City Council liveblog 1/27/09

7:11: To start, ACLU’s Ronal Madnick on his FOIA request for any city rules or policies regulating or restricting photography at city parks, pools, etc. Some photographers have been stoppped from shooting over the past few years.

Madnick got a response today from the City saying the concerns would be addressed in the 2009 revision to the Parks manual, and photography would be allowed.

7:14: Kate Toomey wants to color code parking zones based on time.

7:17: Phil Palmieri is railing about the pedestrian crossing on Belmont Street at UMass, calling it the most dangerous crossing in town. He wants a traffic guard or additional precautions over there.

And a Phil segue into the city’s inability to remove snow from it’s own sidewalks. “It’s not just the big issues,” he says.

O’Brien says a contractor has been hired to plow city owned properties, tax title owned, and privately owned properties that have become hazardous.

O’Brien says, in response to a question from Eddy, that the contractor will be out there six hours after the snow is done after tomorrow’s snow storm.

7:26: Toomey is requesting the city go after state agencies with expiring leases looking for cheaper office space. Sensible, original….we have nothing sarcastic to say about this.

7:28: All Toomey, all the time. Now she wants the garage marketed better for special events, not just day to day commuters.

7:29: Haller holds Lukes’ item asking the city council to stand as one requesting 0% union raises and a 75/25 health insurance split. Guess O’Brien isn’t getting that unified front as quickly as he wanted.

7:30: O’Brien on the 9c cuts. O’Brien says more information is needed(some of which may come tomorrow morning), before making final decisions.

The reality is $5 million in cuts need to take place before the end of this year, and $15-$20 million for FY2010. And there could be more if 9C cuts also effect grant programs, etc.

That may be slightly offset by a new Municipal Relief Package Governor Deval Patrick is putting forward.

O’Brien says the 9c cuts will be looked at first, then the FY2010 budget plan, then the Municipal Relief Package before making final plans on what to cut locally.

This is a very measured plan, especially considering how Boston is rushing to figure out what to cut.

Rushton: “The face of government today in Worcester is different than it will be next year.”

Still, “we need to wait until the variables are in place…but sitting on our hands is not an option.” He wants the city to step up in advocating for the MRP, including the telecom loophole.

7:41: Haller wants to know what the time frame is to start to make decisions.

O’Brien says a lot of the needed detail could come out tomorrow from the Governor and the House.

Preliminary analysis of House 1(the House Bill) and the Emergency Relief Bill should be available by Friday for councilors, says O’Brien. That means we MAY start to have an idea what programs his office is considering cutting at that time.

Then there are the federal relief packages. O’Brien says any effect from that is still unknown, and impossible to time.

7:50: Fun little aside…Eddy said there is a Legislative Affairs meeting scheduled for this Friday with the legislative delegation.

But, says Lukes, there can’t be a quorum present as the meeting is unadvertised and not public.

Eddy clarifies: It’s not a true Legislative Affairs meeting, but he’ll represent the committee.

7:54: Still talking on this stuff, but all comments can be boiled down:

We’re screwed, we just don’t know how screwed, and we need more information to make a decision. We will not make a decision until we know more. But we’re screwed.

Or, as Clancy says, We need to know more about potential help “to soften the blow” of the “fiscal crisis.”

“We just don’t know the size and the impact of the…financial tsunami.”

O’Brien wants to move to an 18-month budget cycle so we don’t over react to the 9c cuts; Clancy likes the idea. Does that mean cuts can be made past the end of the state budget year?

This 18-month budget thing is weird: We know the city has trouble making firm decisions without knowing the state decision; on an 18-month cycle, the city wouldn’t always line up with the state process.

8:01: Rosen wants to look at combining city side functions(HR, business/treasurer) with school side, when there’s an overlap.

8:02: O’Brien says “everything is on the table,” but says there may be “legal barriers” to combining functions.

8:05: Joff Smith says we need to “anticipate” and “think outside the box” while we’re waiting for the state.

He also supports the 18-month budget cycle.

8:09: Palmieri: “I don’t think the council floor is the place to debate” what should take place. The City Manager’s office or with legislators, in private, is better he says. Make your own transparency joke here.

8:14: Most or all of the councilors met with O’Brien today to talk budget; Germain says he is confident after that meeting that the manager is on the right track in “steering the ship.”

8:15: Under suspension. Toomey wants companies to be held accountable when they attach signs to trees, especially with our “limited resources.” No word on if this applies to the city’s street sweeping signs.

8:17: Germain. Raising that old favorite, the independent insurance audit. He had projected a $2 million savings; five weeks ago O’Brien had suggested doing the audit in house. The item had been referred to Municipal Operations, and Germain said he thought the decision was still up in the air.

But, the audit has started, he says, without any vote. So, 1)How is it going? and 2)”What is it that gives you the confidence that our people [and plan provider] who don’t have the track record…can conduct the audit…as well as an independent contractor?”

O’Brien says, “It’s not very complicated; it’s just a great deal of documentation.”

And, he says, he was clear that the goal was to proceed with the audit “with all due haste.”

Germain: Has Group Benefit Strategies(the provider) guaranteed we’ll save any money?

He keeps bringing up the one provider he brought in to meet with the city–a provider he knows–who was going to charge a fee only after $550,000 in savings was achieved.

Lukes: “This is starting to border on an inquisition.”

O’Brien: There are a lot of benefits to doing it in house—building longterm technological systems, etc.

Germain ends that after a meeting with CFO Tom Zidelis, he’s confident in how things are working; he just had concerns on how the decision was made.

8:29: Clancy wants the city to take a look at the feasibility of allowing residents to get monthly tax statements, rather than quarterly statements.

8:32: “Tech” Toomey wants the city to allow tax payment online. Some of this already takes place.

WERE OUT.

Stay safe tomorrow on the roads. We’ll be blogging more from the office as the day goes on.

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