Worcester City Council Liveblog 2/10/09

3 big things to look for tonight:

  • Do preliminary elections get cancelled?
  • How much support is there for selling naming rights to public properties?
  • What do the councilors think about pursuing regionalization efforts?

7:11: Still waiting to start…

7:18: Away we go.

7:20: What’s happening with all of those wood chips from Asian Longhorned Beetle trees? There had been talk that the city would own all of the chips, and be able to sell them as fuel to fund tree replanting. That’s not quite how it’s all going down though. Because the federal government is paying for the removal, they get final determination. And, says City Manager Michael O’Brien, the feds are currently selling the chips to save money on the cost of removal.

Longterm, O’Brien is trying to pursue that money going to replanting instead.

7:24: More beetle madness: Smith says the USDA is taking down city owned host trees that “we know aren’t infested,” despite the feds agreeing earlier to leave those up for now. (Ed note: We don’t KNOW they aren’t infested; the beetle hunters just haven’t found evidence of infestation.)

O’Brien says that when a tree is dead or dying, the city forestry department is making the call to take it down, even if it isn’t infested. There is no change in policy, despite rumors to the contrary.

7:36: Sale of naming rights for public buildings.

Councilor Gary Rosen: “We know businesses around the country…are interested…in purchasing naming rights…from cities, municipalities.”

He points to the DCU Center, Commerce Field at Foley Stadium, and Hanover Theatre.

“The list isn’t extensive in Worcester…but it’s worth looking into.”

He suggests that Clark University purchases the naming rights to University Park, and pay to fix up the pool, etc. Other opportunities: Senior Center, golf course, the golf course at Green Hill Park, Union Station(he says Polar Beverages would be a good fit due to the Crowleys’ support of Worcester; of course, Ralph Crowley was in chambers last year talking about how businesses already feel they are giving too much to city coffers).

7:40: Rosen, round 2. He’s asking for a report on how much of city services have already been privatized, and if it saves money or costs money.

7:42: Rosen, round 3: “I would never hire another consultant in the city of Worcester at the taxpayers’ expense.” He wants a report from the cityside and schoolside on how many consultants each department has, why, and how much it costs.

7:44: Rosen, round…eh, screw it. Rosen wants to incentivize (monetarily) an employee suggestion program to save money in the city. Mayor Lukes couldn’t make it through reading the order without cracking up.

Rosen: “Who better than the employees…to know how we can change business.”

7:51: Rushton wants a report on how each department has cut money since July 1, 2008.

7:55: Rushton wants incoming superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone to put aside time during her next visit to talk budget stuff with the city council. Lukes says most of her time will be dedicated to ceremonial functions during that visit, but she may be able to sit down in March

7:56: The annual request for top 250 paid employees, from Lukes. Worcester Magazine has also requested this data, and was told “it is being worked on.” Rushton wants to include breakdown into base salary, wants all employees included, etc. Haller wants residency included in the report.

8:01: Lukes wants to know why so much money is piling up in the Education Public Access account, and if the city should take it over, especially because school committee subcommittee meetings aren’t being broadcast or taped. (Although she says committee meetings themselves aren’t broadcast)

8:05: Election Calendar. It passes, with a Preliminary Election on tap.

Papers will be available for potential candidates tomorrow morning at 8:45. We’re off to the races.

One of the first to pull will be Tracy Novick, for school committee.

8:09: A City Manager special supplemental report on the budget situation. We don’t have a copy, as it just came in last minute. (On the other hand, Lukes is refusing to hear orders from Councilor Rushton until “under suspension” that appear on the online copy of the agenda, as they don’t appear on her copy.)

8:11: Situation as it stands.

  • $30.8 million is the figure he’s working with for FY2010 as a potential cut—that’s 25% of the operational budget. (This is for “presentational purposes, not hype.”)
  • That would equate to 1 in 3 employees. O’Brien calls that “unfathomable”

“We have got to start working from a framework of reality.”

His immediate suggestions:

  • Home rule legislation to extend pension schedule by 10 years. Combined with other contract savings being worked on, that will be a $4.5 million savings.
  • Use one time revenues coming in from debt service for North High stabilization, and put them towards snow removal. $2.5 million savings.
  • One time revenues from health care trust (where deposits outpace projected expenses). That would go to (we think he said) bond stabilization. STRICTLY one time, not available in 2011. $1.5 million.
  • Current 50 open positions will remain open through FY2010. $1.5 million in savings.
  • Any other position that opens will remain open, up to 20, saving another $500,000.

That brings us to a $20.3 million gap, rather than $30.8 million.

“It’s my intention to develop the FY2010 budget based on…$20.3 million deficit,” says O’Brien.

O’Brien says any layoff process has to begin now, to make way for hearings, union meetings, etc. It sounds like he wants the cuts completed by April 30th, to help meet the current 9C cuts in addition to the FY2010 gap.

O’Brien says that he met with the executive boards of every union except for the EAW, and made the reality clear.

8:22: He’s still hopeful that the Emergency Recovery Act will pass, bringing in a potential $11 million.

And he wants additional reform: a 75-25 split for all employees would save $1.5 million; a 0% wage increase would save $2 million; 1 week furloughs for non public safety workers would save $500,000.

Early retirements, etc. are a possibility.

The city is looking at fees: parking tickets, trash bags($.50 increase would bring in $1 million).

Then the nuclear option: Eliminating whole departments and divisions; services, programs; reorganization of programs, and the transfer of the airport.

And PILOT.

The full budget proposal will be out in mid-March.

O’Brien has already made some major moves: He is allowing the Police Academy class to graduate, but is not swearing them in and will lay them off immediately. That’s a $500,000 savings immediately.

8:29: Councilor questions.

Councilor Haller: How does drawing on the bond and North High stabilization accounts effect our bond rating. O’Brien says as long as we don’t draw down beneath where we are for this year, it shouldn’t hurt us that much.

O’Brien says, hypothetically, most of those early-retirement positions will remained unfilled, though some may be refilled.

Haller says losing the police class is “concerning.”

8:39: Councilor Petty.

What’s time time table for the Emergency Recovery bill? Unknown.

8:58: Woops…some technical difficulties on our end.

Councilors have ben continuing their questioning…nothing stunningly new in the last 20 minutes. We’re back online now.

9:05: Let’s sum up O’Brien’s answers to a bunch of this(as many of the questions are variations on a theme):

-We need legislative help to be most effective. We don’t know when it’s coming. This could potentially effect bond ratings, but if we handle it right, we should be OK. We need to move quickly, but there are a lot of variables we may have to adjust to (positively and negatively) on the fly.

9:07: Councilor Rushton, asking about open positions and their true cost savings.

The savings for the 32 recruits not being hired is $500,000.

O’Brien accounts for a potential 400 layoffs in his proposal.

9:30: O’Brien says he’ll continue to be as open and transparent, etc etc…All jokes aside, he’s done a good job of keeping the public and council updated week to week so far.

O’Brien says Governor Patrick has built in federal stimulus money into his state projections

9:32: Councilor Eddy: If the Emergency Relief isn’t happening until March(maybe), what is the process.

O’Brien: “I want to be as optimistic as possible…I’d be guessing if I told you we’d have that in March. The only definitive I have is [the numbers I gave you].”

The quicker the legislature acts, he says, the quicker the city will be able to determine layoff numbers. He calls it a “disservice” that he has to come forward with his estimate of those numbers now, without more information.

9:39: Under suspension: Councilor Rushton-

He wants an exemption to the civil service age limit for Jose Antonio Rivera(boxing’s 3 time World Champion) for an “original appointment” to the position of police officer.

9:45: Rushton’s order to regionalize services—he’s looking at it as a way of potentially bringing in revenue to the city from surrounding municipalities who might need Worcester’s help maintaining services.

9:50: Haller wants an update on the longrange “end homelessness” plan, including the progress on hiring a homelessness coordinator.

9:55: Meeting adjourned.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Worcester City Council Liveblog 2/10/09

  1. John Carnegie

    Scott, I would love to get the S & P 500 closing numbers for February 11th and 12th, since you are viewing the City Council meeting from the future …you have 2/12/09 in the title…

  2. John Carnegie

    I’m going to ask the same of Councilor Rushton, since he referenced July 1st, 2009 when he was talking about his item at 7:51…

  3. Jack Daniels Worcester City Hall.

  4. worcestermagazine

    The S&P sucks in the future too.

    Noted and fixed…was putting up our issue date!

  5. The Salvation Army Worcester City Hall

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