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I Go to City Council Meetings #28

Budget presentation, public housing, drainage improvements

By Brian Z. Zayatz

On Thursday, May 21, the Northampton City Council held its 11th meeting of the year, and 5th via Zoom. All councilors were present.

Public comment

As usual, the meeting opened with time for public comment. First up was Hildegard Friedman, who had called in at the last meeting to complain that the “no guest” notice at the public housing facility where she lived was not being enforced. This time, she suggested that the Health Department release more information about where the city’s COVID cases are located, including specific buildings if in public housing, an d whether such individuals are recently unemployed or still working.

Following Friedman was David Call, another resident of the city’s public housing, who complained that his building “has lots of problems with people thinking that they own the buildings,” as well as issues with “drama and drugs,” and that the NPD and housing authority “sweep it all under the rug.”

Lastly, Mark Hamill, a founding member of the city’s High Speed Community Network Coalition, spoke in favor of the Council voting before the end of the fiscal year in June to establish a “municipal light plant,” a necessary step in the establishment of community internet. The municipal light plant would require a vote in two separate fiscal years as well as a citywide referendum to pass. Other municipalities in the area have established successful community networks with much better service at comparable prices to the market rate. Hamill wrote about the issue in an op-ed for the Gazette in 2018.

Budget presentation

The bulk of the meeting was taken up by Mayor Narkewicz’s annual presentation on next year’s budget, which begins in July. The proposed budget is available online, and there will be two separate public hearings for it, one on June 3rd at 5PM and one on June 4th at 7PM (during the regular City Council meeting). Both will take place via Zoom, and instructions for joining the calls can be found on the next meeting’s agenda. The Mayor’s presentation did not go into detail on the budget, but provided an overview.

The city’s FY2021 budget totals roughly $117 million, which is a 0.03% decrease from last year. Mayor Narkewicz has considered several different possible budgets since March, which were drafted in an environment where $2 million revenue losses are predicted for this quarter and next, and the state’s budget, which would normally have been released by now has historically accounted for over 15% of the city’s budget, is still in the works. Given these circumstances, the Mayor settled on a proposal that eliminated 17.25 full time equivalent positions across multiple departments, including building, human resources, information technology, public works, parking, senior services, treasurer collector, as well as the Mayor’s own office. Some of these layoffs have already occurred, and others will occur in the form of vacancies not being filled.

Mayor Narkewicz made a point of sparing the city’s emergency responders and school systems from personnel cuts. According to the presentation, the two largest expenditure increases in the proposed budget go to NPS and the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, and the next two go towards employee health insurance. The budget also draws over $900,000 from the city’s stability fund, which would leave a balance of just over $2 million, and over $13 million in total reserves.

Councilor Maiorie asked, after thanking the Mayor for his work on the budget, if there had ever been net cuts in a proposed budget before. Mayor Narkewicz responded that there had been cuts before the 2013 tax override, as well as $2 million in cuts from the state during the middle of the fiscal year in the Great Recession, while Narkewicz was a City Councilor.

Drainage improvements

Lastly, the Council considered an order authorizing the acquisition of easements to improve drainage on Rocky Hill Road. The area was shortlisted for support from FEMA as a roadway liable for flood damage, and the easements would allow for FEMA to move forward with approving funding (which is as yet not guaranteed). The project would cost an estimated total of $350,000, the majority of that covered by FEMA and the city required to match to the tune of $87,000. The Council suspended rules to vote twice so that the easements could be obtained right away and forwarded to FEMA; the order passed both votes.

Brian Zayatz is a regular contributor to The Shoestring. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

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