Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
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?

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

iBerkshires' Online Event Calendar

Because a Chart is Worth 1000 Words

Congressional Budget Office data

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