City Council live blog 3/5/11

Posted by Jeremy Shulkin

Cover It Live. Agenda.

7:18: M.O’Brien talks about his budget recommendation, rehashing previous power points about losing tax money and state aid while paying out more for increasing health care costs.

No taxes are going up — the $10 million levy will stay where it is — but he does point out 129 city positions will be lost.

The initial budget deficit started in the neighborhood of $14.3 million dollars, which he says he whittled down to $7 million by freezing remaining job vacancies and offering early retirement.

He says the recent vote in the state legislature show the Governor and House agree with his plan to move municipal unions into a “GIC-like” health care plan. Bargaining with Locals continues, he adds: “We need [the 129 workers] and we value each of them very much.”

“This budget will have a positive impact on the Worcester Public Schools,” citing Chapt. 70 state aid increases ($13.3 million), but factoring in the loss of stimulus money balances that out to a “net gain of approximately $8.2 million.” He says employee health insurance changes could “generate up to $8 million in cost increase avoidance that could be re-directed to the classrooms.”

Moylan says his budget cuts 19 positions. Over the years there’s been a “disproportionate” scope of cuts even as the “scope…has increased.”

“We are now down to areas that just don’t make any sense…if you look at my budget impact statement you’ll see things we’ve had success with that are downright eliminated.” This includes yard waste sites at Clark St. and Foley Stadium. The Millbury St. site will still be open. The graffiti team will be eliminated, as will Keep Worcester Clean and Nuisance Team. Three public beaches will be closed* and certain parks will get “absolutely no levels of service” to redirect services to the other city parks (he doesn’t say which ones).

*We received an email from the city this morning that said the beaches are funded in the budget and will not be closed.

“No street signs. No regulator signs. No advisory signs. No handicap parking signs,” etc. “Instead what will have to happen is we will have to outsource that…generally speaking when you outsource something it costs about 3x more than when you do it in house.” Parking control officers will be cut except for in the downtown area, which saves $60,000 in employee costs but ruins $120,000 in future revenue from parking tickets. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“My concern is about DPW is we always seem to get the job done. Last year I was concerned that we were close to failure. That if the wrong kind of incident occurred, like another ice storm…we would fail.”

Deputy Chief Steven Sargent says they’re expecting to lose 27 officers and 8 sergeants, along with civilian jobs. Community Impact will bear the brunt of the hit. Accident investigations will stop unless they’re high profile or linked to another investigation. Neighborhood watch officers will still work, anti-violence will stay intact. Priority staffing will go towards operations for call and response duties. “It will ultimately effect the moral.” Summer Impact is eliminated.

Fire Chief Gerard Dio says he came up with a reduction plan a few years ago, but this plan “negates” what he had. In ten years he says he’s lost 100 fire fighters.

The plan equates to 2 captains, 6 lieutenants and 35 fire fighters: same as two companies.

Brownouts were discussed like they used last year, but they’re for the short term and don’t work as long term plans, he says. “It’s a dark picture that we have to deal with and we try to deal with it the best we can.”

“You will start to see decreased response times…I don’t know the long-term effect of reducing two more companies in a city of this size.”

7:40: J.O’Brien says this year’s budget meetings will be different than last year, which means they’ll have three public budget hearings. 5/10, 5/17 and 5/24 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm are the dates and times.

7:42: Haller says “there’s no appetite” to raise taxes. She wants to know what loss of income the unions that did take the manager’s HC plan will face. M.O’Brien says “it’s a dynamic network that controls costs…the average family in the city…would save at least $1,700″ if moving over from Blue Cross/Blue Shield. There’s also a deal to create a “health savings account” and use the months of no premiums employees will get for switching to bulk it up.

7:47: Haller has the Manager reiterate that by taking the city’s HC plan the city could save the anti-graffiti team, summer impact, etc. O’Brien also says he’d use one-time money to bridge whatever gap is left if the unions take the new HC plan, but he won’t use (substantially more) one time money to plug the budget hole without HC reforms.

Haller: “This will have a devastating impact on District 4. I urge, hope, plea for our city employees” to come to an agreement with the city. “Public safety is our highest priority…It will take six months to destroy a lot of properties, but it will take years to get it back.”

Rushton: “We don’t have to repeat” what will happen to the city with these cuts. “We know what they are.” He says “it’s time to push the ball across the goal line” in regards to negotiations. “The majority of this council will not raise taxes…Failure at these negotiations is not an option.” He adds that he’s optimistic.

Toomey: “I’m loathe to have to work with this budget…it is difficult for us to try to bring business in…that will create a greater problem…What was outlined for us today will make fewer people work even harder.”

Palmieri: He starts with giving the manager and unions credit as they work through this, but calls this “beyond comprehension…I know the manager is not going to let that happen and I know the unions won’t let this happen…we’re not going to go thirty years back…it’s going to be a successful negotiation.”

Lukes: Budget decisions often have been delayed because of last-minute deals and agreements. But, she says, no rabbits will be pulled out of hats. “The cards are on the table. There are no hands that are hidden. Decisions will have to be made…I understand the art of negotiations. Perhaps we’re in dire consequences now, but unions want to get the best contracts for their employees for the next two to three years.” But, she says “generosity is not going to be an element” in the negotiations because of the multi-year recession.

“We have enough leadership out there that understands we have no where else to go,” she pleads to the negotiators. “Don’t wait for the state legislature to do anything. Let’s do it here and now for the city’s sake.”

8:09: Lukes talks about her amendment to the tobacco ordinance which would give stores three months to sell their cigarette stock before the ban goes into place. J.O’Brien holds it. Toomey says that’s best so Clancy can be here to vote on it.

8:12: Lukes wants to know if we can add information to water bills that say how much of the bill comes from EPA mandates. She also wants to know what the additional money we’ll have to spend to satisfy the latest mandate will go towards. Moylan says the rising fees this year do not factor in “anticipated” cost increases if the city loses its suit against the EPA.

The council votes in the increased water and sewer rates.

CSX is held once again so they can address Putnam Lane’s closure and the National Grid work all at the same time.

8:19: Toomey says Rice Lane School had no crosswalk for a while because of street re-paving. It’s there now but she wants better foresight for this.

8:23: Palmieri talks about the USDA/ALB meeting yesterday. “I thought it was eventful and interesting…The critical issue that we continue to ask is the inoculations of the host trees.”

“There seems to have been a change in what they want to do at this juncture…without really participating the way this council thought in inoculating more trees with the USDA.” He’s upset that the USDA and DCR won’t re-inoculate trees that got it last year.

There is a way to privately obtain the inoculate and use it, but Palmieri says there’s going to have a be a real concerted effort to get that information out there. He’s skeptical this will save many trees, “but we need to have a real proactive approach…we should have a program in place that is unlike any other place in the country because we are devastated by the ALB…we can’t just be cutting down infested trees and not inoculating host trees.”

Haller asks if there’s enough of that medicine over the counter to warrant sending out letters to constituents.

Smith calls the USDA’s decision “completely baffling…they might want to wash their hands of all the trees in the Greendale/Burncoat area, but I’m not ready to do that…guess what, if you don’t treat them they’re going to become infested. It’s very logical.”

“There’s no logic behind these decisions that are being made…There comes a point where we have to expect and demand more. The residents demand more…Funding is not an issue. They have enough money to do the chemical treatments. There is no logical excuse.”

8:34: Toomey talks about the April 24, 1916 Easter Rising when the Irish declared independence from the British government.

Rushton commends the Navy SEALs and Obama administration for “getting that bastard.”

4 Comments

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4 responses to “City Council live blog 3/5/11

  1. -Q

    The city manager has made his choices on the budget dilema and because he chose to lay-off 129 frontline service providers our citys public safety is now in serious jeapordy. The city manager could have closed shop on his $100k+ boys/girls administrative club – but no, he would rather take cops off the beat, have police become a reactive force rather than a proactive WPD, close fire stations, increase response times to emergencies, reduce city services, etc…..these are the choices our taxpayer financed city manager decided to make. The city council now has the one chance to restore public safety and city services and support the homeowners and families of our city – REJECT THE CITY MANAGERS BUDGET!
    Look at the school side of the budget – not one administrative personel was let go only the class room teachers, aides, etc……and on top of laying off our teachers the superintendent has just hired ANOTHER $86k administrative position!!!!………The city council has one chance to restore teachers and instructors and support our school children – REJECT THE CITY MANAGERS BUDGET! If the city council allows these abhorent cuts to go through each and every city councilor should be given their own lay-off notices come November…………REMEBER IN NOVEMBER!

  2. -Q

    7:47: Haller in reference to the above mentioned cuts in public safety: “This will have a devastating effect on District 4…” You are absolutely correct and you and your fellow collegues can actually prevent these serious cuts by simply rejecting the city managers budget which is allowable within the City Charter………..send this unworkable anti-taxpayer/homeowner city manager cat box liner budget back and have the city manager get serious about REAL cuts in our city and clear out all administrative offices – we can no longer afford the largess of this city manager nor his $100+k boys/girls club……………make all of these cuts first and then lets have a real open frank discussion about the city budget…..to do anything less is a disservice to the families and homeowners of our city………..Haller stop your whining and start doing the job you were elected to do………..if there are public safety cuts, councilor Haller and you did not reject the city managers budget, then you will be personally responsible for the rise in crime rates our city family will be expirencing and any other city councilor not rejecting the city managers budget will be as equally responsible for the outcomes of diminished public safety operations and city services by their not rejecting the city managers “faux pas” budget……..

  3. Pingback: Budget cuts « Nicole, Worcester

  4. Guess we should enjoy the clean streets and sidewalks while we can. We could keep it this way if Worcester would set aside one day every month from April to November – say the 22nd (the Master Builder in numerology) – to do the four-hour Earth Day clean-up. I think, too, we should double the pay-rates of the city workers who pick up our trash and recycling every week and sweep our streets in the middle of the night. Apart from the fresh water system and public order, sanitation is the best thing the Romans have ever done for us.

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