The latest divide among members of the Pittsfield City Council and Mayor Dan Bianchi is a standoff over a capital projects budget.
Three weeks after failing to get the necessary two-thirds vote from the city council, the capital budget is in limbo, as are the projects that were included in it. Mayor Dan Bianchi’s $9.5 million spending plan was approved by seven of the 11 councilors.
“At this point I have not decided to do anything with it,” said Bianchi Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday night was the council’s first meeting since the vote came down. Councilor John Krol opposed the capital budget proposal and says he is surprised Mayor Bianchi has brought a new plan to the council.
“I think he has plenty of opportunity to do that and I don’t think the intention of any councilor is to eliminate the entire capital budget,” Krol said. “To hinge every single project on sort of a political situation is unfortunate and I think it’s a low point as far as a political move in Pittsfield.”
The political divide seems to be over placing money for a new fire engine in the capital budget. Bianchi originally proposed a roughly $11 million budget that included funding for five SUVs for the fire department to respond to 3,800 yearly medical calls, according to the mayor. At the council’s request, Bianchi removed that $270,000 along with $3 million for a new highway garage, while increasing road improvement funding by $2 million. But Bianchi did not include an estimated $500,000 for a new fire engine. Councilor Barry Clairmont opposed the capital budget proposal.
“Even though there were only four of us who voted against the capital budget there were at least four more who verbalized in meetings they wanted the fire truck,” Clairmont said. “So when you have that many members of the council who want it then it should go in there. It’s not like it was pushing the capital budget over and above the amount that the mayor initially submitted. The amount would still be lower than what he initially submitted so I don’t see what the problem is.”
Councilor Anthony Simonelli voted in favor of the budget and says it’s unfortunate nothing is being done. He proposed using part of the $3 million for road improvements for the fire engine.
“I can’t speak for my fellow councilors,” Simonelli said. “I know they were really stuck on the fact that they had to have that fire truck and you know I’m in favor of the fire truck. I think they should have a fire truck. But having said that there’s got to be some give and take and we can’t a government shutdown because there’s got to be some compromise. That’s where I thought the compromise could’ve taken place.”
Christopher Connell urged his fellow councilors to approve the budget, taking Bianchi’s word that he would request fire engine funding within the next year. Connell says he thinks the mayor will resubmit a plan, but worries about the window for road and sidewalk construction following a tough winter.
“We are at a standstill right now and the roads right now are the biggest losers, as well as citizens of this city,” said Connell.
While the city has roughly $2 million left for roadwork this year, for now bleacher replacement at Pittsfield High School and the final phase of the downtown Streetscape project are on hold. On Monday, the city canceled an advertised bid for $3.5 million worth of street repairs. Bianchi says he could bring projects before the council individually, but is sticking by his view that he has already compromised enough.
“Four city councilors who’ve decided to kill the capital budget just so that they could flex muscles quite frankly,” Bianchi said. “I think this has nothing to do with the fire truck as much as it has something to do with four city councilors or at least three who really don’t want to see my initiatives go forward.”
Councilor Krol says a majority of the initiatives have little controversy surrounding them.
“There are projects to do, there are roads to do and the only one that is getting in the way of these projects getting done right now is Dan Bianchi,” said Krol.
According to the city clerk, a councilor can submit a petition asking the mayor to bring forward a new budget or the mayor can submit a new budget request. None of the four councilors who opposed the budget, the others being Kevin Morandi and Jonathan Lothrop, have met with Bianchi since June’s meeting.
“Last time I went into the mayor’s office I got dressed down and was basically told to get out,” Councilor Clairmont said. “So I haven’t been back to the mayor’s office after that. We generally have more of a contentious relationship.”