Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
Twice the agenda in a limited amount of time (the State of the Union is at 9:00). Can we be out before President Obama finishes shaking everyone’s hands as he walks into Congress? Follow all the action with the agenda and in Cover It Live.
7:14: Here we go. The City’s new Public Health Commissioner Dr. Magee is recognized by M.O’Brien in a “very selective process” that included candidates from New York City.
Magee calls this an honor. “We have some real enthusiasm within our department.” He says he came across a report on the hepatitis epidemic at Holy Cross in the 1940s and Dr. Morse’s role in discovering that.
7:18: M.O’Brien talks about Frances Manocchio leaving the City as disabilities and human rights director.
Manocchio says it was her “honor and privilege” to serve for seven years. She started at Worcester State University yesterday as director of disability services. She says she tried to make Worcester “a better place for all people, not just some people.” The councilors stay standing as she says goodbye.
7:23: The Meadow Lane part of the evening begins. The first speaker lives on Timrod drive, and he has to walk down Goddard to get to where he has to shovel. He’s against the “new” shovel ordinance. He says people on Timrod have “tougher obstacles to face.”
Sandra also lives on Timrod Dr. “This has never been an issue about shoveling that sidewalk (for 27 years).” “The city of Worcester isn’t even shoveling the areas they own on Goddard Drive.”
George says he hadn’t planned on speaking on the sidewalk, but he says he got back last night from a business trip and got a $75 ticket for not shoveling a sidewalk. He says a front-end loader dumped snow on his property. “There’s got to be an element of reasonability here.”
Mo Bergman is here. “Sometimes things take on a life of their own.” He’ll be representing the residents of Meadow Lane in fighting the City’s ruling regarding shoveling the sidewalks in dispute. He wants a moratorium on the ordinance for the remainder of the winter. “Their concern is this should’ve been dealt with at a departmental level years ago.” He stresses the words “unique to Meadow Lane,” probably to assauge council fears that if an exception is made for one street, then everyone else will line up looking for an exemption.
Jo Hart says she’s presented a whole new method “of doing anything because the ordinance in everyone’s mind is ridiculous.” She says no one should be expected to buy a plow or a snowblower, and the city should re-think the ordinance or scrap it. She says the City should do all the shoveling, and then charge (tax) appropriately. “Let’s cut out the barbarism…let’s all sit down, let’s have a hearing, because it’s not working out for anybody.”
7:36: Eddy stands up to address the ordinance. He says he warned that if we amended the ordinance we have to be aware of what other changes could occur. He takes issue with what Jo Hart said. He says looking at the backs of properties should be considered though. “This is bigger than Meadow. It’s about fairness. It’s about having an ordinance that is based in reality. Here tonight we offer this moratorium that will get us through the winter.” He says it can be re-examined in the spring for a “long-term solution.”
Toomey has questions. Why 120 days? How many liens have been placed? What about conservation property? She has more, but I couldn’t keep up. She asks for those answers in the form of a report. “I think Meadow Lane is unique unto itself right now.” She wonders if fines could be held as well. “My concern is we’re going to let this completely go away.” She also has questions about who’s responsible around Apricot St. “We need to come up with a solution for that right away.” She wants Apricot St. (from Goddard Dr. westward) designated as a primary route for salt and plowing, since it’s a major school route.
7:43: Clancy does not support the moratorium. “As we move on and as it gets passed,” he wants the Manager to write up how many properties are effected by the ordinance and the cost. “Exemptions are tricky,” he says.
The moratorium passes 10-1. Clancy is the lone dissention.
Either the outlet or my power cord is broken. Either way, I have to shut down for the night.
I’ll add the rest of the meeting tomorrow morning.
Here’s a recap of the rest of the meeting:
Taxation of multi-unit (4+) residential buildings:
George Valeri address the council. “The issue at hand…shifting the tax burden from commercial to residential is going to do more harm than good.”
“To bring that $16 (per $1,000 valuation) and bring it to $34 is going to hurt the small players in the city…Boston investors will have second thoughts about investing (in Worcester)…that property is going to be devalued because nobody’s going to want to buy it.”
He references the 1990s where there was a population influx here, along with new business and new jobs. He says taxes went up, but so did property values. “Now we’re struggling to pay our taxes.”
“We have to take a different approach for the city to raise money.”
Another property owner, who says his 4 unit building is a storefront with a three decker built on top, is also against the tax classification switch.
Steve Teasdale of the Main South CDC is also against the idea. He says it would double the already $133,000/year taxes on the CDC’s 4 unit buildings. The buildings are also rent controlled, so they couldn’t raise rents on tenants to make up the cost.
Steve Patton of Worcester Common Ground agrees. “We really don’t think this is the right avenue to pursue.”
Sue Moynah says the 6 unit houses in Vernon Hill wouldn’t be able to afford this either. “They’re trying to make an investment here.” She asks about commercial venues that own more than one three decker — wouldn’t that technically count as 4+ units of commercial property?
Mike Lanava of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce says the WRCC advocates looking at the idea. He says 4 units might be too small (in previous discussions he’s said they’re looking more in the 9 or 10 unit area). He also points out that Somerville doesn’t tax their CDCs because of their investments in the city.
Haller points to the map of where these units sit in the city. She calls it “seriously anti-inner city.” She says the report doesn’t say the number of units this would effect city-wide, and she wonders if this will impact residential development downtown — CitySquare and beyond.
Rushton says this will be going to committee and this will be vetted thoroughly, based on “facts and research.”
“One thing that’s been anti-city has been the dual tax rate.”
Lukes says they’re trying to undo some of the damage that was done 25 years ago by splitting the tax rate, but calls it a slippery slope from 4 to 3 to 2 to 1. She says the new census figures, released in March, will show Worcester as a much needier city than it was ten years ago. She wants to wait until the census and the new housing study are in front of them before they vote on anything, but she doesn’t see this getting through the state legislature anyway. “I’m not convinced this is a good idea and I would probably oppose it.”
Clancy says there’s still a long road ahead, and this is just a discussion point.
Toomey wants a comparison of this to other cities.
Palmieri says there are 100-150 new units going up between the old Voke school and Chevalier building. The company building them, Winn, got TIFs, tax breaks and lowest residential rate and take tenants from the previous speakers because they’re cheap and new units. “That’s a concern of mine.”
“We need to have a discussion to fine-tune how this works.” He says this vote needs to be a consensus — it can’t be a 6-5 split.
J.O’Brien comes down to address the council. He wants to “caution some of the rhetoric.”
“That’s the point, to have thoughtful discussion on how we expand the tax base.”
He says the report cautions that taxes could go up, so they’re aware of it and it needs to be looked at. He says he’s a poor, working class and CDC advocate. “No one’s looking to ram this down people’s throats.”
Virginia Ryan talks about the elderly tax write off. She says it got to subcommittee under Gary Rosen, but no report ever came back. “It’s such an important consideration for this council.” She says Gardner, West Boylston, Leicester, Paxton, Shrewsbury already have similar property tax write offs for their seniors.
Julie Jacobson gets her farewells from the council and Mike O’Brien. Palmieri jokes that her lengthy contract negotiation had “Worcester written all over it.”
The James street bridge will be closed for four months this summer for repairs. A community meeting was held with the fire department, and according to the council all parties agreed a full shut down for four months was better than lane closures and backed up traffic for 16 months. Eddy praised the public process, public meeting, public input and “city government responding to the wishes of the neighborhood.”
Lots of discussion on this report on rising health care costs for city employees. It’s summed up in this article. Germain says the GIC may not solve our problems, while Clancy says soon we’ll have to look at higher contribution rates for municipal unions, calling 25 percent in this economy “a bargain.”
Clancy would like to see water and sewer bills feature a break-down of how much rate payers are spending due to EPA or MassDEP mandates — “Then the public is going to understand what’s been happening over the past ten years.” The councilors love the idea.
Eddy wants guidelines for how the school department calls two hour delays versus snow days. He says “residents in his district are still scratching their heads” over the delay when it’s cold outside, but no delay one of the days it snowed.