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Pittsfield residents debate, add money to reserve funds

  • Paul Sherwood raises his card to vote in support of a warrant during Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Paul Sherwood raises his card to vote in support of a warrant during Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Pittsfield town moderator Stephen Adams leans over to talk with select board member Linda Small during discussion on a set of budget warrants during Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Pittsfield town moderator Stephen Adams leans over to talk with select board member Linda Small during discussion on a set of budget warrants during Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Faith Whittier, a supervisor of the checklist and budget committee member for the town of Pittsfield, counts votes during the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Faith Whittier, a supervisor of the checklist and budget committee member for the town of Pittsfield, counts votes during the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Local Girl Scouts help lead the Pledge of Allegiance before the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Local Girl Scouts help lead the Pledge of Allegiance before the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Provisions for the meeting sits on a chair during Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Provisions for the meeting sits on a chair during Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Pittsfield town administrator Paul Skowron, center, addresses residents' questions during the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Pittsfield town administrator Paul Skowron, center, addresses residents' questions during the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Sophia Sarte, 12, plays hopscotch outside while taking a break from helping staff the snack table at the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Sophia Sarte, 12, plays hopscotch outside while taking a break from helping staff the snack table at the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Paul Sherwood raises his card to vote in support of a warrant during Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Pittsfield town moderator Stephen Adams leans over to talk with select board member Linda Small during discussion on a set of budget warrants during Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Faith Whittier, a supervisor of the checklist and budget committee member for the town of Pittsfield, counts votes during the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Local Girl Scouts help lead the Pledge of Allegiance before the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Provisions for the meeting sits on a chair during Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Pittsfield town administrator Paul Skowron, center, addresses residents' questions during the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Sophia Sarte, 12, plays hopscotch outside while taking a break from helping staff the snack table at the Pittsfield town meeting on Saturday morning, March 15, 2014 at Pittsfield Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Many Pittsfield residents at yesterday’s town meeting said they didn’t understand exactly how a half-million dollars in reserve fund spending would not impact the tax rate. But after multiple questions, and a change of heart from a key official, they decided to add the money to the reserve funds.

The $552,000 requested by the board of selectmen will go into reserve funds to provide for the future purchase of a fire engine, a police cruiser and several public works trucks. Going into the meeting, the budget committee was opposed to the majority of the reserve fund articles.

The mood at the meeting was tense with frequent questions until budget committee Chairman Louis Houle stood up in the audience and said he had changed his mind regarding reserve fund spending, and asked voters to do the same.

“We need these items,” Houle said, his voice resigned.

Houle requested voters support the articles he previously opposed after a reserve fund for computers was voted down and a request for money to be placed in a fund for police cruisers narrowly passed by card vote. Eleven of 16 articles on the ballot were requests for money to be added to reserve funds.

“I would rather see it done by taxation than by reserve funds,” Houle said. “I hope that you would support me in asking that we have a much more open government.”

After Houle changed his opinion, voters overwhelmingly supported the remaining reserve funds up for consideration. Six of those funds provided for various highway department equipment, including a new snow plow, a sidewalk tractor, a small dump truck and a backhoe.

Selectwoman Linda Small said the reserve spending wouldn’t affect taxes because the tax rate had been set too high the last two years, leaving the town with a surplus.

Residents, selectmen and budget committee members bickered over exactly how to word the articles, but most agreed the town’s capital reserve funds were low and in need of the boost rather than lowering the tax rate. With a 2013 tax rate of $30.78 per $1,000 of assessed property value, Pittsfield held its position as one of the 10 highest-taxed communities in the state.

Despite Small’s multiple attempts to explain, many voters remained confused as to how taxes would not be increased.

“If your own budget committee that had weeks and weeks to study it can’t understand it, I don’t know how the people of Pittsfield can,” said Faith Whittier, the secretary of the budget committee.

Small, one of five selectmen and the selectmen’s representative to the budget committee, spent much of the morning defending the board’s methods of paying for future expenses. At times she seemed flustered because she said she did not know how to explain any more clearly how the reserve fund process works.

“The board honestly thought this was a good thing,” Small said of the reserve fund requests. “Nothing sneaky. This is as open as we can get. It’s confusing. Government is confusing.”

Planning board member Bill Miskoe said the reserve fund process may be awkward for some voters, but he said the town was behind in its investment in such funds.

“If we don’t do something, the roof is going to fall in,” Miskoe said.

When the last reserve fund article was passed, Small and other selectmen on the stage in Pittsfield Elementary School seemed relieved, and were smiling and laughing with each other. She jokingly called the back-and-forth between she and Houle a “healthy dialogue.”

The biggest cost to the town, its $3.8 million budget, was passed without much discussion. This year’s budget is $87,000 – or 2.3 percent – higher than last year’s. The new budget will result in an increase of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Voters also approved a contract to provide salary increases for police patrol officers. The three-year contract will cost $30,000 and raise the tax rate 4 cents per $1,000. This does not include sergeants or the police chief, Town Administrator Paul Skowron said.

(Daira Cline can be reached at 369-3306 or dcline@cmonitor.com.)

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