacon Hill on state aid for cities and towns? I thought that once county governments were abolished 15 years ago, local government would become more efficient because that state government runs things so smoothly. I guess that did not prove to be the case here.
    Since I get criticized for following Pittsfield politics from my home in Southern New Hampshire, I should note that like Peter Larkin, former NH Members of Congress Charlie Bass and Judd Gregg also became corrupt lobbyists making six figure salaries from the corporate elites. I guess government is for the politically connected while the people get screwed.
    If I became a future government official, I would never become a lobbyist! I like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Bill Moyers, Robert Reich. I would work to make the World a better place for everyone.
    Pittsfield’s finances are inequitable! Thousands of people have moved away from Pittsfield over the past decade. Hundreds of jobs have been lost in Pittsfield over the past decade. Pittsfield’s tax base is diminished. Yet, Pittsfield’s taxes are going up again.

  17. Nota
    June 5, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    Clearly, the Planet has not only provided us with vital,informative and interesting perspective into Pitt Politics, he is very entertaining…still laughing over tonights skit!

    • danvalenti
      June 5, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

      NOTA
      Thanks for the compliment … and the money. You notice how we employed it tonight, especially at the end with TES.

  18. Joe Blow
    June 5, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    The hits keep coming…..
    PITTSFIELD — Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop is proposing that School Committee members be paid and councilors receive a raise as part of a salary hike proposal being considered for department heads and other city employees.

    Lothrop said that, “in the interest of fairness,” he is proposing that councilors receive a $2,000 raise in their annual pay and that School Committee members receive 50 percent of a councilor’s pay — which would equal $5,000.

    Noting that a raise for two other elected city positions — the mayor and city clerk — were included in a salary schedule submitted last month by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. Lothrop said he believes councilors and committee members should be added to that list.

    Having made the suggestion during council discussions on the mayor’s proposal, Lothrop said Thursday he had hoped another councilor might make that a formal motion for consideration.

    “I thought I might as well do it,” he said. “No one else stepped forward.”

    Lothrop’s petition is on the council’s meeting agenda for Tuesday evening.

    Councilors, who now receive $8,000 annually ($10,000 for the council president) haven’t had a raise in 20 years, Lothrop said, adding that his proposal to add another $2,000 to each figure represents a raise of 1 percent per year.

    In the old city government charter, which was replaced by a new version through voter approval in the November election, School Committee members could not be compensated. Now they can be paid, with the approval of the mayor and council.

    Lothrop said the current situation is unfair to committee members, who also have to make a serious commitment to their positions.

    If approved, the raises would take effect after the next city election in 2015, he said, and the committee salaries would not include benefits such as health insurance.

    The mayor’s proposal to upgrade salaries for department heads, managers and other city employees not represented by employee unions is still being reviewed by the council’s Ordinance and Rules Committee, which will make a recommendation to the full council.
    Jim Therrien