Lowell Week in Review: November 24, 2013

Public Safety – I still believe that public safety was the decisive issue in this year’s city council election. Three big public safety related things happened this week. First, City Manager Lynch appointed Bill Taylor to be the new Superintendent of the Lowell Police Department. Jen Myers on the Room 50 blog has a report on the appointment as does Chris Scott on his Lowell Sun Column blog who also has another post with former Superintendent Ed Davis’s reaction to the appointment. The second public safety event last week was the transfer by the city council at the request of the city manager of a substantial amount of newly certified free cash into the police overtime account. This will allow enhanced patrols to continue but some of this money will also be used to pay part of the cost of the lateral transfer of four officers currently serving in other jurisdictions to the LPD. Finally, the eleven new officers who we’ve heard so much about have graduated from the academy and are now on the police force. Last week they visited the Lowell Superior Court as part of their orientation.

Free Cash – At Tuesday’s city council meeting, the competing philosophies of local governance often labeled “professional” and “political” were on display in the discussion over the city manager’s request to transfer a large amount of recently certified “free cash” into a pension contingency fund in anticipation of a spike in the upcoming pension fund payment that will soon be assessed against the city. The manager wants the bulk of the money to go towards pension liability while several councilors seemed to prefer holding at least some of the money for “projects” that may become desirable in the coming year or two. The terms “professional” and “political” are somewhat misleading. Better substitutes would be “long term” and “short term.” The city manager wants to adhere to a strategic plan that maps out how things will get done over the long term and how they will be paid for. The councilors want to be able to make things happen in the short term without having to raise taxes to pay for them. I suspect the city manager’s interest in quickly committing the free cash has as much to do with curbing the temptation to spend it on random one-time things as it does with paying into the pension fund. How this issue will be resolved must await an upcoming finance subcommittee meeting.
More details about this issue are available in my City Council report from Tuesday.

Jerathmell Bowers House – Constructed in 1673 at what is now the corner of Westford and Wood Streets in Lowell, the Jerathmell Bowers House is said to be the oldest structure in the city. There has been a billboard-type sign on the property for years advertising the site’s availability for commercial development. Recently, Kazanjian Enterprises has submitted a proposal that would call for the construction of two new commercial buildings on the site. One would house the Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank branch that is currently up the street at the Market Basket Plaza at Wood and Middlesex Street (adding a drive through feature) while the second building would appear from the plans to be a single story structure housing multiple retail establishments. While the initial proposal states that the historic Bowers House would be retained, there has been a flurry of interest in the historic preservation community about the fate of the home. Because the Lowell Historic Board only has jurisdiction over land within the downtown historic district, that board has no direct say in this decision. The Planning Board and the Conservation Commission do have jurisdiction and review of this matter is ongoing. All documents related to this matter are available on the city webpage (scroll down to the “150 Wood Street” project).

Richard P. Howe Bridge – The new bridge over the Merrimack River opened this Tuesday. The bridge is named for my father, Richard P. Howe Sr., and the dedication ceremony on Tuesday morning was a great event for which my parents and my entire family are grateful. I wrote a blog post afterwards summarizing the event with links to other posts by Chris Scott, Jen Myers and Paul Marion.

Happy Thanksgiving – This Thursday is Thanksgiving. Early forecasts that predicted snow for Wednesday have now switched to rain with little chance of precipitation on Thursday. In the traditional high school football game this year, Lowell High will play Haverhill High at Haverhill in a 10 am start. Next Saturday is the City of Lights Parade and Holiday Celebration which stretches from 11 am until 8 pm throughout downtown Lowell.

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