City Council Preview: Oct 10, 2017
Mimi Parseghian shares a detailed look at what’s on the agenda for this Tuesday’s Lowell City Council Meeting:
The Lowell City Council Agenda posted on the City website is a wealth of background information and significant data on the business of our local government. Not only does it provided the topics to be discussed but also the material required to help the Council make informed decision. This week’s edition is a decent representation.
The Council Motions: They usually fall into three general categories. The first is the constituent motion. That is the one that asks the City Manager to address a situation or a request that pertains to a specific area, street or individual. The second type is asking the City Manager to provide information or a report on a particular issue. And the third is a motion to set policy or put in a place a major program. This past year, we have added a 4th Category, which is in reference to the high school. Given the amount of motions, the extensive details provided in the Administration’s reply as well as the combative debates those documents generate, the high school renovation/reinvention/construction deserves a category of its own.
There are 10 motions this week.
Two of the motions are regarding the residence at 75 Beech Street; one from C. Rita Mercier and one from C. Dan Rourke. According to the motions, there is an “ongoing problem” and the Lowell Fire Department and Inspectional Services are asked to provide a report. The home is located in the Centerville section of the City.
C. Dan Rourke is requesting the City Manager to have the Department of Public Works (DPW) to dedicate a park bench at Callery Park in honor of Mrs. May Kay McNeil.
There are 3 motions for requesting updates on ongoing project. One is from C. Dan Rourke on the impact to safety the delay of the VFW project from University Ave to Aiken Ave is having. There is an issue with contaminated soil. The second motion in that category is a follow up to an earlier motion. C. John Leahy is asking the Manager to give them an update on the Lowell Fire Department Turn-Out Gear. The Gera is the firefighters’ external clothing. In February in replying to the initial motion, the City Manager indicated that the Fire Department was applying for a grant to purchase 213 Turn-Out Gear. I do not know if the grant has not materialized yet, or we were declined or we have the money and have not yet spent it. We may get an answer on Tuesday.
The last motion asking for explanation is also from C. John Leahy and he is asking the Manager to clarify the “issue regarding park land which was to be used by Central Catholic.” I do not know if it is a typo but I am not sure what land in Lowell a high school located in Lawrence is going to use. Again, we will find out.
There are four other motions on the high school construction covering costs and logistics.
City Manager (Administration) Responses: The official response to City Council motions. Depending upon the research that is required, the answers may take more than 1 or 2 weeks to prepare. For this upcoming meeting the answered motions, for the most part, are pretty straight forward. The Administration provided answers to 8 motions this week. Sometimes the more innocuous the topic, the m ore significant it is to our quality of life.
- Trash Violations: If you violate the City’s Trash Pick-Up procedure, wrong day or overflow, you will be warned once. Next time you get a ticket which is issued immediately.
- Belise Memorial Square: The memorial plaque has been officially moved from the corner of Moody and Pawtucket Streets to Moody and St. James Streets. This request was made by C. John Leahy and C. Jim Milinazzo.
- Development of J. J. Boomers Site: According to the memo from the Administration: “The City has been approached with very preliminary plans for a Market Baskets to be located at 677 Pawtucket Blvd. There has been no filing for any permits or relief from any land use Board. We are not aware of any imminent timeline for such filings.”
- Bus Storage at 63 Avon St. This response is regarding an ongoing issue with buses being parked illegally at 63 Avon Street (Pawtucketville Section). After being made aware in early September of this potential zoning violation, Development Services issued an initial warning, which was not obeyed. The City began legal action, which got the attention of the property owners and they discontinued the activity.
- Shadow Conduit: In response to a motion made in September by C. John Leahy, the Administration is suggesting that the City Council entertain the concept of having an ordinance to implement In response to Councilor Leary’s motion, the finance team has investigated the potential public benefit of the implementation the so-called “shadow conduit” or “dig once” procedure. The Administration’s response is enthusiastic and indicates that it would be an economic advantage to the City. They wrote “The framework of the ordinance would contemplate a requirement that any time a contractor or private utility opens the roadway for underground construction, sufficient and necessary space shall be reserved, free of expense, for municipal purposes. In the alternative, an additional conduit, known as a “shadow conduit”, of equal size and length shall be laid along with the permitted conduit, for the exclusive use, and under the exclusive control of the city.” Let’s hope that the subcommittee that will receive this motion meets quickly and gets the ball rolling.
- Comcast Comparable Charges: The City’s IT Department provided detailed data on the cost of Comcast cable services for Lowell and its neighboring towns; “pricing is consistent across all of these communities” for the most part. The memo also reminded the City Councilors that “Please note that cable rates are regulated at the state level by the Department of Telecommunications and Cable.”
- MassDOT Proposed Traffic Improvements: An answer to a motion regarding the ‘high school.” Here is the link to the full document.
- Cawley Right of Way Costs: An answer to a motion regarding the ‘high school.” Here is the link to that document.
2 Responses to City Council Preview: Oct 10, 2017
I believe the school in question may be Lowell Catholic, they use Manning field which is impacted by the Cawley project.
Turnout gear includes the complete protective ensemble firefighters wear into burning buildings and hazardous atmospheres. This includes a helmet, coat, pants, boots, gloves, hood, face mask and breathing apparatus. The city did indeed apply for a grant in 2016-17 to replace one set for each member of the entire department. Currently nearly half the firefighters do not have safe second set of gear to use in case their gear needs to be cleaned or is otherwise unsafe for use. This forces members to wear deficient, wet or contaminated gear until the end of the shift. This is not a luxury, this is protective gear for life safety. I doubt the police are asked to skimp on bullet proof vests or weapons. Private industry has to be OSHA compliant, but Massachusetts public entities do not.
Until recently we did not have the proper equipment to clean this gear and were relying on regular washing machines. This gear is supposed to be cleaned by specialized extractors to remove contaminants. Extractors also prolong the useful life of the gear a bit, regular washers can do mechanical damage to the heavy gear. The city has only begun this year to buy the proper washing equipment and all members do not yet have access to it in their stations. Not properly washing or wearing dirty gear significantly increases the risk of occupational cancer in firefighters as recent studies have confirmed. The medical costs of treating cancer cases is tremendous and it would seem to be a simple matter of spending a little to save a lot, while keeping people alive and healthy.
There are industry standard replacement schedules for turn out gear, but in general it is not expected to last beyond ten years per set. Lowell has often relied on grant funding to make large purchases for the fire department, the last of these coming roughly in 2005. There has not been a regular, established and fully funded replacement schedule I am aware of in my career spanning back to 1997. Gear is purchased when funds are available and the department members make do. The only time gear is guaranteed is for new members upon hiring, or if gear is completely destroyed and unusable. Some members are fortunate to get hand me downs as spares when other members retire, though this is size dependent. I believe only twenty percent (or less) of the department currently have two sets of fully compliant protective gear. Considering the fire department is responding to more incidents than at any time in its history, the wear and tear alone is high. If you don’t have a second set to fall back on, it is difficult to get your first set repaired, compounding the problem.
The city capital plan indicated we would be investing large amounts on the Lowell Fire Department in FY2018. Based on the assistance to firefighters grant (AFG) program calendar it would appear all funding has been awarded for this fiscal year. The last awards are typically announced in September and the new federal fiscal year beings in October. It looks as if the new grant city leaders told everyone we would be spending on the fire department this fiscal year is not coming. There may be a reason for this. Last year the city applied for over a million dollars for fire apparatus (trucks) and received funding. However the city did not put up the matching portion of the grant in the FY 2017 budget and could not complete the purchase.
Not only is half the money in this year’s capital plan really from last year’s awards, it looks like the the other half is not coming and 90% of all that money was coming from the federal government anyway, not the city of Lowell. Trucks scheduled to be replaced years earlier continued in service while over a million dollars in federal funding sat idle. The city had to file for an extension to prevent losing the award this spring. Construction on the new ladder and rescue trucks finally began this summer and delivery is expected before the end of the calendar year. This is a need based program so not expending the funding quickly calls into question the necessity or urgency of the request.
In all likelihood the failure to properly expend the large award from the previous year in a timely manner hurt the city’s position this year. We were already fortunate to receive two SAFER staffing grants funding the FTE of 16 positions over a four year period on top of the apparatus award. This amount of past funding being received may also have hampered our efforts. Receiving such large awards in this nationwide competitive program is the exception not the rule, and Lowell has gone to the well often. We may be victims of our own success.
Our leadership should be commended for seeking outside funding to avoid burdening the taxpayers, however this should not be done at the expense of delaying necessary purchases for continuous safe operations. Eventually this will catch up to us, in the form of an accident or injury. If we were a public OSHA state we would be subject to massive fines. These items are not wish lists, they are essential and necessary operational equipment. Yet the ordinary expenses (non salary and wage) share of the budget continues to diminish. We have fallen well behind schedule in the fire department on the last two capital improvement plans the city produced. Building maintenance has also suffered.
The fact of the matter is, the way we define capital for the city should be modified for the fire department. Just as we do not include police cruisers because they need to be replaced constantly to maintain operational stability the same should be true for fire equipment. A piece of fire equipment (one truck) and set percentage of replacement gear should be budgeted every year. This would put apparatus replacement on a thirteen year cycle and turnout gear on a ten year cycle. A few of these recommendations were included in the consultant’s study of the fire department last year. Moving from one equipment crisis to the next is not an effective policy for an agency responsible for responding to the city’s emergencies.