Number of votes including one accepting a $1.6 million grant from the Federal government for expansion of the trolley system. Craig Thomas from DPD gives an update. One expansion will run from downtown through Hamilton Canal District to the Gallagher Terminal. The second expansion will connect the North and South Campuses of UMass Lowell. This money is to do the “design for construction” and also to start building some of the pieces of it.
Vote to create a Capital Debt Service Stabilization Fund to pay for future capital projects and to transfer $2.7 million from Free Cash to the fund. Passes 9-0 on roll call vote with no discussion.
Substance Abuse Subcommittee Report by Chair Corey Belanger. Consensus was drug abuse is a big problem in Lowell; it’s at the root of most of the crime in the city; and there should be more substance abuse treatment facilities in the city.
Finance Subcommittee Report by Mayor Elliott regarding “chapter 17 Stabilization Fund” which was set up in 1993 because of then financial difficulties. In the past 20 years the city has stabilized its finances and its reserves but the city has a net school spending deficit that has to be addressed. The intent is to use the funds that would be paid into that account to replenish it to meet net school spending deficit. This would be a request to the state to eliminate the chapter 17 fund requirement.
Councilor Mercier says when this first came up she was hesitant because it seemed like a good safety net. But we’re so far behind on net school spending. Says she was at the subcommittee meeting where Connor Baldwin recommended it be dissolved as did Bob Healy because it’s not a true reserve. She asks Bob Healy to explain.
Bob Healy explains that the most important thing the council has to address in the coming fiscal year is the deficit in net school spending. The $2 million appropriated back in March for that purpose was from the Chapter 17 fund which would have to be paid back. Standard and Poor has recognized the city’s excellent financial management with its other reserve funds and unused tax levy capacity.
Councilor Milinazzo asks if the DOR really sees excess levy capacity as a reserve. Healy says the rating agencies see it as that but says the DOR doesn’t rate on things like that. Milinazzo says he’s going to support this but wants to be sure his colleagues understand that the “$21 million reserve” figure being tossed around includes excess tax levy capacity (meaning we could under Prop 2.5 raise taxes).
Councilor Martin says he was initially skeptical but the case made by the city administration is convincing so he will support it. He says when using reserves like this it should be for onetime expenses not operating costs and the net school spending deficit in a onetime expense. He likes the fiscal direction the city is heading in with the establishment of the Capital Debt Service Stabilization fund. He says this is a good step to take now.
Councilor Leahy regarding improving signs at School Street and Western Ave.
Councilor Leahy regarding changing the detour sign at Perry Street to Middlesex Street.
Councilor Leahy asks for proper sign on Broadway to prevent people from illegally driving over the bridge that’s being repaired.
Councilor Leahy asks City Manager review contract with 495 Jeep and ensure compliance (the agreement set limit on number of cars on the lot; thinks there are more than that).
Councilor Rourke asks to explore hiring more inspectional services staff with a focus on working directly with public safety officials.
Councilor Rourke asks to allow city residents to dispose of extra trash for free the week after Christmas.
Councilor Rourke asks to explore possibility of weekly recycling pick-ups. Councilor Mercier says she is concerned this will increase costs for residents. Says it would be about $800,000 per year for the city. She says there’s a place at the DPW headquarters where people can drop off extra recycling. Says to leave this as is. Says she’d like to know how many people would be able to use this (doubts it’s many). Councilor Belanger says that Lowell has one of the highest recycling rates of any Gateway City. Making that happen every week would be very expensive. Councilor Rourke says he wasn’t contemplating a rate increase for anyone. He says the city recycling rates are at an all-time high and we should at least look into what it would cost to expand this. Councilor Leahy says the more we recycle, the more we save so he wants to investigate it. Councilor Kennedy says a ton of recycling costs a lot less than a ton of trash so the more we recycle, the better. But for this to be worthwhile, everyone’s recycling bin would be filled for every pickup. Suspects that’s not the case for many so he’s skeptical of the savings. But all the motion asks for is to investigate it so he’ll support the motion. Councilor Martin agrees with Kennedy. Passes on a voice vote. Councilor Mercier says she’ll vote for it to get the report then goes back to the prior motion saying there’s already a contract in place. Says she doesn’t want fees to go up.