Take My Council, Please: Historic Preservation Law & Order…
SPRINGFIELD—Another light agenda greeted the City Council Monday night shortly after it city finance officials presented the budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1st. Few if any items engendered much discussion most had virtually no opposition ahead of the beginning of the Council’s own review of the budget over the next month.
At the top of the meeting Comptroller Pat Burns presented the monthly expense and revenue report, received with no questions from the Council. However, at-large Councilor Bud Williams took the occasion to again remind the Council of the city’s underfunded retirement account.
Much of the evening consisted of accepting grants, minor financial transfers and a few authorizations for leases in excess of three years. Under Massachusetts law, procurement and services contracts, that is anything that is not an employment contract, require authorization of a city’s legislative branch. At Monday’s meeting those two orders consisted of authorization to seek five year leases on garbage trucks and gas meters for the fire department.
Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos inquired what if any return the city would get for turning in the trucks slated for retirement. Deputy DPW Director Mario Mazza told Ramos that trade-in value would be part of the bid the city put out, but as this is merely an authorization for a five-year lease, there is no way to be certain what that value would be at this time.
The Young Professionals Ad Hoc Committee (YP) and the standing Maintenance and Development (M&D) Committee both offered updates on their activities. At-large Councilor Justin Hurst, chair of YP told the Council his committee held a meeting with incoming Police Commissioner John Barbieri. Due to a scheduling conflict, that meeting happened as the same time the Chief Administrative and Financial Officer T.J. Plante and Budget Director Jennifer Winkler presented the FY15 budget to the Council.
Hurst also mentioned his colleague, Ramos, had received his bachelor’s degree from UMass.
At-large Councilor Kateri Walsh, the chair of M&D Committee briefed the council on two matters. One was on repairs to the building where the Indian Orchard Citizens Council meets. The other was on the holdup of money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will fund several city projects intended to aid the city recover from the June 1, 2011 tornado. FEMA and the city came to a settlement in January to fund $25 million in capital projects.
However, as Walsh explained, she was surprised to find the money had yet to go through as FEMA awaits input from the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Some of the properties affected, namely the old South End Community Center formerly a one-time state armory, suffered heavy damage in the tornado and a new center is to be built. However, the old armory building, its shed now demolished, is to be incorporated into MGM Springfield’s facility.
Plante, the city’s CAFO, said due to the reuse of the armory building, historic preservation laws were triggered and thus the state commission must rule before FEMA will dispense funds. For whatever reason, FEMA lumped most of the recovery funds together with those for the new South End center. This has delayed all of the projects including a renovation of the ECOS facility in Forest Park and a new Senior Center in Blunt Park until a review from the state historic commission comes down.
Attached to Walsh’s report was a resolve, also on the Council’s agenda, that would request the state commission to expedite its review. Plante said the unexpected holdup led the city to hire a consultant to help it navigate the state Historical Commission. The chair of the Springfield Historical Commission, Ralph Slate, lent his voice in support of the resolve. He said ECOS’s funding had been separated and that he and the city commission were okay with letting the other projects move forward. “We don’t have an interest,” Slate said of the other projects, including the old armory, the remainder of which is expected to be preserved by MGM. The resolve passed on a voice vote.
Elsewhere the Council accepted grant money, including a small firefighter grant of just under $5000 and a donation from the Home Depot foundation. Another grant was the latest installment of the Safe & Successful Youth Initiative run by the Police Department. Sgt. Brian Elliott, who oversees grants for the department, said with the $397,000 approved Monday, the program, which identifies and mentors young at-risk residents, had reached $1.2 million in funding. All grants passed on a voice vote.
Larger ticket items included the transfer of a $1.3 million settlement with WMECO to the pay-as-you-go capital account, detailed in the budget presentation. The Council approved a transfer of about $528,000 to DPW to clear out the city’s snow and ice deficit from winter. The money came from extra money in the Comptroller’s budget for adjustments to city salaries. Finally, there was a parks department transfer of $50,000 within its own accounts to match a grant for a sprinkler structure. All passed on 13-0 votes.
The Council also approved a collective bargaining agreement with the Springfield Organization of Library Employees. The contract, retroactive to July 1, 2012, runs through June 30, 2015 and brings future library employees under the city’s residency ordinance. There is a 2% raise in years two and three, but none in the first year. Changes to sick time and efforts to reduce sick time abuse are also in the contract. The city can mandate direct deposit for employees under the contract. To fund the past raises, another $36,000 was transferred out of the Comptroller’s adjustments account into the Library’s. Both the transfer and the agreement passed 13-0 on recorded votes.
Second and final steps were given to ordinances that raise City Clerk’s fees for vital records. After the $5 increase, searching, preparing, or copying birth, death and marriage certificates will cost $20. Final step passed on a recorded 13-0 vote. The Council also passed first step on a voice vote for an ordinance that would allow the fire and police departments to levy and charge late fees and ultimately place liens on properties that do not make timely payment for the inspection of fire alarms and security systems.
Although the budget will be debated at hearings separate from regular meetings, the annual process is likely to take up a great deal of the body’s RAM in June. Ad hoc committees are due to return with the first round of recommendations for the Council and there are other ambitious proposals expected from members. However, while the body does convene during the summer, its meetings are fewer, possibly putting off the bolder actions until Fall.