Lowell City Council meeting: January 23, 2018

Motion Responses: Lowell High Feasibility costs to date. Councilor Milinazzo asks about the costs of Article 97 issues. Manager Murphy says that was mostly staff time but he will look into that. Councilor Kennedy asks whether the money remaining will be sufficient or if more will be needed. Manager Murphy says we’ll have a better idea after the February 1, 2018 meeting with the MSBA. Councilor Elliott says after the next MSBA meeting Skanska and Perkins Eastman should be able to give a better estimate of additional costs.

Laotian Monument:  Councilor Mercier says that as the report states the Laotian community is meeting and arranging to raise funds for the monument.

High Water Costs: Councilor Leahy asks if any water bills are estimated or are they actual. Mark Young says of 22,000 accounts, only about 110 bills are estimated. That’s because those accounts have not had the new wifi water meters installed.

Appeal Process for High Water Bills: Councilor Kennedy asks City Manager to explain appeal process. Manager Murphy asks Mark Young to do that. Young says the tax payer should call the water plant and inquire. If they don’t like the result, they should submit their request in writing. If the water dept finds a discrepancy, it can abate the bill. If they are still dissatisfied, they may appeal to the Water Board (DPW commissioner, Young, and a private citizen) which would then hold a hearing. Young says the board only meets as needed, the last time about five months ago. He is aware of some abatements that are being investigated that may not have reached the board level.

Canal Bridge Update: Councilor Nuon asks Manager to explain status of this project to the people watching. Claire Ricker of DPD gives the response. She says there 18 month design period for the six new bridges has been completed. The project has been advertised by Mass DOT since last August. The bid opening will be Tuesday, February 13, 2018. During the design phase, the city discovered that the scope of the work needed was more extensive than expected. By last March, they thought it might be $11mil more than the TIGER grant amount ($13.4). However, by working with many partners, they decided to remove the bridge on Suffolk Street over the Northern Canal because it carries the least traffic and was not in bad shape. That saved $3.5mil. The Mass DOT agreed to split the rest of the cost with the city. The council last June funded the city’s portion. So the project is now fully funded. Construction should begin this summer. Councilor Cirillo asks Ms. Ricker to speak about the Complete Streets aspects of this project. She also asks if these documents are available online. They are, on the “Lowell Bridges” tab on the city’s website. These bridges will go exactly where they existing bridges are. To the extent possible, sidewalks and bike lanes will be installed. Councilor Elliott asks about managing traffic while all of these bridges are under construction. Ms. Ricker says preliminary plans showed that all five bridges could be done simultaneously, although the final sequencing will be up to the contractor. Importantly, at least one lane of each of these bridges will remain open at all times so the bridges won’t be closed entirely. This is being bid as one big contract. Councilor Kennedy asks why it’s done that way. That is Mass DOT’s prescribed method of managing the contract. Manager Murphy says it is unlikely to get any more federal funding as a TIGER grant however there is a chance the city could get some money under the coming federal infrastructure plan. He believes the best chance of getting additional outside funds would be from the state.

Informational Reports:

City has won an award for promoting solar energy through its inspectional services and the processes they use to permit solar projects. (SolSmart Gold Designation).

Warming Center at Senior Center: Fire Chief Windward says city opened warming center for two weeks due to unprecedented cold (and a blizzard). Police, fire, senior center, health department, staffed it 24/7. By making it a regional warming center, the American Red Cross participated. About 50 people each night on average. Provided food, cots, blankets, medical support. He thanks everyone involved and says it certainly saved some lives.

Loan order to borrow $3+ million for bridge repairs. Conor Baldwin speaks in favor of this. No one speaks in opposition. Referred to Clerk’s Office for 20 days (standard procedure).


Several board resignations and appointments.

Councilor Leahy reports on Acre Neighborhood meeting. They asked questions about trash pickup along the River Walk. Also, complaint about UMass Lowell students using the Rec Center on Aiken Street walking into the street in front of cars.

Steve Malagudi of 200 Market Street addresses the council on immigration. Says many immigrants come to Lowell from Southeast Asia. Says that region is the place most affected by climate change. Predicts climate change will directly affect families living in Lowell now who will try to assist their families living in other countries. Urges city council and state of Massachusetts to take climate change seriously now. Councilor Kennedy moves to send the communication to the council’s subcommittee on the environment.

Council Motions

City Councilor Rita Mercier: “Request City Manager Review And Explore Other Parcels Of Land In The Downtown That May Be Available For The Extension Of Lowell High School.” CC Mercier says her personal feeling is that Cawley is still the best site for LHS but she respects the majority opinion. However, she says the referendum was not specific about which option, just that it remain downtown. She says she will not support the eminent domain taking of the doctor’s office (Option 3). She wants the city to explore other nearby sites. She suggests the privately owned dormitory that was just built across the street from LHS. She says she is trying to make everyone happy with this motion. CC Kennedy says he won’t support this; it sends a confusing message to the MSBA at their upcoming meeting. The MSBA has been good to the city but he thinks the city must be clear on its intentions going forward. CC Milinazzo understands where CC Mercier is coming from and says based on communications from CM that MSBA wants to see more options, so he’ll support the motion although he’s 110% for Option 3. He says it would make no sense for the city to take the dorm at 4 times the cost of the doctor’s office. CC Elliott said CC Milinazzo said it exactly right: the MSBA wanted us to explore all options. So he’s going to support it. CC Nuon said the referendum was clear about Option 3 because the campaign in favor of it only promoted Option 3. He understands that the private dorm only has 35% occupancy and not all are students so that is a concern, but there’s no question the people supported Option 3. CC Cirillo says she worked hard to get the referendum on the ballot and it was clear about Option 3. She says she will not support this. CC Conway says it was perfectly clear in the election how the people felt. He will support this motion but he is still 100% in favor of downtown option 3. He emphasizes (as Milinazzo also did) that the media should not use a yes vote on this motion to further muddy the waters about support for Option 3. CC Leahy says there’s nothing wrong with this motion. He says it now turns out that Option 3 might not include a pool so if we need a pool we’re going to have to change our plans. Says we should not be so rigid about this. He reiterates if we do Option 3 there’s most likely no pool. Councilor Nuon takes the chair; Mayor Samaras speaks on the motion. Mayor says he always approves of getting more information but he believes we already have the information. He asks CM if we have already looked at all the contiguous parcels to LHS. CM says the other parcels were considered but found to be insufficient. He says the Lowell Five property is gone (that’s where the dorm is). Says he will not support this because it sends the wrong message to the MSBA. They said to review all the options. The other options already exist and will be considered. They didn’t mean look for options for other locations. He says if this motion passes the media will have a field day with misconstruing the intent. The dormitory is not feasible for a high school. He supports option 3. He doesn’t want the dentists pushed out but he believes the city can work with them to find another site that’s suitable for them. CC Mercier says MSBA said “check your options.” They’re asking us to review it to maybe come up with a better idea. She asks CM if he ever checked if this property is available. What is the problem with that? As far as the referendum, it didn’t say Option 3, it just said downtown. You’re assuming the voters voted for Option 3. It never said that. The voters never said Option 3. She believes they didn’t like Cawley so voted for downtown because it would be least expensive. Roll Call – Five yes (Mercier, Elliott, Milinazzo, Conway, Leahy) to four no (Samaras, Nuon, Kennedy and Cirillo).

City Councilor Rita Mercier: “Request City Council Name The Basketball Court At The Butler/Shaughnessy School On Gorham Street In Honor Of Lawrence M. Cavanaugh, Sr.” Passes unanimously.

City Council Dave Conway : “Request City Manager Meet With Supt. Of Police, Supt. Of Schools And Other Interested Parties To Re-Establish The “Safety Task Force.” Back in 2000, AG Tom Reilly created the Safety Task Force to combine police, DA, the schools which would meet regularly to exchange information and ideas. CC Nuon says this is a good idea. It is a crime prevention measure. CC Elliott agrees. Says times change so we have to change too. Motion passes.

City Council Dave Conway : “Request City Manager Update The Council Regarding The Status Of The ‘Crime Stoppers Hotline’.” Says he has asked some police officers what could be done to make their jobs easier. They brought up the Crime Stoppers Hotline. Asks for a report from City Manager.

City Councilor Vesna Nuon: “Request City Manager Have City Solicitor Meet In An Executive Session With Council To Discuss All Current Or Potential Legal Action To Be Taken Against The City And Any Legal Challenges Anticipated By The Administration Against Any Entity.”

City Councilor Vesna Nuon: “Request City Manager Have Appropriate Subcommittee Hold Meeting To Determine Methods On How To Best Protect Senior Residents From Being Victims Of Fraud; Said Meeting Should Include Interested Entities Such As Elderly Commission And The Massachusetts Attorney General Office.”

City Councilor Ed Kennedy: “Request City Manager Consider Installing Water Detection Devices At Strategic Locations In All Municipal Buildings Throughout The City.” Says it would be nice if we had already had this in place in the library. It’s a small, wifi device that detects water. It would have alerted someone to the problem before the damage got so extensive. These devices are $80 apiece. Asks for a report from City Manager. CC Kennedy adds that we attended the Mass Municipal Assoc where he had a conversation with the Lt. Gov who brought up the damage to the library. She suggested that DCAM might have money available to lessen the burden on the city. He spoke with her again today; she promised to get back to him tomorrow. Suggests the CM look into this.

City Council Rodney Elliott “Request City Manager And Building Department Provide A Report Regarding All Abandoned Homes In The City.” CC Elliott says this is a follow up to the Attorney General’s presentation last week. He believes the city should proceed concurrently on problem homes in other neighborhoods. Says housing demand is great so now is the time to get these homes back on the market.

Mayor Bill Samaras “Request City Council Establish Subcommittees To Address Any Issues Regarding Senior Citizens And Non-Profit Organizations In The City.” Mayor says subcommittee system works very well. Seniors are our most vulnerable population. Many he’s spoken with don’t know where to turn when issues arise. He’s like this subcommittee to hear from seniors. Regarding nonprofits, he believes nonprofits are an integral part of the city and believes closer communication between these entities and the council would be beneficial and would strengthen these relationships.

Meeting adjourns at 8:28 pm.