Lowell City Council Meeting: December 18, 2018
ROLL CALL – all present
CITY COUNCIL – MOTION (taken out of order)
Samaras – Req. City Mgr. provide a report to the city council and school committee/administration regarding school department reimbursement for the Digital Connections Partnership School Grant Program totaling $553,217.46 that was sent to the Lowell Treasurer/Collector’s Office in February of 2018 as well as Medicaid reimbursement. (per request of the School Committee). School Committee member Jackie Doherty speaks on this motion. Says it is a desperate time for school finances. She asks that the Digital Connections grant be forwarded to the school department. She says it was the school department that applied for this grant. She says that the Medicaid reimbursement should also be forwarded to the schools for the work performed. It’s true that some school nurses are paid for by the city, but the city already gets credit for their salaries against school funding contributions. But the bulk of the services being reimbursed are performed by school department employees. She says she’s focusing on these two amounts of money because of the unprecedented fiscal crisis facing the schools. She said it’s due to fiscal mismanagement by the previous superintendent. The school committee has already made extensive cuts already. She then says that this school committee is not solely responsible for this. She says that several members of this city council were on the school committee, either as members or as mayors, so we should all work together.
Councilor Elliott replies that he wants to work together but SC Doherty is pointing figures. The bottom line is that the school committee voted for big pay increases for its employees that they couldn’t afford. They have to live within their means. The city can’t afford to keep bailing out the school committee.
Councilor Milinazzo cites a memo from Conor Baldwin on both of these issues. He sympathizes with Ms. Doherty, but the city side also has substantial fiscal issues. He agrees with Councilor Elliott that the Medicaid funding issue has always been a matter of debate.
Mayor Samaras points out that he is only bringing this motion at the request of the school committee (implying that he’s not taking a position on the motion).
Councilor Leahy says we have to remember that “this is for the kids” and we have to decide who is going to get hurt.
Councilor Kennedy says the motion simply calls for a report; the report in on the councilor’s desks right now; so anyone who wants to continue this discussion should file a motion for the next meeting.
Councilor Nuon says he’s concerned about the school deficit but he is also aware of the problems facing the city. He urges councilors to leave the door open to the possibility of helping the schools if we can.
Councilor Mercier says she would like to have some time to look over the financial report. She adds that she wishes there was a little bit more oversight be the school committee on its spending.
Councilor Elliott says by law the Medicaid reimbursement can’t go to the schools it has to go to the city.
[petition taken out of order]
Misc. – Brian Meade, Jr. (Neighborhood Rep.) opposition petition to MassDOT plan to reconfigure RT. 38 intersection at Oakland Square.
Speaker: Brian Meade opposes Mass DOT plan to reconfigure Oakland Square which would restrict vehicular access to Laurel St. He presents a petition with 200+ signatures. He describes the safety problems this will cause. He understands that it’s hard to say no to state funding, but this is what you get when you allow highway engineers to designs city streets.
Speaker 2: Lynn Daly of Windward Rd. This plan will increase traffic on neighboring streets. Urges the council and state rep to take all steps possible to stop this portion of the plan.
Speaker 3: Clementine Alexis – says Holyrood Ave is reached via Laurel now; this would prevent that which would make it less safe for us to exit Holyrood Ave.
Mike Duquette of Sycamore St. Says he’s lived in the neighborhood for 40+ years. Says current situation has worked for 40 years; why change it now?
A Resident of Laurel St speaks in opposition to the petition. Says Laurel St becomes a drag strip in the evening. He thinks the plan is beneficial and will make the neighborhood safer.
Brian Monaghan of Fairmount St. Many neighbors didn’t realize what a significant impact this will have on the entire neighborhood.
Councilor Kennedy moves that this be referred to the City Council’s Transportation Subcommittee; that the City Manager ask the state to stop the project until there is consensus on this; and that the city’s statehouse delegation be asked to do the same. Kennedy says that Rogers Street is extremely busy and there are only two places to turn at traffic lights: Laurel Street and Douglas Road. This would eliminate one of them. Manager Donoghue requests that this motion not use the word “stop” because the state will be happy to just walk away from the entire project. Kennedy says he’ll stand by the motion as he worded it. There’s some back and forth on the wording of the motion. Kennedy says he’s not held up on the language of the motion. He says he just wants us to have local consensus and that the project is not just done for Route 38 but for the entire neighborhood.
Councilor Mercier asks to continue under suspension of rules. Says she continues to be concerned about heat in the classrooms. She knows that parts need to be ordered and work is being done. But she is concerned about hearing about space heaters in classrooms. She also doesn’t think students should be needing blankets in their classrooms. This is all unacceptable to her. She says with Christmas vacation we have an opportunity to get some work done. Thinks we should bring in outside contractors with more expertise Manager Donoghue says she gave the council an updated report on Lowell High. She says we faced this in the spring when there were gas leaks. Then it was determined that that system could not be safely repaired in the field house. We decided to install a new system. That new system has been installed and is working (in the field house). In the rest of the high school the heat has been off and on. About half of the other schools have heating issues. As of last week at the high school there were two issues of concern: there were 6 classrooms and the chorus room without heat. DPW worked all last week and this week. They had to order parts. She says the Superintendent has told her they can move to other classrooms if need be. Last night, the steam plant went down overnight and was discovered very early this morning. DPW responded and started the heat. It did start up. There was heat in the building, but the systems do go down from time to time. We have contracted with Boston Mechanical to look at the remaining systems (starting tomorrow) to determine what options there are. There are no gas leaks at Lowell High and there is heat. The chorus room at Lowell High because of where it is located was chilly and it has not been working well for a week and a half.
Councilor Elliott says on Friday afternoon he walked through Lowell High. He says the city just has two HVAC techs. They know what the problems are. Two of the new units in the gym were not working. He thinks we need an additional HVAC technician. He says he’s pleased to learn that Christine Clancy, an engineer, has been appointed to lead the Land and Buildings department. Manager Donoghue says we have already posted that third position but it is hard to find someone at the amount the city pays.
Councilor Nuon says this has been an ongoing issue. He’d like to know how much we have spent thus far. Donoghue says she’ll get the exact figure but it’s about $600,000. He asks if we are only using 65% of the classes, why aren’t we moving kids to the classrooms that have heat? Manager Donoghue says the teachers were given the option to move. Some did, some chose not to.
Councilor Leahy asks for a report on whether teachers have been given the option of moving. Also asks if there are alarms that go off at night if heat fails. Manager says yes, but they don’t always work (like the one last night didn’t go off).
Councilor Kennedy says it makes sense to have the teachers make the decision but maybe there should be a protocol for them to follow as to when they should move. They should also know which other classrooms are available.
Manager Donoghue says this will come up again later in the agenda tonight. She will recommend applying for the MSBA “accelerated repairs” grants. She is specifically thinking of the Freshman Academy. Would like to treat it as a separate school to get its own grant (LHS can’t get the grant because of the “new school”). Because when the new school is done, the Freshman Academy will be a separate school.
Councilor Cirillo asks when are the systems tested. Donoghue says all were tested in the spring and summer and they were all working but they are old and when they get challenged by the cold weather they break down rapidly.
What Donoghue has been told by her people is that all the heating valves had been opened but in the fall when the heat came on, some classrooms were too hot so individuals would close heating valves and they’ve remained closed and so now there is no heat.
End of discussion on this topic.
UTILITY PUBLIC HEARING
National Grid/Verizon NE – Request installation of new pole at 198 Riverside Street and Sarah Avenue. Referred to wire inspector for report.
Verizon NE – Request installation of underground conduit to replace overhead services at 165 Thorndike Street and Highland Street. Referred to wiring inspector for report and recommendation.
COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITY MANAGER
A) Affordable Housing. Councilor Nuon asks how we notify people of auctions of city property. City Solicitor says there is a team hired including an auctioneer with lots of advertising. At the last auction, we had the Mayor’s Reception Room packed with bidders. There are not a lot of properties we dispose in this way, but for those that are foreclosed, we’ll work with DPD on setting up a sale. For people who fall behind in their taxes, we do have a variety of payment plans for taxpayers. The homeowner has several opportunities to keep their properties from going to auction. DPD Director Diane Tradd answers CC Nuon’s questions about home funding programs for new home owners. Councilor Milinazzo says back in the 1990s the Lowell Housing Authority worked closely on the city to obtain tax title property and build affordable housing on it.
B) Diversity Working Group Update – He’s pleased we are now using social media to notify people of job openings and also sharing job opening news with other organizations that can help spread the word.
C) RCN Cable
D) Quarterly Financial Reports for Schools
E) Inland St
F) National Grid Electric Luce St
G) Pan Am – Idling Trains
H) Traffic Planning for Retail Cannabis Locations – Applicants must hold community meetings before the city government has any say on the sites. Citizens should understand that. Also, when the city does have some control, it should consider imposing an “appointment only” method of sales on any marijuana dispensaries. That’s what Salem has done and it seems to work pretty well.
I) 25 MPH Ordinance – referred to traffic subcommittee
J) Traffic Light Sequencing – referred to traffic subcommittee
K) Split Annual School Appropriation
L) EMG Study & MSBA Repairs – This was an extensive report on what repairs are needed to city buildings and what are the priorities. Just the schools need more than $120mil in capital improvements. We’ve dug ourselves into a big hole by neglecting maintenance. We continue to treat 35 year old schools as “new schools” and don’t keep them up. This MSBA program contributes state money to these repair projects. In the future we have to pay more attention to preventative maintenance which we’ve ignored for too long.
M) Water Gauge at Pawtucket Falls
A) Petition Response – Bowers St
B) Petition Response – Lakeview Ave
C) Petition Response – Jewett St
Communication-Accept resignation of Nancy Pitkin-Library Board of Trustees
VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
Vote-Accept Gift of 1,000.00 from Moses Greeley Parker Lectures to Pollard Memorial Library
Vote-Auth City Manager Ex. Grant of and Modification to Easements (Lawrence St) approved
Vote-Authorize City Manager Ex. Easement between City and UML-Howe Bridge ROW – approved
Vote-Transfer 75,000 due to increases in the number of trials, expert witnesses and other related litigation expenses – approved
ORDERS FROM THE CITY MANAGER
Order-60 day trial (various) approved
Order of Taking-portion of 83 Pevey Street (Parcel 2) – approved
Confirmatory Order of Taking-portion of 91 Pevey Street – approved
REPORTS (SUB/COMMITTEE, IF ANY)
Cannabis Control SC December 18, 2018. Subcommittee Chair Elliott gives the report. Says a number of residents spoke at the meeting, prompted by community meetings that have been held by proponents of the facilities. Most of the meeting was about the process. Elliott says it’s not a good process. The city has received 9 applications thus far. Part of the process is for the applicant to have an independent community meeting but that happens before the city even knows about the proposal. The legislation requires that Lowell have five marijuana dispensaries.
Misc. – Alaina Brackett (Purple Carrot Bakery) request permission to install overhanging sign at 107 Merrimack Street. Referred to Law Department.
CITY COUNCIL – EXECUTIVE SESSION
Executive Session – Regarding matter of litigation, namely Huot et al v. City of Lowell, public discussion of which could have a detrimental effect on the City’s position. 8 to 1 (Elliott opposed) to go into Executive Session. Will adjourn from Executive Session.
ADJOURNMENT of public portion of meeting at 8:46 pm.