Mayor Samaras requests suspension of rules so that City Manager may address response to recent snowstorm. Manager Murphy says DPW did a tremendous job in a tough storm. Says he walked around downtown today. The parking and sidewalks looked good. However, he suggests a presentation at next week’s meeting by DPW on snow removal procedures.
City Manager adds that the city has had a terrible time with frozen pipes at a number of private buildings throughout the city. He says the most disheartening thing is the flooding at Pollard Library. Sometime after 5pm Saturday, a pipe in the attic burst and caused extensive damage to all floors. We are committed to restoring the library to what it was before. The artwork was not damaged but many books and computers were.
At the high school, the city hired two outside contractors on an emergency basis to work on the high school heating system. He says as of today, everything is up and running. There have been no complaints of a serious issue. Using contractors freed DPW workers to address issues at other buildings. Manager says it looks like the heating is getting back in shape.
Councilor Conway tells CM he has received calls complaining about snowbanks at intersections making it difficult to drive safely. CM says there is a process, people can report it by phone or online and DPW will address it. CC Conway next asks about cars that were snowed-in by the storm and haven’t moved. CM says in first snowstorm only 7 cars were towed. This time, we towed 250-300 cars this time, but if cars are still there, we can tow them. CC Conway next asks about sidewalks that aren’t shoveled. CM says citizens can call City Hall with complaints about that. An inspector will go out and leave a warning. A few days later if the sidewalk hasn’t been cleared, there is a fine of $50 that can be imposed daily. They also give a list of organizations that will shovel as community service. The Senior Center has a signup list for people who can’t clear their own sidewalks so they find someone. CC Conway next talks about the High School. Says when he visited last week there were many rooms without heat. Also said the maintenance seemed ineffective. Says where pedestrian tunnels connected with the buildings, snow had come inside.
Councilor Elliott addresses the parking ban. He says many people still ignore it which creates many problems. Ask if towing continues after snow ban is over because they are causing a safety hazard. CM says if they are reported, they will tow. Adds they ran out of storage space for towed cars. CM says we have to be more aggressive about getting the word out and enforcing it. Asks if we have insurance on the library. CM says only for catastrophic loss with a $500,000 deductible. Says the repair estimate is about $300,000. CC Elliott commends city for keeping the Senior Center open during the extreme cold.
Councilor Kennedy reminds people that the mayor’s office runs a program with student high school volunteers who have signed up to help people who can’t shovel for themselves.
Councilor Cirrilo mentions the cars of the elderly and disabled parked on the streets. CM Murphy says the senior center has a program for reaching out to people who need help with shoveling or with moving their cars.
Councilor Mercier reiterated the CM’s praise for city workers and the job they did in this storm.
Councilor Milinazzo asks about “snow spotters” who work for the city and check on the work on private contractors hired by the city. CM says yes they are mostly from the engineering department. CC Milinazzo says some complaints about the width of the plowing.
Councilor Nuon asks how many days has the library been closed. CM says since Monday morning and will remain closed until at least Friday, until everything is cleaned and dried out. Regarding the high school heat, CM says a big problem was computer software which is being addressed by contractors.
Councilor Leahy asks that the presentation next week include an inventory of the snow removal equipment and how it is used.
Councilor Conway asks about the contractors at the high school; will they remain under contract? CM says yes.
Communication – December 2017 Year To Date Budget Report. Council accepts the report and places it on file.
GENERAL PUBLIC HEARINGS
Order-Abandon portion of Newell Street (which runs off Chelmsford Street between Plain and Industrial Ave). it’s a dead end street that’s not used but has attracted illicit activities. By abandoning it, the abutting property owners can better maintain the property. Adjacent property owner says he owns garages, wants to fence that area in and use it for storage after he cleans it up. Another Newell Street neighbor speaks in opposition because of concerns about storage of large vehicles. Councilor Elliott suggests this be continued for two weeks so the parties can meet with someone from the city to mediate this.
UTILITY PUBLIC HEARING – National Grid/Verizon NE – Request permission to install stub pole at corner of West Jenness and Rexford Streets. City Engineer speaks in favor of this. A supporting wire had formerly been tied to a tree but the tree came down so this is needed to stabilize the pole. Approved.
COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITY MANAGER
Motion Response: Clay Brook Culvert. CC Kennedy asks that the City Engineer give an explanation of why the cost estimate for this is so high. City Engineer explains that this plan goes back to 1970. They called for two five-foot wide culverts under VFW highway to take Clay Brook from where it enters river now to another point closer to the O’Donnell Bridge. Installing these culverts requires digging up the road and much other work. Says he thinks this was unfeasible in 1970 and it is even more so now because of more recent environmental regulations. He adds that the VFW is state highway and he doubts MassHighway would permit this.
Ameresco Contract and Obligations: Councilor Milinzzo appreciates the report, asks which buildings this contract covers. City employee says it is about 36 buildings. Will provide a list in future. Council Elliott asks for confirmation that the contract is still in place. CM says yes, and there have been significant savings due to this. Amount of savings will be included in the report.
MMA Municipal Website Award: CM Murphy says when he first came the website was outdated. Says Asst CM McGovern took the lead. The city hired a firm to develop the website. Now has won an award.
FY18 GFOA Budget Award: CM Murphy says this is the third time that Conor Baldwin and his team have won this award, commends them but says every employee contributes to this effort. (National award considering communities throughout the country).
VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
Vote-Declare surplus and convey Parcel 1 (900sf) and purchase Parcel 2 (928sf) for $1,688.96
Vote – Appropriate 7.1.2017 Free Cash $2.4mil for reserve funds; $750,000 for Court Judgments; 7 other accounts. Mayor Samaras asks CM to explain what Free Cash is. CM asks Conor Baldwin to explain. He says free cash is the amount of money the city has available for appropriation at the end of the fiscal year. City’s practice has been to use free cash to replenish reserve accounts and to pay back any moneys that were withdrawn from other accounts through the year with the understanding that it would be paid back from free cash. This will give the city the largest amount in its stabilization fund in the city’s history.
CC Elliott says the proposed distribution of this free cash is prudent. Asks about the $250K going to the school department; will it be spent during this fiscal year? CM doesn’t know but says he had promised this funding to the school department.
CC Milinazzo asks what this will do to city’s bond rating. Baldwin says will at least keep it where it is now but will argue that it should be upgraded.
CC Nuon says this is great news. Asks about what money is being spent now. CM says $1.5mil to be spent right away; $750K for the settlement of the “police informant case” and $250K will go to the school department right away.
CC Kennedy explains that the $250K for the school dept will be used to balance this year’s budget and to continue paying employees who were retained.
Suggested allotment of free cash endorsed unanimously by council.
ORDERS FROM THE CITY MANAGER
Loan Order-Additional Bridge Repairs for $3.9million to fill funding gap for repair bridges over Pawtucket Canal on Central Street; Western Canal at Merrimack Street; and Merrimack Canal at Merrimack Street. Referred to public hearing on January 23, 2018.
Councilor Cirillo – Request City Manager have the DPW Commissioner provide City Council a list of non-operational or disrepair items no later than August 10th, of every year which are vital to our municipal buildings working properly for our Fall-Winter season of 2018. CC Cirillo says purpose of motion is to be proactive with repairs to municipal buildings. She cites her background in construction. Says when major systems like HVAC systems are installed, they come with a recommended maintenance schedule. This motion is to ensure that the city is following these schedules and also that items that aren’t working properly are identified in time to repair and order needed parts and get it done while it is still warm outside and not until the cold weather arrives. She would like to see a schedule and a list of items the council can review. She knows there will be issues that arise unexpectedly but his might reduce those items. Councilor Mercier asks if someone already does this. CM Murphy says the building inspector did this for the high school this year. Then he says the city is awaiting a report from the Collins Center. After getting that, a team from the city will visit all buildings to compile a list of items that need to be done. Councilor Conway says this is an excellent motion. He says it has always seemed that they wait for the heating systems to be needed to first turn them on and discover they need parts that take weeks to obtain. That should be done in advance to build in time to order those parts and make repairs.
Councilor Cirillo – Request City Manager direct the law department to provide the City Council with a report on the feasibility of creating an ordinance that would require the City Council to include a line item in the budget for deferred maintenance issues in all municipal buildings. CC Cirillo explains that this is a follow up to the previous motion. It tries to ensure that there is money already budgeted for repairs rather than trying to find the money elsewhere. CC Kennedy congratulates CC Cirillo on her first motions, then adds that many councilors have attempted to address this but when tough budget years come, that’s the first thing that gets cut. He says if the city is going to be serious about this, we must have the discipline to adhere to these schedules and to allocate the money even when the budget is tight. CC Kennedy cites the heating systems in a number of city buildings. Says many buildings have redundant heating systems but the backup system has typically been cannibalized for spare parts. He says city workers work hard and do their best but they may be “better at taking things apart than putting things back together.” Says we should explore more maintenance contracts. CC Elliott asks if there’s a line item in the capital plan for maintenance. Conor Baldwin says they do it that way for items over $25,000. CC Mercier says the council did appropriate money in the past capital plan for roof repairs. She just wanted CC Cirillo to know that, she says. CC Milinazzo says the auditor’s report says the DPW budget is all salaries and overtime, there’s nothing in there for repairs. Says these are both good motions. CM says there is an item for $148,000 for school repairs. CC Milinazzo says that’s for custodial supplies, not the kind of repairs being talked about here.
Councilor Nuon – Request City Manager provide information regarding major projects in the City as well as information regarding UMass-Lowell projects. CC Nuon says he’ll comment when the report is received.
Councilor Nuon – Request City Manager provide information regarding outreach in hiring process; including breakdown of results in following categories: race; gender; veteran status; and residency. CC Nuon says he’ll comment when the report is received. CC Mercier asks if there is preference for people who live in Lowell. CM Murphy says there is no formal ordinance, but he does give preference to city residents.
Councilor Milinazzo – Request City Manager report on the appropriate protocol for downtown snow removal. CC Milinazzo says his issue is snowbanks in downtown and how they impede people on foot moving around. He says in the past, we’ve removed the snowbanks soon after storms. He would like to know what the policy is. CM Murphy says he agrees. Says he walked around downtown and it is a problem. CC Leahy says he doesn’t understand why businesses won’t create openings in snowbanks in front of their premises. CM Murphy says the city will treat the sidewalks much better. CC Leahy says maybe the Chamber of Commerce should coordinate getting businesses doing some snow clearance on their own.
Announcements: CC Kennedy says the Mass Municipal Association meeting is a week from this Friday. Says workshops at the event might be of interest to councilors and others. Says one of the speakers will be Jeff Speck.
Meeting adjourns at 8 pm.