PITTSFIELD — Town councilors began the annual end-of-the-year budget review Tuesday night, immediately taking $15,000 from a Fire Department reserve account and applying it to road repairs.
“We want visible results,” said Mayor David Quint, voicing the council’s intent to show Pittsfield residents they are getting tangible results for their tax dollars.
Councilor Mike Dugas was the first to bring up the possibility of shifting funds that for years have been earmarked for reserve accounts. “I don’t want to do away with these accounts,” said Dugas, “but could we suspend them for a single year and do some other things with the money?”
Town Manager D. Dwight Dogherty told the councilors that he originally had $459,000 in requests for the town’s capital budget, but whittled that down to $250,000, based on historic expenditures. “We have all kinds of needs and all kinds of wishes,” said Dogherty.
The councilors said they were earmarking the Fire Department’s reserve because it already has a substantial balance of $157,000 and no immediate plans for a major purchase. Earlier, however, the council gave the go-ahead for Fire Chief Bernard Williams to purchase a used utility truck for $18,600. The current utility truck needs major repairs, Williams told the councilors. “It is a very sick truck,” he said of the 1983 Ford with more than 100,000 miles.
Rather than take the time to go through the bidding process, Williams asked the council to approve the purchase of a 1995 Chevrolet that is currently available at O’Connor GMC in Augusta. “We should be able to get seven or eight years out of it, easily,” he said, “depending on the number of calls.”
It was after Williams left the meeting that the reserve account was deleted. In his report to the council, Dogherty recommended making no purchases from the reserve account until a regional approach to firefighting purchases was thoroughly investigated.
“By acting regionally,” he said, “we can do things better and smarter. We need to find what is lacking in the nine area towns and then play a role in filling that need.”
Dogherty recommended working closely with the eight other towns with which Pittsfield has mutual aid agreements, to see what type of equipment is most needed by that pool of departments.
“Perhaps it will turn out to be a pumper,” he said. “Maybe it will be a tank truck, or perhaps a hazardous materials response vehicle. In this day and age it would seem prudent to not fall into the trap of simply replacing the oldest piece of equipment with another of the same type.”
Dogherty said Pittsfield fire officials should take a leadership role in this strategy.
By not funding the reserve account this year, councilors said Chief Williams may be pressured into working more closely on a regional solution.
In other budget deliberations, the council agreed to take a closer look after the first of the year at increasing building permit fees. Currently, an alteration requires a $1 fee, while a residential building permit is $10 and a commercial permit is $15.
The five largest moneymaking accounts for Pittsfield and their 1999 estimated revenues are: community theater, $81,000; state road assistance, $57,000; interest on taxes, $42,000; excise taxes, $396,000; and interest on investments, $27,000.
The proposed budget — prior to any council action — represents a $62,246 increase in the operating budget and a $31,000 increase in the capital budget. Revenues are estimated to increase by $44,475 next year.
The council reviewed the individual budgets that did not require department heads to be present Tuesday night. They will continue their review at several more meetings in November and December.