With a match from free cash secured, Pittsfield officials plan to jump-start ‘phase two’ of renovations to Springside House | Central Berkshires

PITTSFIELD — City leaders will match a $500,000 federal grant with an infusion of money from Pittsfield’s free cash — locking down a portion of the money needed to start phase two of the renovations to the Springside House.

Officials think that this phase of the renovation project will cost close to $3 million but are counting as a win the $1 million they’ve secured through the federal grant and city match.

An 8-2 vote in favor of using free cash for the project wipes away officials’ concerns that the city would have to pass on the Save America’s Treasures grant after two councilors opposed dipping into free cash.

The $500,000 grant, overseen by the National Park Service, was awarded to the city in December. The grant comes with the stipulation the awardees must match the award amount — essentially proving they have money for their proposed project set aside before the federal government reimburses their expenses.

Will Pittsfield have to pass on a prestigious grant to fix the Springside House?  It'll come down to a City Council vote

In recent weeks, representatives from the city’s community development and finance departments said they had decided that using free cash — the unrestricted funds left over from the prior year’s city budget and operations would be the best way to protect residents from higher taxes related to the project .

“As the legislative body you get to decide as to how to appropriate the match,” Finance Director Matt Kerwood told the council’s finance subcommittee recently. “We have made a recommendation. We believe it is sound, we believe it is solid, we believe it is prudent and financially the right thing to do.”

Councilors Karen Kalinowsky and Charles Kronick, members of the finance committee, stood as the two most vocal opponents of this plan, instead proposing that the city apply for Community Preservation Act money for the project.

Look Ahead, Pittsfield: CPA funding requests up over last year for more housing and preservation projects

The CPA fund, which is filed annually through a 1 percent surcharge on property taxes, has around $700,000 to allocate this year, according to Justine Dodds, the director of community development.

However, the committee that oversees the fund has already accepted applications, sorted through eligible projects , and is in the process of deciding how much money each eligible project will get.

Karen Kalinowsky ceiling panel. jpg

Councilor Karen Kalinowsky points to a broken section of ceiling she says shows the state of some city-owned buildings. Kalinowsky was advocating that the city use free cash to fix up some of these “active” city properties rather than putting money to match a federal grant that would cover renovations as the Springside House.

Kalinowsky said the city should have submitted a request for CPA funds on the off chance they received the Save America’s Treasures grant.

“I just think it’s priorities,” Kalinowsky said. “They didn’t prioritize the Springside House and now they’re trying to tell us that we should prioritize it. I think we should keep our cash free for our active buildings in the city.”

Kalinowsky suggested the free cash, which was certified at an unprecedented $17 million this year, would be better put to use at City Hall. The councilor said every time she comes in for a council meeting she wonders if a cracked and bulging portion of ceiling near a vent above her council seat is going to fall on her.

“We have to stop being in the mindset of this or that,” Councilor Earl Persip III said.

Persip said putting up the money for the match won’t preclude the city from doing other needed work with free cash or any other funds. He added that he hopes the city will seek out CPA funds for later portions of the Springside House project.

A federal grant could usher in a new day for Pittsfield's Springside House.  Here's what's in the works

Councilors who voted in favor of the free cash match also said they’d rather save CPA funds for organizations that don’t have access to the same kind of cash that the city does.

“We’re asking our organizations to fundraise all the time and the CPA is part of that for those organizations that have no other options,” Councilor Kevin Sherman said. “We have another option here and I suggest we take it. It’s the cleanest option. … We have the money to work on [the house].”