City Council live blog 3/23/2010

Posted by Jeremy Shulkin

See you at 7:00.

7:12: Here we go. Mayor O’Brien is back from Ethiopia. Clancy is not here. O’Brien thanks Lukes for filling in during his absence.

7:14: Today is proclaimed Charles Olson day to celebrate the centennial of the poet. A member from the Worcester Poetry Society is here to thank the council for the proclamation.

7:17: Peggy Middaugh of the Worcester Tree Initiative is here inviting everyone to an event on Sunday March 28 in the Alden Library at QCC to find out about the free tree giveaways.

7:19: Lots of items sent to their respective committees.

7:22: Lukes is troubled by the auditor’s report, saying the same issues come up. There have been problems with school audits, and Lukes says that the School Dept. isn’t paying for the work right, She wants to know if work is done on a school does each school have to report on it, or does it fall under the jurisdiction of the school department.

7:27: City CFO Tom Zidelis is here saying that the previous city assessor wasn’t following up with each school, but they will now. Lukes wants to know how they can be held accountable for that. She says you can see the same problems with the golf course accounts. Zidelis says “as we downsize city government…we’re always going to have things that are outside the norm.”

7:31: Lukes wants to know about an $800,000 encumbrance for the schools. Delsignore says it’s most likely that it was supposed to be used for books and supplies, but has more likely been used for paying electricity bills to limit their spending yearly, so they wouldn’t get less money the next fiscal year. Lukes call this “creative financing” and it sounds like the state called them out on this.

7:38: Haller wants to know if the council can respond to this report, or if it’s under the School Committee’s purview.

7:40: She says it seems like we’re seeking a full-time treasurer. What’s with that? M.O’Brien says this is an important position and it’s unfortunate that they haven’t found one yet, but they have some candidates.

7:41: Haller wants a report from the city auditor with a list going back five years that highlights the same issues that keep popping up.

7:42: She wants to know if the problems are because of new principals or people that haven’t been trained to take care of school account issues.

7:44: She wants to know “what are they doing to see that the process is being adhered to.” She wants to know what it means that we didn’t qualify as a “low risk auditee.” Delsignore says it’s because we had $95 mil in grants last year.

7:45: She brings up another problem–this one with the library and issues of private information leaking out. Delsignore says that’s going to have to be addressed through the software. Toomey wants to know if it’s from the CWMars software. She wants a report on if that’s the software and what’s the issue. Zidelis says the issue is it’s a regional system that we belong to, and so whatever information is on there is accessible. Toomey makes a request to work with the state to change this.

7:49: Rushton says that the problem with this issue is that for people who haven’t read the report they’re holding they have no idea what’s going on. He says things aren’t as bad as they seem from the tenor of the council’s discussion, and he reads the language that supports that. He says it’s maddening when you don’t see certain controls being put in or used, but in some areas last minute issues will crop up. That said, he supports the motions for tighter controls and accountability brought up tonight.

7:53: He wants to know why people weren’t hired for the full-time treasurer job. Out of 22 candidates in the last round, Zidelis calls the field “inherently weak.”

7:55: Rushton thinks it’s been the marketing, not the position. He reminds people that this is the “ninth most livable city in the US, with a bullet.”

8:03: Toomey says she’s received phone calls concerned about cars going the wrong way on one way streets near the WAM. She wants better signage.

8:05: Rushton talks about panhandling here. He says this is starting to “really skyrocket.” He says five years ago they looked at this from both sides of the issue, and there was a target plan to get people to stop panhandling while helping them. He says that’s fallen by the wayside.

8:07: Lukes wants to know the difference between a single person standing on the street corner vs. a group of well-dressed people collecting at the street corner. She wants a report from the solicitor designating the difference. Rushton says you need a permit if you’re a little league team or something to raise money from standing outside traffic.

8:09: Germain wants to know how the consolidation of mailings and billing is going. He wants a report.

8:10: Lukes talks about getting requests from potential sister cities. We’ve already got two with Pushkin, Russia and Worcester, England, but there have been other requests. She says that since we might now be the “hub” of transportation we may become a “global city.” She says there should be a system in place so we have some guidance when requests come in.

8:12: Lukes wants to know about the successfulness of TIFs in the city in terms of business and job creation.

8:14: Lukes wants to know about the masterplan for the Coes Reservoir project and why it’s moving so slowly. She says all of our parks are in some form of distress. She’d like a report on why it’s taking so long at Coes.

8:16: Eddy’s talking Coes Pond and Mill St. and getting the beach back in order. He calls it a good resource that is underused.

8:20: Petty calls the budget report an “eye opener.” 1,700 city employees in 2009, now we’re around 1,400. The budget deficit is projected now at $15,000,000 for FY11, but M.O’Brien has outlined potential solutions to trim it down to $5,000,000, which includes the freezing of ten positions, early retirement incentives and using the MassPort money we’ll get for the airport. Petty points out the loss of police officers (down from 533 in FY09 to possibly 444 in FY11). He says it’s going to have a major impact. Note: These numbers are all still tentative.

8:27: Petty brings up the airport. He says we have to watch for FAA regulations regarding the sale of the airport and how that money can be spent. He wants a report.

8:29: Eddy says “this is clearly not easy stuff.” He is concerned about using the airport funding because it’s like “we’re spending money before we have it.” He say it’s using one-time funding to solve the problem. He wants to know if O’Brien think next year’s budget will be better, and if that’s why he’s confident he can fill budget holes with one-time funding.

8:35: M.O’Brien says there’s not really a choice except for layoffs, which means we’ll be down another hundred or so jobs for next year, which would pretty much make city government “stagger.” Eddy’s concerned that there’s going to be no flexibility especially in the future for things like road improvement and putting officers on the road.

8:46: Smith says this points out how reliant we are on the state for funding, calling it “scary.” He wants to know the progress of the Gateway Cities bill so that we get revenue from somewhere else besides taxes and state aid. M.O’Brien says it’s still in committee and moving slowly, but we can keep the pressure on.

8:48: Smith predicts even worse for 2012, especially once stimulus funding runs out. He says we made a promise to the citizens of Worcester to keep core services. He wants to use the airport funding in the budget to keep the 110 jobs that would otherwise be lost/unfilled. He says he normally wouldn’t support one-time funding for budgets, but this is an exception.

8:58: Palmieri, Petty and Haller all have concerns over the airport–enough to hold a public meeting at some point soon there. Haller is worried about programs that might be cut like Neighborhood Stabilization and Keep Worcester Clean in the next couple years. M.O’Brien says if there are layoffs then those programs would certainly be in jeopardy. She wants to know when the official budget will be presented. April 27 is the day. She says D4 has made tremendous progress through some of the programs in jeopardy and thinking outside of the box. She hopes there are contingency plans in place if these programs get cut.

9:07: Lukes is troubled by M.O’Brien’s use of one-year funds. She says McGrath did it once, but it was for a one-year fix, this is more prolonged. She says there’s been too much short-sighted planning. She says she won’t go for raising the real estate tax. She read in the Globe that we were one of two cities to get reform out of Sec. 18. She says everyone’s going to have to tighten up with money on the city side. She says cuts are going to have to come, including reducing income, paying more for insurance. She says some members of the city “family” don’t seem to get that citizens are suffering. She says we’re decreasing the number of people working for the city without asking them to take pay cuts and benefit cuts. It’s not clear if she’s talking about pay cuts only for the city councilors, or any city employee. I’m thinking she’s talking about city employees in general, at least by the end it sounded like that.

9:13: J.O’Brien moves to the floor to talk about the budget. He says we’re making cuts that will impede us from providing critical services to citizens. His fear is that if we make drastic cuts now we’ll be doing severe long-term damage to the city. He says the Council has to make some serious choices about how low to go with cuts. He says we still need to make investments in schools, safety and services to keep long-term damage at bay.

9:18: Toomey wants to know about debt, and how much we owe. She wants to know if some of the money should go toward paying off debt and is that more fiscally conservative than spending.

9:22: Palmieri brings up CSX and that tomorrow there will be some meetings. Grafton Hill’s is at 7:30. Brown Square is at 7:00. Everyone’s invited. Petty says this CSX deal is nowhere near done, echoing Palmieri’s concerns that some think this is a slam dunk.

9:28: Palmieri brings up Worcester Technical High School’s success at a recent national conference, and flooding in recently built homes on Belmont Hill.

9:33: Eddy says he has a petition looking to repave First st. Another to ask that Carter Road be put on the resurface list.

9:34: Petty reminds everyone that Woogle for Google is due on Friday.

9:34: Toomey wants a traffic study done on Sussex Lane.

9:34: Smith wants sidewalk repair done at 36 Otsego road.

9:36: Adjourned. They’re all staying after to do something for Google.

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1 Comment

Filed under city council

One response to “City Council live blog 3/23/2010

  1. Jeremy, the school dept has been following the school year in paying for electricity. This has been fine with the state (there’s even a court case that settled it). The auditor’s report is a bit more nuanced than the reading it’s getting here about it. The school dept will be switching to fiscal year payments starting this year.

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