Presentation by Kerrie D’Entremont of Greater Lowell Health Alliance on efforts to address opioid epidemic. She said this is an urgent, unmet, public health crisis. The Alliance has been involved with setting up unwanted medication turn-in opportunities and making Narcan more available. Also youth education efforts. Says funding is spread thin and there’s always a need for more. Police Supt Taylor answers a question by saying Narcan is very effective, that it is used at least once per day but he also says even with that we’ve had five overdose deaths in Lowell in the past week.
Kevin Murphy addresses the council on the state of the city:
Economic Development – Talks about Metrographics, a company that intended to move from Wilmington to New Hampshire but was convinced to come to Lowell. Wynn Companies moved 60 employees from Boston to Lowell. Says unfortunate that La Boniche closed but Bishops is moving in and will be open by the end of February. New owners of Cross Point are refurbishing the interior. 43 Market St, an eyesore for years, is under new ownership and will be a restaurant and housing. Hamilton Canal will be a major focus. Mentions $15 million from state for Lord Overpass and a $5 million grant for the Dutton Street side and hopes a local bank relocates to that area. Says arts and culture has a prominent role in economic development both for residents but also to draw visitors. Planning a spring arts festival at same time as Doors Open.
Education – Says this council’s commitment to education is unsurpassed due to fully meeting school’s net school spending requirement.
Public Safety – By June, we will have added 9 new police officers due to this council’s commitment to public safety. The department has nearly completed the update of its policies and procedures. Says crime has decreased by 18% over the past year. Says there’s a 10 officer team focusing on “hot spots” and a 13 person detective team to attack drug activity. Fire Department has 7 new firefighters. Average less than 1 company closed per shift. All fire vehicles now carry Narcan. Cites heroic efforts of fire department in Branch Street fire last summer. Says public safety requires a holistic approach, citing Department of Developmental Services to focus on problem properties. Says city will have a zero tolerance policy for non-compliant landlords.
The Future: Concentrate on downtown and neighborhood business corridors, promote arts and culture, support education and public safety. Focus on structural stability of the city budget and long term financial liabilities like pensions and health care costs.
After comments from councilors, Manager Murphy praises the DPW for dealing with the 55 inches of snow that fell during the past week. Says we decided to wait until the successions of storms past to start full scale snow removal in downtown (that begins tonight).
Councilor Belanger brings up the Hamilton Canal District and the seeming inaction of Trinity Financial. He says it was a year ago that he asked for a report on their activities but little has happened since. Says in ten years not much has gone on there. Says he’s losing his patience with Trinity Financial. Says the manager and council is doing everything it can but asks the manager “to drag them in here.” Says Trinity has other projects around the state “that are going like gangbusters.” Says Lowell is being neglected by Trinity.
Councilor Samaras gives report on the Youth Subcommittee which received a presentation earlier tonight on the problem of youth homelessness.
Mayor Elliot reports on the finance subcommittee meeting from earlier this evening. Two items were discussed. First was the $6.6 mil loan order for parking garage improvements. Says administration’s presentation provided ample evidence of the need for the repairs. There will be no rate increase in the foreseeable future. There’s a $2.7 million balance in the parking enterprise fund. That will dwindle in the coming years so at some point that will need to be addressed. Also, the improvements will add 60+ space from which additional revenue will be derived. This all goes to a public hearing in a couple of weeks so this was just a report of progress. The second item discussed was the city’s current health insurance – GIC – which has saved the city millions of dollars. We’re in that agreement for three more years. A couple of retirees expressed concern about the cost of prescription drugs under GIC so the city manager is going to investigate responses to those concerns.
By Councilor Leahy for a report on how the order of paving of streets is determined.
By Councilors Mercier and Leahy on the resolution of the water department’s past billing problems. Still getting phone calls by people affected by this.
By Councilor Rourke for report on parking issues in Back Central neighborhood.
By Councilor Belanger to explore corporate sponsorships to defer cost of new Lowell High Schools. Says we should respect the state School Building Authority Process but says even if we are approved the city will have to pay a substantial amount of money towards construction. He says this might help and that sponsorships can be done in a tasteful manner. Says the city of Lowell business partners “never cease to amaze me” when it comes to charitable contributions. “Maybe a local business will sponsor the field house for several million dollars.” Some councilors say that when they first saw the motion they were skeptical but agree it’s worth investigating.
By Councilor Milinazzo for report on how post-storm sidewalk cleanup is monitored and enforced. Says it’s a public safety issue with kids and wheelchairs being forced onto the street. Mayor Elliott says this is an important issue; it’s been a longstanding problem with getting snow removed from sidewalks. Manager Murphy has Eric Slagle of Developmental Services present to brief everyone on the snow removal ordinance. That requires homeowners to remove snow from sidewalks within 12 hours of snow stopping. Homeowner is responsible for clearing snow from any sidewalk adjacent to house and for clearing path from sidewalk to street. City inspectors and police have responsibility for enforcing but they don’t do dedicated enforcement efforts but respond to complaints mostly. First response is a warning by placarding the building and mailing a notice to building owner. Then follow up with a $100 ticket. If continues to be noncompliant, can have DPW do cleanup and then lien the property for the cost of cleanup. Some of the challenges are many elderly residents who have a hard time clearing the snow. We try to be considerate of homeowners but we have to balance that with public safety needs. One problem is that as soon as it starts snowing again, we can’t enforce the ordinance while it’s snowing. Councilor Kennedy asks how senior citizens are handled. Slagle says there are not enough people willing to provide the snow removal service for free or reduced compared to the number who need that type of assistance.
Councilor Mercier motion requesting city manager provide a list of people and entities that offer free or reduced cost snow removal services.
Mayor Elliott motion for a report on drug overdoses in city.
Executive Session – will adjourn from executive session.