City Council live blog: 6/1/10

Posted by Jeremy Shulkin

I’m not finding the agenda online (it was there earlier this morning, I swear), but Cover it Live is up. Get ready for another round of budget talk.

7:05: The floor and gallery are packed with teachers, many holding signs like “I want the Brian Allen raise,” “Don’t balance the budget on our backs” and “Stop teacher bashing.”

7:10: John Monfredo is here. He gets a proclomation for Give a Book to Inner City Kids. June 10 is literacy week.

7:14: Eric Goldstein appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission, Pedro Figueroa to the Citizens Advisory Council, Timothy Loew to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

7:15: Here comes the airport talk. Petty says after reading the report he’s ready to vote. He says to M.O’Brien “this is why we hired you.” He seems pretty pleased with the deal. It passes the council unanimously.

7:20: Smith wants to clarify that they’re not passing the finance items with the second vote on the airport deal. He also wants to know if these numbers are final, or they could be shuffled around during budget time. City CFO Tom Zidelis says in order to move things around, they would have to go back before the council. Smith motions to move money around to alleviate money coming from the tax levy. M.O’Brien responds, saying he it’s dangerous to use one-time money for this, and doing so wouldn’t be smart considering 2012 will be a doozy of a year.

7:25: Smith continues, saying he wants to avoid a property tax raise and maintain all the services and jobs. He says this $2 mil from the airport sale would do so. The audience applauds.

7:27: Smith wants the money from the “newly created reserve account.” He wants it moved whatever “appropriate accounts would be” to alleviate tax raises.

7:29: Lukes says she supports Smith’s motion. “This is a situation where we have two bad alternatives–increase property taxes or use one-time money.” She says it’s clear the $2 mil will be an increase every year, and we can use it however we want. This year we’re using it on streets and sidewalks. Scattered applause.

7:32: Clancy opposes the motion, saying “we need a 9c reserve” (where the $2 mil would come from). He says the issue with streets and sidewalks is “apples and oranges,” pointing out their different kinds of appropriations.

7:35: Eddy says he’s going with the allotments as they stand, especially because it comes with a balanced budget, puts a long term investment in neighborhoods and puts $20 mil in for school funding and improvements.

7:36: Toomey says there’s not one person here who enjoys raising taxes. “What’s before us is an extremely balanced and fiscally conservative approach.” She says it’s prudent to have the emergency stabilization (9c) fund because “past experience has shown that we need it.”

7:38: Germain says a couple months ago he said it was time to talk about a tax hike. He says he’s not afraid to raise taxes “when it’s the right thing to do.” Then…”but then I look at this stabilization…and I see a lot of sense in what Councilor Smith has recommended.” He says he thinks we can get away with another year, as long as we have that revenue source. “Maybe we should support this motion this year.” He points out that when he said we should raise taxes he didn’t know about the water and sewer rates. He ends by saying he supports Councilor Smith.

7:41: J.O’Brien takes the floor. He says that these funds are going to be used on “critical programs” like summer impact (police), DPW and retaining firefighters. He says that for the $30 tax increase people will get $20 mil on sidewalk/streets and $20 mil on school infrastructure, and notes the audience saying most of them would agree that needs to happen. He calls this an “honest conversation” about how we’re going to do all of this. He says that the lt. gov and gov. are calling next year (FY12) a “disaster.” He calls this $2 mil in reserve critical to keep teachers, cops, etc. next year. Very light applause.

7:45: Haller says “ditto” to M.O’Brien. She supports the money appropriations as is.

7:46: Rushton calls Smith’s motion a “false motion” because it doesn’t cut anything from the budget. “Any true fiscal conservative will tell you you need to have savings on the side.”…”If you want to make a cut, cut the $2 mil from a hard part of the budget…Then I might support you if I think it’s fluff. I have a feeling when you dig into the budget you’ll find it’s hard bone marrow.”

7:49: Petty says this budget really saves taxpayers in the long run. He says it was this council that stopped taxing to the max about a decade ago, for this reason: that money will be needed later.

7:52: Palmieri singles out Germain, saying he was ready for a “discussion on taxes” and now has backtracked. He says at least the City Manager has laid out a plan. He says we can’t be pitting police against fire against teachers against DPW, “and that’s where we seem to be at this point.” Loud applause.

7:56: Germain clarifies what Palmieri says. “I did not say ‘raise taxes’–I said ‘let’s have a conversation regarding taxes.'” He takes a shot at Palmieri by saying it’s different from saying “CSX is the best project this city has ever seen and then holding the citizens of this city hostage.” (I’m sort of paraphrasing there, but it was as blunt as that.)

7:59: Smith says “this is the whole reason you set up rainy day funds,” pointing out that we need it now. “There has to become a point in time where the city has to operate like a business.” “We’re in a position now where we don’t have to [raise taxes] right now.”

8:00: J.O’Brien says saving this money is important for the city’s bond rating and affects the city’s ability to borrow. M.O’Brien echos that.

8:03: J.O’Brien is timing the next speakers, capping them at 2 mins so budget talk can finish within an hour.

8:03: Toomey says it’s easy to make this political, but they have to plan for the future–and that keeping the city’s bond rating is important to pay off loans for projects like North High. She says the right thing is to not support Smith’s motion.

8:05: Rushton calls Smith’s motion “bad financing”–saying if you’re going to cut, cut something hard rather than take from the rainy day fund.

8:06: Palmieri goes back to singling out Germain, saying he goes back and forth on taxes. He says some councilors don’t wait for critical information to come in before making decisions.

8:08: Clancy says the $2 mil tax increase is a long term investment–if that’s not voted for then there will be no street/sidewalk program. “To stand up and say I can take this $2 mil and not raise taxes this year we can still have the street/sidewalk program is wrong.”

8:09: Lukes says 22% of the budget is going to operations, 21% is debt. She says that $2 mil will go to the debt, she says “we’re going into debt over and over again on the backs of taxpayers.” She says what’s really political is making the decision this year when it’s not an election year.

8:11: They vote on Smith’s motion, all but Smith, Lukes and Germain vote in opposition. They vote on the budget allotments as presented by the Manager: It passes.

Recess into finance committee

8:16: Rushton talks about city wages. He wants a breakdown on what the average city worker earns. (Base wage, exclude part time workers.)

8:17: Clancy asks why it wasn’t given electronically, rather than in paper (it’s two, two inch thick stacks for everyone).

8:18: Lukes and Zidelis differ on whether or not the budget is “flexible.” Zidelis says that it’s not because there’s not enough resources to give people the services they desire.

8:27: Rushton restates his point that if we’re going to lose $2 mil we’ll have to cut somewhere.

8:29: Leonard Zalauskas, the new teacher’s union head (last I heard) addresses the council. “If not for the job we do our property would be worth far less.” He says he works with people who make $20,ooo/year, and had to go on MassHealth because they can’t afford healthcare. Others live at Great Brook Valley and others receive heat assistance. He says they are part of the whole “city family” and they deserve raises. “You need to, as a council, give more money to schools.” He suggests taking airport money and giving it to teacher raises. He says those parks can wait–especially Logan Field. He says cut the tree trimming budget in half. He says they haven’t talked about anything for the school side–and they should barrow money now while rates are good. He says schools are down 800 teaching positions, which excludes tutors and other positions. Very loud applause.

8:37: Eddy wants to know how many patrolmen are in the budget. Gemme says 328 officers. Two additional recruits will come on soon–bringing it up to 330. He says 20 officers retired last year. But out five years now they only average a few. The 24 officers helped out last year through stimulus money can be kept on with the $2 mil the council just voted for through January.

8:45: Eddy wants to know if the grants come through to hire new police officers how many from the entire class that was laid off two years ago could rejoin the force, or would a whole new academy need to be trained. Gemme says some are reluctant to come back because they’re unsure about the budget situation.

8:48: Moylan says DPW is down 187 positions over last 20 years. “We continue to look at ways we can innovate and do the job.”

8:51: Clancy says that perhaps we’re spending too much on plowing–there should maybe be a 2.5 inch rule for plowing. Last year $7 mil was spent on plowing, according to Clancy. Moylan calls Worcester a very difficult city to plow snow. He says it wouldn’t be a good idea to do this–not having trucks “ready to go on the outset of snow.”

8:54: J.O’Brien notes that there are only six members of council in the chamber right now, so everyone needs to stay there so as not to break quorum.

8:56: Eddy wants to know about Green Hill–will it be self-sufficient and should there be a marketing campaign. Moylan calls it a “remarkable project.” Eddy could have just read our article on it. Eddy gives him credit for ignoring the nay-sayers who said to get out of the golf course business. “It’s safe to say this project operates in the black with room to grow,” says Eddy.

9:05: Palmieri wants to know if it’ll just be for golf in the future. Moylan says the club house will be more than just golf–people go there for meals and there have been parties there. The golf course has plans for “additional revenue streams” like snowshoeing and tobogganing. Palmieri wants to know if there will be a driving range there. Moylan says that’s part of the future plan.

9:11: Deputy Chief Sullivan from WPD is here. Lukes wants to know about IODs. She says there’s a significantly higher number in May. Kathy Johnson will answer that. She says one “extreme case” caused the number to balloon–attributed to when paying bills for one person.

9:12: Haller wants to know about suffering response times due to budget cuts. Chief Sullivan says even with the cuts last year the city stayed underneath the national average for response time.

9:16: Petty and Haller are asking about emergency communications (8606 number), and why there’s a different accounting office for the call center than for similar departments. It’s because that one person handles grants and other jobs as well. Haller says complaints about the dispatch system have disappeared because of the job Mr. Clemons’ has done.

9:24: Haller says the housing department is a multi-million $ department, but only costs the city’s tax levy $500 (they must get most of their money from grants). J.O’Brien says he’s concerned about how small the city’s economic development office is. He says it’s smaller than most cities our size–not enough resources to attract and keep business here. He says money for that department should be seen as an investment rather than an expenditure.

9:30: Lukes wants to know what the city human resources supplies to the school department. Kathy Johnson says benefits, civil service exams, unemployment compensation. Lukes asks what % of her time they spend on it. Johnson says 60% is for school department, being done by 15 people. Lukes wants an average salary for each group in the city–including teachers. Lukes is also looking at the HR department on the school side as well–how many people they have and whether or not the HR departments should merge or be privatized. Eddy keeps repeating “privatizing?”

9:33: Toomey says jobs with the same titles don’t necessarily do the same things between the school department and city.

9:39: Smith wants to know what the new health care law will do the city budget. Johnson says the law goes into effect in October. She says the city has already set it’s rates for this year, so HC laws won’t kick in until July 1, 2011.

9:45: More city health care talk.

9:53: J.O’Brien says the budget will be approved next week.

9:54: Eddy and Petty want to reduce the burm repair allotment from $75,000 to $50,000 and have it come from a different account, so assuage fears of Worcester leaving the MMA, which was discussed last week. Clancy wants a vote on the MMA next week. Lukes wants two separate votes on this. That’ll happen next week.

Back to the agenda

10:07: Jo Hart asks that the City Council establish procedures so that all materials (paper documents, discs, etc) given to the City Council or to a City Council Committee at public meetings and hearings be more clearly defined. She says she had an unpleasant experience giving something to councilors at a subcommittee meeting. She wants all paper to be treated as if someone was speaking–that it should be entered into the record.

10:11: Toomey says she handed the documents to the city clerk, and that it will be online.

10:12: Smith’s valet parking ordinance comes up again:

REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON TRAFFIC AND PARKING Upon the Petition of Councilor Joffrey A. Smith on behalf of Jonathan Koop, President of S & K Valet, in the interest of public safety, request the installation of passenger zones for drop-off and pick-up of passengers at the following business locations from 5pm-2am: in Commercial St. in front of One Exchange Place, in front of 166 Shrewsbury St., in front of 82 Winter St., and in front of 50 Front St. and the recommendation to adopt the accompanying four (4) Orders. (Tabled – Petty April 27, 2010)

It’s noted that this is very familiar territory. Moylan says the petitioner should pay for the cost of the sign. Smith doesn’t seem to like that one. Smith and Moylan’s back and forth continues. Clancy says his problem with this is the “process,” saying it was a rogue committee making up ordinances. Clancy continues to charge that the traffic and parking committee didn’t follow procedure to get this back to council. This is not Councilor Smith’s night.

10:22: Haller references the third paragraph. She wants to make sure there’s enough offstreet parking to allow for a valet service.

10:24: Palmieri calls the ordinance “very, very general.”

10:27: Eddy wants to know what’s going on with this. Going back to committee? Send it to the city solicitor to craft a new ordinance? Smith says each individual concern has been addressed. He refers this to administration to move this along. He says the admin’s report already proves this would be beneficial to the city, so why keep delaying it?

10:29: The city votes to advertise that the Worcester Cultural Commission is now the Worcester Arts Council.

10:32: Eddy says we don’t spend enough time trumpeting the success stories, referring to the economic impact of UMass Medical School. Toomey wants to add a page to the city’s website with a title like “look what’s happening in Worcester today,” as a way to show off this kind of stuff.

10:36: The petition to have only Worcester residents hold Worcester city jobs is sent to the rules and legislative affairs committee.

10:41: Petty suspends the rules to wish Kate Toomey and her husband a happy anniversary, and congratulates Konnie Lukes on her grandchild.

10:42: And we’re done.

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4 Comments

Filed under city council

4 responses to “City Council live blog: 6/1/10

  1. t-traveler

    thnaks for the kinks daisy

  2. J.O’Brien… says that for the $30 tax increase people will get $20 mil on sidewalk/streets and $20 mil on school infrastructure… notes the audience saying most of them would agree that needs to happen.

    Where do I begin?

    How about counter suggestion Mayor Joe. Why don’t you go the non-profits and ask them for a “one-time donation” of $30 or $40 million to plug the needs gap.

    For them it’d be like paying back the citizens of the City of Worcester for all the money they’ve been able to stash away over the past 100 years.

    Sounds pretty darn fair to me.

    Whata ya say Joe? You’re the mayor, that carries some weight around this here town.

    As for the audience, well they were really tsking you for being so naive Mayor Joe.

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