Great Barrington Town Hall. Photo courtesy of the City.
Greater Barrington— After an hour of discussion and debate, the select committee decided to table proposed revisions to the city’s fiscal year 2024 budget and financial policy.
The changes, as proposed by members of the finance committee, were presented via a document drafted by committee members at a joint meeting on Monday, September 19. “These proposed changes are the result of several meetings within the committee,” the finance committee said. said Chairman Phillip Orenstein at the start of the meeting. “Our goal was just to make sure that the budget, the budget process, and the budget workbook that we all rely on has enough information and data to have a productive decision-making process. This has been the case in the past, and we’re just trying to slightly improve the process in the future and certainly make revisions based on some of the recent revenue and spending trends in the city.
One of the proposed changes included the addition of “supporting affordable housing” as one of the strategic budget and tax policy priorities.
Other proposed policy changes include the management of free cash and reserves. The committee proposed that the city set a percentage level for its overall general fund reserves and available cash certifications in its annual budget.
He also proposed that, if the city generates free cash consistently above seven percent of the budget, “the City Manager will carefully review future budget proposals to determine whether revenue projections should more closely align with historical trends. and make adjustments.
Regarding the format of the municipal budget, the committee proposed that City Manager Mark Pruhenski provide anticipated new borrowing in his budget filings.
Finally, as part of the budget process, the committee has proposed a historical financial report going back at least five years that includes a list of the sources of available liquidity, a history of the various reserve accounts, as well as a projection of the debt on five years, including future borrowings.
While council members, including board chair Stephen Bannon, were receptive to adding affordable housing as a priority, they were not receptive to the proposed changes. “When I first moved to Great Barrington, the school district was in the process of writing a mission statement for the school district,” coach Edward Abrahams said near the start of the meeting. “I remember thinking it should be ‘educating children’ and that [the school] didn’t need to spend a lot of time understanding the mission statement.
Board Vice Chair Leigh Davis said she agreed with Abrahams. “While I absolutely appreciate the work done by the finance committee, which is heroic, I’m a little hesitant about it,” Davis said.
“I think a lot of the material [requested] may be added by the finance committee at its meetings before the budget [is set]”, Bannon said. “But I think it’s going to fill the budget book with things that the average person isn’t necessarily going to look at. I will support affordable housing [as a priority]. I don’t think anyone will disagree with that one.
One of the concerns expressed by members of the select committee about the changes was that the city still did not have a chief financial officer and that members did not want to move forward with the proposed changes until a n wouldn’t have been hired.
City Manager Pruhenski said the city has eight candidates for the position. “We will start interviews as early as last week, but I’m reluctant to provide a hiring timeline at this point,” Pruhenski said. “But I’m reluctant to provide a hiring timeline at this stage, as I don’t know where the candidate will be contracted to another community, or what the start date will look like.”
Vice President Davis eventually introduced a motion to delay the changes proposed by the committee, but to discuss them when the city hires a new chief financial officer.
The board approved the motion by a 3-2 vote, with Bannon, Davis and Abrahams voting yes, while members Garfield Reed and Eric Gabriel voted against the motion.
Amendments as proposed by the Finance Committee, in PDF format.