Monthly Archives: December 2016

Preview: City Council agenda (December 20)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 7pm. The agenda is here.

This week: Mt. Carmel, Airbnb, property taxes. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Mt. Carmel: The diocese wants to shut down Our Lady of Mt Carmel parish, tear down their damaged church, and sell the land. Some parishioners are strongly opposed to this idea. This week, the Council has the opportunity to make the area a “historic district” as part of preventing the diocesan plan from happening.
  • Tax Rates: The discussion continues about what our 2017 tax rates for “residential, commercial, industrial and personal properties” will be. The Council has some control over this but many parameters are set by the state.
  • Airbnb: There are several items from the Economic Development Committee asking the Manager to report on options for taxing, regulating, and generally cracking down on “short term accessory rentals” aka Airbnb.
  • Buying Cable Boxes: Councilor Rosen has an item asking if Worcesterites can maybe just buy cable boxes, rather than renting them for $7/month. Our cable service in Worcester is from Charter, a monopoly they negotiate with the city government.

Preview: City Council agenda (December 13)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 7pm. The agenda is here.

This week: Property taxes, reservoir land, boards, and commissions. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Tax Rates: The discussion continues about what our 2017 tax rates for “residential, commercial, industrial and personal properties” will be. The Council has some control over this but many parameters are set by the state.
  • Surveillance Cameras: Ermal Krol is asking the city to install surveillance cameras at 75 Townsend St. to stop people dumping trash there.
  • Boards and Commissions: Jose Castillo and Samantha Fiakofi are being reappointed to the Worcester Arts Council; the Council will vote on whether to appoint ex-Councilor Barbara Haller to the License Commission, to reappoint Deborah Hall to the Advisory Committee on the Status of Women, to reappoint Robert Haddon and Joseph Wanat to the Zoning Board of Appeals, and to reappoint Vincent Pedone to Chair the Worcester Redevelopment Authority.
  • Dealing with Snow: As part of a previously-discussed revamping of the city’s snowplowing plans, the Council will vote to increase the pay rate for City employees when acting as “Snow Customer Service Representatives.”
  • More Watershed Land: The city is acquiring about 100 more acres of land in the watershed of our reservoirs. We’re paying the AMC $35,000 for 1.6 acres of land near Howard St, Anita Burque $85,00 for 58 acres, and $185,000 to David Nichols for 36.49 acres. (All of these are technically eminent domain “taking,” but all the participants are willing.)
  • Early Voting: This was the first election that allowed Worcesterites to vote early at polling places. 25% of votes were cast early.
  • More Tax Breaks for Seniors: The Manager is asking the Council to vote to double the property tax exemption available for certain residents older than 70, from $700 to $1400. He anticipates 411 Worcesterites would be eligible. (AFAIK this doubling is something which happened last year also.)
  • OPEB: The city reports that our liability for Other Post-Employment Benefits for retired city workers went up 10% in the previous fiscal year.
  • Street Changes: The Planning Board recommends the Council approve a petition from Craig Blais asking that part of Pond St be removed from the official map (as part of a development project).
  • Mount Carmel Next Week: Although it’s on this week’s agenda, the item about creating a “historic district” around Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be tabled till next week, as there’s so much finance stuff to discuss this week.

Worcester School Meetings This Week

(Cross-posted from Tracy’s blog.)

There are two Worcester school meetings this week of interest:

The Worcester School Committee Finance and Operations subcommittee meets Monday at 5:30 (that’s at the administration building, 4th floor); the agenda is here.

This is the first quarter meeting, so it closes out FY16, updates FY17 in full, and with accounts of particular concern…which are concerning. It’s only the end of the first quarter, so there are no recommended transfers as yet, but currently FY17 for WPS stands at over $700,000 projected in the red. The reasons are telling:

  • The loss of the state kindergarten grant when the Legislature cut it for this year: $694,132
  • Special education tuition beyond anticipated: $442,912
  • supplemental programs, in largest part additional need for translation due to updated Department of Justice requirements (hey, did we know anything about that?): $264,529
  • transportation, due to the city not increasing capital spending, and thus WPS having to cut back on needed new buses (and rent instead): $130,468

That, of course, adds up to more than $700,000; if you look at the report, you’ll see projected balances, as well. But this isn’t a good place to end the first quarter on. And the first snow falls tomorrow.

And do notice how many of those have to do with the state needing to update the foundation budget.

There’s a report on the MSBA-funded work done in WPS since 2012. A question of interest: the reimbursement comes back to the city; has the city been using the funds to pay off the MSBA-related borrowing? Or has it gone into the general fund?

Finally, there’s a response to Mr. O’Connell’s query regarding the signing of warrants. The full letter from City Solicitor David Moore is here. To say that this has rather startling policy implications, if fulfilled, would be an understatement, as Mr. Moore goes well beyond the municipal charter–which is in line with Lowell and Cambridge’s charters, where committees sign warrants–into querying the position the school committee holds in state law (and drawing conclusions I will say that I have seen nowhere else).  He also never speaks of ch. 71, section 34, which is where the authority is derived. I also find the tone of polite horror at school committees having to sign off on every expenditure a little entertaining, as it’s done in nearly every district in the state (yes, including cities).

The full Committee meets Thursday at 7 at City Hall; the agenda is here. The report of the superintendent will be on expanding preschool; there is as yet no posted backup.

There are reports of subcommittees, appointments, retirements, congratulations.

Mr. O’Connell requests a salary schedule.

Noting the update on school improvement plans that passed this past year, he also is asking for a process of consultation on school improvement plans.

Administration is requesting the School Committee accept $1700 in donations to Goddard Scholars.

Miss Biancheria would like to know how principals are evaluated.

She also is requesting that buildings be inspected with regard to: water systems, foundations, leaking roofs, heating systems, and
wrapped pipes…sounds rather like the facilities plan noted in the subcommittee report.

Miss Colorio would like all teachers and other licensed personnel renewed through “the new data base tool from DESE” by which I assume she means this, which is just a database, not a new way to renew.

She also would like a robocall to go out on the recovery high school and on Worcester Opiate Educational Forum.

There are two prior year invoices, including one for $74,967.76 for special education transportation services.

There is an executive session: the teachers and the IAs are still in negotiations (hm…nobody else?), they’re going to talk about PCBs some more, and there’s a lawsuit: Lyons v. the Worcester Public Schools. That’s at 6 pm, prior to the meeting.

Preview: City Council agenda (December 6)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 7pm. The agenda is here.

This week: Tiny houses, marijuana regulation. If you care about these issues, it would be appropriate for you to show up and speak for a couple minutes at the beginning of the meeting. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

In other meeting news, at 5:30pm December 7 the Planning Board will meet to discuss Brady Sullivan’s site plan for redeveloping the old courthouse. The Worcester Community-Labor Coalition has been putting pressure on city government around this, wanting various concessions and noting many concerns other cities have had about them. If you are concerned with any of these issues, this would be an appropriate place to speak out.

  • Library Board: The Council will be choosing 2 new members of the Library Board of Directors.
  • Economic Development Report: The quarterly report highlights the WRTA vacating its Grove St location (making it available for other uses), improvements to Union Station, 365 anticipated “luxury housing rental units” at CitySquare, UMass Memorial Health Care expanding their downtown presence 25%, and the decades-vacant South Worcester Industrial Park finally getting sold off and built up.
  • Private and Public Streets: Hilltop Group Holdings has petitioned the Council to make Denmark St a public street (maintained by the city etc).
  • Tiny Houses: The Council’s Municipal Operations Committee is asking the Manager to recommend new regulations “to include the trending use of tiny houses, granny pods and home medical pods.”
  • Stop Parking on the Sidewalk: Municipal Operations also wants the city to start cracking down on people parking on sidewalks.
  • Mounted Police: The Public Safety Committee wants the Worcester Police Department to get some horses.
  • Dirt Bikes on Streets: The police have had a special unit cracking down on people using off-road vehicles on the street. Public Safety says they did a great job. I saw some people speeding down Piedmont Street Friday, before that I hadn’t seen any of this activity for a month or two.
  • Marijuana Regulations: Mayor Petty wants a report from the city’s lawyers on “all possible options” for regulating marijuana sales in the city. Councilor Lukes wants to know if we can prohibit marijuana sales completely.
  • Wind-Blown Recyclables: Councilor Rosen wants the Manager to come up with a plan to revise our recycling system. The latest plan I’ve noticed is to have people put out their recycling in transparent trash bags, rather than in open bins where paper and bottles blow around the streets, get soaked by rain, etc. This is like the third time in recent months I’ve seen an item like this, I don’t understand why this is dragging on.
  • Traffic Tech in Newton Square: Councilor Rosen wants us to “use new and innovative pedestrian safety technologies” to make it easier for pedestrians to transit the traffic circle at Newton Square.
  • City Bond Rating Improves: Councilor Lukes wants there to be discussion of the city’s bond rating, which determines how cheaply we can borrow money. Two of the agencies rating us have us stable, the third has given us the highest bond rating from them we’ve ever had. Good news! Councilor Lukes wants more information on the many ways this might impact city government in the coming year, even things like “the eminent domain powers available to the WRA.”
  • Simpler Leaf Disposal: Currently, you can rake your leaves into the gutter on a certain day, and city street sweepers will remove them that week. Currently you have to be on the ball and know which week is the week for your street; Councilor Bergman wants you to generally be able to ditch your leaves on November 1 and not have to worry about all the complications.
  • Mt. Carmel Historic District: Municipal Operations wants there to be a Historic District established around Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, which very recently the diocese wanted to demolish and sell, a plan put on hold after great outcry from politicians and the public. Currently the church is being repaired and a foundation is being established to maintain the building for the long term.