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Pittsfield Councilors Look to Honor Financial Support For Turf Field
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
01:25AM / Thursday, December 20, 2018
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The City Council's finance subcommittee on Tuesday approved using free cash for the contribution.


Attorney Michael MacDonald outlined the history of the project on Tuesday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city will honor its previous commitment to the Berkshire Community College turf field project.

But councilors still have some questions about the operations,

Particularly, at-Large Councilor Earl Persip raised concerns that there is no guarantee that the field will be accessible to the city's youth years into the future and he dislikes that city schools are being charged the same price to rent the facility.
 
"I would like to see our fees be cheaper than somebody from outside," Persip said, citing schools from towns that hadn't contributed to the capital aspect of the project pay the same amount.
 
Persip further pushed for an agreement ensuring the facility remains available to the local youth in years to come. There is no such agreement in place, though attorney Michael MacDonald said he recalls conversations with the previous administration regarding something like that which could be on record somewhere.
 
"I'm not comfortable until I see some type of agreement from BCC that keeps this field running the way it is now," Persip said.
 
MacDonald said while BCC does own the land, the project is a community one and is expected to stay that way. He said most of the scheduling and decisions about the field are being done by mostly local youth coaches and organizations. He added it was the local committee that approached BCC about using the land, rather than it being a BCC-driven project.
 
"We approached them. They view this as in fact a community project that happens to be on their property," MacDonald said.
 
Persip and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi both said while that may be the case now, that may not be the case in the future. Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood added that such an agreement could be drawn up when the money is distributed through a grant agreement.
 
MacDonald added that the fees established by the group matched rates of similar fields and believed there was an intention to provide lower fees to those who contributed to the building of it, but he wasn't sure if that was actually the case.
 
Persip was the only vote on the city's finance subcommittee against a proposal to fund $200,000 worth of capital projects through free cash at the facility. The $200,000 of support had been approved back in 2014 but the city received a legal opinion that the money couldn't be bonded so instead it had to come from a different source. Kerwood suggested free cash.
 
"This is not a bondable activity, not eligible for bonding because we won't own or control the asset," Kerwood said.
 
The money had previously been approved as a capital bond and now to switch that needs City Council approval. The Finance Committee easily approved rescinding the bond authorization, but the question of whether it should be paid out from free cash or another source became a concern.
 
Chairman Peter Marchetti joined nearly all of the councilors is voicing concern with using free cash. Marchetti said he would hate to see the city's free cash become a source of capital funding. However, he agreed with Kerwood that it was a clean and easy way to honor the commitment a previous council and administration made.
 
"I am supporting this as the exception and not the rule," Marchetti said. "When the city makes a commitment it doesn't matter who the mayor was or the council was, the city made a commitment."
 
The original appropriation came in the year the City Council did not approve a capital budget. Instead, it authorized separate borrowings for projects throughout that year. The turf field authorization was part of a $776,000 authorization for a bundle of projects. 
 
MacDonald said the contribution was one of several commitments the turf field committee was able to get and was going into the full financial package. The project hasn't needed the funds until now.
 
Left to build at the facility are bleachers, a press box, concession stand, and some drainage work. That is what the city's contribution will help complete.
 
The group went to the city to ask for those previously approved funds and Kerwood had concerns in bonding on a project the city doesn't own. He contacted the city's bond counsel, which confirmed that it wasn't something that could be bonded like that.
 
Kerwood said free cash made the most sense from an accounting perspective. However, Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo pushed for the funds to come from the contingency budget line instead. She said that is intended to be used for unexpected costs such as this one. 
 
"I don't want to take it out of free cash," Mazzeo said.
 
At first, Mazzeo proposed having the money come from the Community Preservation Act. The project had already tapped into those funds and Kerwood said it wouldn't be certain that the CPA committee, which was crafted to include community members and not just elected officials, would approve giving more money to it. Kerwood said that committee might look to spread the funds around the city to other projects — a guess that would be consistent with the CPA's decision last year to fund every proposed project at some level.
 
Mazzeo then switched to the contingency. Kerwood, however, said that would create a messy accounting of the project. That fund has about $122,000 left in it now and it has been used as the source to pay for other ongoing expenses. That would mean the city would have to shift money from another place in the budget to fund the entire project out of that line. 
 
Nonetheless, free cash was ultimately approved by a 4-1 vote. The full City Council will now have to cast the final vote.
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