Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
The newly re-instated Committee on Veterans’ and Military Affairs has come out swinging, filing six agenda items after only forming in November.
Other items on the agenda include moving the WRTA hub (not the $39 million new building) to Union Station, a small business tax exemption and more in Konnie Lukes vs. the City Clerk. It should be a fun one. (Cover It Live)
7:16: Rushton talks about the Magmotor Technologies 12 year 100% TIF, which will help facilitate the company’s move from West Boylston to Quinsigamond Village. Rushton says it’s going to be “open and transparent” and will benefit the city. He says the TIF at 180 Main St. significantly changes North Main St. “The real benefit is we have an expansion of jobs, but that won’t really matter if they’re not Worcester residents…we want jobs that are going to go to people in Worcester. The people of Magmotors stepped up,” because they’ll be requiring 51% of their newly created 55 jobs will be for Worcester residents.
Rushton says that MassDevelopment called this a “no-brainer” and has no debt with a customer base “yearning for their business,” that’s why he’s not concerned this could be an Evergreen Solar situation.
It’s worth noting at this point that the supplemental item covering this shows $100,000 is being transferred from the Greenwood St. landfill account to the Quinsigamond Village Microloan Program.
7:24: Germain says a lot of people come up to him asking “What does a city councilor do?” “This is an example of what a city councilor does.” He says two weeks ago the TIF almost went through without the 51% clause, but it was stopped by the council and added in. “You don’t see it. It’s not sexy…but it got done.” He credits the economic development subcommittee for catching it.
Toomey says “it does take a team to pull this off.” She asked that they consider an internship with Worcester Tech since the machinery Magmotors uses matches the brand of machinery used at the school.
Clancy thanks the committee for their support and the voters in Quinsigamond Village who allocated the $100,000. “We know it’s hard to attract business, but it’s even harder to attract manufacturers.” He calls this TIF one of the “tools” that the city and state can use, and he thinks the 100% TIF over ten years is worth the job creation.
7:32: The council goes on record in support of the Cap act, showing solidarity with local television and government access programing. Mauro DiPasquale from WCCA addresses the council. He says federal bill will reverse some eroding of local programming by major telecommunications companies. It passes unanimously.
7:39: Smith talks about a tax exemption for small businesses with less than 10 employees and commercial properties assessed at less than $1 million. He says this also won’t negatively impact residents, while helping small business. “We’ve seen everybody’s taxes continue to go up…it may be the difference between someone being able to stay in business and go out of business.” He says Auburn has done this, as well as others throughout the state.
J.O’Brien brings up his Task Force on Job Growth and Retention, saying small businesses said taxes ate up more of their expenses than large businesses. He says “this is about providing opportunities to small business owners” who are hurting because of the city’s property taxes. He says it won’t come at the expense of residents because only big business will be effected.
Eddy says he brought this up last year to help small businesses in his district. He says he wants to make it clear that they’re only looking for information at this point — “anytime that you’re shifting the tax burden, that’s what you’re doing, you’re shifting. You’re not gaining anything.” He says there are an awful lot of businesses in Worcester with 11 employees and they’re not Verizon or Charter.
Lukes echoes Eddy. “I would suggest we proceed with caution.” She calls our federal tax code “a mess” because of special exemptions. She says this could cause a mess as well. She brings up the single tax rate – “we’ve burdened one set of taxpayers and set them against each other…I’m not jumping with joy to see these different tax classifications every month.”
Clancy wants clarifications, especially about how building ownership impacts eligibility for the exemption.
Palmieri says “we want to be careful that we’re not sending up a flare for people to say tomorrow…’Gee, I’m going to get a tax break.’ I can hear the questions now.”
Toomey praises small businesses, but has a concern: she wants to know how much it will cost to put this program “into action.”
Rushton says he’s “not concerned about the headline…at some point you throw ideas out and they’re going to cause a reaction.” He says the property tax bills are the problem, and they’re “wreaking havoc” on residents and businesses. He says he’s ready to start talking about the 4+ residential tax shift, and is prepared to start answering the public’s questions on it.
Tom Zidelis and Jim Delsignore are here for their FY10 audit. Lukes, among other things, has concerns about a change order last year. Zidelis calls the bid “perfectly legal.” She wonders if a contractor can put in a low bid and expect it to rise because of change orders. Lukes wants this issue in writing to see what’s legal and what’s not, and what actually happens with change orders. I’m going to admit right now that I have no idea what they’re talking about.
From Johnsrwrt on Cover It Live: “change orders are when the big contracts go over what was bid for reasons that are not controlled”
Clancy says change orders are important because if a company has to stop and re-bid to finish a project that’s run over budget, then you could bump into other construction seasons.
Toomey says that unfortunately change orders are a part of construction. “The construction industry doesn’t have a magic mirror where they can see what exactly is happening,” and sometimes accountants don’t understand that.
Auditor DelSignore says what’s done right doesn’t get mentioned in report, just the exceptions or things that stand out to them. He says they’re used to verticle (building) construction where there’s a limitation to change orders, but this was a horizontal (streets) project.
Rushton points out the sartorial stylings of Nick K., DelSignore and Zidelis. He says he likes this outside auditing company because they’re blunt about what they think is working and what’s not. DelSignore says these audits have changed a lot of how the city works, and there’s been a cut back on stories in the paper because of it. He asks if the “city dollar is being respected and taken care of?” DelSignore answers yes.
Haller asks about the IRS audit. She wants to know what sparked the audit. Zidelis says they asked, but the IRS didn’t say. The audit was provided as a supplemental item, so I haven’t had a chance to look through it yet.
J.O’Brien says he “appreciates the work that went into rectifying it,” and hopes in the future their accounting “will make the IRS happy.”
Smith brings up the West Boylston St. corridor, which has a mix of residents, small business and large business. He says it’s time to clean up the area, and has walked around with the City Manager to see what could be done. He wants streetscape improvements, clearing overgrowth, replacing fencing and planting trees. He invokes the “broken window theory.” “What kind of image do we want to present?”
Lukes wants to know if there’s money to be saved by combining the city and school side technical service departments. It’s referred to the Manager.
Lukes’ item on the election commission is held because a member of the commission wanted to be here tonight but couldn’t make it.
Lukes brings up the city clerk making money off of weddings at city hall. “This is bad public policy when we have a city department performing private services 9-5 in a city building.” She says as many as 5-6 weddings get done per day. “If we’re providing services to the public and dedicating 100% of our time to that, we probably wouldn’t have time (for private business).” She questions the clerk’s office need for overtime too, and wants the council to start discussing this.
“Performing weddings should not be a priority” especially as other departments are being cut.
An impassioned Germain says “I’m sick of tired at people taking a shot at our clerk and our clerk’s office. If there’s one part of our government that I get complemented on…it’s the city clerk’s office and the city clerk.”
“We have an incredible clerk here…I’ve got (Lukes’ previous motion). It’s in my committee…I make a motion to oppose this tonight.”
Toomey says over 90% of clerks in the commonwealth perform these, and says while she’s open to looking at more information, but says this is getting personal.
Petty opposes this as well. “I think the clerk’s office does an excellent job.” He says the clerks office used to have 20 employees, now it has 9. And he points out the clerk should be responding to these allegations, rather than the city manager. He also takes aim at the idea that people are saying there was “fraud” — “What was that? There was no fraud.”
“The clerk’s going to do the weddings because there a lot people in the clerk’s office that want those weddings done…I’m going to oppose this and my suggestion on this is that the committee, should a new clerk arrive, can put this in place.” He says he has no problem making this a part of the clerk’s salary, but do it when a new clerk transitions in.
Haller dittos Petty.
Rushton calls this “the same order, just with a different date on it. It’s in committee.”
The council votes. Lukes is the lone yes that wedding money goes into the city coffers rather than the clerk’s office.
Lukes goes on to 10g regarding overtime for the clerk’s office. Eddy says the clerk’s office is already overburdened with work. Smith echoes Eddy. “They’re probably the only office that turns a profit.” Smith wants to ask Rushford some questions.
Rushford says there have been “drastic cuts” like all departments, but now we’re doing “less with less” including dropping passport services, removing phones. “Overtime is the way that we pay people on the clerk’s side” for election training and election work. He says the overtime doesn’t go to the clerk or the clerk’s assistants, but to staff that wasn’t expected to work overtime. “We now operate a clerks department with 11 people. We have a one person elections department in the 2nd largest city in New England.” He says asking for nominal overtime for elections and the overtime for weddings at city hall is a “disconnect.”
Toomey calls this a “terrible order.” Again, the motion fails with only Lukes voting yes.
Clancy wants to know about recent violence on Union Hill and whether or not there’s planning for more of a police presence. He wants a report.
Palmieri says he spoke with Public Health Commissioner Dr. Magee, and one of their shared concerns is the premature deaths caused by cancer. He wants Dr. Magee to come in front of the public health subcommittee.
Palmieri says he spoke with Tim McGourthy about the $39 million bus terminal funds. While he’s happy to have the money, he would’ve preferred it not just dropped on the council. “I know that many business people in the downtown area have been concerned about having the WRTA in front of city hall and the problem it presents.” He’s hopeful that the administration will do a “much better job in front of Union Station than they have in front of city hall.” He says this plan will move 80% of people in front of city hall to Union Station — “Lord knows Union Station could use some people in it.”
He says government builds very well, but doesn’t maintain very well. He wants to make sure the transition of the bus hub won’t be chaotic and mismanaged like the hub in front of city hall currently is.
He’s also concerned that moving all that bus traffic to Union Station, coupled with CSX increases, may call for another environmental impact study.
Germain says he’s been flying to Florida from ORH recently, and says people from other states are using it too. One guy told him it would be great to have shuttle service downtown from Union Station. He wants the Manager to have the WRTA coordinate with Direct Air to have direct bus service from Union Station to the airport. “That type of system is utilized throughout the country. You always had to jump on a bus to get from the parking lot to the airport, and sometimes that bus ride was longer than it takes to get from the Union Station to the Airport.”
J.O’Brien says this is a very thoughtful plan, and importantly connects all kinds of transportation. He says other shuttle ideas have included UMass. “He also points out the DPW has done a good job making that Foster St. area walkable.
Lukes is back on the clerk’s office, this time after dog licensing money that goes into clerk overtime. Lukes thinks this shouldn’t happen. The rest of the council disagrees in a roll call.
“We apparently neglected to include the service dog exemption” from the pit bull ordinance fees, says Eddy. He wants that drawn up and the ordinance amended. That passes with a unanimous vote.