City Council Preview: Feb 13, 2017

Mimi Parseghian preview’s tomorrow’s Lowell City Council meeting:

From now on, I will refrain from applying any adjectives to this week City Council agenda.  Last week I called it relatively short but the meeting was anything but that.

City Manager Responses, Communications and Votes:

There are quite a few interesting items on this week’s schedule:  Starting with the reply to City Councilor John Leahy’s motion of last week in reference to the new high school, asking the City Manager to “Provide Update Regarding Latest Meeting with the Massachusetts School Building Authority”.  The reply is 3 pages long.  In his Sunday blog, Dick wrote a comprehensive and straightforward explanation of the MSBA meeting and its fallout, bringing some clarity to the discussion.

The Administration has brought forth the order for abandoning Newell Street (located in Lower Highlands, off Chelmsford Street).  It is the third time that this topic is coming in front of this Council.  For those of you who follow the meetings closely, you will recall that the City has tried to abandon this portion of land so that it can be purchased by an abutter.   There was dissatisfaction from some neighbors.  The Department of Development and Planning must have come up with a compromise that will satisfy everyone.

A couple of weeks ago, City Manager Kevin Murphy brought forth a proposal to amend the City’s Code of Ordinance to indemnify City employees as well as the City Council to an amount not to exceed $1,000,000.  At the time, City Councilor Rodney Elliott questioned the necessity of such a change in the law.  This week, Manager Murphy has submitted the addition to the Personnel section of the City’s Code of Ordinance.

The City Manager is requesting a $150,000 transfer from the Manager’s Contingency Fund to Library State Aid to fund the restoration of services at Pollard Memorial Library.  The refurbishment project resulting from the water damage a few weeks ago will cost about $300,000.  The balance of that amount will come from accumulated funds the City’s receives from the State for use by the library.

In addition to the MSBA motion response, there are four other motions that are addressed in this week’s agenda package.

City of Lowell Marketing Campaign: City Councilor John Leahy, 1/30/2018 meeting; requests “City Manager work with DPD to establish and enhance marketing campaign for City of Lowell.”  The response outlines the current marketing campaign and plans to expand it.

Tax Impact: City Councilor John Leahy and City Councilor Rodney Elliott, 1/30/2018 meeting; requests “City Manager Provide a report to the Finance SC Regarding FY 18 Property Valuation Assessment; 3rd Quarter Tax Bills and Abatement Process; and Budget Impacts on Tax Bills.”  I thought the wording was changed during the discussion on the motion to read “…report to the City Council.”  The response is 5 pages written by CFO Conor Baldwin. The opening paragraph is important for all of us to understand our tax bill for each quarter.

Lowell issues four (4) quarterly tax bills each fiscal year and, under normal circumstances, the first two bills are considered “preliminary” bills, which are calculated based on using your previous year’s annual tax bill. When the actual values and tax rate is determined, in simple terms, we take the calculated annual tax and deduct the first two quarterly payments. This amount is then split between the third and fourth quarter real estate tax bills.

There is also an explanation as to why if our budgeted increased by 1.5% some individuals received real estate tax increases well above the 1.5%.

There are two major components of each individual tax bill. The first is the tax rate and the second is the property value….The tax levy for FY2018 is $128.5 million, which was a 1.5% budgeted increase plus new growth from economic development…It is likely that each individual homeowner will experience a tax increase that does not equal 1.5% because residential values increased at a higher rate than commercial, industrial, and personal property values, which explains why the average single family tax bill is increasing at more than 1.5%.

Status of Capital Projects :  City Councilor John Leahy, 7/11/2017 meeting; requests  “City Manager Provide the City Council with a  Financial Update for all Urgent Projects in the City”; City Councilor Vesna Nuon, 1/9/2018 meeting; requests  “City Manager Provide Information Regarding Major Projects in the City as well as Information Regarding UMass-Lowell Projects.”

The report is 22-page long, including an Executive Summary, City of Lowell’s Comprehensive Five-Year Capital Investment Plan, the City’s Public Investment Capital Plan as well as UMass Lowell’s Capital Plan.  There are not any major surprises but it is full of details, projected timeline, and costs.  It is an important report that this Council should use as a guideline when adding new capital project items.

Municipal Health Insurance : City Solicitor Christine O’Connor replied to the proposed motion by City Councilor David Conway on establishing an Ad Hoc Committee to discuss Municipal Health Insurance. She writes “The Ad Hoc Committee, if established, would gather information regarding this issue, at no time would the Committee make a recommendation on issues pertaining to health care offerings.”

Council Motions:

CC Rodney Elliott: Request City Council Discuss Joining Other Municipalities in a Class Action Suit Against Manufactures of Opioids.

CC Rodney Elliott: Request City Manager Contact Department of Mental Health and State House Delegation Regarding Closing of the Mental Health Center in Lowell.

CC Vesna Nuon:  Request City Manager Provide a Report to City Council Regarding Emergency Management Plans (i.e. Flooding, Natural Disasters, etc..) for the City.

CC Karen Cirillo: Request City Manager Provide a Report Updating the Council Regarding Installation of “Meters For Homeless” Program; Report to Include Costs for Installation, Number of Meters Installed, and Organizations to whom Collected Funds Will Be Distributed.

CC Karen Cirillo: Request City Manager Provide an Updated Presentation to the  Economic Development Sub-Committee of the Plans for the Hamilton Canal Innovation District; Said Presentation to Include Garage Plans, First Floor Commercial Space In Garages, Lighting of the Swamp Locks, and Infrastructure and Transportation Plans as They Relate to Lord Overpass Traffic Improvements.

CC Rita Mercier: Request City Manager Provide an Update Regarding Plain/Tanner Street Corridor Re-Development Plans Including the Effect it Will Have on 168 Plain Street (Lowell Car Wash).

CC Rita Mercier/Mayor Bill Samaras: Request City Manager Review Possibility of Re-Establishing the Position of Downtown Coordinator.