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Take My Council, Please: Make Springfield Aggregate Again…


Half and half this week. (WMP&I and Google images)

SPRINGFIELD—Eons ago on Monday, before the meltdown with the outgoing school superintendent, the City Council held a relatively uneventful meeting. What occupied the most attention was the Community Choice Power Supply Aggregation (CCPSA) Plan. The city entered the program on the initiative of former Councilor Jesse Lederman and is now lumbering toward realizing its goals.

However, there were a few notable financial items. The city and building inspectors reopened their labor contract to boost pay and extend it. The Council had to re-vote on a fire equipment bond. The city also accepted its annual entitlement grants from the US Department of Housing & Urban Development. While three were essentially flat, there was a substantial cut to a fourth grant.

At-large Councilor Tracye Whitfield was absent from the meeting. Councilors Malo Brown, Lavar Click-Bruce, Sean Curran, Maria Perez, Brian Santaniello and Kateri Walsh participated virtually.

The Council heard reports from the Finance and General Government committees. Both panels urged passage of the financial items and a pending confirmation respectively. At-large Councilor Jose Delgado, who chairs the Working Group on Digital Equity & Internet Access, also provided an update.

Having confirmed the new Veterans Services Director, the time had come to confirm his deputy. Mayor Domenic Sarno submitted then-Deputy Veterans Services Director Joseph DeCaro’s name for the Director’s post earlier this year. The Council confirmed DeCaro. On Monday, the Williams St. Denis was before the Council to become the new deputy.

Council confirmations are exceedingly rare under Springfield’s charter, which lets the mayor make appointments without Council approval. Some posts, however, such as leadership in the Veterans’ Services office, are creatures of state law. That law requires a municipality’s city council confirm appointments for the city veterans office. St. Denis received unanimous approval.

Councilors approved a utility request for poles along Bicentennial Highway without dissent.

Cathy Buono

Buono at her unveiling as CAFO in February. This week, she got to revisit a program she long administered. (via Springfield City Hall)

Chief Administrative & Financial Officer Cathy Buono presented the city’s annual appropriation from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program. Buono, who used to oversee the city’s CDBG expenditures in her prior role in the Office of Community Development, detailed some of the funds’ uses. These include, most prominently, sidewalk repair, parks, roof repair assistance and some emergency infrastructure work. The Council accepted it without dissent.

This was one of four HUD grants that were before the Council Monday. All were smaller than last year. There was a $12,000 cut to the CDBG program. Accounting for inflation, the net loss to the program is about $104,000. Housing Office Director, Gerry McCafferty, presented the other three.

The HOPWA, or Housing Opportunity for Persons with AIDS, grant had a value of $827,431 or $6,500 less than last year. The Emergency Solutions Grant, which assists families regain stability after experiencing homeless, came in at $329,785 or just under $2,200 less than last year. Without accounting for inflation, the grants lost another $32,000 in value.

City finance officials shrugged off the smaller cuts. Minor rule changes and riders in Congressional appropriations can result in odd quirks.

McCafferty said the HOME grant funds down payment assistance, tenant-based rental assistance, development of rental housing, and development of affordable homes for purchase.

Officials expressed some surprise over the cut to the HOME grant. The city’s allocation for the current federal fiscal year is $1,502,181. Last year, Springfield received $1,810,898. On top of the $300,000 cut, inflation since last year robbed the grant of another $50,000 in value.


J’accuse! (WMP&I)

Congress’s “minibus,” which funds the federal government through September, cut $250 million from the HOME program. By contrast, the CDBG program was level funded. This appears to have been a compromise between the House, which slashed the program by $1 billion, and the Senate, which level funded. President Joe Biden proposed adding $300 million to the fund.

The Council accepted all HUD grants without dissent.

The body also greenlighted smaller grants for the Fire, Library and Police departments.

Buono then re-presented a bond authorization for $3,290,000 to buy two fire apparatuses. Fire Commissioner B.J. Calvi had presented the authorization last year. As Buono explained, then—and now—the lead time for such equipment is incredibly long. Authorizing the bond allows the city to place its order and lock in lower prices even as it waits for delivery.

The reason the item needed a new vote was the equipment was not originally in the capital improvement plan. After a few queries, councilors reapproved the bond.

Councilors also approved $1,478,065 transfer within the Finance Department to continue paying for projects that will traverse the change in fiscal year at the end of this month. The Council also authorized moving $25,000 from reserves to procurement. It will largely pay for additional bid advertising.

Bill Mahoney

Shorter Bill Mahoney: MOAR Inspectors’ Contract! (still via YouTube/Focus Springfield)

William Mahoney, the city’s HR/Labor Relations Director, presented a labor contract for Springfield’s building inspectors. Mahoney explained that the existing contract with building inspectors does not end until next year. However, the city and the inspectors’ union, the National Association of Government Employees, a unit of the Service Employees International Union, decided to negotiate early.

Mahoney explained that talent retention was a factor. The city wants to retain inspectors and not see them move to other municipalities. The Springfield Building Department is considered one of the city’s moneymakers as the inspections, licenses and permits it undertakes contribute to the general fund.

The decision to, in effect, amend the existing contract will also extend it through June 30, 2027. The city will make a market adjustment to inspectors’ pay, but also increase their hours. The contract also includes two percent raises effective July 1, 2025 and July 1, 2026.

Mahoney confirmed that once approved—as councilors did, unanimously—it will take effect immediately. The union had already ratified the agreement.

Summoning the ghost of Councils past, the meeting ended with approval of the CCPSA. Then-Councilor Lederman pushed acceptance of the program through the Council in late 2022 with an eye toward reducing residents’ electric bills.

Eighteen months later, the city is presenting its plan to the Council to take the next step. Tina Quagliato Sullivan from the Office of Community Development presented the proposal. In short, the city has hired Colonial Power to advise Springfield during the process. Eversource would remain the principal distributor to customers. After Council approval, it will go to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities for a final approval before negotiations can begin.

Quagliato Sullivan Cappadona Sheehan

Tina Quagliato Sullivan presenting the CCPSA plan with Colonial Power’s Mark Cappadona and Chief Development Officer Tim Sheehan chilling in the background. (still via YouTube/Focus Springfield)

“This option would allow the city to negotiate on behalf of residents and enter into a contract with a provider directly,” she said.

Technically residents can negotiate directly with energy generators, but this is often difficult and can be unfruitful. Quagliato Sullivan said many agreements individual households enter into are predatory. Under the CCPSA, Springfield would negotiate a lower rate for all customers, although individuals could opt out, if they so choose.

In attendance Monday was Mark Cappadona from Colonial Power. He said that since 2006, 177 communities have utilized CCPSA. The goal is not only lower prices, but also more stable prices.

Councilors were largely supportive of the move. However, there were questions. Responding to Councilor Delgado, Cappadona said that while residents would have opportunities to compare their options, the difference in rates would not be on statements.

“They can always see it on the website, but it will not be on the monthly bill,” he said.

Cappadona and Quagliato Sullivan committed to a robust public information campaign in concert with councilors. Cappadona told Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila that savings have been around seven to 10 percent. Yet, it has been even higher lately.

Responding to Council President Michael Fenton, who ceded the gavel to Vice-president Melvin Edwards to ask questions, Cappadona said Springfield might be able to negotiate some greener options. However, that would be a premium option and the city wants to shop around before committing to it.

Fenton also noted that the city already realizes generation cost savings because, as a large customer, it has negotiation leverage. Eager to move the process, councilors approved the plan without dissent.

While the savings may be years off, the CCPSA plan is a way to save residents money without much tangible impact on the back end. If handled correctly, legislative solutions can provide relief as much as pulling the leash on the tax man.



However, the reduced amounts from HUD also deserve scrutiny. As inflation ebbs and the economy stabilizes, it should not shock anyone that the feds would pull back on programs like CDBG. However, it is strange that Congress was less interested in housing assistance amid huge price increases. Either way, it is a reminder that cities like Springfield remain somewhat at the mercy of the vicissitudes of Washington’s prevailing winds.

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