Lowell City Council Meeting: December 8, 2015

Public hearing on establishment of the “minimum residential factor.” This is the percentage of the tax levy that is allocated to residential property. Manager Murphy begins by reviewing the financial accomplishments of this council. Foremost is its support of education; the city exceeds the amount required for “net school spending.” He also explains that by using greater than expected new growth, the city has been able to minimize the increase. He says the average home has increased in value by $12,000 which means the average tax bill for a single family home will increase by $119. Some tax increases will be higher; some will be lower, based on varying values. He points out that properties representing 25% of overall city real estate value do not pay any real estate taxes. He closes by saying that the Lowell increase is one of the lowest in the region. No member of the public speaks, either for or against. No debate from the council. Passes unanimously.

Comcast public hearing on new vault on Technology Drive. Person from Comcast says it is to provide service to 59 Technology Drive. No discussion. Referred to wire inspector.

Councilor Samaras motion for report on placement of parking meters in Cupples Square business district. Some residents of that neighborhood asked questions of Councilor Samaras so he filed this motion. Most of the speakers are Cupples Square business owners who say parking meters will cost them business. Councilor Samaras explains that sometimes when people understand the reasoning behind doing something like installing parking meters they might be more accepting of them, so he asks for a report that explains the rational. Councilor Belanger says Cupples Square is a very successful business district and we should not do anything to disrupt it. We should look at this very closely. He distinguishes Cupples Square from downtown (where he has supported greater parking enforcement). Other councilors comments. Some support one hour free parking, others prefer no meters in public square. All emphasize that all city parking lots should be the same; either with meters or not.

Councilor Mercier requests a report on status of former Marchand Oil Company on Baldwin Street. Former Mayor Caulfield is registered to speak. Presents a petition signed by 29 neighbors. They are all very critical of the work that’s going on at the business which is a former gas station. He says it is unclear what is being done there now other than it is cluttered with dilapidated construction vehicles. Council votes to have manager provide a report.

Report on police purchase of Tasers which will start being issued to officers of the Lowell Police Department. The money comes from the police training funds and funds seized from criminal activity.

Mayor’s Opiate Task Force had its initial meeting tonight. Will provide minutes at next council meeting. “Good discussion, police and schools are already doing much.”

Councilors Belanger and Mercier motion to find ways to install sidewalk on Stedman Street. Arose from an open house at HabitOpco drug treatment center on Stedman Street. Councilors Mercier explains that the city’s requirement that patients be shuttled from Westford Street to the clinic was not a safety measure but just an obstacle intended to keep the clinic from locating there. It does important work and the city should work with HabitOpco, especially by installing a sidewalk for pedestrian safety. Councilor Belanger says he has investigated and found that no problems have been attributed to the clinic. He concurs with the need for the sidewalk.

Councilors Samaras and Belanger ask city to send a letter of thanks to John Power for once again decorating the smokestack of the Wannalancit Mills as a Christmas tree.

Mayor Elliott requests city manager report to council on possibility of an ordinance to ban the carrying of replica guns as a public safety measure.

Meeting adjourns at 9:05 pm.

4 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: December 8, 2015

  1. linda says:

    “…properties representing 25% of overall city real estate value do not pay any real estate taxes.” Who owns these properties? The value of my property goes down, my assessment and taxes go up. 25% is a lot of property the rest of us are subsidizing.

  2. Paul Early says:

    Linda, as I understand it from watching the meeting and from prior knowledge, the 25% consists of lands owned by Lowell General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Middlesex Community College, churches, temples, synagogues and other nonprofit organizations. Many of these organizations are providing services to Lowell residents. Some of the bigger organizations, like UML and LGH have Payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) set up with the city. Amherst, MA also has a PILOT agreement with UMass, Amherst to cover services to the university. As I understand it Enel (the owner of the canals in Lowell) has entered into a PILOT as part of the exchange between it and the city regarding the bridges. I am no fan of Enel, but I fear that the city had little choice, if we wanted our bridges to be repaired and maintained.

  3. linda says:

    Thank you, Paul. Residents would appreciate more information about the PILOT agreements the city has negotiated. I agree that many institutions provide services to the community but we have to pay for the shortfall and the Enel agreement costs $750K annually and will for the next 20 years. What benefit does Enel provide? Threaten public safety to force us to buy broken bridges?

  4. Paul Early says:

    Linda, I agree with you about Enel. I do not believe that Enel is a good corporate neighbor. They abuse their position vis-a-vis the federal agency FERC. Their charter does not require them to contribute positively to their host community. I liken them to Penelope’s suitors in the Odyssey. It is similar to situation with National Grid, Verizon and Comcast, except at least with these three companies they must come before the city seeking services or permission to update or put in equipment. Enel’s customers are organizations like National Grid.

    I was not a fan at first about the arrangement that the city made with Enel; it feels like a pedestrian who has been hit by a car and then forced to deal with medical personnel who are out to gouge auto insurance companies. The city had no leverage over Enel to get them to maintain their bridges in good working order. If memory serves me right, I believe that the Lowell should receive more in PILOT money from Enel that they had been receiving in taxes. As I understand it, Enel has agreed to an upgrade in how their assets are to be valued, which should increase their value, and that the PILOT has a fixed term and that the city will need to agree to extend it. Furthermore, if the PILOT expires, then Enel will be required to pay taxes again.

    What I find even sadder is that Enel probably got a discounted price for the canal system because of the requirement to maintain the bridges, but they will now be able to sell them without this burden, which will probably increase their sale value. Despite all this and given the current circumstances, I still believe that taking control of the bridges was the right choice.