City Council liveblog 2/24/09

7:09 Here we go. Starting with the economic development report. Our favorite.

First item, from Gary Rosen-progress on talks between CitySquare and Unum.

City Manager Michael O’Brien says it’s a “private” transaction/discussion between the parties…but O’Brien says the hope is that a letter of intent and agreement will come shortly.

MassPort and the airport:

O’Brien: “The discussions and negotiations continue.” Of course, there’s the sweeping transportation reform being initiated at the state level, and Governor Deval Patrick has included MassPort’s takeover of Worcester Regional airport in his proposal…pending city-MassPort negotiations.

Still, O’Brien says he’s figuring on the city carrying the same 21% operational deficit and debt service ($1.2 million) in next year’s budget plan until a final takeover occurs.

7:14: North Main Street improvements

Assistant City Manager Julie Jacobson says the North Main/Lincoln Square plan is still being carried forward.

Short term, Jacobson says reuse of the Worcester Aud, old courthouse, and Boys club are the primary goals.

7:18: The Cultural Coalition is going to be launching a “staycation” promotion called “Worcester: Who Knew?” targeting regional travelers. And Coalition Exec. Director Erin Williams is part of a state group looking at developing “creative cities.”

7:27: Rick Rushton on Airport: Will MassPort also have control of the land at the airport

O’Brien: “There’s obviously a lot of moving parts…there’s lots of options that are available.”

There are developable parcels, etc…and O’Brien says it’s all being talked about in negotiations with MassPort.

Rushton: “Have we ever done an assessment [on the value]?”

O’Brien: Essentially, no. There have been no professional appraisals yet.

He says he wont let the land go without getting fair market value (the negotiations [or result] will be “completely transparent.”). So any MassPort takeover isn’t a done deal for the immediate future, though it looks like the inevitable eventuality.

7:32: Councilor Haller:

Kilby-Gardner-Hammond: What’s the progress on Clark University buying the land next to the Boys & Girls Club?

Written report will come down the road.

7:39: Councilor Palmieri

Union Station

Maxwells at Union Station is finishing up their renovations, and is already taking function bookings. The restaurant itself should be open late spring.

Harding Street

Palmieri wants to consider making the street two-ways, to make it more viable for businesses that might want to develop. (Joff Smith says the item is in Traffic and Parking…his family owns a building in the area)

DPW Commissioner Bob Moylan says there are talks about making the street two way for the whole length…would make access to and from Union Station much easier.

7:43: Palmieri…should there be a light at the Union Station parking garage alerting people to the fact cars are coming out?

Moylan: There are several issues with the garage to make it more effective, but none involve the light.

Gateway Park: Are there any new developments?

Jacobson: Voke buildings B and C are still under a conveyance agreement with Gateway Park…that expires in June, but could be extended.

7:52: Councilor Smith wants an update on Former hotel and conference center up at Lincoln Plaza

O’Brien: We’ll ask the owner.

Worcester Common improvements?

O’Brien says a report will follow connotating they don’t want to give a verbal answer right now. We just can’t believe Gary Rosen forgot to ask this question this week.

7:56: Joe Casello wants the council to reconsider the March 7 meeting at Botanical Gardens called for by Mayor Lukes. Toomey wants to disallow meetings outside the city in the future. Rushton wants a videographer at the meeting.

Haller puts a halt to everything, and holds the items under privilege pending a legal department ruling. Lukes says she already asked before proposing the meeting, but Haller’s motion takes precedence.

Casello is ripped.

“You call that democracy?” he says to us at the back of the room. “That’s bullshit…That’s what wrong with this city.”

He wanted his two minutes to speak he says. A copy of his planned speech questions “the city council conducting the peoples business outside the confines of the city itself, especially in a venue not accessible by public transportation…we would like to have that discussion take place not off the beaten path but in the confine of the city, in which we pay taxes.”

8:08: Councilor Palmieri asking about Sunday’s Telegram story on foreclosures in Worcester. Are there any problems with collecting taxes on properties that have a myriad of banks involved in proceedings.

O’Brien: “As a city and a city government we’re well ahead…”

“It’s very difficult to find out who even owns these properties.” But, he says, there’s a private firm going after who owns titles, and the city is focusing on collecting…

8:15: Information about the commission to look at a single tax rate should be formed soon, says Lukes.

8:36: The weekly technical difficulties…sorry.

Economic Development chief Tim McGourthy says the bike path segment downtown will come along at some point…different set ups are being looked at.

8:51: Nice visual look at the budget deficits being faced by the city.

Rushton wants more detailed specifics on exactly how cuts will be made(ie: will be be cutting gas use…not buying new school supplies, etc)

O’Brien says the city won’t be coming forward with a “this is a 5% cut, this is 10%” type plan, but will continue to come forward with specifics.

Rushton says too many of O’Brien’s solutions are based on assumptions of what the legislature may pass…”We’re hoping, but we don’t have any action.”

He’s asking “as one of your 11 bosses” the City Manager to come back with what a 5% cut will look like.

O’Brien: “I don’t look to the potential action of the legislature…as a known.” He’s already notified unions of layoffs, he says.

“The facts are the facts. The majority of our budget is in personnel.”

Rushton says that may be, but criticizes the manager for not talking about the 15% of the budget that ISN’T personnel.

“We want to see what it adds up to….at $129 million, 1% is $1.29 million.”

9:04: Haller commends the City Manager. “I do not see the City Manager relying on the partnership…of collective bargaining….but if adopted, would allow us to [move forward].”

9:07: Rosen: He says he can’t find fault with the manager’s update…and says that he’s looking forward to the 18 month budget…

9:09: Of the coming early retirements, O’Brien expects 15% of the positions to be refilled. So a net of about 80 positions will be unfilled for now.

Rosen says why not offer early retirement to senior police officers, and replace anyone who leaves with the recruits being laid off this Friday.

O’Brien says promotions would have to go down the line to fill positions, so cost savings would be negligible.

Rosen: Why weren’t teachers included in early retirement?

O’Brien: A lot of stimulus money is going to education, and “there wasn’t a lot of interest” from the school department.

Rosen: “It’s much too early to criticize the manager.”

9:17: Eddy: Says he expects the legislature to come through with aid.

He’s questioning why the school department wasn’t involved in early retirement—not teachers, says Eddy, but administrators, many of who were on that list of top 250 salaried employees.

CFO Tom Zidelis: “We can’t dictate [the school department] don’t fill positions.” So, even if the school department did do early retirements, there would be no guarantee the positions would remain unfilled.

Eddy, taking a page from Rosen, asks if there could be savings in combining school and cityside administration functions.

“The Durkin building[school administration] seems immune from this…[fiscal crisis].”

O’Brien: “I welcome the conversation with the new superintendent…we certainly have the capacity to take on some of those tasks in our organization.”

9:26: The budget — condensed, but still including line items (O’Brien takes a dig at the School Department’s habit of doing summary budgets)—will be out in Aprilish.

Looking around the room right now, it’s a good thing councilors don’t have a texting rule like Billerica.

9:32: Councilor Germain.

This $18 million deficit…would the 400 potential layoffs cover that full thing?

O’Brien: Yes.

Germain: The fire recruits are not in danger the exact same way police recruits are, as they’re part of the collective bargaining unit already. BUT, if layoffs ever occur in the department, we’d guess they’d be among the first targeted.

9:35: Councilor Toomey: “I know [this crisis] it’s kind of like shooting a moving target.”

“We have to be very careful about what happens and the quality of ife of our citizens.”

9:39: Rushton questions O’Brien’s math—400 positions at $18 million is about $45,000 a position. But 70 positions leading to $2million in savings is $28,571 a position.

Rushton is really going after O’Brien tonight, just quipping, “I know you think this is a laughing matter,” when O’Brien chuckled at something Rushton said.

9:42: Mayor Lukes: “If this discussion is a barometer of what’s going to come…it’s clear we have a lot of hurdles.”

“The reality is a 5% or 10% cut in a small department [is different] than in a large department.”

“When we look at how we’re going to have to solve our problems, we’re going to have to do some things we don’t enjoy.”

She criticizes the “one way street” relationship between the city and school department.

“We need to get more systematic” than just simple 5% or 10% cuts.

“Nothing will be safe.”

9:54: Joff Smith wants City Auditor James DelSignore appointed auditor of the School Department as well to look at costs, etc. on that side.

10:18: Under suspension—nothing of note.

We’re done, out, finished, fin.

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1 Comment

Filed under city council

One response to “City Council liveblog 2/24/09

  1. Land around the airport. As a resident of Leicester I tend to snipe at the city about that airport. A lot of the land is in Leicester. If the city is looking to profit off of non-taxable property in another town at the same time it’s always asking about payments in lieu of taxes from it’s own non-profits I think we have a bit of a conundrum. How does the city go after it’s own non-profits, then put the screws to another town where it owns a lot of non-taxable land? Enquiring minds would like to know.

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