During a busy meeting Tuesday night, the Pittsfield City Council approved pay raises for department heads, officially established a youth commission, and accepted a nearly $10 million dollar grant from Massachusetts to build an innovation center in the city.
“It’s hard to align the stars when you are talking about jobs, economic development and a healthy community,” Callahan said. “This is one time the stars are aligned. The city is working together with the PEDA board and the PEDA board is working with the city. The Life Sciences’ board supported a gift to this community in the amount of $9.7 million.”
The chairman of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, Mick Callahan made his case before the city council voted unanimously to accept the grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to build the Berkshire Innovation Center. Callahan, business leaders and those working on the project also urged the council to allocate $250,000 to support a non-profit that will manage the center once it opens at the William Stanley Business Park, expected in summer 2016.
“We all want to drive by there and see the lights on, but we all want to drive by there and say we participated and voted for it because it was in the best interest of the city and Berkshire County,” said Callahan.
As expected, the council referred the spending matter to the city’s community and economic development subcommittee, which next meets on August 26.
Meanwhile, 25 members of the reactivated Youth Commission were officially appointed, while Mayor Dan Bianchi also announced the creation of a Youth Coalition.
“The reason I’m doing that is because we had so many young people who were interested in serving on the Youth Commission and we only had so many slots,” Bianchi explained to the council. “I want to keep them engaged as well as the adults who’ve dedicated themselves to supporting this effort.”
The two groups plan to meet separately and jointly throughout the year. Fourteen-year-old Makayla Mazzer is going into her freshman year at Pittsfield High School. A Youth Coalition member and avid ice skater, she says she wants to be involved in keeping teens active in the city.
“I know a lot of people that like to go public skate at the Boys [& Girls] Club and because it closes so early in the year a lot of people go different places and I think that if we could keep the Boys Club rink open for the whole season, then I think it would be nice for people to go there,” said Mazzer.
Having previously served as a Youth Commission member, Vin Marinaro is helping to coordinate the effort this time around.
“The important part of this is that it’s going to be youth-driven,” Marinaro said. “The intention is at the first meeting to separate the adults and the youth and have them brainstorm as to what they feel are the top five or six issues that they think are facing our youth today. Then comparing them so they can develop a strategy for moving forward. I think that it’s going to be critical for our young people to basically take the ball and roll with it. The adults basically are advisers. They’re not going to be doing a lot of talking. They’re going to be doing a lot of listening.”
By a vote of 9 to 2, the city council also approved varying performance and longevity-based pay raises for 27 department heads and city managers at a cost of nearly $200,000. Subcommittee work and a consultant’s review found that Pittsfield was paying roughly 12 percent less than other communities for comparable positions. Councilor John Krol supported the pay hike.
“Over the years we have had an issue with turnover, there’s no question about it,” Krol said. “Pittsfield is a training ground. As a challenging urban community for department heads to come in and pretty much cut their teeth and then go to a smaller community often for greater pay.”
Councilor Nick Caccamo points out turnover leads to additional costs for the city stemming from advertising job openings, training and a loss of efficiency.
“When they’re compensated for the skills and job that they’re doing and they show longevity over time I think we as councilors and specifically as citizens are going to see an increased application of services and productivity is going to go way up,” said Caccamo.
Councilors Kevin Morandi and Kathleen Amuso opposed the pay hike. While she says the current levels are low and should be increased, Amuso did not support the increase levels.
“I just think giving somebody and I don’t care the positions or whose in them, but any position 45 percent raise, 28 percent, 24, 44, 34...that’s what I’m not in favor of,” said Amuso.
Councilor Jonathan Lothrop supported the increases, saying higher wages are key to attracting good management, which will save money in the long run.
“The reality is the reason we don’t touch this very often is it is difficult, it is political and it is challenging,” Lothrop said. “So I compliment this mayor and I compliment the group that brought this forward because it does take courage. It’s not a popular thing, but sometimes you have to do the right thing. Sometimes the right thing isn’t the popular thing.”