Lowell City Council Meeting: December 16, 2014

Carole Cowan

Retiring President of Middlesex Community College Carole Cowan is honored by the City Council and by State Senator Eileen Donoghue (on behalf of herself and Representatives Golden and Nangle).

Public Hearing: To adopt the minimum residential factor

No speakers for or against.  CFO Connor Baldwin gives council presentation on tax rate for 3rd quarter bills that are about to go out.  Significant expenses in FY15 budget due to $3mil increase in pension costs, contractual salaries, net school spending, snow and ice removal which resulted in 3½% increase in taxes.  The “MRF” – Mass law allows portion of tax burden to be shifted from one class of property to another.  Lowell has chosen to shift the burden away from residential properties as much as the law allows.  $15.48 per $1000 of residential value.    New growth projection of $2.5 million was estimated; DOR recently approved new growth of $3.175mil.  New growth has helped keep average tax increase to 2.25%.  City Manager attributes larger than expected new growth to “diligent effort by assessors, especially regarding personal property taxation.”  Council approves unanimously.

Council votes to cancel meetings of December 23 and December 30, 2014.


Councilor Rourke questions Recycling Coordinator about the cost of recycling.  He says it costs $74 per ton to dispose of trash; no cost to dispose of recycling (there is a cost for pickup).  Coordinator says we could be recycling at a higher percentage.  Says more education and outreach could increase percentage.  Says there’s no provision for a household to buy a second recycling cart.

Vote to transfer $100K+ to cover deficit in Lowell Memorial Auditorium enterprise fund.

Subcommittee Reports

Neighborhood Subcommittee: received presentation by the Lowell Transitional Living Center.  Then met with neighborhood leaders.  Then discussed election polling places.

Higher Education Subcommittee reports on presentation made by Carole Cowan on overall state of Middlesex Community College.

City Manager announces that this weekend parking will be free in downtown garages.


Councilor Martin requests presentation to Transportation Subcommittee on renovations to Lord Overpass.  Says it’s a critical piece of Hamilton Canal development so it would be helpful to get an update on the plans.

Councilor Martin requests report on collapsed wall at Prospect and Crosby Streets.

Councilor Rourke asks Lowell Police assess benefits of using “Social Sentinel”, a social media monitoring platform that looks for threats of crimes.

Mayor Elliot requests CM explore feasibility of establishing a Veterans Commission.  John Mitchell speaks in support of the motion.  Mayor Elliot thanks Mr. Mitchell for his service in the military.  Says he’s attended many veteran events and has been an honor to preside at them.  Says due to passage of time, membership in veteran’s organization is slipping.  Also comments that there is not an essential voice in the city for veteran’s events.  There’s a hunger homeless commission and other commissions, there should be one for veterans too.  There should be more outreach to find younger veterans who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.  The mission of the commission should be to provide support and assistance and to complement the Veterans Agent, not to tell him what to do.  Maybe this commission could provide a report to this council annually on the state of veterans in the city to help us focus on the needs of veterans.  The commission could also help plan civic observances: recurring and onetime events.  It could also partner with other organizations like UMass Lowell ROTC and Veteran Affairs Offices.  There’s also ways to use social media to engage younger veterans.  The way we honor and serve our veterans is to be sure they get the services they need.  Councilor Samaras says he supports the motion.  We’ve seen the problem of the delivery of services.  This motion will help.  It’s timely and necessary.  Motion passes.

Mayor Elliot requests City Manager/Mayor name steering committee of Cambodian activists to work with the city on the creation of a monument to Cambodian immigrants.

Meeting adjourns at 8:26 pm

3 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: December 16, 2014

  1. Joe Smith says:

    I think you may have misinterpreted the tax issue. First of all, it is not clear that the additional new growth was used to reduce the tax levy, although I may have missed that comment. In any case, the 2.25% increase is in tax rate, not taxes. The single family tax increase is closer to 6%, partly due to the shift in valuation, and partly due to the planned 3.5% increase in base tax levy.

  2. DickH says:

    Thanks for clarifying. I was just trying to follow along with the presentation. I remember that the 2.25% comment was stated in the context that the law allows it to be up to 2.5% so it was a bit of patting themselves on the back for keeping it below that level. As for the new growth exceeding their projections, I thought they were implying that this unexpected increase in that source of revenue allowed them to reduce (or not raise as much) collections from other sources. My sense is there was some spin going on, probably away from an increase of 6%, if that’s what it turns out to be.

  3. Joe Smith says:

    Although the newspaper also reports that the excess new growth (actual above the budget) is being used to reduce the tax increase, I think we need more data to confirm that. Based on the FY ’15 budget, the city needed nearly $4M in additional taxes to balance the budget, plus the anticipated $2.5M in new growth tax levy. If the extra $570K of new growth were applied in a way to reduce the tax increase, the new taxes (besides new growth) would be reduced to $3.3M. With the average residential bill increasing by 6% (as quoted in the newspaper), it seems that would produce more than the $3.3M, although more information is needed to find out exactly what that number would be. Residential is about 70% of the tax base, so a 6% increase in that would be in the order of $4.5M. However, maybe the 6% only applies to the single family component of the residential tax base, so more information is required. If the $570K is not being used to reduce the tax levy, it is important that the city council dedicate that (to either expenses or reserves) so that it doesn’t become a slush fund.