Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
No budget proposal tonight (see post below) but Mayor O’Brien (and others) will begin their push for a residency requirement to keep municipal and school workers living in Worcester.
7:15: Proclamation for Earth Day and REC clean ups.
7:20: Derek Brindisi, commissioner of public health, talks about the second annual prescription drug take-back day on Saturday. There’s even going to be a Shrewsbury site. Don’t flush them, please.
7:22: Haller wants a traffic signal at the intersection of May and Woodland St. The lights were approved ten years ago, but Haller wants funding for them for next year.
Petty says “this is an important intersection. This is a dangerous intersection.” He says it was passed in 1997, so getting it done now is a “priority.”
“You see the crossing guard out there. It’s almost like a four lane highway.”
Rushton, who’s been on the traffic and parking committee for seven years now, says there’s a traffic light backlog. “We have a bunch of lights that are direly needed.” There’s also improvements to already existing lights that need to be done. “This issue of traffic safety goes beyond Main and Woodland. “The children on May and Woodland are just as precious as three blocks down.” He wants to amend this to have a plan that would “wipe out” old lights and look “global” rather than focusing on one site.
Haller wants that as a separate idea. She wants to make sure this particular one gets done.
Petty: “We have a list on this. This is on top of the list.” Smith, chair of traffic and parking says “I think the council will be shocked” at the cost and length of the backlog.
Patricia Padilla, principal of Woodland Academy, also addresses the need for funding for a traffic light. She says she has 850 students between Woodland Academy and Claremont, all of them walkers. “I have a very courageous crossing guard that risks her life every day to make sure my students are safe…this is an immediate and urgent necessity.” She has a petition with her.
More community voices: parents, Main South CDC’s Steve Teasdale, Jabian Gutierrez, parent. Vote passes unanimously.
Lenny Zalauskas, EAW president, has some “alternative suggestions” about how to fix the budget. “The one thing I’ve noticed is that the employees seem to be a money tree in this issue. The only solution you can come up with is changing health insurance.” He says the money from the airport should be diverted from park rehab to plugging the budget. “You need to take the cue from other cities that are asking for PILOT money…the $2 mil you raised in taxes to fix sidewalks, you should defer that.” He says he’s never seen a furlough, “you’d get a week off and you wouldn’t get paid.”
“We haven’t had a contract for almost two years. It’s time for a fair and equitable contract…I’m appalled that Clark University is able to buy more and more properties without paying tax money…services are rendered to them.”
“I humbly ask you, please let’s settle this contract. But there are other options…the city council could show some leadership on this and give back half their pay.” (He says their salary is more than 500 of his EAW members.)
7:51: Palmieri holds a conversation about National Grid conduit locations. No discussion beyond information given by the power company’s lawyer.
7:53: Haller wants to see a “Janice Nadeau Way.” They debated “street” or “avenue” “but clearly, it had to be ‘way.'”
7:59: Lukes says residential houses and mixed use buildings with home occupations are exempt from the sign law. She says this could be a loophole for home businesses to circumvent the sign ordinance. “I’m told it’s appropriate at this time to make amendments.”
Solicitor David Moore says it’s ok to make the amendments without having to re-advertise because they are “within the scope” of the ordinance that’s already there. Petty’s worried that there’s already been hearings on the ordinance.
Joel Fontaine says this just clarifies what’s already passed, eliminating any sort of legal wrangling that could come up.
The council gives a standing ovation to Fontaine for his sign ordinance work.
Palmieri says the latest ALB treatment report was short and is planning some public hearings. He’s concerned about Dodge Park and the USDA’s recent clear cutting history. “It doesn’t seem welcoming to the who live in that area to have a hearing one day and the USDA (beginning work) the next.”
“This report actually generates more questions than answers,” Smith says. He says the USDA made it clear that trees needed to be treated for three years, but now they’re saying they’re not treating trees that they hit last year. “They need to find where the boundaries are, where the perimeter is. The problem is we don’t know where the perimeter is.”
Haller wants to know if the USDA is still considering soil injection or if they’ll just stick with tree injection.
J.O’Brien says the lack of injection is disappointing especially because he and McGovern worked to secure federal funding for it, and now it’s moving to other communities.
Rushton says “we were roundly criticized during phase I. People assumed the USDA was right…but as we questioned them and we started asking more and more questions to these expert scientists they brought in we realized they’re making it up as they go along, essentially. I think that’s a real fair estimation.” He echoes O’Brien’s McGovern/money lament. “I’m hoping that on this meeting on Monday we will get significant answers.”
8:19: The council has some questions on their authority to increase elder exemption limits on annual income and asset limits. They want a report, and Petty wants it to go back to committee to iron out discrepancies and questions. Haller says the intent is “exercise this to its fullest” — bringing the application down to 65 years of age and lowered to those who make $20,000.
8:23: Haller wants to know about communities that employ small business tax breaks. “the number of people that qualify for this exemption is so few that it doesn’t effect the tax rate of the communities that adopt them,” Assessor Ford says. But there’s no idea how it would effect Worcester because they don’t know yet what businesses would qualify.
Smith says this report “doesn’t tell us a whole lot.” He wants more info like how many businesses took advantage in other communities and see how it might effect Worcester.
“We’re talking about if we chose to adopt a small business tax rate…we would be talking about three distinct tax classifications.” Eddy wants to make it clear that adopting this would not effect residential and industrial property taxes. Compared to the other towns that adopted this, he thinks we’ll have more small businesses here than, say, Bellingham.
Eddy says the problem with this is when the council votes on tax rates, they know what the details of what they’re voting on. With this, they don’t have any information on what voting it in would do until after they would vote in a third tax classification. “I think we need to come up with some sort of way, working with the chamber” to come up with how this would change property taxes for small businesses. M.O’Brien says he thinks they can come up with some “reasonable modeling…on the nature of how this would all layout.”
Lukes wants to know what the Department of Revenue has on this. “This is not as easy as this sounds. We need a much more thorough report. This doesn’t anticipate the kind of questions we’re asking here.” She wants to look at the “definition of exemption” and the effect on the tax rate and what the DOR says before she’ll vote in a third tax rate classification.
8:35: Lukes talks about the second annual Stand Against Racism event. “Whenever we’ve had any problem with racism of any sort our prior human rights director would call a press conference saying Worcester is no place for hate.” She says the two recent incidents at WPI and Clark should have a swift response.
8:38: J. O’Brien holds Lukes idea to place a three month grace period on the tobacco ordinance to allow stores to sell their already purchased tobacco stock.
8:39: J.O’Brien takes the floor about the census data, saying we’re growing and people are choosing to stay in Worcester, but the middle class and working class families are leaving for the suburbs. Cities have to have good schools, parks, etc. he says. He calls the Telegram article on residency requirements “shocking” to some. He says half of teachers and almost have of police officers don’t live here. The money goes toward “other communities” and their little leagues, restaurants, taxes.
“If any council can do it, it’s this council. This council’s done things that people said can’t be done.” He uses the street/sidewalk initiative as an example.
He says when he got on the school committee there was a $73 million backlog on repairs. They’re now addressing that backlog. He says the council can help create jobs because there’s $1 bil in investment “underway” in the city.
“It’s a good time. How do we then tackle this issue? How do we get city employees to stay here?” He wants a legal report asking what the council can do. He also challenges the idea that we won’t “get the best and brightest.” He says he even “gets personally offended” when a job goes to someone from Paxton when they’re not planning on moving to Worcester.”
In Detroit, he says, the city offers foreclosed homes to city employees for very cheap. He also wants to survey employees anonymously asking why they choose not to live in Worcester. “I know there’s going to be a lot of cynics. But a lot of cynics said we couldn’t fix our streets and sidewalks…this council can get some stuff done. This council has been leading and getting things done since I’ve been here.”
Toomey says “it should be no surprise to people that I signed on to this…The Telegram is looking at it from a completely different perspective…we’re saying Worcester is a great place to live and would be an even better place without employees living here.” She says South Boston has completely turned around because public employees started living there, which increased property values. “We have great schools. We have great teachers. We’re an intellectual capitol here…we’ve got to get out of our low self-esteem thing.” She also brings up Detroit’s program, and the city’s own Buy Worcester Now mortgage incentive. “There’s affordable housing here. There’s great housing here for people looking for a higher standard…where’s the investment into our community?”
Petty calls this a “homerun.” He wants a list of other cities and town in MA that do this. He points out that Brockton had it but eliminated it and he wants to know why.
Palmieri says “great job on this, Mr. Mayor…it has been accomplished in other cities but it’s not one size fits all, and certainly, Mr. Mayor, it’s not going to happen tomorrow.” He says with the right “set of circumstances and the right set of criteria we can make this work.” He wants this to be an ongoing project.
“I’m excited about it and I want to see this happen.”
8:54: Lukes says when she was called by a reporter she was surprised because she didn’t see this on the agenda. “The problem with being here for several terms is you assume” that older issues are resolved permanently. She calls this an topic that comes back every so often.
“The issue of getting talented people doesn’t go away just because you mandate them to come into the city.” She said she supported this when it first came out, but “as issues came before us dealing with the complexities…I frankly moved on. I became an advocate for regionalism, spreading our influence…You can’t force middle income status to come into the city…This is not a matter of being cynical because if we didn’t believe in this city we wouldn’t be in this room.” She says the issue is that salaries are higher than those in the private sector and taxpayers wonder why they’re not living in Worcester. But that can’t be changed through forcing them to move here. “I think we need to look at the bigger picture. If we believe Worcester is attractive then why don’t other people think Worcester is attractive?”
She says that since this is a change that would have to be made through bargaining it could lead to higher costs in salaries and benefits as a giveback. She wants more information too.
Haller says “I’m very proud of the leadership that you’re showing, Mr. Mayor…While Councilor Lukes raised some interesting points…I don’t think this is pitting people against one another…I agree with Councilor Petty that if we can pull this off it will be a homerun.”
Rushton says Lukes was “doing her best Gary Rosen tonight,” saying she wasn’t very succinct and pulling on both sides of the issue. “We need to figure out what we need to do to bring these people back…if they put their head on a pillow here in Worcester they’ll be more invested physically and financially.”
Petty and most others want to see how Doherty and Burncoat can be put on the state assistance list for repairs. He says families are putting kids in Wachusett or Shrewsbury because the schools are newer. “The future of the city of Worcester, keeping families here, these schools will have to be done over.”
Toomey says renovations aren’t always easier and cheaper because of change orders. “In the end, we do have a good product.” “The problem people have to understand is the list from the state is massive.”
Smith says Nelson Place is first on the citywide list. “They’ve been putting bandaids on that for far too long.” Nothing’s changed at Doherty since nearly half the council’s been there or had kids that have gone there. “These schools in particular we have to come up with funding ideas.”
“Once again I think this can be done, and I think it will be done,” Palmieri offers. “If we want it done we’ll find a way to get it done.”
Rushton says the difference is that they’re going to do it, not just talking about it.
9:18: Lukes wants to know how much of the water and sewer increases are because of the EPA. M.O’Brien says there’s a previous report. Lukes wants the advertisement of the new rates held.
9:21: Dixon Ave in 01603 is now Dixon Ave. South, since it was getting confused with Dixon Ave in area code 01605. Make a note of it, residents.
9:22: J.O’Brien says he’s switching to the city’s new Advantage health plan.
9:27: Haller wants to see if CSX trains can stop blowing their horns at night as they pass through her district.
9:27: Smith says he saw the fire dept. respond to a fire near his house, but the hydrant they needed didn’t work. “That is a serious issue…they had to unhook from there and run down the street to find another fire hydrant and run the hose back up the street…the time that that took could have resulted in someone being seriously injured or killed.” “We need to take this seriously and get out there and make sure our fire hydrants are in working order.”