Lowell Roundup: February 15, 2019

Mimi Parseghian shares her observations on politics and current events this week:

Thursday’s news of Amazon not pursuing new headquarters in New York City in spite of a $3 billion tax break, coupled with GE having to give back $87 million to Massachusetts for not meeting the employment quota it had promised in exchange for these funds, made me reflect upon the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) as an economic tool and its effectiveness.

The TIF program is defined by Massachusetts law and allows municipalities to offer “tax breaks” to attract businesses to create jobs and economic growth.

In early January the City Council had to revote on the TIF that was extended to Kronos and Cross Point when they moved to that building in Lowell.  The vote was necessary due to a change in ownership of Cross Point.  The State and the City both monitor the awardees to make sure that the terms of the TIFs are being met. Furthermore, the City requires “companies to pay back the value of the tax incentives they received if they fail to meet the goals outlined in the agreement.”

In September 2017, in response to a motion by then Councilor Bill Samaras, the Department of Planning and Development provided a two-page report on the impact TIFs are having on economic development. Here is the list of current TIF awardees.

The TIFs with Kronos, Markley Group, Metrigraphics, and Somerset were signed in 2016.

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During yesterday’s City Council meeting, prior to the vote on submitting the Schematic Design of the Lowell High School to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, Councilor Rita Mercier, who did not support the downtown location, stated that she would vote in favor because it was time to move on and make sure that we have the best school building possible.

I appreciate those comments because there are proponents of the Cawley location who are not yet ready to put their efforts and energy on what is the best building we can construct to serve Lowell students into the next century.

I have to echo School Committee Gerry Nutter’s commentary which he published in his blog this week reminding everyone that the LHS project cost is on target.  We can relive last year’s internecine political battle or we can focus on the future.

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Speaking of the School Committee, they have begun the process of searching for a new School Superintendent.  It appears that they will follow the same process they utilized in the past including the selection/appointment of a Blue Ribbon Committee that will do the initial screening of the applications.  I hope that the School Committee seeks young and emerging community leaders, some people with different voices, to fill some of the seats of this Blue Ribbon committee.

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On Monday March 11th, the Lowell Education Justice Alliance is hosting a “Legislative Forum” to advocate for full funding in Lowell and Greater Lowell schools with State Senator Ed Kennedy and State Representative Rady Mom as guests. The grass roots collation has invited all legislators from surrounding communities.  As of today, Rep. Colleen Garry (Dracut) and Rep. Marc Lombardo (Billerica) have confirmed their attendance.

It has been 25 years since Massachusetts established the “Chapter 70” program that distributes state aid to support public school operations. Distribution of Chapter 70 money utilizes a formula based on the City’s or Town’s need and ability to generate funds for their school.  That formula has not been changed since the law was passed in 1993.

But I think this is the year.  Governor Charlie Baker, the State Senate and community activism will overcome any objections from the House leadership.

The forum will take place from 6:00 – 8:00 at the Senior Center, 276 Broadway Street, Lowell.

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A couple of weeks ago I posted on the make-up of the City Boards and Commissions.  I think it is essential to expand the pool of potential board members to be sure that it reflects Lowell’s population.  This is not unique to Lowell.  For example Brookline is working on addressing this issue.

As a result of my comments, Foundation Mixer created a poll on facebook asking “How transparent is the recruitment process for City of Lowell Boards and Commission?” So far 16% have voted Very Transparent and 84% voted Not Transparent.  The selection of Board and Commission members has improved in the past 10 years but we still need to make some adjustments.

One Response to Lowell Roundup: February 15, 2019

  1. Joe Boyle says:

    TIFs are a useful tool in the public toolbox, especially for cities that suffer from disinvestment.

    But it never made sense to give big TIFs to locate yet more massive global tenants in cities that are already big global winners. There is no overall job shortage in New York City that justifies that kind of subsidy. They are already experiencing a crush of business investment, to the point where other sectors like housing and transportation cannot keep up. There is no void to fill there. Shoehorning in a giant Amazon presence would just squeeze out more small local enterprises and people.

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