|Revised Working Group Formed to Re-Assess Tyer's At Home Program|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:58AM / Wednesday, May 29, 2019
|Councilor Anthony Simonelli, Melissa Mazzeo, and Kevin Morandi — along with Christopher Connell who sits at the other side of the dais — filed the petition to form a new working group to examine the program.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The mayor's proposed At Home in Pittsfield program may see a new life.
The City Council shot down the mayor's plan to provide zero-interest loans to residents who make repairs to the exterior of their homes with a particular sticking point being the source of funding: the GE Economic Development funds. Tyer originally said she had exhausted all avenues for other funding mechanisms and didn't have much interest starting back at the drawing board.
In turn, Tyer doubled down in rallying support from the public for the program and agreed to add two city councilors and the director of finance to the existing group of people who planned the program.
"It is my understanding, and with great relief, that the City Council agrees with the structure of the program. Unfortunately, there are differences of opinion on the use of economic development funds," Tyer wrote in response.
"First, I must recognize and thank the city's Office of Community Development, Habitat for Humanity, Berkshire Bridges-A Working Cities Initiative, and our bank partners for the dedication and commitment they have provided throughout the development of this initiative. Their creative thinking, valuable input, and engaged participation all contributed to designing a well-crafted response to the housing needs of our community. It is a hallmark of collaboration.
I, and these outstanding community representatives originated the At Home in Pittsfield concept, presented it to the City Council for its consideration, and compromised in several areas to satisfy concerns raised by the City Council. If we are going to find a funding solution that we can all be proud of then it is essential that the original planners be part of the next level of review."
The mayor is suggesting Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, and At Large Councilor Peter White join Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer, Community Development & Housing Program Manager Justine Dodds, Habitat Executive Director Carolyn Valli, Alisa Costa of Working Cities, Lori Gazzillo Kiely of Berkshire Bank, Tara McCluskey from Greylock Federal Credit Union, Richard Whalen from Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, and Paula Lewis from Lee Bank to revisit the program.
"I am confident that there will be serious deliberations and a sincere willingness to find a solution," Tyer wrote.
Morandi had been one of the votes leading the program to fall short of the supermajority needed while White has been an ardent supporter.
Despite filing the petition and then being put on the revived working group, Morandi is hoping his colleagues Christopher Connell, Melissa Mazzeo, or Anthony Simonelli, who co-sponsored the petition with him, would be able to fill in.
He said on Tuesday he is unsure if he'd be able to attend the meetings depending on the scheduling and hoped any of the other three could serve as alternatives.
Mazzeo also voted against the program at first but is now having a change of heart. She had been part of a group of officials and planners last week to hear from Strong Towns Founder Charles Marohn. T
hat presentation included detailing how officials Oswego, N.Y., created a similar program and how that tied into the Strong Towns' community development strategies.
"If I had actually read a lot of that and was understanding where he was going with that, I would have had a different outlook on this," Mazzeo said.
She called the presentation "eye-opening" and has newfound energy to support the program. However, she said she does still have reservations about the funding source.
"I think this is really a positive thing for the city, it is just how are we going to fund this," she said.
Meanwhile, Simonelli who was among the group who filed the petition calling for a new working group voted against the mayor's counteroffer, though he did not explain his reasoning. Council President Peter Marchetti abstained from the discussion as he has throughout the debate on the program because of his banking employment. The vote for the new working group passed 9-1.
In other business, the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the state to add a 5-cent deposit on nip bottles. State lawmakers are undertaking an effort to revise the bottle bill -- adding particularly water bottles to the containers with a 5-cent deposit -- and Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo filed a council petition asking the state to add nip bottles as well.
"I went on a recent walk around Silver Lake walking path, from end to end was covered in nip bottles," Caccamo said.
Caccamo said the deposit is a way to use the market to influence environmental strategies. The deposit would lead to more people recycling them and keeping them out of the environment -- and the research with carbonated beverages has shown that states with the deposit have a higher rate of recycling than not. However, a 2014 effort to expand the bottle bill was rejected at the ballot by a wide margin.
"I'm hoping if more communities passed resolution it would help move the legislation to the governor," Caccamo said.
Connell said there are concerns about supermarket's having the operational ability to handle the small bottles but he said that could be worked out. He supported the resolutions. White said action against nip bottles is something the community has been looking for and added his observation of a large number of nip bottles along the Memorial Day parade route. He hopes the state will take action.
The resolution was supported unanimously, notably without discussion as to whether or not the council should take stances on statewide issues as had hotly debated the most recent times the council has been asked to do so.