Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Sunday, October 02, 2011
  Open Letter to the Voters of North Adams

October 2011

To the voters of North Adams,

Two years ago over 1200 of you gave me your vote when I ran for City Council. To say that I am honored that so many of my neighbors thought that I had something to offer the city is an understatement. Thank you.

This year I am humbly asking for your vote again. I still believe that the core issues that make up North Adams’ challenges relate directly to our ability to provide the best education we can for our children; strengthen neighborhoods for families and seniors with policies that address housing and poverty; and ultimately create jobs by expanding and attracting people to our city’s middle class and the businesses that go hand in hand.

Schools, Neighborhoods and Commerce: A simple but not so easy recipe that will take time and patience to foster.

I am a father, husband, writer and a chef. My journeys have taken me from Detroit, through the University of Michigan and the Culinary Institute of America, to Minnesota and Nebraska, then to the Pacific Northwest, and finally to the place I’ve proudly called home for the past 8 years and most certainly will for decades to come, North Adams.

You have my word that I will work hard and honestly and I will give every side of an issue a fair hearing. My business, finance and policy experience will serve the city well in finding creative ways to balance budgets, solve problems and create opportunities. I believe in good governance with a balanced fiscal approach that is accountable to the people it serves. Sometimes we may not agree, but I will always take the time to explain my positions respectfully and with consideration. I will not shout but I will stand strong for the people of this town. My vote will always be guided by principle and conscience.

Please take the time to learn about the 18 candidates running for the 9 positions on City Council. Ask tough questions of us and see who actually answers your questions with thought and deliberation. But most importantly, remember to vote on November 8th. The future of our community rests in your hands.

Respectfully yours,
Greg Roach
131 Marion Ave
North Adams, MA 01247
Saturday, October 01, 2011
  Second Home
In case my last post was a bit cryptic (and frankly I never followed up) I am playing around every few days over at the Times Union.

Feel free to leave comments on either site.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
  Blogging News Hype
In a few days I should have some interesting news about a situation that will help motivate my blogging juices. It's not what you think. The election question remains up in the air.

Nope, this is purely a writing thing, and it will hopefully be a done deal shortly.
Friday, July 15, 2011
  It Might be a Race

I just confirmed that Ron Boucher has pulled papers for mayor. Will he return them?

Saturday, July 02, 2011
  Is The Future Somebody Else's Problem?
It's getting to be time to decide whether I should run for city council again or sit this one out. Until very recently I was pretty sure I was going to toss my hat in the ring. I had begun to map out a strategy and refine a platform. Just like the last time all of my emphasis would be on how to make North Adams a more appealing place for those who might move here to start a business or be moving to area for job. This evolution would also make the city a much more livable place for most of its current residents, whether they believe it, or not. Our future lies in building a middle class. It is the only way to pull ourselves out of the spiral of self reinforcing poverty that has had North Adams in its grips for many years.

Lately, though, the "don't change anything" crowd has been very vocal. I fear that this election cycle may be the most viscous in years. I love the sport of politics, but on the local level, when it is neighbor against neighbor rather than Senator versus Senator, the venom bothers me. The '09 mayoral race and the recent tax override vote reminded me just how angry and petty some people can get in this town when they perceive a threat.

I really have no desire to become a dartboard. My hope is to present ideas and facilitate policies that look forward, not to be yelled at by somebody who thinks that he doesn't need to pay taxes because he "turned out just fine" 40 years ago and "didn't even have any of those newfangled AP courses!" There is a large portion of this city's population that really could care less what the city looks like when they are gone. In their opinions, the future is somebody else's problem. It still amazes me that the most vocal people of this sort will deny that there is any connection between property values and the quality of the public school system. The mind boggles.

Is it worth the trouble to battle this attitude? Should I go out and call 'em like I see 'em;
  • that no shops are going to open and survive,
  • no new jobs are going to be created,
  • no new businesses are going to move to town,
  • no neighborhoods are going to improve,
  • no slumlords with sketchy tenants are going to be driven out,
  • no appreciable numbers of our population living in poverty are going to climb out of their situation,
UNLESS WE BUILD A MIDDLE CLASS IN NORTH ADAMS!!!! Is this so damn hard to understand?

So..... What to do? Run and be castigated, and if I am fortunate enough to win, get stuck in the middle of a fiscal crisis that is a major mess? Or should I sit this one out and let the local Tea-Party candidates inherit the mess they made?

I love the ethic of public service and will continue the efforts that I currently undertake in my various roles. But volunteering (the council's salaries have been eliminated in the current budget) to try and drag a city out of a crisis and self-defeating mindset while dodging arrows and mudpies is not really what I had in mind.

Thursday, June 09, 2011
  How to Stab a City in the Heart - Chase Away the Middle Class
In the late fall of 1992, after spending the previous 6 months trying to find appropriate employment after college graduation, and during a tough post-recession job market, I packed up my 1984 Chevy Cavalier with my personal belongings and left the city I had spent the first 23 years of my life in. Detroit and the first-ring suburbs were dying a slow death. At the time it seemed like a temporary decline, but almost 20 years later, the once great motor city is but a shell of its former self and the closest thing to a recovery has been nothing more than a tourniquet.

What worries me in 2011 is that North Adams, my new hometown of the past 8 years, the place I have chosen to raise my family, has a lot in common with the city of my birth, Detroit. Both are cities that had a strong and proud blue-collar tradition but are now defined by high poverty. Both were devastated by the effects of fleeing industry and globalization. Both municipalities lost their tax bases and became dependent on state and federal aide to pay for the most basic of services. And most critically, because of most of the above, both lost their ability to attract and maintain a middle class, without whom no city can thrive, grow and build.

The cities are not identical: Detroit is the poster child for horrendous public schools, a decimated city infrastructure, corrupt leadership with non-existent city services, and probably the worst racial tensions north of the Mason Dixon line.

North Adams, on the other hand, actually stopped the bleeding. We have an improving school district that is in the midst of a comeback with the new K-7 system, an old but still upgradable infrastructure (with little time before it collapses), and a local government that is lean and responsive. Oh, and some of the greatest inherent beauty and cultural attractions in New England. (Detroit is rather... well... flat.)

For the past decade, or so, North Adams has slowly made progress on the livability front. The arts community, telecommuting and proximity to a growing regional and state economy have all held great potential. Yet North Adams struggles to reap the benefits in a meaningful way.

Why is that?

It boils down to attracting and/or building the middle class and keeping them here.

When a young family comes to the area, for a job at MCLA, Mass MoCA, the hospital, Williams College or any number of the small businesses, what is the first thing they look at?

Schools. The North Adams public schools are improving, but they still struggle with the issues that a high percentage of children living below the poverty line bring to the classroom. The perverse irony is that, on average, poor kids cost almost twice as much to educate because of the extra resources “at risk” youth need to provide a semblance of the stability it takes to create an effective learning environment.

The second thing that this hypothetical young family looks for is community. Sometimes North Adams has this in spades with all the churches, social groups, museum activities, festivals, etc... But, again, it struggles with creating and keeping the vibrant commerce that a small city needs to thrive and attract its residents downtown and into it's scattered neighborhood shops.

Commerce is a cart and horse problem. If you build it, they will come, but if those with disposable income are not already here, the money to build businesses is hard to come by. It takes a game of Leapfrog - a little demand for commercial activity = a little supply; Then a few more customers and a little bit more supply; and so on. It takes years of constant business and demographic growth, but it tends to grow exponentially. Eventually you have a real business district.

Finally, once this family decides on the community, they might start looking for a house. But what if that beautiful old Victorian is connected to collapsing sewer line? What if water the tap water was under a boil order because the aqueduct at the reservoir had crumbled? What if the road in front of the house was full of pot holes, or had not been plowed after the last snowstorm? What if the house’s addition had been built by a sketchy contractor who did not have to worry about a building inspection?

Ultimately it boils down to - Does this family think it's really a better value to live here, than, say, one town over? It's true that you often get what you pay for.

So why am I worried about my chosen city of North Adams becoming Detroit? Because our fiscal situation is such that our community has a ballot box choice for us to keep turning the corner from our manufacturing past and into the vibrant 21st century education, arts and tourism mecca that we are so well poised to become. Or we can hunker down and whine about the huge cuts in state aide for impoverished towns that have subsidized our low taxes for a generation by laying off a chunk of the teachers, ending difference-making educational programs, cutting city services to ineffective levels and allowing our 100+ year old infrastructure to disintegrate - to, in effect become more like the city of Detroit and stumble past a rare opportunity once more. We can talk about a glorious past with sentimental sadness, or we can build on that past with ideas for tomorrow.

I believe that the next generation is just as important as the previous one. I will be voting Yes on the Proposition 2 ½ Override, June 21st. It’s time for us to take care of our own.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
  Glenn Drohan

I was told that North Adams Transcript editor Glenn Drohan passed away this morning.

Rest in peace.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
  He's Usually Correct

This is depressing. Krugman might be a bogeyman to conservatives, but his econ skills are better than most.

NYTimes: Third Depression Watch

  More Important Matters

Just a note to ask those who read this blog to keep Transcript Editor Glenn Drohan in your thoughts. His multi year battle with oral cancer has taken a turn for the worse.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011
  Losing Respect
Just one quick thought among many about tonight's City Council meeting. A former elected official who tries to settle old scores in a public meeting while blaming others out of one side of his mouth and claiming to be accountable out of the other is not doing his considerable legacy any favors.

I have my own thoughts on the budget and the proposed override and will get those into writing in the next few days, but the rancor and ill-will displayed this evening have knocked my level of respect for this certain former official down several pegs.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
  North Adams and the FY 2012 Budget
It figures that it would take something as wonky as a municipal budget to get me to sit down an write something longer than a Facebook status. I guess it boils down to the fact that I find the conversations surrounding the fiscal situation in North Adams to be grossly over-simplistic and generally full of rumor and ill will towards civil servants.

Tonight I sat through a three hour line-item budget presentation by Mayor Alcombright to the finance committee of the city council. In the gallery were a few civilians like myself, a handful of city councilors, the department heads of the city workforce, and, of course, the local tea party contingent (all three of them).

It was stunning to see the cuts being made, a smaller school budget, the flat salaries, the defunded programs, the eliminated positions, intentionally underfunding the pension fund, etc... and then realizing that this was the best case scenario. This was the budget that would be implemented if the Proposition 2 1/2 property tax override is passed next month.

I can only imagine what the "Plan B" budget will look like if the override fails.

What bothers me the most about this whole process are the political posturing and misrepresentations that keep cropping up about how we got here in the first place. It's not hard to understand and can be boiled down to a few simple facts:

1) North Adams, being one of the poorer cities in the state, relies on the State of Massachusetts to provide huge amounts of aid to the city and to the schools. In the past three years, those funds have dramatically shriveled.

2) Instead of trying to make up the revenue lost from the state coffers, the city has been in deficit spending mode for the past three budgets, spending down almost all the reserves and free cash, rather than gradually raising the levy to a point where we could pay our own bills over several years.

3) Because of this deficit spending, the city woke up last year and raised taxes and implemented a sewer fee to try and make up part of the difference. Because of this inability to see just how deep and long the hole would be, the city's hikes have only made a dent in the deficit.

4) Now we are so far out of balance that we cannot sustain the basic services of a city without raising taxes higher than the law allows without an override vote.

It's pretty simple. We were not spending extravagantly, but we were spending more than we were taking in, seemingly hoping that the state would magically find the money to send more aid to cities and towns. Obviously that is not what happened.

So here we are.

I've long maintained, since well before my last run for city council, that North Adams must support more of its own financial needs. We absolutely must enlarge the tax base through growth and by increasing revenue. Failure to do this will lead to a very bleak scenario that will cripple the city for several years. That time has come. If the override fails and we slash services to balance the budget, any hope of a North Adams Renaissance can be pushed back by another decade.

The fact is that we have far more at stake than property taxes (which even with override will be among the lowest in the state). We want jobs and people to move to North Adams, but, frankly, businesses and people don't move to places that are cutting education, reducing hours at the library, not enforcing laws and codes, etc...

A commenter out on iBerkshires made the comparison of 'Mississippi is to the US as North Adams is to Massachusetts.' Personally I think that is unfair.... for now. If we slash and burn, Mississippi might just be a complement.
Monday, January 31, 2011
  What does Egypt's Dictatorship and your Local Cable Company have in common?
Answer: Neither wants you to watch the most comprehensive coverage of the revolt in Egypt on Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera English: Live Stream - Watch Now - Al Jazeera English
Sunday, January 30, 2011
  Should I Fire the Blog Back Up?
It's been about 8 months, since I last posted. Does anybody still read this thing?

Like many, I've started using Facebook to post all the quick hits and passing thoughts that used to make it onto the blog. But what I've noticed is that I no longer write anything longer than a paragraph, and when I post a story to Facebook about anything controversial or political, hardly anybody comments.

I tend to think the lack of comments is because it is such an open forum and literally the hundreds of friends that everyone has not only *can* see your thoughts, but *will* see whatever you write. Politics (and religion) have rarely made good dinner party conversation precisely because of the potential to offend or annoy. Hence Facebook tends to be more about happy things, or social things, or family, etc...

When I write that Michelle Bachmann is loony or that my local city council is considering a rule change, I don't expect my mostly Republican high school friends, or my cousins, etc... to give a damn. But here, I might get some interaction from various parties, known or anonymous.

Frankly, I don't mind telling people what I think. The old adage, "If you can't say something nice..." tends to only apply in personal interaction in my book. Public policy as well as those who live in the public realm must suffer the slings and arrows of folks like me. And I have taken my own share of criticism, as well. It comes with the territory.

But such commentary is not Facebook. So if I spend the time to put my thoughts to writing, will anybody care? That is the question I am asking.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
  Has it been almost a month?
Sorry for not keeping up. Life has been throwing curveballs lately - Nothing bad, just really, really busy. (OK, there was that little trip to the ER, but when all was said and done, they concluded I had simply pulled a muscle. I did get to check out NARH's new food program. It's pretty good.)

Actually I've been contemplating some big things over the past few weeks. I will tell you more if good things start to happen with a couple of projects. Regardless, I will be back to regular blogging from the left bank of my mountain stream in the next couple of days.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
  Treason Awareness Month

Jason Linkins gets it just about right:

Hey! Let's find people to defend the practice of celebrating traitors, and maybe have some pointless left-versus-right debates over it!

Look. I understand the concepts of heritage and history. My family fought for the South, for pete’s sake. I think a certain amount of regional pride is healthy. But this whole States-Rights-B.S. that propagates the white man’s modern day mythology of “Confederate Heritage” is really insulting.

Presenting the arguments of the Civil War (or the “War Between the States,” if you live down South) as though they are not completely resolved 145 years later is just stupid.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010
  Wal Mart and Jobs
While I am not on either side of the argument over whether Wal Mart should open a brand new Super Wal Mart in North Adams (I could really care less), I find it odd that people keep talking about the jobs that this new store will bring. Aside from several dozen temporary construction jobs and some money flowing to the developer's pockets, I don't see a net gain in jobs.

Wal Mart is no longer a destination store. People are not going to travel to North Adams to spend their money at a new Wal Mart when they have their own in Bennington, Pittsfield, Albany, Hadley, etc....

No, a new Wal Mart Super Center would simply rejigger the existing local economy. This is not necessarily a bad thing (lower food prices, etc...) However, people in North County are not magically going to be spending more on groceries or underwear just because a new store opened. For every job at the new store, one will be lost at Big Y or Price Chopper.

This is simple supply and demand stuff. Grocery and Retail rarely create actual new jobs without creating a new product or niche. Super Wal Mart does neither.

Jobs in North County will only come with actual growth in incomes and/or population, new/relocating firms or entrepreneurship. To think otherwise will only lead to disappointment.
  Wilco and Solid Sound are a Very Big Deal

OK. It’s official now. Wilco is coming to Mass MoCA along with a lot of other cool stuff for three days in August. Estimates put ticket sales for Wilco’s only east coast event of the summer at around 10,000 people.

That’s right. 10,000 people, almost all of whom are driving in from somewhere else will be coming to North Adams for a weekend in August. Many of them will have money and time to burn. Can North Adams actually capitalize on this event?

I often hear about people who complain that Mass MoCA’s patrons don’t spend their money in North Adams. Well here’s the deal folks – If some of us can’t make some serious bucks off of the 10,000 or so folks who will be wandering around the area looking for food, lodging, supplies, sundries, and more… then there is something wrong with us - Not Mass MoCA - Not Wilco, but us.

Who is going to have a huge Saturday & Sunday Breakfast Buffet for hundreds of weary concert goers? Thay can’t all fit into the restaurants.

Who is going to sell their art, trinkets and knick knaks on the street?

Who is going to rent out bedrooms because the hotels are going to be overflowing?

This is a very big deal, even if you don’t like the band or the fans. DON’T SCREW IT UP! This is could be the beginning of something even bigger!

  The Myth of Wealth Redistribution

Nate Silver spanks Jonah Goldberg for parroting the conservative myth that America gives massive amounts of tax revenue to the poor:

gini after[1]

The post is definitely written for statistics geeks (who? me?) but Silver makes abundantly clear that the U.S. is the least redistributive country of the 26  largest economies.

And his four frustrations with conservative views of American Taxation and Spending are spot on:

1. Dollar for dollar, America offers the most effective and efficient government on the planet, doing so for about 20 cents on the dollar nationally, 28 cents if you include state and local taxes. If you ask a conservative to name a country that provides as many quality services for less, or more and better services for the same price, they can't name one.

2. American government is redistributive, but not to the degree to which boogeyman conservatives would have us believe.

3. When it comes to deficits and fiscal responsibility, conservatives tend to focus on the spending and not the taxation side. If you're raising less than you're spending, you can either raise more, spend less, or some combination of both. But conservatives invariably turn the conversation to how big government is as a spender, rather than how small it is as a taxer.

4. It's just a myth that all this American "socialism" will only constrain our growth, turning us into one of those laggard western European nanny states.

It’s worth a read.

Friday, April 02, 2010
  More Contractor Woes
Jen H. has been doing great work for the past couple days on the proposed WalMart site:
The state Department of Environmental Protection is investigating the illegal dumping of demolition debris, including an unknown amount of asbestos, at the site of the proposed Walmart Supercenter off Curran Highway, city officials confirmed this week.
Norman Dellaghelfa Jr., owner of Della Concrete, has been accused of illegally dumping and burying demolition debris on land where the new Walmart will be built, according to sources familiar with the situation.
This Dellaghelfa fellow is beginning to sound like he might be a real hindrance to this project moving forward.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
  We live in Massachusetts after all..
One of the cooler PSA's I've seen on the census, equal marriage, or anything geeky...

  It only took 100 years
  Somebody Goofed
In a rather stunning show of incompetency, work to prepared the site of the proposed Super Walmart has been stopped by poor erosion control. Jen Huberdeau reports in today's Transcript:
The Conservation Commission issued a "stop-work" order to Della Concrete and Ceruzzi Properties -- doing business as BVS 5401 Investors LLC -- on Feb. 22 for failing to use erosion control measures required by the commission during construction work to close the former gravel pits, which will be developed into the proposed Walmart Supercenter.

Without proper erosion and sediment controls in place, rains swept sediment into intermittent streams on the west side of the property, a violation of the Wetlands Protection Act.

A superseding "unilateral administrative order," issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection on March 12, also called for work at the site to halt and for sediment and erosion control measures to be put in place. The order also requires the site to have a consulting engineering firm oversee the closure and a stabilization plan for the site approved by the state.
Ceruzzi was worried about the anti-Wal Mart folks derailing the project. It looks like they should have been worried about their own contractors instead.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
  Conservative Victimhood
These two stories blow my mind regarding people who think that they are disenfranchised:
Millam looked across the street at the students and shook his head. "They don't understand that our government doesn't listen," he said. He had spent the past week calling congressional offices and the White House to tell them about his feelings on health-care reform, waiting through hold times only to reach answering machines and busy signals. Maybe he could enlighten these Obama supporters. He stepped closer to the street and raised the megaphone.

And "Confederates"
A significant number of Southerners identifying themselves as Confederate Southern Americans on the Census form could finally spell the beginning of the end for the discrimination that has been running rampant, especially for the last 20 years or so, against all things Confederate, and for that matter against Southern heritage and identity in general,” SLRC executive director Roger McCredie said in a written statement.
Conservative victimhood always makes me roll my eyes.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
  Sound Rumors
I have now heard from a few different very credible sources that a well known musical group will be playing in the vicinity this summer at an event that sounds very cool. I don't want to jinx anything, so, no, I won't say anything more.
  Sounds Promising
Blackington Mill has a legitimate developer! From iBerkshires:
The brothers, operating as MAZS Realty, have been in the real estate business for more than 35 years, particularly in finding new uses to preserve old buildings. They started with developing lofts in Manhattan and restored or built single- and multi-family homes along with commercial. The Magids say they keep their properties to assure they remain important fixtures in their communities.

Initial plans are to create a welcoming entrance to the three-building complex on the east side facing Ashton Avenue and the vacant lot that was once the Widen Tannery.
I get called a crazy carpet bagging elitist every time I say it, but people actually want to move to this region. If we do things right, many will land in North Adams. As long as projects like these are available to a middle-class clientèle, they will help the city.

In other real estate news, another church is up for sale (scroll down on Steepleview Realty's listings page):

This makes a total of three unused landmark North Adams churches within a few hundred yards of each other that are now potentially going to be torn down. Other than everyone's favorite answer, "housing", what else can these spaces be used for other than wrecking ball fodder?

I am personally voting for the Mass MoCA Children's Museum to be housed in one of them.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
  City Council on TV
Watching tonight's City Council meeting, in particular the discussions regarding the city's underfunding of the health insurance trust fund, I am struck by that only a couple of councilors seem to even grasp what the controversy is. Oy.

Of the ones who I listened to, only Blackmer, Bloom, Bond and Marden seemed to get that the issue is one of law regarding how to fund the trust. I especially appreciated Bloom's comment and Mayor Alcombright's agreement that the city's auditor, Marlow, should have known about the law that spells out how to fund the trust.

The fact that the law requires the fund to be funded based upon premiums (aka "working rate") is set up that way to avoid two issues; the obvious is 1) gross underfunding that puts the city at risk when the claims come due, and 2) to avoid the misuse of health insurance funds being used for expenses other than healthcare.

It really bothers me that people are still defending or rationalizing John Barrett's accounting methods.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
  America does not come to an end tomorrow
When I go to work tomorrow, a little before 5 am, I will glance at the headlines. I expect to see that the first major national social legislation of my 41 years will have passed the House.

According to some people, guaranteeing affordable access to healthcare for almost everyone means we are no longer the "the land of the free." Some folks are even threatening civil war.

Strange days.
Friday, March 19, 2010
  North Adams Insurance Trust Fund Recap
About a year and a half ago, the North Adams Teacher's Association became suspicious that the city was underpaying its share of the premiums for health insurance. Yesterday it was independently confirmed that their accusations were 100% true. The city did not pay its share, and in doing so, grossly underfunded the Health Insurance Trust Fund to the tune of $1.1 million over just the past two years. When other years, including the current one are examined, it is expected that the number will grow dramatically.

Based upon those findings. the auditor recomends:
We recommend that City management review MGL chapter 32B, section 3 a, (Municipal Trust fund statute). It is interpreted, under this law, requiring that the City to contribute a specific percentage of a previously determined premium or rate by the end of each fiscal year. As noted above, the City did not contribute its percentage of the working rate/premium based on enrollment for fiscal years 2009 and 2008.

To be in compliance with state statute, we recommend that the City start contributing their applicable share of the established working rate/premium based on enrollment.

We also recommend that the City perform a reconciliation of internally prepared head counts to the head counts noted on Blue Cross Blue Shield invoices.

We further recommend that the City review the year-end cutoff procedures to insure that health insurance withholdings for the subsequent fiscal year claims are accounted for in a liability account rather than in the year-end fund balance.
So, where are we now? And what does this all mean?

The current budget and correcting the problem.

What is clear is that the city will have to immediately increase its contributions to the Trust Fund just to be in compliance with the law. This means that several hundreds of thousands of dollars will have to come out the current budget and be put towards insurance.

In subsequent years, the city's share of the premiums will have to be totally budgeted for, which is a departure from the past method. Until now, the mayor's office transferred money into the fund as needed. This was and is clearly illegal.

What is owed and to whom?

The $1.1 million that should be in the trust fund, but appears to have been spent on other areas of the city government, plus the amounts due from previous years, by law needs to be spent on covered health care costs or returned to the premium payers (city employees) in the form of reduced premiums or premium "holidays" (i.e. the employees share gets paid out of the trust fund until excess balances are lowered.).

Obviously the city does not have that kind of cash floating around. I fully expect that all the city unions are going to work with the city to find a way to cushion the shock of such a big debt.

It is likely that some new revenue sources will be required. Can anyone say "sewer fee?" It is also likely that the underfunding of several city departments will continue.

I don't envy any of the sides who will have to figure this mess out.

The political side of all of this.

It is very clear who is to blame for this situation. The former mayor, John Barrett, thought he had found a loophole to squeeze a few hundred thousand dollars a year out of the budget when insurance claims were low. While he might have had the best interests of the city in mind, he was wrong and was violating Massachusetts law.

What really bugs me, it that when the problem was made public, he went into battle-stations mode and denounced the motives of anybody who questioned his methods. He belittled union members who presented the issue to the City Council. He accused then-Councilor Alcombright of being political when an audit was called for, even though Alcombright sat on the City's Finance Committee which had oversight on this issue.

To make matters worse, once the charges were credibly made, four City Councillors (plus Bloom who was absent) were complicit in the delay of examining and fixing the problem. Councilors Marden, Cariddi, Harpin and Blackmer all voted against Alcombright's motion to send the trust fund issue to an independent auditor. This action probably would have caused the city to change its funding of the Trust last fall, and possibly saved us whatever deficits the fund is currently running for this fiscal year.

This all smacks of severe, but unintentional, negligence. I hope that the resolution proceeds smoothly, because should this ever go before judge and jury, it's pretty darn clear who would win.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
  Ouch. That's Gonna Leave a Mark
The long awaited audit of the North Adams' self funded health insurance plan is in, and preliminary reports are that the city owes its employees the insurance trust fund a BIG chunk of change.

I have no hard figures yet, but I will post them as soon as I get them.

If you have no idea what I am typing about, look through these prior posts and look for the related ones.

OK, a solid source says that the auditor found that the city underfund the trust fund by $1.1 million dollars over '08 and '09. Based on my understanding, that means the employees, who were on the hook for 30%, are owed $330,000 for just the past two years. The total amount may be considerably more.[see update 2 - that money belongs in the trust fund, not to the employees.]

The auditor reportedly confirmed that although this audit was only for two years, the improper method of calculation used by the Barrett administration has been used by the city for many, many years.

Damn...... Playin' games with the books to squeeze every penny has apparently bit the city in the butt BIG TIME!


The Transcript and iBerkshires give their thoughts.

The report is now online via Tammy at iBerkshires.

Reading it, I've come to a couple of conclusions -

1) The Auditor says that for the years studied, there should have been a surplus in the trust fund. To do this both sides would have had to contribute more.


2) The city did not even come close to meeting it's 70% obligation under contract, which makes up 95% of the deficit.

3) I am struck by the Transcript's incredibly simplistic interpretation of these numbers. Without the context of the 70/30 split, the damage is grossly misrepresented.

Because the city is the carrier, it is the city's obligation to pay what is owed into the fund, and to charge accordingly. Because the city's underpaid share is WAY out of wack from the 70/30 ratio, it clear that the North Adams Teachers Association is vindicated in their charges. If the old, and now deemed improper, version of accounting is used, the employees were severely overcharged. If the fund had been properly funded, the employee contribution was close to correct.

The employee share of the $1.1 million deficit is only 5.5,% NOT 30%. Hence, even in a generous reading of the numbers, it is very clear that the city knew they were not living up to their end of the contract.

It is also odd that the Transcript relied heavily upon former Mayor Barrett's interpretation of this. He plays games by confusing the number of years involved in the original charge versus the number of years studied and is not called out on it.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
While I think that Cambridge/Somerville Congressman Capuano is generally a good legislator, I really dislike his move into Kucinich Territory.

The perfect is certainly the enemy of good in this case.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
  Bissailon is in
The rumors were true. From his web-site:
The short version of a long story is that several weeks ago, when Dan Bosley announced that he wasn’t going to seek re-election, I started to consider making this run. As many of you know, I have never run for or held a political office and have had a wonderful career in the business world between CPDC Insurance Agency and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce the last 18 years.
The Democratic Primary race just got more interesting.

I also hear rumors of a well-known Republican businessperson entering the race, but cannot get any confirmation.
Friday, March 05, 2010
  Farms and Food
The Farm Film Feast is next week at Images and a few other local venues. If you think that the subject of food entails more than what you eat, I highly recommend attending a couple of the films and talks.

All proceeds go to the REACH Community Gardens in North Adams - a very good cause.
  Saigon Restaurant
I now can personally recommend the Saigon Restaurant on Curran Highway tucked in the Valley Park Bowl. As someone who desperately misses the west coast's amazing Asian food scene, the simple existence of this place in North Adams makes me happy.

The food was surprisingly accurate and very tasty. It's also a pretty good deal!

Give it a try, although you will have to buy your adult beverages from the bar in the bowling area.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
  First Berkshire District Race
It sounds like things are heating up in the race to fill Dan Bosley's seat when he leaves the legislature. So far we have three people who have publicly made their intentions clear:

Gailanne Cariddi, Margie Ware and Ed McDonald.

Now I am hearing rumblings that former Berkshire Chamber President, David Bissaillion, is serious about tossing his hat in the ring.

So far, that's a pretty formidable group.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
  Uncle Joe Would Be Proud
Liz Cheney and company have no shame.

I guess it is a now a crime in the right wing's eye's to be civil liberties lawyer. Disgusting.
Monday, March 01, 2010
  Gubernatorial Influence
Does anyone else see the parallels between David Patterson's phone calls and Sarah Palin's Troopergate?

Thursday, February 25, 2010
  Sing it Sister!
The former chef of the Inn at Putney:
  New Nukes
There is a major national energy policy debate brewing in our own backyard. While I think it is a mistake to smear the more modern designs of nuke plants with the obvious failings and dishonesty of the Vermont Yankee Rowe plant, the Vermont Senate has made the prospect of new 21st century American nuclear plants a little less likely.
Investigators recently discovered that plant officials covered up leaks of tritium -- a cancer-causing chemical. Shumlin says senators also worried about billions in financing for a spinoff Entergy has proposed to run the old plant.

SHUMLIN: Our judgment in Vermont is this makes Lehman Brothers and AIG and the other shenanigans on Wall Street look like kindergarten play.

The Vermont vote reverses some of the Obama administration's push for nuclear power as a cleaner energy source.
Am I the only layperson who thinks that the modern plants are a viable option while the '50s and '60s era plants need to go away? Are these two issue so intertwined politically that your average person cannot perceive the difference between the two technologies?
A blog of random thoughts and reactions emanating from the bank of a mountain stream in the farthest reaches of the bluest of blue states.

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greg at gregoryroach dot com

"Livability, not just affordability." - Dick Alcombright

My ongoing campaign for North Adams City Council

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Because a Chart is Worth 1000 Words

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