Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
7:16: Toomey recognizes Tim Collins, a Worcester Voke graduate who made the opening day roster of the Kansas City Royals this week.
7:19: Laurie Ross of the Hope Coalition a teen anti-smoking advocacy group, address the council regarding the draft tobacco ordinance. They’ve been mapping local stores that sell tobacco and found concentrations in lower income areas. “There is target marketing of tobacco products at young people and minority young people.” The draft ordinance looks at banning the sale of tobacco at pharmacies and on colleges. “We strongly support the ban on tobacco in health institutions — places that should be promoting health.”
7:22: William Breault of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety says he supports the partial smoking ban in drug stores and pharmacies, but he really wants to see blunt wraps banned because they’re used for smoking marijuana even though they say they’re for tobacco. “I hope you send a blunt message that this is unacceptable in the city.”
Mike Lanava of the Chamber of Commerce says they tried to look at it by rolling it into the sign ordinance. They support it.
Dave Murdoch from Honey Farms addresses the council. He says he has a story at the MCPHS and says “I guess I’ve got to close because that store cannot function without the sale of tobacco products. You put the nail in coffin on that one…We’re just trying to make a living in our stores.”
Jo Hart says “you have to start the revolution at home” and says there too much smoking right outside the front door of City Hall. She complains about people smoking in the bus shelters right outside. She proposes a smoking shelter outside City Hall.
Germain rises, but the report’s been held so there’s no more conversation. Toomey wants to know the number of stings done by the department of public health for underage purchases of cigarettes.
Eddy wants to know if this has been done in other cities in Mass., and what it’s done to the smoking rates there.
7:39: City Assessor William Ford has his presentation on how his office does assessments.
He says he had a mandate from the city do to a “top down review” to find inefficiencies in the assessor’s office. In 2001 they had 18 employees, now they’re down to 10.
They have to do field reviews of all 48,000 properties in Worcester at least once every 9 years.
Ford says there’s new software called “Visions” that his office is using, which is basically Google Maps and street view on steroids. “Everything that makes up a property we’re able to look at and make determinations of.”
He says public access through the website will be available soon.
“Nobody in the Commonwealth has ever looked at this kind of technology ever before,” he says the DOR has looked at it and the city is diligent in checking it.
Lukes wants to know what kind of problems this software package is supposed to correct. Ford says it’s not designed for that, it’s for saving money by sending staff out into the field. “The measurement of the property is based on the aerials.”
He says the previous program/methods had “inaccuracies” that needed to be corrected and some inspections weren’t happening since 1985. He doesn’t know why there were these problems. Lukes wants to know how that happened if reviews were supposed to happen every three years. He’s not sure, but that’s what city records show. “We are correcting everything and anything that is different on the property” – such as new siding, new windows, things that don’t require a building permit but do up the value.
Lukes says she’s heard complaints from people who say their living areas increased even though they didn’t do anything to their property in 20 years. Lukes says “that screams for an explanation.”
One major problem has been including dormers on houses this year. That hasn’t happened in the past but it adds extra square footage.
7:57: Eddy says there was confusion among residents about whether or not that the rise in property taxes came from the assessor’s valuations or the tax increase (they’ll point out that huge spikes came from the assessor’s valuations). Eddy wants to know if this has essentially corrected 20 years of bad assessing. He wants to know what the Department of Revenue would say about this software pilot program. Ford says the DOR will see if Worcester’s application can be broadened to other municipalities. Ford says four communities have applied, but none have been certified yet. Ford says the program cost Worcester $200,000 for the software and conversion this year.
8:02: Ford says 16,000 of the 48,000 have been assessed, some chosen by type and then randomly as well. She says she’s impressed, but in the name of “fairness” she asks if there’s relief for those who’s bills skyrocketed. Ford says there’s nothing in the MGL that would allow that.
Toomey asks him to explain how this works. Ford says vehicles had six cameras attached to them and they drove around the city. He shows off the point of views from the car to the council (yep, Google Maps on steroids). “The majority of this work was actually done digitally, rather than one by one.” The aerial views were done in 2009 by state of Massachusetts flyovers.
8:11: Lukes motions for an update in mid-May as to how this process is going. “I would hate to think that our taxpayers are guinea pigs in this whole process,” she says of the pilot program.
Lukes says it should be a presentation in front of the council, rather than go to committee. She’s adamant about it. J.O’Brien says it should go to committee because there’s more room for back and forth there rather than in front of the council. Haller agrees with Lukes because it’s “an educational experience for all of us.”
Ford says he hopes to have the funding in 5 years to do photographs again to keep this current.
Toomey says subcommittee meetings are televised and asks that media services record the presentation and send it the city councilors, rather than having a second full presentation as a whole council. M.O’Brien says there’s going to be a second presentation to update the council, but it’s up to the council how they want to see it.
Clancy says abatements went down 14% from last year. There were more phone calls about their assessments, but the clarifications seemed to keep people from filing.
8:23: Ford says in a declining market assessments will be slightly higher than the current market because the sale figures used in assessments are slightly behind current times (I think they used 2009 figures this year). Smith wants to know how the tax rate effected this. Ford says it’s the tax value divided the tax levy — if the value declines, then the tax rate goes up because the city needs a certain amount of money coming in to run.
“The FY 2012 assessment will be the most accurate it’s ever been in the city of Worcester,” Ford says. “There’s always an opportunity for an error,” though. Smith wants to know how long it takes for the city to respond to an abatement request. Ford say 90 days and he says “it’s our intention to review every application we receive within that 90 day period.” Petty wants to make sure that abatements seen outside of 90 days aren’t immediately denied.
City CFO Tom Zidelis steps up to answer questions regarding assessments. He says Ford’s presentation answered the questions posed. Rushton wants to hear from “concerned citizens” if they have more questions. No one comes up, Zidelis stays up there. He says he and Ford will be available to speak with anyone who still has questions.
The gallery clears out.
8:42: Clancy wants a public works meeting on sewer and water rate increases for mid-April.
Toomey wants the City Manager to look at taking back the 48 Mason St. property and making it a public garden.
Germain wants to put in an order for the City Manager (he won’t be here next week, he says) to offer a “health insurance buyout program” — an incentive for city employees to go on a spouse’s plan rather than use the city plan.
Palmieri wants another “major snow machine” for next year. He says one came mid-winter this year and made a difference.