Lowell Week in Review, June 15, 2014

The City Council formally took up City Manager Murphy’s FY15 budget at a public hearing at Tuesday night’s meeting. When the mayor asked if anyone wished to speak in favor of the budget there was silence. Before he asked if anyone was opposed, Councilor Kennedy jumped in and suggested that the public hearing be recessed to this coming Tuesday which would be a special council meeting (they are now on the every-other-week summer schedule) that could be exclusively devoted to the budget. I got the sense that several councilors were ready to pass the budget on the spot without any discussion but Kennedy’s motion to continue passed unanimously.

Councilors typically question specific spending proposals in the budget but it will be interesting to see if any on the council question some of the revenue projections. Rosier than real income expectations are an easy way to close a gap that doesn’t require painful cuts at the time the budget is being formulated an adopted. The pain comes at the end of the fiscal year when the rosy revenue doesn’t materialize but the money is spent – that’s called a deficit. Some on the Lowell Live Feed Facebook group seem to think that could be the case with this budget. If you watch on Tuesday, make note of any questions on revenue assumptions.

The Water Department got plenty of attention this week with councilors receiving the report by Waste Water Department head Mark Young who was tasked by City Manager Murphy to investigate problems at the Water Department. Councilors made several motions about the Water Department (see my report on last Tuesday’s Council meeting for details) and Water Bills and the city has already posted an employment ad for the position of Executive Director in the Water Department.

The issue of fireworks also came up at Tuesday’s council meeting. There is a proposed ordinance that would impose a $500 fine on anyone illegally using fireworks that is being fast-tracked due to this being prime fireworks season. I generally see fireworks as a nuisance that pass quickly but because some fireworks going off sound a lot like gunshots and because we have too many gunshots (and also reports of gunshots) in this city, many residents are left wondering, like I did at 3:15 am last Tuesday, whether the six loud cracks I heard from somewhere in the neighborhood were from M80 fire crackers or a 9 mm pistol. Anything that helps diminish the number of loud late night bangs in Lowell, regardless of their source, is OK with me.

The cost of outside legal services also became an issue. The cost of litigation is a no win situation for any city manager. Settle a case and councilors will express outrage that the matter wasn’t contested to the bitter end. Contest a case to the bitter end and councilors will express outrage at the cost of the fight and criticize the manager for not settling. Speaking from experience, the outcome of litigation is entirely unpredictable so it’s usually best to settle, although some cases are so meritless that you can’t do that all the time. I do agree with City Manager Murphy when he said there are plenty of more than competent lawyers in Lowell who could handle outside legal services for the city at a more affordable rate than is being paid now.

Many of our politically active neighbors journeyed to Worcester this Friday night and Saturday for the Massachusetts Democratic Convention. I wrote one post about Friday night which featured speeches from Elizabeth Warren and Deval Patrick and another post with the outcome of the delegate voting from yesterday. Check back tonight for a third post on the sights and sounds of the convention.

Watch for a major change to the appearance of this website in the next week or two. The main objective of the custom redesign is to make it easier for readers to find the stories of greatest interest to them.

Congratulations to my sister, Martha Howe, for being named the Greater Lowell Bar Association’s Lawyer of the Year at last Monday’s bar dinner. Martha was unable to be there but created a slick video that featured not only her acceptance remarks but also comments from many Lowell notables. Hopefully she’ll permit me to load the video up to YouTube and share it with everyone.

Happy Father’s Day.