Take My Council, Please: Reversing the Roads from Ruin…
SPRINGFIELD—A relatively simple agenda for the City Council was dispensed with quickly tonight with ease and few questions. By this point in the municipal political calendar, even the most mundane of agendas can become drawn out affairs, but mercifully little of that happened at this meeting..
Grants and street repair funds received plaudits from councilors, but with much of the bounty state money, the impulse to dive the microphone was limited. Some questions were raised about how the city would spend the street repair money and about the proposed city investment policy.
Grants for the Elder Affairs and Parks & Rec departments took up almost half of the agenda. Only one grant for trails in Forest Park exceeded $5000. Among the grants were those for libraries, nutrition programs and the Women’s Commission. One notable donation was that of good by Sampson Funeral Homes to the new community center on Liberty Street housed in the former Liberty Branch library.
The Ad Hoc Young Professionals Subcommittee made a brief presentation about the upcoming restaurant week in the city.
Department of Public Works Chief Chris Cignoli told the Council the city was receiving an additional $1.8 million in street repair funds for this fiscal year following Gov. Charlie Baker’s release of $100 million in Chapter 90 street funds in January. Combined with $3 million in already approved bonding, the funds are to be spread across street repairs, patching, design work, traffic lights and salaries.
Ward 7 Councilor Timothy Allen inquired about the use of the funds for salaries and Cignoli said the city had moved engineers’ salaries out of the general fund and instead used Chapter 90 money to pay them. About $200,000 of the $1.8 million will go toward salaries and traffic light, the former of which will ensure DPW has enough funds to pay the engineers without dipping into the general fund.
The city also received $546,000 in state funds to repair winter potholes throughout the city. Cignoli said only longer-lasting hot patches were being used by the city to fix street damage. However, some sections of road, such as Sumner Avenue near White Street, would probably be milled and then fully repaved due to the extent of the winter damage. Both street repair passed without dissent.
The Council moved items on discontinuing parts of Jefferson and Everett Streets to committee and a home rule petition ordering the PVTA to clear snow at stops was also kept in committee.
The Council approved an annual state grant for the Police Department traffic enforcement initiatives. It also unanimously approved a new collective bargaining agreement with building inspectors. HR/Labor Relations head William Mahoney told the Council the contract included a 2% raise for every year of the contract—which runs from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017. Under a clause added to the last contract and retained in the current one, new building inspectors are subject to the city residency ordinance.
A statement of the city’s investment policy was moved to committee, too. The policy is a disclosure of how the city invests its money, but it has been operating with an unofficial one. Treasurer-Collector Steve Lonergan said the move to establish one came after outside monitors noted the absence.
Responding to questions from Councilor Allen, Longergan said the rules for how the city invests its money include the security and accessibility of and yields on its investments. Longergan added that he is already bound by the General Laws’ as to how to handle the funds. The proposed statement of policy essentially mirrors those rules, and was drawn up in consultation with other municipalities’ treasurers.
Councilors appeared satisfied with Lonergan’s explanation, but citing due diligence, sent to the Finance Committee at the suggestion of Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos.
Finally, under suspension, the Council approved Columbia Gas request related to utility work along the Central Street.
As election season gets closer, there may be a greater flurry of legislative activity but whether it will be substantive or not is a matter for debate. The Council’s role in the budget process will be start soon, followed by the traditional July-August quiet period. That will limit the opportunities to attract attention as the public becomes dulled to city politics during the summer months.