To learn more about the various reports and motion responses on tonight’s agenda, check out Mimi Parseghian’s City Council Preview from yesterday.
Roll Call: Mayor Samaras (flu) and Councilor Conway (knee surgery) absent. Councilor Nuon chairs the meeting. Councilor Mercier is sitting in Conway’s seat, not in her usual place.
Vote-Cancel Council Meetings of February 20 and April 17, 2018. Passes.
Order-Abandon Portion Of Newell Street. Manager Murphy says the parties reached an agreement. The deed will contain restrictions that are acceptable to the neighbors. (This has been before the council twice before; neighbors had concerns about the intended conveyance).
GENERAL PUBLIC HEARINGS
Ordinance-Amend C. 56 Personnel Ordinance – No one speaks in support; no one speaks in opposition. Public hearing closed. CC Elliott says he has concerns about voting for this, the $1 mil indemnification for employees. He says he believes state law already does this. City Solicitor says law provides council with the option for indemnification. She says some communities have adopted this ordinance to cover individual’s not already covered by collective bargaining agreements (such as department heads or councilors). He says this opens up the flood gates to any lawsuit that comes through. He says this is broader than state law requires. He also doesn’t like the provision about paying for outside counsel. He moves that this be referred back to the city manager to have these provisions taken out. CC Milinazzo says he’ll support the motion because he believes the full council should be available to vote on it. CC Kennedy says he’s ready to support it tonight but thinks it’s better to wait for Mayor Samaras and Councilor Conway to be present.
COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITY MANAGER
City of Lowell Marketing Campaign – Councilor Leahy says this is a good start. Appreciates the report. Says he’d like the entire community to get involved in promoting the city.
Tax Impact – no comments on the report.
Status of Capital Projects – Councilor Elliott says this is a good report. Wants to be sure that this has been sent to the finance subcommittee. Councilor Cirillo asks for a quick verbal report on the report. Conor Baldwin says values are calculated as of January 1 each year, so the first two quarterly bills of the fiscal year come before that. Therefore, they are just estimates. Once the residential factor is established by the council in the late fall and the new values are determined as of January 1, the tax rate is applied to the new values to determine the total tax liability for the year. The amount paid in the first two quarters is subtracted from that and then the balance is divided equally between the third and fourth quarterly payments. If values have gone up, the third and fourth bills are likely to be higher. The report also explains the abatement process, however, Baldwin stresses that to take advantage of that, you must first pay the full tax due and then apply for your abatement. Councilor Leahy says based on emails he received, some people are confused about the valuation process, especially for multifamily homes.
Municipal Health Insurance – no discussion.
MSBA February 2, 2018 Meeting Summary – Councilor Leahy thanks CM for the report. Says he was present last night for the school building committee meeting. He wants to be sure that there will be clarification on the size of the field house/gym. CM says there is a telephone conference tomorrow morning with MSBA regarding the field house and the option that would entirely replace the school (both came up at last night’s meeting). Councilor Leahy asks whether the Athletic Director has been consulted about the field house issue. Asst CM McGovern says the high school’s leadership team will meet later this month to discuss the impact of removing the pool from student education. Councilor Leahy says we have to fight for a functioning field house because school is not just 8am to 3pm. It’s about tradition in Lowell. It’s important to build what we need. There’s so much more than just a track meet or a basketball game. We have to fight for what we really need. What we need is a functioning field house like we have so we can host these events. McGovern says they won’t have a decision after the phone call tomorrow. It’s likely that Perkins will go meet with MSBA in the near future to make the case in person for the bigger field house space. Leahy hopes that this doesn’t hold up the process; that Perkins should be creating two sets of documents to cover both options. CC Leahy then says there was talk about Option 3, so we will at some point have to have an eminent domain schedule. McGovern says the council will have such a schedule in the near future. CC Milinazzo says that the MSBA person last week seemed open to being flexibility on the size of the gym. That makes him confident we will be successful with a bigger gym. CC Milinazzo says the memo predicts that revised fee information would be available on February 9. McGovern says they were negotiated and that the fees will be covered by the prior appropriation. CC Kennedy says that last night they decided that Perkins would follow up on the field house but the manager’s office would ask about eliminating the “new build” option. CM Murphy says he’ll email all councilors a summary of the phone conference as soon as it is completed. CC Elliott says last night eminent domain was discussed. He says it is a complicated process. He thinks it would be helpful to get a report on the process including the remediation or testing piece on the proposed site. CC Mercier says it was an interesting meeting last night. She sees a discrepancy that the city solicitor thinks there are 4 business to relocate while there are 6. (There’s a different level of relocation aid based on 5 or more).
VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
Vote-Auth CM request minor plan change to Ayer City Industrial Revit. Plan from DHCD. CM Murphy explains there are two related votes tonight related to acquiring land for bus parking related to the land swap with the national park. Passes.
Vote-Transfer $150,000 to fund restoration services at Pollard Memorial Library. CM Murphy estimates Pollard Library will reopen on February 26, 2018. He estimates full cost of repairs will be $350,000. Passes.
ORDERS FROM THE CITY MANAGER
Confirmatory Order of Taking (Ayer’s Plan) – To take certain parcels by eminent domain. These are the small parcels of land upon which the city has built the bus parking lot for buses visiting the National Park. Once the title to this is clear, the city and the National Park can proceed with the land swap for property in the Hamilton Canal District.
REPORTS (SUB/COMMITTEE, IF ANY)
Parks & Recreation SC February 13, 2018 – meeting topic was “Utopian Park” in Hamilton Canal District. Heard from the sculptor who is creating the piece. The hope is to have installation done this June. Total cost (all donations and grants) is $200,000.
Claims – (1) Property Damage.
Misc. – Sang Jin Lee (United Dental) request permission to install overhanging sign at 131 Merrimack Street.
CITY COUNCIL – MOTIONS
Councilor Elliott – Req. City Council discuss joining other municipalities in a class action suit against manufactures of opioids. CC Elliott says drug companies need to be held accountable for the widespread abuse of prescription drugs. CC Mercier cites Sun article that says these companies promoted over subscribing by doctors. CC Kennedy suggests it be referred to city manager to draft a resolution about this. City Solicitor says it is a great motion which mirrors some efforts already being taken. Solicitor has already met with some law firms that are representing municipalities in this kind of suit. They have selected a firm that has previously represented the city in a class action suit. She will return a report to the council.
Councilor Elliott – Req. City Mgr. contact Department of Mental Health and State House Delegation regarding closing of the Mental Health Center in Lowell. CC Elliott says there is a great need for mental health services in Lowell. This is going in the wrong direction. We should contact our statehouse delegation to find out what the plan is for reopening this.
Councilor Nuon – Req. City Mgr. provide a report to City Council regarding emergency management plans (i.e. flooding, natural disasters, etc..) for the City. City resident (Paul Belley) speaks on motion. Residents of Claypit Brook area are concerned about the repercussions of the new bladder dam at Pawtucket Falls. He (and Bob Gagnon, who has provided a letter) urges the council to obtain a signed agreement with Enel that would ensure the bladder dam to be lowered earlier in the face of rising waters than is the case now. This would reduce water damage to upstream neighbors. CC Nuon says he filed the motion to review plans city has to deal with manmade or natural disasters. He believes for any plan to be successful, it requires community involvement. Hopes to have subcommittee meeting on this topic.
Councilor Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. provide a report updating the Council regarding installation of “Meters for Homeless” Program; report to include costs for installation, number of meters installed, and organizations to whom collected funds will be distributed. Once report is received, it will also be referred to the Hunger Homeless Commission. CC Kennedy asks about this having already been launched. CM says they ran into problems with using municipal parking meetings to collect money for non-governmental entities. He says there are signs posted with website addresses to donate money, but no parking meters yet.
Councilor Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. provide an updated presentation to the Economic Development SC of the plans for the Hamilton Canal Innovation District; said presentation to include garage plans, first floor commercial space in garages, lighting of the Swamp Locks, and infrastructure and transportation plans as they relate to Lord Overpass traffic improvements. CC Cirillo says the motion is self-explanatory. CC Kennedy asks if the current garages planned for the Hamilton Canal district include commercial space on the ground floor. According to DPD, they do not have retail, although they once did. The reason is that there is a shortage of parking spaces overall in the HCD. Eliminating retail spaces will add 100 additional spaces. Kennedy says while we need more parking spaces, it’s critical to have commercial space on the ground floor of these garages. He knows the experience of the commercial space at the Early Garage was not all that successful, but he believes HCD is a different setting than the location of the Early Garage. CM Murphy says they will take another look at it. The “form based code” limits structures to seven stories on that parcel so the city can’t add another level to that garage.
Councilor Mercier – Req. City Mgr. provide an update regarding Plain/Tanner Street corridor re-development plans including the effect it will have on 168 Plain Street (Lowell Car Wash). CC Mercier wants to know how the street realignment will affect the Lowell Car Wash which has been in business for 50 years.
Councilor Mercier/Mayor Samaras – Req. City Mgr. review possibility or re-establishing the position of downtown coordinator. CC Mercier says she understands that everyone in DPD is responsible for recruitment of new businesses and for promoting the city, but she believes there should be someone designated to visit businesses regularly.
Councilor Kennedy moves to suspend the rules to discuss the process of selecting a new city manager. He asks that the Mayor set up a special meeting to discuss this process. CC Nuon says he spoke with Mayor Samaras about this. He intends to have the council discuss this at the February 27, 2018 meeting. He asks CC Elliott to review the process that was followed the last time there was a city manager vacancy. He says the HR Director, Mary Callery, was very involved and should be involved. It will be important to lay out a time line for advertising, submission deadlines, interviews, etc. CC Elliott believes discussing this at the Feb 27 meeting will be sufficient.
ANNOUNCEMENTS – CC Leahy attended the Science Fair at Lowell High today which featured participants from middle schools, too. He said it was very impressive. CC Cirillo, who joined CC Leahy as a judge at this event, concurred.
ADJOURNMENT at 7:58 pm.