7:12: Still waiting for the meeting to start. On the plus side, there are cookies outside to welcome the Library Board hopefuls. There’s a big crowd tonight, because of both the Library Board nominations as well the big topic: setting the tax rates. People against the tax hike for businesses are in the audience holding signs: “In a dual, one walks away…the other… has not much life left” and “Trying to stay in business in Worcester!!!!!” are two of them.
7:13: Here we go! First item of business: Electing Library Board members. Jabian Gutierrez is the first one selected by city council vote.
7:26: Dante Comparetto is the other.
7:27: In light of the strong candidates for the board, Palmieri asks if the Library Board can be expanded to allow more of these qualified people on.
7:28: Clancy acknowledges that many qualified people want to be on the Library Board, but that other boards and commissions have vacancies that are hard to fill. He wants the city to contact these other strong candidates to encourage them to run for other boards.
7:33: Moving on: Determining the tax rates for residential, commercial, industrial and personal properties for the 2010.
7:34: Gary Vecchio comes to speak. He’s the president of the Shrewsbury St. Neighborhood Association, and he asks the council to vote for the lowest residential tax rate.7:35: However, going to a single tax rate in the future? The Shrewsbury St. Neighborhood Association is not a fan. He says that 75 new business opened in Worcester last year, so all the talk of businesses moving out of Worcester is bunk.
7:38: He lists off a number of business moving from places like West Boylston and Spencer to Worcester, and the amount of money the city has made from their TIFs (Tax Increment Financing).
7:41: John Reed speaks on behalf of people with fixed incomes. He wants the argument to be about “how can we raise revenues” rather than “who should pay more?” He cites the Montreal public casino as an example where the money that goes in stays local. He wants the council to consider something like this for, say, the huge storage buildings around the airport.
7:44: He wants to reduce government operating costs, using a proposal for a dam on the Holden reservoir.
7:45: Ruth Schaefer says “Worcester is poised for growth when the economy turns around–except for the dual tax rate.” She says it’s hindered business and that business that could be moving to Worcester are choosing other nearby towns. She wants a plan to phase in a single tax rate.
7:50: Beth Proko isn’t a fan of the dual tax rate either. She says it “pits property and business owners against each other.” She says $28 for business tax rate is too high–higher than Boston–especially when neighboring towns’ tax rates are only a fraction of Worcester’s. She says the more people paying less taxes still means more money. She calls Vecchio’s list of new businesses in Worcester “spin.”
7:55: John Carnegie has been working to get companies into Worcester over the past year. He wants the city to “entertain” forming an ad-hoc committee to study the dual tax rate (Proko said the same). This was considered last year too, but never materialized. He wants to get colleges involved in tracking their students and trying to get them to move back to Worcester and join in Worcester’s economic development. He wants to set a benchmark to retain local college grads for city jobs–he provides a figure of 10% to be retained for jobs with private business in the city.
8:00: Dick Kennedy provides some numbers comparing Worcester past to Worcester present. He says things were better for business in the old days (the 1980s).
8:03: Mayor Lukes call the crowd and speakers an “impressive showing” and thanks everyone for their participation.
8:04: Toomey recalls asking for a study be done by the colleges to look at the dual tax rate last year, which never happened. She asks that it actually happens this year. She wants it done by Spring of next year. Everyone on the council approves.
8:07: Haller says she’s heard encouraging things tonight, especially from Mr. Vecchio and Mrs. Schafer about both sides looking to work together and have a dialogue about the tax rates for residential and commercial/industrial.
8:08: Eddy says these presentations were “far better” than last year, calling them “well articulated.” He says if we were starting a city from scratch there would be no way he would support a dual tax rate because “it pits one against the other.” But, we’re “dealing with a system that’s currently in place” and brings up the city’s bleak foreclosure numbers, which means we can’t go higher than the lowest tax rate for residents. He touches on the Philadelphia plan, but says they’re still looking at it.
8:11: Eddy introduces his chief economic specialist, asking him if there are economic triggers that show when we’re having a better economic year.
8:12: The specialist says that auto sales and interest income are benchmarks for seeing the city’s economic growth. It sounds like Eddy would like to move away from the dual tax rate as soon as it’s believed the city’s economy is stable enough.
8:13: Smith asks how can we expand the tax base while keeping taxes low for business and home owners, and that he supported a study for the single tax rate, but that voting it in overnight wouldn’t be a good idea. He says his family is both a business owner and home owners in the city, but that the dual tax rate–one with the lowest residential tax–is in the best interest of the city.
8:16: Clancy also cites the poor economic climate as reason for the lowest residential tax rate, but says something needs to be done to change the tax system here.
8:21: Petty proposes the lowest residential tax rate as well, but wants the business community to know he’s with them and also knows this dual tax rate isn’t sustainable.
8:25: Rosen will also vote for the lowest tax rate because it’s a relief for the home owner. He realizes his vote does have consequences. He references last spring when the council committed to the lowest tax rate months before voting, saying the same shouldn’t happen in the future, that there should be plenty of time for debate and “seeing the other side.”
8:32: A little bit of humor as Rosen gets heated discussing the future of the dual tax rate. He says “maybe I’ll be on the council again” and that he’d love to be on the task force studying the single and dual tax rates and the Philadelphia plan, and other incentives to bring business to Worcester. He votes for the dual tax rate, saying it’s the right thing to do now, but not for much farther in the future.
8:33: Clancy will vote for the lowest residential tax rate because it’s the home’s assessments that actually set the taxes. He says Worcester’s three decker assessments sky-rocketed in the 90s and recently, while commercial properties stayed level. He says that people who bought these houses at inflated prices are “living on the edge,” so keeping a low residential rate is a break for them. He supports the lowest residential tax rate “more than ever.”
8:39: Rushton says there was a commitment to the lowest residential tax rate even before the numbers came in (and that’s a bad thing). He says “we’re eating the fruit, but salting the land at the same time.” He says he won’t commit to vote for the lowest residential tax rate without looking at the numbers first. He notes that has voted for the lowest residential tax rate three of his six years. He’s looking at 1 to 13 split, which gives breaks to both sides.
8:47: William Ford, the new city assessor is introduced. O’Brien calls this–Assessor Ford’s first meeting–a “baptism by fire.”
8:48: Rushton asks him if we’re going to see a decrease in the value of Worcester houses. Ford answers that the numbers always lag because it takes time to gather the research and do the assessments, but things won’t be going up. Rushton notes that this means homeowner taxes have decreased over the past three years (as taxes are based on a home’s value) but business taxes have risen significantly.
8:50: Rushton calls a 1 to 13 split a “fair and balanced” approach to the tax rate.
8:55: Palmieri brings the tax discussion around to how federal money is spent. His example is the sidewalk on McKeon road that cost $500,000 of stimulus money. He said that that amount of money given to us is equal to the city’s entire budget for sidewalks, and it’s frustrating to people that a that kind of dough goes into a sidewalk. He says putting money in development projects and intrastructure–or putting sewers on Rt. 20, which has none–would help stimulate local economy and attract business.
9:03: The dual tax rate passes, with the residential rate at its lowest. The crowd streams out.
9:12: It’s winter, and so we’re talking snow and ice. Apparently there’s no legal requirement for a landlord to clear their drive way, according to Manager O’Brien.
9:15: Commissioner Moylan says that the intensity of the complaints about people not shoveling 4′ wide paths depends on what’s done about it. Depending on the intensity, the complaints are given to the WPD. Haller wants to make the city more pedestrian friendly having the city clear snow from sidewalks and private streets where there are problems with ownership and no one to shovel. She would like the city manager to look into the feasibility of this.
9:24: More talk about snow removal. Eddy calls out Pleasant st. between Tatnuck Square and the airport, saying it’s unclear about what property is whose. He’d like Commissioner Moylan to, in a sense, pre-warn residents as to whose line is whose, so there’s no question on where people should be shoveling this winter.
9:27: Increase the abandoned vehicle penalty? It’s approved. If any of you were planning on abandoning your car, consider this your warning.
9:28: The Wyman-Gordon properties near Kelly Square come up. Haller wants information on their cleanliness and code compliance, and says they’re hindering the re-development of the area.
9:32: All kinds of money gets shuffled around. Check out 9.35 A-K.
9:37: The expansion of the Montvale Historic District comes up. The remaining crowd perks up. Palmieri notes the home owners (Tibrewal and Todd) are in the crowd.
9:39: Smith says discussions between home owners and the District are on-going. They refer the matter to the Economic Development team. Still nothing is resolved.
9:40: Germain talks leaf pick-up. What are the requirements? Do we have to do curbside pick-ups? He’s looking at ways to save money in the budget.
9:41: Commissioner Moylan says the city will continue picking up leaves. He says Worcester and Boston are the only places around that have the leaf collection permit we have simply due to size. If those leaves are not collected it becomes a public safety hazard with increased flooding from our water systems, and when the leaves breakdown chemicals like phosphorous get into the water, creating an increase in algae.
9:47: Germain wants to know if we’re mandated by the EPA to do spring leaf collection. The answer is yes.
9:50: Clancy says the leaf collection program is great here. Apparently, Worcesterites have come to consensus on it because it generates tons of positive feedback.
9:56. We’re still talking about leaf collection. Eddy and Smith give praise to O’Brien and Moylan for the city’s leaf collection process. They say it’s a necessary amenity for the city.
9:57: Fewer parking tickets were issued this year than last year, says Moylan.
10:07: A lot of stop signs and parking changes. See if your street is affected: 11b through 11q.
10:10: Rosen says that tomorrow his public safety committee will meet to discuss the dog ordinance–should dogs be leashed even when on their owners property? He invites anyone to come down to testify.
10:11: Clancy wants to take care of all of the tabled items by voting on them or filing them or re-committing them to their appropriate committee (as he mentioned last week). One of them dates back to the Murray-era.
10:16: Germain changes his original order regarding the Worcester Shark’s possible move to the Charles Buffone Arena Ice Skating Rink. He takes it off the table, then Palmieri re-tables it. They ironically re-table the tabled item meant to be taken off the table.
10:18: Virginia Ryan from the Worcester Coalition of Retirees is here to talk about Section 19. She says she wants the council to keep the section 19 item tabled so that she can bring in a presentation on it before they go to vote. But it’s taken off the table. More info on this coming in Thursday’s magazine.
10:23: And we’re done, and there’s no meeting next week because of the senate primary. Go vote!