Lowell City Council meeting: May 19, 2015

Atty Michael Gallagher speaks about a new program called ArtUp which will display art created by Lowell artists in the Lowell Community Health Center where it can be purchased by members of the public for donation to the Health Center.

First item is reappointment of City Clerk Michael Geary.  Personnel Subcommitte, chaired by Councilor Kennedy, recommends a pay increase (Geary was officially reappointed a few months ago but his new salary was referred to the personnel subcommittee for a recommendation).  Councilor Mercier says that while Geary deserves a raise, he shouldn’t get as big a raise as the subcommittee recommends.  Councilor Samaras agrees and makes a substitute motion that the raise be the lesser amount.  Councilor Belanger agrees with them mostly because most other city employees will not be getting raises this year.  Councilor Kennedy defends the amount of the increase, saying it is intended to correct a previous error because Mr. Geary is at the lower end of clerk salaries for similar sized cities in Massachusetts.  His salary is below most of the city department heads.  This increase is a correction.  Councilor Leahy concurs with Kennedy.   Councilor Milinazzo concurs with Kennedy.  Mayor Elliott says it is a question of fairness but he’s concerned about fairness to other employees who aren’t getting pay increases.  The substitute motion for the lesser salary fails 6 to 3.  Original motion for the higher salary passes 5 to 4 with Samaras, Elliott, Belanger and Mercier voting against the higher amount.

The city has found some money to do some work on the South Common, particularly to repair the track and to hydro-seed the field.

Council formally receives the FY16 City Budget.  City Manager Murphy speaks about some challenges including the lack of a pension stabilization fund, increased amounts for public education and a snow and ice deficit from last winter.  The budget adds 4 new police officers plus 2 civilians which will allow 2 existing officers to move to patrol duty.  It also includes the gunshot and social media monitoring technology tools for public safety.  Commends the council for meeting requirements of net school spending.  For revenue, 41% comes from state and Federal government.  Real estate taxes makes up only 37% of the budget.  Fees make up 14%.  Congratulates the city’s financial team for putting together an entirely new budget in a new format.  It sets out where the money comes from and where it goes to.  It’s a “level service” budget.  It has a modest 1.5% increase in the tax levy.  Says the city is moving forward and even though this is a tight budget it will continue to move the city forward.  Says he looks forward to answering questions in detail at the formal council budget sessions coming up in early June.

Ordinance to create a Division of Health and Human Services.  This will take advantage of the retirement of Frank Singleton to reorganize a number of departments.  Besides the Health Department, this would include the Recreation Department, the Library, the Council on Aging, and the Veterans Office, all under the supervision of the Health Department Director.  Doing this now will allow us to hire someone for this position now.  Anticipates that this will be a budget neutral move that won’t cost any additional money than is now being spent.

Transportation Subcommittee report (see my earlier post).


By Councilor Kennedy, requesting report on claims sent to the Law Department over the past six months.

By Councilor Mercier, an update on the process of issuing a gun permit in Lowell.  She says Superintendent Taylor contacted her this morning, said he has researched this, will propose some changes, and would request that he be allowed to go into executive session with the city council to discuss strategy on this law.  City Solicitor speaks on pending litigation on this issue in Federal Court.  This issue falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the superintendent of police and the council doesn’t have any official say in it.  The same people who pursued this before the city council or the litigants in this lawsuit so it would be appropriate to inform the council of the status in executive session.

By Councilor Rourke and Councilor Mercier to get an explanation of overtime pay to city employees.  Extensive discussion trying to skirt a grievance that is pending on this issue.  Recommendation to go into executive session at a future date to discuss this further.

Council ends the meeting by voting to go into executive session on other issues.