City Council Preview: March 19, 2018

Mimi Parseghian previews tomorrow’s Lowell City Council meeting.

Due to the cancellation of last week’s meeting, this week’s agenda of the Lowell City Council incorporates new items with those of last week.

The first order of business is the report from the City’s CPA firm, Powers & Sullivan. The FY ’18 Audit contains three documents: Financial Statements, Management Letter and the Report on Federal Awards.

In addition to the CPA’s report, there is a 22-page document approved by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Division of Local Services. The report provides the revenue and expenditures for various fund types and classification by the City for fiscal year 2017 (July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017). I found the document interesting and informative.

There are 5 items on the Public Hearing section of the agenda.  Two are for utilities, one is for fuel storage and two are ordinances for the establishment of two new positions, one of which is grant funded.

Motion Responses:

The first one is from last week’s agenda.  Abandoned Properties: This report was prepared by R. Eric Slagle, Director of Development Services in answer to a motion by City Councilor R. Elliott “Requesting the City Manager and Building Department Provide a Report Regarding All Abandoned Home in the City.”

According to the report, “the City does not maintain a list of such properties, as the status of a property can be difficult to determine from a simple visual inspection.”  However, they do use two lists to focus on potential abandoned properties.  The first is the Lowell Fire Department’s list of marked properties and the second is the list maintained by Development Services of registered properties under the Vacant/Foreclosure Ordinance.  The list contains 238 properties but only 80 are vacant.

Policy for Take Home Vehicles: This is the response to the motion made at the first meeting this year by City Councilor R. Elliott that “Requested the City Manager Provide a Report Regarding the Policy of City Vehicles Being Taken Home, the number of Vehicles Issued to Employees and the Associated Costs.

The report, prepared by Assistant City Solicitor James F. Wellock, outlines that there are four categories to the use of City-owned vehicles: “fleet” are used per shift basis and not brought home; “assigned” are used by a particular person and not brought home; “on call”, the smallest group can use the vehicle not only for work but personal use. The fourth group,

City vehicles are used in four categories: fleet vehicles are assigned on a per shift basis and are not brought home; assigned vehicles are assigned to particular persons for use at work and are not brought home; a small group of vehicles are assigned to particular employees for use at work and to commute; last, a small group of employees who are always “on call” are permitted full use of a vehicle; and the fourth group has 27 cars that are used for work and they are also use for commuting to work.  The report does not indicate who these people are.  Fifteen of them are in the Police Department.  It was difficult for me to determine exactly what the “associated cost” is.

Parking Rate Signage: This document, prepared by Parking Director Nicholas Navin, is in response to three similar motions that were all brought forth at the March 6th meeting. “The Parking Department has signs on display in all of the offices of our parking facilities informing patrons of the available monthly parking rates. In response to this request the department has installed additional signage in visible areas of pedestrian activity in each facility.”  Also, the Parking Department will work with the Election/Census office to make sure that eligible residents are informed of discounted rates.  The report includes images of the various parking payment signs.

Branch and Middlesex Business Corridor:  This report was in response to City Councilor V. Nuon’s motion requesting the City Manager have Department of Planning and Development Organize a Business Group Representing Entities Along the Branch and Middlesex Street Business Corridor. The DPD will proceed to establish and organize a business group in the Lower Highlands area of the City and they use models similar to the efforts at Cupples Square and the Bridge Street corridor.

In response to a motion requesting to review the possibility of re-establishing the position of Downtown Coordinator, the DPD reported that they have assigned Tom Lamond as the Downtown business liaison in the Economic Development Office.  The report also discussed the March 5th meeting with Downtown business and property owners.  The information and the handouts that were presented at that meeting were also included in this response.


The first item is a carry-over from last week. Street Acceptance List: The three-page report prepared by Nicolás H. Bosonetto, City Engineer is informative and provides data that should be used to prepare a strategic plan regarding unaccepted streets.  Unaccepted Streets are those who are open to public travel but not formally accepted by the City.

According to the report, the ‘City has 188 miles of accepted streets and 50 miles of unaccepted streets.”  Given the current staff, it will take 50 years to accept all the unaccepted streets.  The report contains the list of the streets (29) that the Engineering Department is working for acceptance.  It also lists the streets (17) that were accepted.

The formula applied by the Commonwealth to distribute funding for street improvement (Chapter 90) focuses on three areas: 58.33% Accepted Road Miles, and 20.83% for population and 20.83% for the number of street work.  Thus, the higher number of accepted streets, the more funds we can receive for the upkeep of the streets.

Municipal Bond/Note Sale: The City “received extremely competitive bids from bond and note underwriters.” The bond issued were for $20.2 million, 20-year general obligation state qualified bond issue (average net interest of 2.88%) and a $700,839 88-day Bond Anticipation Note (net interest cost of 1.55%.) The report includes a project list with the approximate amounts.

To explain the City’s reaction to the CPA’s Managerial Letter, City Manager Kevin Murphy reminded the Council “that for the sixth year in a row, the management letter contains no ‘material weaknesses’ reported by the outside auditors” and the City’s credit rating of AA-.  The document also contains the CFO’s action plan for the recommendations made in the Managerial Letter.

Laurel Racine of the Lowell National Historical Park, joined by UML’s Senior Archivist Tony Sampas and Volunteer co-curator Mark Van Der Hyde will make a short presentation on the upcoming Lowell Branding Exhibit.  This presentation was postponed from last week.

Councilor Motions:

There are 11 motions on this week’s agenda. Nine (9) of them are from last week’s postponed meeting.

Councilor K. Cirillo: Request Arts and Culture Sub Committee work in conjunction with the Cultural Commission to promote public art in and around the City.

Councilor K. Cirillo: Request City Manager provide a report regarding rejuvenation of the Tour de Lowell; report to include information from prior races in the City.

Councilor K. Cirillo: Request City Manager provide a report regarding Spring tree and flower plantings in the city; report to include schedule of plantings, number of plantings and area of plantings.

Councilor R. Elliott: Request City Manager explore feasibility of providing 15 minute parking space at 56 Branch Street.

Councilor R. Elliott: Request City Manager feasibility of providing a loading Zone Parking space located at 32 Branch Street.

Councilor D. Conway:  Request City Manager have proper City officials make a presentation to the substance abuse Sub-Committee relative to steps being taken to combat the opiate epidemic.

Councilor E. Kennedy: Request Zoning Sub-Committee consider amending the current parking regulations for boarding homes and make recommendation to City Council.

Councilor E. Kennedy: Request Zoning Sub-Committee review and consider amendments to the Zoning Code; specifically for definitions for “boarding houses” and “family” in Article II and the table of uses in Article I.

Mayor B. Samaras: Request City Council set up a joint meeting of the Public Safety Sub-Committee with the student services Sub-Committee of the School Committee to discuss safety in our schools.

The following are the two new motions:

Councilor K. Cirillo: Request City Manager  provide an update report regarding National Grid’s gas pipeline project for a new 12 inch line to replace current 6 inch line which will run through Chelmsford, Lowell and Tewksbury.

Councilor D. Conway:  Request City Manager have Law Department provide a report regarding when the names of applicants for positions in the City can be properly disclosed to public.