All posts by Mike Benedetti

Preview: City Council agenda (March 7)

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

This week: Recycling, zoning. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Zoning: Tuyen Nguyen has a request to rezone 110 Lovell St from “limited business” to “limited residential.” This will be sent to the zoning board.
  • Public and Private Sts: Mark DeMauro has a request request to make part of Garrison Ave public.
  • What’s Attracting Businesses?: The Economic Development Committee is requesting reports from the City Manager about whether tax breaks for “bio manufacturing” have brought business to Worcester, and whether reducing the sewer connection fee has done something similar.
  • Psychiatric Capacity: Councilor Rivera is requesting details on “the current number of psychiatric beds that are available at area hospitals” and what impact may result if “Umass Memorial Medical Center closes 13 psychiatric beds.”
  • CSX Trucks: Councilor Russell is requesting a 30-day action plan for dealing with increased truck traffic due to the CSX terminal expansion. It seems like there’s an item about this every month, I’m not sure why new items are being submitted.
  • New Recycling Ideas: The city has been trying a pilot program where, instead of putting out your recycling in lidless bins, you use clear trash bags (a la NYC). Councilor Rosen, calling this pilot “highly successful,” asks if we can make these bags available citywide, suggesting that if we only pick up recycling every other week we’ll save enough money to make the clear bags available free. Councilor Rosen further asks if we can keep track of days that might be really windy, and delay recycling a day to skip those days (when the trash blows all around). I am curious how people would be informed of “wind days” in advance.
  • Public Displays of Health Inspection Reports: Citing Council votes from 2013 and 2014, Councilor Lukes asks if the city can require restaurants to post their health inspection reports.
  • The Past Five Years: Mayor Petty has an item asking for “a report concerning the last five plus years of investments in parks, playgrounds, school improvements, streets/sidewalk repair, and any other major neighborhood improvements.” I don’t know what larger issue this is concerning.
  • …And Justice for All: Councilor King has an item asking the Council to “hereby reaffirm the values of inclusion, respect and justice for all of its community members.”
  • Other Post-Employment Benefits: The Research Bureau has a report noting that while we’ve set aside money to fund 62% of our city employee pension liabilities, we’ve only funded 1% of our $860 million “OPEB” liabilities (healthcare etc.). The report further notes that most local towns are doing a terrible job of this as well. We do have more OPEB liabilities than other municipalities as a percentage of total property value.
  • More Murals?: The Economic Development Committee has considered a request from Bill Coleman for locals “to create a cityscape mural on city walls on Walpole St” and wants a report from the Manager on this.

Preview: City Council agenda (February 28)

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

This week: Union Station, parking, lead. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Public and Private Streets: There’s a citizen petition to make Melbourne St, in South Quinsig Village, a public street. It will be referred to the Planning Board.
  • Resident Parking: Lots of assorted parking and parking space issues this week. For example, various people on Winslow St have items relating to parking on that street, including requests for “installation of resident permit parking” and “installation of a ‘No Parking Here to Corner’ sign.”
  • Lead Contamination: Bill Coleman has a couple citizen items this week, including a request for an update on lead in our water and how it compares to other cities and towns in the area.
  • Crown Hill Foot Patrols: Councilor Rivera requests police foot patrols in the Crown Hill area. This was part of the area covered by a police “Neighborhood Response Team” last summer, that seemed to have had some effect.
  • Rules Nerdery: Councilor Economou has an item asking if the Council rules can be changed so that if the Council wants to vote to “file,” that is ditch, an item without first going through the whole discussion process, they could do it. AFAIK this is the way things currently are, somebody is confused about the Council rules here, maybe it is me.
  • Why Is Our Mail So Slow?: Councilor Bergman has an item requesting the US Postal Service explain why it can take up to 4 days to deliver mail sent within the city, and why some neighborhoods seem to take longer for mail to reach than others.
  • Union Station Debt: Councilor Lukes has an item asking about “the outstanding indebtedness of Union Station.” The station is owned by the quasi-governmental Worcester Redevelopment Authority, and operated by the WRA and MBTA. Councilor Lukes has a second item asking the Council to endorse the idea of transferring Union Station to the regional Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), who currently own and operate Worcester Airport.
  • CSX Yard Expansion Nuisances: Councilor Mero-Carlson has an item asking the city to fix the traffic snarls around “Hamilton, Plantation & Grafton Streets” caused by increased truck traffic since the CSX intermodal terminal was expanded.
  • Praising the Police: Councilor Lukes has another item asking the Council to “recognize and congratulate” the Worcester police for their handling of a small, unruly march by “antifascists” held in the city recently, which led to several arrests.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, March 2

Cross-posted from Tracy’s blog.

Looks like a light agenda
There is no report of the superintendent.
There are no reports of subcommittees.
There are a number of congratulations.
There is a request from Miss McCullough for a report on bus tracking; note that this has been raised before.
There is a request that the committee accept $305.00 from the Tri State Truck Center, Inc. to the South High Community School’s Diesel Technician Training Program for the cost of a bus for a field trip.
Mayor Petty is asking about soccer for the Main South high schools.
Ms. Colorio is requesting a report on online learning.
She is also asking how many teachers were on administrative leave.

Administration is asking that the following courses be approved (note that this will go to TLSS for consideration; right now there’s no information on the courses):
English Composition & Literature I
The Development of Early Civilizations
Science Engineering & Technology I
Advanced Seminar (in what?)

There is also an executive session on (you guessed it!) PCBs, negotiations with the teachers, and a grievance from an HVAC employee.

City Council agenda: boring Valentine’s Day edition (February 14)

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

This week: Nothing of note. A ton of items on handicapped parking and the like. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Federal Homelessness Funding: Two Council committees (Veterans Affairs and Education) have an item asking how the city complies with the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that provides funding for homelessness etc. I don’t know what this inquiry relates to.
  • Olean St Speed Trap: Councilor Rosen asks the police to crack down on speeding on Olean St (West Tatnuck). This is indicative of 99% of this week’s council agenda.
  • Abatement Letter Addition: If you think your property is valued too highly by the city, and thus that you’re paying too much in taxes, you can make a written argument asking for an “abatement.” Councilor Rosen this week has an item asking that when the city denies such a request, the letter of denial should include the reason why the request is denied. I’m not sure what that explanation would look like; I’d guess that, in most cases, it would just be “We think our valuation of your property is more accurate than the value you’re arguing for.”
  • Held Over from Last Week: Responding to a request originally made by Councilor Lukes, the City Manager has a report clarifying that organizations receiving HUD funding can engage in political activities, as long as they use non-HUD money for those activities.

Preview: City Council agenda (February 7)

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

This week: 5 acres conserved, plus everything the Council didn’t get to at last week’s meeting. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Snow Removal: A couple citizen petitions about snow removal will be sent to the Public Works Committe for further discussion. Nancy Jacobs requests “termination of the previous agreement and have the City plow, sand and salt Camelot Dr., Tristan Court and Merlin Court.” Scott Cossette wants the City to use its equipment “to clear sidewalks in front of private residences, especially along the more traveled walking streets.”
  • HUD Regulations: Responding to a request originally made by Councilor Lukes, the City Manager has a report clarifying that organizations receiving HUD funding can engage in political activities, as long as they use non-HUD money for those activities.
  • Vig’s Way/Sunderland Road Land Swap: The city will do a 3000 sq ft land swap with the Guzman family regarding land in the Vig’s Way/Sunderland Road area, just so it will be easier for everyone to make good use of their land.
  • Fowler Brook Gorge Conservation Restriction: The city and the Greater Worcester Land Trust will be accepting the gift of a conservation restriction on a 5-acre area near Mill St called “Fowler Brook Gorge.”
  • Privacy of Board and Commission Members: The city clarifies that board and commission appointees are considered city employees, and so their addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses are not considered public information.
  • Massachusetts School Building Authority 2017 Statement of Interest Items: The Superintendant of Schools passes along a letter noting that the MSBA is interested in “accelerated repairs” of: Elm Park Community School Window Replacements; Lincoln Street School Window, Roof and Boiler Replacements; Rice Square School Window Replacement; Thorndyke Road School Window Replacement.
  • Seven-Figure Finance Items: $2,015,640.00 will be transferred from Water Enterprise Retained Earnings, to Water O.M. – Reservoirs; a previously approved loan order for $9,316,000.00 will be upped to $10,945,101.00 “to properly fund the MSBA Worcester Public Schools Accelerated Repairs Program.”
  • Rezoning 128 Chandler?: The Council will vote on whether to rezone part of 128 Chandler (Chandler & Piedmont) from General Residential to General Business. This has been a live issue for more than a year now.
  • Old Items: Due to the hullabaloo over Councilor Lukes and Gaffney’s anti-sanctuary-cities items on last week’s agenda, several items were held to this week: regional transportation summit, grant money for Hadwen Park, trash from recycling bins blowing about, some sewer repairs, developer tax breaks, home businesses, Councilor Luke’s anti-sanctuary-cities items (Councilor Gaffney’s item was voted down), best practices on homelessness, traffic around Woodland St. School, surveillance cameras against dumping, dog park ordinance signage, etc etc. See last week’s writeup for more details.

Vig’s Way:

Fowler Brook Gorge:

128 Chandler:

Preview: City Council agenda (January 31)

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

This week: “sanctuary city” status, decriminalizing agriculture, infinite street and sidewalk items. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Sidewalk Repairs: There are so many items about specific sidewalk repairs on the agenda this week. If you’ve been wondering about your sidewalk, you might want to check the agenda.
  • Lake Quinsig Docks: One item asks the City Manager to provide “access to docks, where Lake Ave. North was repaired on Lake Quinsigamond, to nearby residents as they have always had for generations.”
  • More Train Service: Mayor Petty has an item asking that city, state, and federal officials meet to figure out how to increase MBTA and Amtrak service between Worcester and Boston, Springfield, and New York City. If all goes well, in the next few years we will add hundreds of housing units a short walk from the train station, a housing expansion equal to roughly 1% of our total current housing.
  • Stop Your Recycling from Blowing Around the Streets: Councilor Russell has an item asking the city to start cracking down on people who are overloading or badly packing their recycling bins, which causes their recycling to fall out and blow all over the neighborhood. As someone whose fence is perfectly oriented to snag the windblown recycling in our area, this idea makes me happy. Note also that there has been a proposal to switch from bins to clear trash bags for recycling, a change which would eliminate this issue.
  • Allowing Commercial Agriculture: At one point it looked like city government might draft some zoning rules such that it would be possible to farm commercially in Worcester. Lately, this seems to have stalled out. So this week Councilor Rivera has an item asking for a progress report on this.
  • Tax Breaks for Developers: Councilor Lukes has an item asking if, in the past five years, we’ve had any developers fail to comply with the terms of their tax breaks (Tax Increment Financing), and if so what the consequences for them have been.
  • Home Businesses: Councilor Lukes has a couple items asking for a report from the City Manager on all aspects of “home businesses” in the city. These are similar to items she submitted not long ago—I asked her what was up and she says “something else” has come up that “reminds me that our home business ordinance [discussion] continues.”
  • Sanctuary Cities: Whatever you want to call it, a lot of US municipal police departments avoid overly cooperating with federal immigration police unless it involves violent crimes, on the theory that plenty of people have friends and family in the country illegally, and that lots of people are going to be reluctant to talk to the police if there’s a risk somebody is going to get deported, and that we are all better off if people feel ok talking to the police to resolve actual violent crimes, thefts, and the like. This non-cooperation with immigration police takes various forms, for example if someone gets arrested and they are here illegally, the police would detain them the same amount of time they would detain a citizen they’d arrested, rather than holding them longer so that ICE could send someone to pick them up and deport them. Councilor Lukes has a series of items this week asking the Council to officially say that we want the Worcester police to cooperate fully with ICE in deporting illegal immigrants. Councilor Gaffney has a tiny item on the same topic but I can’t figure out if his item is written in such a way it would actually mean anything (also typos, c’mon Councilors, what the heck). People opposed to Lukes’s proposal will be demonstrating at City Hall starting at 6pm.
  • Surveillance and Dumping: Councilor Rivera has an item asking for a camera in front of the Benefit St community garden to discourage people dumping trash there. (Just a random thought: changes in how we handle snow removal really seem to be working, it is like Shock & Awe out there everytime it snows. What would it cost to make similar revisions in how we treat dumping?)
  • Dog Park/Rules: Councilor Rivera wants a sign explaining dog rules at Maloney Field.
  • Executive Session: The City Manager would like part of the meeting to be an executive (private) session for the Council to discuss a lawsuit between the city and Green Landscapes LLC.
  • Private and Public Streets: Laurian Banciulescu wants the city to convert Denmark St. from private to public.
  • Rezoning Norfolk St: The Planning Board and the Economic Development Committee both want the Council to reject the request to rezone some parcels on Norfolk St to residential.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

Cross-posted from Tracy’s blog.

The Worcester School Committee meets Thursday; you can find the agenda here.
The big news will be FY18, of course, but that report isn’t yet posted.

However, there is some news for FY17; namely, that the city DID in fact forward $70,000 from free cash when they closed the fiscal year to assist in saving the kindergarten aides! We aren’t there yet (if I’m reading this correctly, we’re still $300,000 or so short?), but we’ve made progress.

In the process, some budget related news: FY17’s statewide charter reimbursement line (identical to that proposed for FY18) was funded at only 46%, shorting Worcester $714,532 and the whole state by $54.2M.
There are some recognitions, retirements, appointments, and one resignation which is of note: Grace Howard-Donlin, who resigned effective last week, was the appointed director of the international baccalaureate program, and had been charged with planning that. It appears that the last gasps of a hope of any such program in Worcester have (once again) died.

There’s a report on the charter school tuition assessment  (which maybe I need to re-read, because I’m not sure why this was being asked…)
There’s responses coming back on the Space Monkey Challenge (and dangers thereof) and attempting to expand the AVID program.
There’s a request for this year’s incidents reports.
There’s a request that math activities accompany summer reading lists (as they do already).
There’s a request for a report on dual enrollment.
There’s a request that Worcester’s colleges perhaps kick in for Worcester’s students AP exams.
The administration is sending the student handbook to subcommittee, and they are recommending these additional new classes:
High School:  Accounting 1; AP Seminar; Document Processing
Middle School:  Chorus; Dance Ensemble; Dance for Fitness; String Orchestra
Those will go to Teaching, Learning, and Student Support; there is as yet no description of any of them.
There are also requests that the School Committee accept donations of $292.20 and $1,212.49 for Woodland Academy and $400 for Forest Grove.

And the administration is requesting that the following schools and projects be forwarded to the MSBA:

Burncoat High School: Window Replacements*
Elm Park Community School:  Window Replacements
Lincoln Street School:   Window, Roof and Boiler Replacements
Rice Square School:   Window Replacement
Thorndyke Road School:   Window Replacement

*Yes, this is the ridiculous idea that started circulating at the last school committee meeting that the secondary school that most needs rebuilding should just get windows.

PCBs remain in executive session; there is also collective bargaining with teachers and a grievance from an HVAC worker.

I’m going to try to make the budget report this go-round.

Preview: City Council agenda (January 24)

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

This week: rezoning, police, waterfront property taxes. If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here. If you want to read about the agenda in more detail, here’s the writeup in the T&G.

  • Boards and Commissions: Robert Bolivar is being appointed a Constable; Courtney Ross Escobar is being appointed to the Historical Commission. The City Council will vote whether to reappoint Talena Ngo to the Citizens Advisory Council; Christian Escobar to the Conservation Commission; and Bill Eddy to the Worcester Housing Authority.
  • A Little Rezoning: The City Manager would like the council to approve rezoning some land zoned for manufacturing to residential in the James Street and South Ludlow Street area. (Map below.)
  • Revised Tax Breaks: A couple years ago, to encourage someone to build 60 apartments at 100 Wall Street (the old El Morocco), the city offered a $1.2 million tax break in the form of a “tax increment exemption.” It’s taking them longer than originally planned, and the Manager would like the Council to amend the offer to reflect this delay. Rather than construction beginning this summer, it will now begin the summer of 2019.
  • Still a Drought: Has all the rain helped our drought situation? A little bit; this week, we’re moving from Stage Three back down to a Stage Two drought.
  • More Police: The Manager and the Police Chief would like to add 7 more police officers to the force. If I am reading the memo right there are currently 344 officers, with 23 positions vacant. Filling the vacancies and the new positions would have us at 374 officers. They would also like an additional 5 of those positions to become supervisory roles: sergeants, captains, lieutenants.
  • Waterfront Property Assessments: Residents with waterfront property are unhappy they have seen unexpected increases in their property values this year, and thus increases in their property taxes. The City Assessor has a report to the Council explaining that these increases reflect higher selling prices for such property of late, rather than a new formula for calculating the values. The local taxpayer activist group AWARE is critical of this report, pointing out, for example, that property on gross or boring bodies of water still saw an increase comparable to property on nice ponds etc.
  • A Market at the Aud?: Councilor Rosen proposes that we turn the long-vacant Worcester Memorial Auditorium in Lincoln Square into an “indoor retail and farmers marketplace” while we continue to wait for a motivated developer to do something else with the building.

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.