Worcester City Council Liveblog 8/11/09

5:18: Solving the budget deficit. The City Manager has proposed raising food and lodging taxes under the local option as a main component of his latest plan.

Michael Lanava from the Chamber of Commerce says that the group – somewhat surprisingly – is going to support the raise, as it won’t have that much effect on consumers.

Further, he says, for the extra amenities and safety in Worcester versus other cities, it’s worth an extra $1 a night, or few cents a meal.

“We do support…for the sake of safety.”

5:23: The city’s dependent audit, which showed about 3% of dependents were improperly enrolled, and thus resulted in their removal.

Councilor Michael Germain, who was one of the first to call for an audit, says he expected a higher number, but is pleased with the $1million plus being saved over time…he calls for those to be used to reduce premiums in the future, if possible.

5:49: The city is looking for $3 million in a fire staffing grant and several more million in a police staffing grant. Most of this is federal money(especially on the fire side) distributed through the state.

On the police side, there isn’t that much Byrnes funding available, and it’s expected to be distributed statewide; the city is “being aggressive,” says City Manager in going after as much as possible.

6:05: Barbara Haller says that Wheels to Water “is providing tremendous opportunity,” according to people in her district. The city, shocker, agrees.

City Manager Michael O’Brien says he’s going to try to lock up some of the partners for 2010 as the city “sorts out” what it can afford to offer.

6:12: Smith is praising that the USDA is “finally” pursuing a chemical treatment for Asian Longhorned Beetle prevention, saying he thinks it could prevent thousands of trees from being cut down.

O’Brien says he’s hoping for the next round of federal funding for a new battle…and a more consistent policy that has everyone on the same page.

6:19: Palmieri: “This council advocated for inoculation from day 1…I truly believe…we would have saved thousands of trees.”

6:22: CM O’Brien on the budget solution. The full solution here.

In order for the state to approve the local option tax increases for hotels and restaurants for October 1, the city needs to let the department.

As for the Quinn Bill, O’Brien is saying the only two “responsible” options if negotiations with the police unions aren’t fruitful are to pay just the city’s 50% of the Quinn Bill (which would need to be negotiated with the police), or to raise taxes to cover the state’s 50%. (There’s a $2.4 million gap here).

“I’m presenting the last of the options,” says O’Brien. The next level would be deeper and deeper cuts.

Petty: “I can’t cut the police.”

Let’s just preview the next 20 minutes.

IT’S AN ELECTION YEAR, SO NO ONE WILL WANT TO CUT THE POLICE DEPARTMENT!

6:39: Clancy says the ongoing cuts are starting to have a visible effect on crime and violence. “It’s strained, because of the services we can provide.”

He says cutting police is a last option; on the local option side, he says it’s the avenue with the “least impact,” and a much better option that property tax increases, etc.

6:45: “Some happy medium has to be reached,” says Councilor Joff Smith. It’s not fair for police to suffer more, but it’s also not fair for the city to be responsible for the full Quinn Bill deficit being left by the state’s decision not to fund.

“I would hope that negotiations would be fruitful between the manager and the police unions.”

6:49: Haller: “I hope our police unions can take the long haul look of what will maintain public safety…”

6:50: The local option tax will pass after the councilors are done talking; they’re also (so far) unanimously in favor of voting to revise the 1987 Quinn Bill vote, and funding just the 50% Quinn Bill share the city is responsible for.

6:54: Toomey says raising the property tax is the most regressive option possible, but calls for everything else to be on the table.

“This is a difficult time. I know the City Manager is going to go back in good faith…that the Police Department will be in good faith.”

6:58: Counilor Michael Germain doesn’t want to increase property taxes(shocker), and wants to see solid negotiations between police and the city(revolutionary).

He’s realistic though, asking why any officer would want to see such a huge cut in pay.

As far as local option taxes though, he said there are still other options on the table aside from taxes: PILOT[ed: a tax for non profits]; dorm room tax[ed: a tax for dorm rooms/non profits]; fees for code inspections[an additional fee for homeowners]…

“There are a lot of other…plans. We need to keep the dialogue going.”

He says he was completely opposed to local option taxes, but the Chamber of Commerce’s support almost changed his mind. Solely to keep the dialogue going though, he says he will oppose the local option, though he will go down alone.

7:04: With Rosen supporting the Quinn Bill, it’s unanimous. Everyone wants to continue at least some level of Quinn Bill funding…everyone thinks an “educated” police force is important. (Of course, there are the pols who privately – never publicly – complain about so-called abuse of the system, while saying the intent of education for officers is admirable).

7:11: Rushton: If the $3.7 million deficit remains – if nothing was passed tonight – what would it mean for layoffs in fire and police?

O’Brien says he’s not tying the local option tax revenues to public safety, but he did put the local option in the same report as the Quinn Bill options…and the councilors have been clear about tying the cause and effect together….that they are supporting the local option because they believe in public safety.

7:16: O’Brien says across the city, $3.7 million would be 80-100 positions lost…and that some of those would have to come from police and fire, as they haven’t faced the same level of cuts.

7:19: Rushton is going to support the local option, but says he agrees with Councilor Germain that other options need to be explored.

The reality, says Rushton, is that this is a direct – HUGE – wage cut for the police (10%-15%?)…that makes for tough negotiations for the city.

7:23: Mayor Konnie Lukes: “About the only thing we can be possibly certain of is the element of uncertainty that will hang over these negotiations.”

“In the private sector, what happens….? There are either cuts in benefits or cuts in jobs or both.”

The only difference, she says, is the sensitivity of the services.

7:26: Down the road, says Lukes, with current strategies (no reform on school side, not enough money even with an override to pay for our budget next year), “we are doomed.”

In terms of local option taxes, Lukes says the extra penny or two does make a difference, “because it comes off the tip.”

She’s opposed to the restaurant tax…sounds like she supports hotel tax though.

“This conversation will happen again next year [because] it won’t be enough.”

7:29: Police Officials’ IBPO 504 head Don Cummings: Says the Quinn Bill has worked—that there is an educated police officials’ force….Prospective officers see the Quinn Bill as part of the base pay.

“The administration is pitting us against the tax payers,” says Cummings.

He asks why the remaining $1.6 million deficit is being stuck to the police—why some of the reforms couldn’t have been used to restore Quinn funding, and leave the gap elsewhere where local aid was cut.

“We are not the enemy here.”

He says the city shouldn’t be pitting police cuts versus an increase in taxes.

“Guess it’s just the police who have to step up…”

7:33: Tom Daly of the Worcester Police Officers union: “It’s a tough predicament we’re in.”

He calls the state vote a “cowardly move,” calling out local legislators by name.

“We’re not the bad guys here.”

“It was my union that stepped up and saved the city money[by taking on a larger percentage of health care] last time around.”

He says other unions get education-based salary increases.

“We’re our own worst enemy. Our crime stats were so good, we couldn’t get federal dollars.”

“I want you to keep the numbers of the crime rates, the homicide rates [in mind]….How many years did it take to recover [from] horrific budget cuts [last time around]?”

7:39: Hotel tax passes(10-1[Germain]) Meals tax passes(9-2[Germain, Lukes]).

7:42: Councilor Smith wants to figure out something to do with the old Worcester Hotel site, now a spectacularly abandoned overgrown parking lot.

7:55: O’Brien says he is bringing forward a plan later this year to talk about an initial pool construction for next year.

In response to Councilor Haller, he says the current slate of pools would have to be replaced, not restored…he says he won’t venture a guess on timeline.

“We are certainly going to be able to have a dialogue on the proposal that was presented by activists…for 9 pools.”

But, he says he considers 9 facilities “more than a challenge.”

“We’re going to be focused on a sustainable model.”

Haller says she supports pools, especially in District 4 where there are now no pools, no beaches, no public water whatsoever.

“That’s the only district in the city that faces that particular challenge.”

8:02: The council is about to vote on a $2.5 million loan order for aquatics–which is enough, says Haller, for either one super pool or two neighborhood pools.

“We don’t want to wait…I’d advocate for shovel in the ground this fall.”

She says the council needs to “come to resolution” with a clear, direct plan on aquatic facilities, in order to move forward with fundraising, planning, construction, etc.

8:05: Rushton is holding three loan orders for sewers, water mains, and watershed conservation, totaling $3,840,000.

He’s jumping from item to item here…saying streets and sidewalks are underfunded…experts(a la ALB) can’t always be believed…

We KNOW this is coming back to the pools. Right?

It does…but we don’t know quite why he held the items he did. It sounded as if he did as potential sources of funding for pools, and potentially streets and sidewalks.

8:16: Clancy says the #1 concern is streets and sidewalks…the number one thing councilors hear about.

8:24: The nice thing about 44 loan orders being taken together? It allows councilors to rail about their pet “most important” projects.

(Phil Palmieri’s is better street and sidewalk resurfacing, FYI)

8:26: Under Suspension.

Rushton-On behalf of a “persistent” citizen, wants to know if a dog ordinance is being looked at….also commends the Worcester World Cup, held over the weekend.

Clancy-Wants traffic patterns on Acton St. being looked at in response to the young boy being killed on his bike…also wants to begin looking at creating 20 MPH zones around our parks and playgrounds.

Petty-Wants a report on potential MBTA service cuts or fare increases

Meeting adjourned.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Worcester City Council Liveblog 8/11/09

  1. SS

    “Further, he says, for the extra amenities and safety in Worcester versus other cities, it’s worth an extra $1 a night, or few cents a meal.”

    Has he actually ever been to Worcester??

    I don’t know that I’d call roads and sidewalks in a horrific state of repair or the filth that accompanies those roads “amenities”

    An extra buck a night is chump change but when it’s every state agency grabbing an extra buck it adds up to real money.

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