Lowell Round-Up: June 8, 2018

Mimi Parseghian shares her observations on the past week in Lowell:

June is a hectic month in Lowell.  There are so many public social, cultural and educational activities planned.  However, municipal government will slow down now that the summer schedule has begun. The City Council meetings will take place every other week until the fall.

Instead of my views on local political activities, this week I want to make some other observations.

From Memorial Day through July 4th, the American Flag becomes prominent with numerous public displays.  In the 60s, the flag was used by protesters as a symbol of the establishment.  If someone were to desecrate the flag, they were subject to arrest.  That is what happened to Abby Hoffman, one of the Chicago 7, when he wore the American flag as a shirt during a demonstration in 1968.

All that changed in 1989 when the Supreme Court ruled that burning the flag is a form of free speech.  Little did they realize this would open up the doors for commercialization of the flag.  So within the past few days, I saw the Stars and Stripes as a bikini, a pair of cotton lounge pants, bandana, on paper plates and napkins.  I guess when we are having our Fourth of July picnic we can put our hot dog on the flag that has been turned into a plate and wipe the mustard of our lips with a flag that has been turned into a napkin.

The U.S. Flag Code is quite detailed as to how to display the flag.  For example: “the flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.  The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.  The flag should never be used as wearing apparel…”

In contrast, driving by the public cemeteries in South Lowell one can view the sea of flags adorning the graves of veterans from all of 20th century wars.  It is an impressive and solemn view.

Also, there are many homes that properly display the flag and quite a few display buntings that exhibit the colors of the flag and express the same patriotic sentiment. Nevertheless, it might be time for us to remind everyone of the Flag Code.

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The traffic situation in Lowell during rush hour has slowly increased throughout the years. And now the major arteries throughout the City are bumper to bumper between the hours of 4:30 – 6:30 p.m.  If I were to guess, I would say the great majority are cars going through the City to avoid the traffic on the major highways surrounding Lowell. I do not know if the traffic apps are to blame or if there is an increase in cars but Lowell residents are the ones suffering.  And if there is an accident or a road repair, your commute to your house may double in time.

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Last week, I mentioned that in order to understand the impact of the City Budget, I read Joe Smith who posts on Facebook’s Lowell Live Feed.  Here are some of Joe’s comments:

“The tax levy increase to 2% plus new growth.  Those reserves may be in further jeopardy going forward with increased debt for the parking garage, unless the Parking Enterprise Fund can stem the tide (this year it eats into its own reserves by over $1M, and the worst is yet to come when the debt service for the new garage fully hits the books), and even more when the high school debt comes due in a few years.

Unfunded liabilities could be the biggest problem, as the 2017 unfunded pension benefit was $245M, although with that there is a plan (this year it requires nearly $26M from the budget) to get that back to pay as you go by 2036.  Not so for the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) primarily health care that has a 2017 actuarial debt of $606M and we have no plan to address this (the premise is that the City can always cancel the benefit so it doesn’t have to address the increased deficit). To indicate how this debit is ballooning, the OPEB liability increased by $84M from 2016 to 2017 and like will do so again when 2018 is calculated.”

This situation did not occur with one Council or the current administration.  However, we need to focus on how to address some of these budget issues that will negatively impact the City in the future.

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