Live blog: Council at large debate

6:01 p.m.: Host for tonight’s debate Tony Vigliotti starts the night off welcoming the candidates and community members.

6:03: Six of the seven candidates are ready to go. Mike Germain is missing. We can guess he’s at his campaign kick-off party hosted at 55 Pearl Restaurant tonight 5:00-7:30.

Should the city go to a single tax rate?

6:06: Bill McCarthy believes that yes we should, and believes many businesses are not coming into the city because of the current policy.

6:08: Joe Petty disagrees that right now is not the time for a single tax rate as residents cannot afford it.

Mary Keefe is asked what her vision for Worcester Airport is

6:09: Using the word “if” the airport is going to continue to function, Keefe suggests the possibility of alternative transportation to and from the airport.

6:12: Steve Buchalter suggests we need to look at more creative ideas to improve the pilot program the city has with local college and universities. “I don’t think money is the answer, I think service is”, says Buchalter when asked if the colleges owe the city money.

6:17: McCarthy touches on corruption within police departments. This could get interesting.. Schaffer asks to clarify if McCarthy is saying without more funding, Worcester is looking at corruption in their P.D.? McCarthy says we need to have priorities for our budget, and one of them is putting money towards our Police Department so we can hire the best officers possible.

6:22: Kola Akindele says we need to figure out ways to keep the youth in Worcester, and improving our public schools to keep people in the city. After that, and only after that, can we start to talk about improving downtown. He also says he supports funding to bring back more police presence to downtown.

6:25: Joe Petty would like to see a marketing manager in the city. He doesn’t dispute the fact we’re on a tight budget, but strongly feels having someone to go out and market the city would be a huge benefit.

6:27: Joe Petty disputes McCarthy’s word “bleeding”, saying that no. Although the city is in a bad economic state, we’re not bleeding. He says there are still positive things happening in the city that we shouldn’t forget about.

6:33: Mary Keefe says when speaking of improving the city’s downtown, we need to also think of how we can encourage Worcester’s college students to get off campus and discover the city.

6:34: Buchalter says that as a business owner “we’re not marketing the city” in turn hurting our economic crisis and agree’s with Rick Rushton that we need to highlight the city’s positives to help bring in new businesses.

6:37 p.m. We’re back after a brief break. Single tax rate-to Rushton. Too often council favors lowest common denominator: lowest residential tax rate. Present tax rate not fair to anyone, he says. Failure of leadership; no task force has been appointed in a year, as pledged. 200 businesses are asking council to look at tax rate. Philadelphia model is being proposed. He hopes commission is appointed to work toward fair tax rate for everybody.

6:41 p.m. Akindele on PILOT. Concern is where the service and benefits are going to from the colleges. Maybe something to public schools; money to cops. Go to critical areas.

McCarthy responds. Why we asking colleges to give us money? Figure out a way to manage our own budget. To hit up all these non-profits and say they owe us.

Rushton: We provide colleges services. Even if tax exempt, no remove obligation do right thing.

Rushton and McCarthy go back and forth. Rushton invokes Frederick Douglass. Unclear why.

Keefe: Talking about good partnerships between city and colleges. What about taxing only residential facilities of colleges? Is that doable?

Petty: This city not tax to the max. We $12M below the cap; we conservative; try to protect both businesses and residents of Worcester.

Rushton: PILOT should “feed the monster.” Agrees with McCarthy on that. Sorry — PILOT should “NOT” feed the monster. Typo.

6:49 p.m.  More beetle talk. Snooze.

6:50 p.m. Buchalter says now not time to raise taxes. Got to think about cutting back on taxes and generate more revenue. Specifics? C’mon Roberta, follow up …

6:52 p.m. Rushton notes $24M cut next year. You show middle class the door if you cut $24M.

Does he favor tapping into $12M tax levy. He’s not saying yes or no. Talking about better efficiencies first. If there a significant gap, morally wrong not to look at the $12M, he says.

Buchalter chides council for not bringing business to town.

Rushton says don’t stand here and say no taxes — where do you draw the line?

Buchalter counters you’d be chasing more residents and businesses out of city if raise taxes.

Petty lauds leasing back garages and meters.

McCarthy ready to ramp it up. Instead of talking about hot dog vendors … council has to address budget.

Can’t commit to specific cuts now. “That says it all,” Rushton says.

McCarthy – Cut the 84% pay raises council voted themselves. Making close to 30K. (People in audience nodding heads and saying, “Mm-hm”).

Petty says “we’ve cut about everything we can cut.” Hated voting on Sect. 18, but did it and it saved millions.

Keefe thinks the $12M may come into play next year. She thinks the city council salary is “exciting” for other people to consider the position “and make a small living.”

Rushton touts iPhone app. that will allow people to contact City Hall with complaints.

Christina Davis: How does phone app save money?

Buchalter has over 100 employees in company; had make cuts in benefits and jobs.

Schaffer: Nobody mentioned the unions not consenting to 75-25 insurance split that would save millions.

7:05 p.m. Back to PILOT. Rushton notes that colleges only offer something when arms are twisted.

McCarthy: What more do you want from these people (non-profits)?

7:08 p.m. Schaffer: Would you renew city manager’s contract?

Akindele: Manager has done best he can in this econoSmy. Says manager ignored Save Our Poolz and force-fed his solution. Says he’s good with finances, poor with community relations.

McCarthy: Set up new thresholds for the CM.

Keefe: Pools issue pointed to imbalance in city government.

Petty: Lauds O’Brien for 24-7 effort and making tough decisions. Agrees some people don’t feel that they are being heard. Moral obligation to build pools in Worcester and if wait too long they won’t get built. (Everything in this city comes down to pools).)

Akindele: Reiterates that Save Our Poolz wishes weren’t heeded, in fact, “discarded.”

7:18 Candidates ask questions of each other now …

Keefe asks first. She wanted to question Germain, but he’s absent. Why was there no final recommendation from Public Rec Comm about the pools?

Rushford talking about manager, Hank Stolz notes he’s not answering Keefe’s question.

Back to poolzzzzz. Rushford said it was not handled the right way.

Schaffer: Why was there no recommendation from council.

Rushton: Council could have listened as much as the subcommittee about the pools.

Buchalter: Quick hit comment: Council is complacent.

McCarthy: Why are the pools so expensive?

Petty doesn’t think it will be $2.5M for pools.

Kola: City Council dropped the ball on this one. City manager made decision and city council stood by and let it happen.

Keefe: Salt on the wound was that process fell apart.

NO MORE POOLS!

7:25 p.m. Does Plan E work?

Petty says yes, but people can change it ifi they want. Keefe agrees. Rushton agrees, but likes non-binding referendum to see what the people like. Buchalter agrees, but wants more unification on the council. McCarthy agrees.

McCarthy, let’s roll back 84% pay raise for councilors.

Kola agrees. Petty says question is red herring, but will take 18% cut if cops take 18% cut.

Keefe – it an incentive.

Rushton. It is a red herring. He took 0% this year on raise. If cops take 10% cut, he’ll take corresponding cut. The $28,000 salary helps average person run for office.

Buchalter says council needs take a cut cause of tough economic times.

Rushton: What number of students in a classroom is the “tipping point”?

Buchalter: I don’t have a number

Schaffer: Isn’t that a question for school committee.

Rushton: Got to know practical effect is in the classroom.

McCarthy: Need hiring freeze across the board. Who telling us we need all these services? Go line item by line item.

Akindele: Prioritize cuts.

Petty: Need look at more cuts and revenue options. When guns start being shot on the streets of Worcester again, that’s the tipping point, he said. His kid has 32 kids in class; what tipping point “50 kids, 40 kids”? Need to find balance, he says.

7:36 p.m. Petty still talking. Now to Keefe.

She’d hate to see the cuts like the branch libraries and neighborhood schools – once closed never get them back.

Buchalter asks how will city move toward single tax rate?

Rushford outlines stuff he’s done in that regard.

Keefe says look at what other cities and towns are doing.

Petty: Got to find middle ground on all issues.

Akindele: Need to look at it. Research impact on phasing in single tax rate.

McCarthy: Single tax rate makes sense.

7:42 p.m. CLOSING STATEMENTS. Will report on only if someone drops a bomb.

Buchalter talking about being a business owner (cleaning). There appear to be about half a dozen in the audience wearing purple SEIU (janitors’ union) t-shirts. The union said it would be a presence here and plans to hold a candlelight vigil tomorrow to protest Buchalter’s not meeting with them.

7:54 p.m. Rushton goes last. Thanks his wife. Smart man.

WE’RE DONE.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Live blog: Council at large debate

  1. I’m so proud that the iPhone App exchange made it into the love blog. Nice work chronicling the debate!

  2. Joe

    Does anyone know if video of the debates (School committee, city council, mayor) is available anywhere?

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