Sunday Notes August 30th 2015

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The above statement taken from the City of Lowell sponsored 1990 review of the Lowell Fire credence to my concern and criticisms on the way this (and the last and many earlier) Administration and City Councils understand, fund and value the work of firefighters.

Because of the Merrimack and Concord rivers along with the bridges and history of the old mill city, Lowell faces particular unique, hazards in responding to emergency situations than most city’s and towns, a fact given to the city in 1990 and ignored. For whatever reason, instead of finding ways to ensure adequate coverage in the neighborhoods, this and earlier administrations and council’s seem to disrespect the Lowell Firefighters and in my opinion they are being treated like 2nd class first responders and the citizens / homeowners are being put in danger.

My question is why does the present council allow it and why doesn’t a challenger take up the cause? Are they afraid of the politics? The Sun, who seem to clearly have an issue with the firefighters or are the challengers just not up to the challenge?

Will it take another Branch St, Bridge St. or Mill fire, a loss of life or property before the staffing and equipment challenges facing the fire finally addressed?

What has Lowell done with the Fire Dept. since 1990?

Back in 1990 (25 years ago) the City of Lowell did a comprehensive review of the Lowell Fire Dept. which I was fortunate enough through the kindness of a reader, to get a copy of and have posted it below.

Many new issues have come up since 1990. Protective gear is different, EMS was added. Most stations are in no way modern or adequate. Some need major overhauls, but only get band aids. It took over a year after approval to even get the roof fixed on the West Sixth St. station. The list goes on and on.

The issue of bridges still is out there. There are only so many crossing points and a lot more traffic these days. Also many Fire trucks can not cross many of the Enel owned bridges in their current condition, most notable Broadway and Pawtucket Streets.

This Council voted to spend $500,000 on. shot spotter to detect a gun shot but will close a fire company and risk a structure fire or overdose. What sense does that make?

Looking through this 1990 report and before the City Council okay’s spending any money to do another exact report, will a Councilor PLEASE make a motion and ask the manager for a detailed account of how many of the recommendations from the 1990 report were in fact implemented?

The taxpayer’s need to know and hear from the Administration exactly how many trucks have been replaced with new ones since 1990? Have we kept any reserve engines and do we have a program, policy or guidelines in place for rebuilding of apparatus? Did we take into account the comments about the unique and particular hazards of Lowell. Where the suggestions on reducing Injury Off Days and reducing the use of sick days enacted?

I have found what I believe are some of the answers or partial answers to how the city responded to the last review. The public has the need and right to hear from their elected and appointed officials on exactly what the city did in response to that review before we repeat the exercise.

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I’ve found that the city has not purchased a new piece of fire apparatus in five years. The apparatus purchases in the early to mid 90’s were all or mostly done with CDBG grant funds from what I can find. The city funded at least five through that program, but I am told it is no longer an option.

Some other federal grants have helped with turn out gear and SCBA. Also when they cut the number of personnel and stations and overtime in the early nineties it appears it freed up some funding to do the other items.

The review also called for a plan to refurbish apparatus. I can’t find anything that showed the city did this. Some very basic overhauls were done from what I am told but nothing major. There are departments in nearby communities that do this. Lowell seems to operate the fire equipment until it runs into the ground.

Lowell currently does not have two reserve engines, the city has one and one spare ladder. The spares are all over twenty years old.

The rescue does not operate as a haz-mat company, though the city seems to have a smaller special operations vehicle with some containment materials on it. Firefighters seem to have a high level of training and the ability to do some initial response, however high level haz-mat response is a state function. Lowell does have members on the state team. There are always a good number of technicians on duty in the city every shift, but I’ guessing it is very expensive to purchase the required equipment the study recommended.

The Lowell Fire Dept. does not have a combined air and light unit. The ladders and Rescue have the capability of supplying portable lighting in small size incidents. The air refill unit is a regional resource located in Tyngsboro Fire that can and ha been called on for mutual aid numerous times at large fires and they are quick to respond. Because of the two rivers and many canals Lowell does have a dive team available and it is deployed often.

The report clearly states:Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 10.13.35 AM

Yet we know Lowell Ignored that, in 1990 Lowell had 235 members of the Fire Dept. According to the recent RFQ Lowell presently currently has 208 full time positions, including: 1 Fire Chief, 9 Deputy Fire Chiefs, 14 Fire Captains, 43 Fire Lieutenants, 134 Firefighters,1 business manager, 1 mechanic and 1 administrative assistant, 1ME repairman, 1 IT assistant and 1 head clerk.

There are eight (8) fire stations in the entire city. Two on this side of the river, West 6th St. and Old a Ferry Road. One (1) in the Highlands Pine / Stevens St. One in Cambodia Town Branch St – Two in the South Lowell area Gorham St and Lawrence St. and one covering all of Belvidere on High St. The Central Station covers the Downtown / Historic District.

We have 8 Engines, 4 ladders and 1 rescue.

All ladder trucks have sets of jaws for vehicle accidents on them, however it is a mixed bag. Lowell has two heavy duty sets and two light duty sets. Technology has made extrication equipment a lot better in the last ten years but it appears Lowell is behind again.

Nashua, Brockton, Newton and Quincy all spend millions more than Lowell on their fire departments while running fewer companies.

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With all the talk about Sick leave and injuries and staffing, have those recommendations ever been put into place?

The report suggest that IF these suggestions were indeed followed , the Chief could than over a period of 2-3 years set a goal of reducing (IOD) Injury off days by 300 tours (shifts) and be able to add 2 additional personal to the work schedule. He could also set a goal of reducing sick day usage and reduce that by 2 days per person per year then an additional of close to 400 hours could be filled (or approx. the addition of 2 people )

Has far as I can tell, the City does not have a health and safety program of any significance or a full time safety officer.

Before we spend any more money to review the Lowell Fire Department, let’s review the last review and see how many of these recommendations were reviewed and put into place.

LFD Study 1990 Part 1

LFD Study 1990 Part 2

Re-active to INACTIVE

You can’t give a passionate, harsh speech about crime unless you’re going to do something about it on Wednesday morning. Criminals work 24/7. – Former Mayor Bud Caulfield addressing Lowell City Council Meeting: September 23, 2014

At that same meeting, in the same speech the former Mayor also stated this: In closing I request Mr Mayor you reinstitute the substance abuse subcommittee. Back in 1988 Mayor Howe appointed me to chair that committee and we did a lot of good work. It was bad in 1988 but it’s worse now.

Mayor Elliott did that,he reformed that committee and appointed Corey Belanger as Chairman. Since this Council has been in office (January of 2014) and that committee restarted in October of 2014 , there have been 3 Substance Abuse Subcommittee meetings .
(I was able to find this and all the Sub-Committee numbers on the City Website)

Dec 2 2014. – April 16 2025. – May 5 2015

Compare that to Eight (8) Public Safety – SIX (6) Transportation – FIVE (5) Parks and Rec or FIVE (5) Neighborhood Sub – Committee meetings in the same span.

In a City with 114 Od’s in July, a city that ranks sixth-worst in the state for opiate deaths, why would th City Council this past Tuesday night refer to the council’s substance-abuse subcommittee anything? Especially a recent opiate overdose report that ranks Lowell 6th?

The Council should have sent it to Public Safety, at least they meet regularly and work on issues. What is Chairman Corey Belanger doing? If any committee should be meeting often it’s the substance abuse one.

It seems to me that back in the late 80’s when Dick Howe was Mayor and Bud Caulfield assigned as chair of that committee they were much more active, met often and did city wide outreach and meetings in the neighborhood. Doc Conway hosted at least one at St. Pat’s in the Acre and the East End one in Centralville that I recall. Bud knew you had to go to the neighborhoods to find what was going on and what the city could do to help.

Of course Corey Belanger is Not now nor ever will be a City Councilor like Bud Caulfield!

However he should be aware enough of this issue which is effecting so many individuals and families regardless of their race, creed, financial or political position that this subcommittee should be at least meeting monthly and working with the police and health departments and subcommittees like public safety, the State delegation, Trinity, Pridestar,Lowell General and non-profit partners along with the surrounding communities to try and collaboratly address this issue.

If not now, when?

History repeating? Fail in 1975….ignore in 2015!

Council Belanger can take solace in the fact that at least his 3 meetings are better than the 1 meeting that the ​Downtown Redevelopment a Sub – Committee w/ ​Councilor Kennedy has Chair have had. They have met once (1) in October of 2014.

Guess he figured this ad didn’t work in 1975 and since he hasn’t been able to do much redevelopment since, why bother having more than 1 meeting ?
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Labor Pains Ahead
City Manager Kevin Murphy like the rest of us may be looking forward to the Labor Day weekend (notice at the Council meeting he’s the guy with the best tan) but he can’t be looking forward to the fall and growing Labor issues he will be facing. Local 1705’s contract has expired and they still have an open grievance that could cost the city. The firefighters. contract is expired and the UTL contract is also expired.

None seem likely to be settled easily and most look to be drawn out and have potential to create some tension in the city that has been pretty tension free.

One question that may be asked and hasn’t been addressed by the Mayor or current Council is How/Why is the City Managers salary increased in this years budget by $10,000 when there hasn’t been an evaluation done on the Manager?

CEP Information on School Committee Agenda for Sept. 2nd meeting

C.E.P would have POSITIVELY effective the Food Service Program by $320,000 in 2014

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Imagine with the increase in participation what it may due to assist the Lowell Schools?

In this week’s Lowell School Committee packet there is a report from the Supt. of Schools,Business Manager Frank Antonelli and Food and Nutrition Director Sharon Lagasse in regards to any financial impact that the Community Eligibility Community Eligibility Provision might have, especially in the first year. This information is posted on-line in this week’s School Committee Packet.

The following is a report on the motion below.
[by Connie Martin]: Requesting that the Administration update the committee on the new Community Eligibility and Direct Certification standards for the Free and Reduced Lunch programs and how these changes may impact the Chapter 70 Funding formula for the district in the future.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) standards have remained consistent for the past three years, however the Direct Certification standards have changed to include participants who are receiving Medicaid benefits. The change in this Direct Certification filter was a tipping point for the Lowell Public Schools. This change increased the number of identified students, which then would allow the district to be reimbursed (from the USDA) for 97% of meals at the free reimbursement rate and 3% of meals at the paid rate. This reimbursement formula yields a better financial outcome than the current model of free, reduced and paid meals.

In regards to adopting CEP and the impacts on the Chapter 70 formula, the statement from the DESE is below, and also addresses other programs that use the free and reduced data. Also, in other conversations we have had with the DESE, they have stated
that for those districts adopting CEP, during the transition year, they will be held harmless in there Chapter 70 formula.
 The foundation budget, which is used to calculate both Chapter 70 school aid and charter school tuition rates, currently relies on free and reduced price data.

FY16 will be a transition year, using FY15 free and reduced price data from nonCEP districts and a combination of FY14 free and reduced price data plus direct certification for new students in CEP districts. For FY17 and beyond, we have recommended to the Foundation Budget Review Commission that the lowincome increments in the formula be increased sufficiently to offset the lower
number of students in the economically disadvantaged category.

 For grant programs that require poverty data for eligibility or entitlement calculations, the appropriate DESE program office will provide guidance directly to districts and schools.

 School building authority reimbursement rates are also based in part on low income percentages. We are providing information to the MSBA Board and will assist them in evaluating alternatives.

 Performance metrics in DESE’s school and district accountability system will be updated to reflect the new measurement. DESE will provide additional guidance to districts regarding this transition.

 Schools and districts that use free and reduced price eligibility for sliding scale fees or other local purposes may continue to do so. For schools participating in CEP, this may involve a combination of direct certification data and some supplemental data collection from families.

 Districts will receive updated SIMS reporting instructions.

In summary, adopting CEP means:
 All children in the Lowell Public Schools are eligible to receive a breakfast and lunch at no cost
 Students will no longer submit an application for free and reduced meals
 The school departments budget will no longer incur a debt for unpaid meals
 Revenue will increase in the school district’s nutrition program
 There will be no price increase for lunches, however, a la carte items will continue to be priced separately
 The reimbursement rate of 97% for free meals will be guaranteed for the next four years
 Participation in the school department’s nutrition program will increase.

Winchendon Mass. – On the road to recovery : A Study in Municipal Mismanagement and what NOT to do!


winchendon DOR Review

Based on our observations, the former town manager had little involvement with the budget once adopted by town meeting.

That quote is from the Town of Winchendon Financial Management Review July 2015 by Mass Dept. of Revenue , Division of Local Services.

The Town of Winchendon is an interesting case study of Municipal Fiscal mismanagement and shows what happens when you have multiple turnovers in key positions or people in positions they should not be in. It reminds me of what happened here in Lowell when the city was also self insured but not putting enough funds toward health care and using reserves to balance an unbalanced budget.

The Town is now poised to be on the road to recovery with an expert interim Manager.

The Town and it’s current interim Manager, Board of Selectman and other Fiscal stakeholders met with the State Dept. of Revenue in early August to review this report which shows what has happened, why it happened and the State Dept of Revenue made recommendations so it would NOT again happen.

The report doesn’t even mention that there is a group of people in the town who after the former Board of Selectman extended the then Manager’s contract, led a charge to have him removed, resulting in the town using $300,000 in reserves to pay him to leave.

The Dept. of Revenue acknowledges the town is on the right track now with the interim Manager in place but warn that attempts by townspeople to water down the powers of a Manager could jeopardize that and result in a control board.

If you are interested in municipal government, it is an interesting study in mismanagement. Below are some of the “Highlights” from the State report which can be found on line at the states website. (or pdf attached)

The Review by the State really calls out the former Manager and Town Accountant:

Many of these management letter findings became more severe due to a lack of budget monitoring by the former town manager and irregular communication between the prior town accountant and department heads. Based on our observations, the former town manager had little involvement with the budget once adopted by town meeting.

He did not have access to the town’s financial management software application and he seems to have delegated the review of monthly revenue and expenditures to the town accountant.

The former town accountant also neglected to distribute spending reports to departments or more widely to the board of selectmen or finance committee. Instead, any spending adjustments appear to have been handled informally between herself and individual departments and generally not until year-end when she had to close the books. This practice, which likely grew out of town’s bottom-line approach to budgeting, coupled with a lack of regular reconciliations, made it almost impossible to comprehend the town’s financial position throughout the year or to hold departments accountable for their spending

Turnover contributes to the problem:

Further amplifying these existing problems, Winchendon experienced a tremendous amount of turnover in its other finance-related offices. Besides the town accountant, these positions included the assistant town accountant, treasurer/collector, assistant treasurer/collector, and chief assessor.

To fill these positions, the longtime assistant treasurer/collector was promoted to the treasurer/collector’s position in early 2012 and a new assistant treasurer/collector was quickly hired. However, she left within a year which forced the town to start yet another new search. In the assessor’s place, the town elected to privatize the operation when it contracted with an outside firm, Regional Resource Group, Inc., to provide in-house staff and to serve as the appointed board of assessors.

By mid-December 2014, this confluence of issues culminated in substantial operating deficits and other financial management concerns that prompted the town to seek approval and receive a series of local aid advances, along with special legislation to borrow funds necessary to close the deficits.

Winchedon trouble’s result in State stepping in:

To date, Winchendon has borrowed nearly $3m to cover prior year deficits (see Appendix, Table III.FY2014 Deficits Raised) and received over $8.3m in local aid advances on top of internal borrowing of over $1.5m from its stabilization fund for cash flow purposes.

By our estimation, the town will also end FY2015 with a cumulative operating deficit nearing $600k due largely to remaining health insurance claims. Based on a preliminary review, the town’s FY2016 budget is also structurally imbalanced. Lastly, local officials expressed serious concerns regarding their cash position at the start of the fiscal year due to significant cash outlays resulting from pension assessment, debt,payroll and other obligations due early in the fiscal year.

State has High Praise for Lynch Appointment!

To its credit, the board of selectmen responded by hiring a veteran municipal manager to serve as interim town manager. A highly respected individual, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience as the former city manager for Lowell where he turned around an $8m deficit,developed sizable reserves, and increased the bond rating.

Town officials indicate that he will work part-time over the next three to six months and will be joined by an equally qualified finance consultant with deep experience using the town’s Munis financial software application. Together, we hope that this team will be a force for change which will build on more recent improvements including implementing a new purchase order system, issuing monthly year-to-date budget reports,and changing the manner in which town meeting adopts the budget so departments can be held accountable for their individual appropriations.

State warns those who seek to undermine Manager!

The new interim town manager’s ability to successfully steer Winchendon in the right direction will require buy-in from the board of selectmen, finance committee, and department heads alike.

Without their support, the town’s outlook remains uncertain.We also hope that any positive momentum is not undermined by a recent movement to strip the town manager’s position of needed authority to implement change.

As explained at the May meeting, DLS will continue to monitor local activities closely and take whatever action is necessary,up to and including a possible control board, if steps to resolve Winchendon’s longstanding financial management shortcomings are delayed or otherwise left unresolved.

Great start for new Lowell Supt. Khelfaoui -giving all students a free Breakfast and Lunch


If people had any concerns about whether Supt.Khelfaoui would be good for the school system, his first public decision should alleviate that.

The Supt. has shown a willingness to listen to a parents concern (some may say week long rant) along with the support of School Committee member Kim Scott (another parent) and revisited the CEP program which allows school districts the opportunity to give EVERY STUDENT a free breakfast and lunch through this federally funded program.

The program was given a cursory look by the last administration but they “had concerns” about how and if it affected other funding and Chapt. 70 funds.

Supt.Khelfaoui along with Business Manager Frank Antonelli went the extra step and schedule meetings in Boston to hear first hand the ins and outs of the program and have chosen to recommend Lowell participate beginning this school year.

Parents in Lowell seem to be in total support judging from today’s Lowell Sun Facebook Post which has over 615 likes and 175 shares to their online story.

Lowell schools will provide free breakfast, lunch

It is a fine start for this Supt. that he not only starts the School year but his tenure with such a fabulous impact on the students and families of the city.

It shows his willingness and support to listen, learn and react to suggestions that help the entire Lowell School System.

A very promising start to Supt. Khelfaoui time here in Lowell.

Throwback Thursday – Same message in 2015 that he had in 1975!

Give Ed Kennedy credit, he’s consistent! When he ran in 1975 he claimed he would work to “revitalize Downtown” and “Provide better Police Protection”…same thing he said in 2013 and probably will say again in’s he doing with that???

Maybe candidates like Cheth Khim – Jordon Gys ,Paul Ratha Yem , Martin Hogan or Pan So can ask the same question Kennedy asked in 1975

“Isn’t it time to add some New Blood to our stagnant City Council”?

Maybe that isn’t the best approach considering Ed Kennedy finished 13th in the Preliminary that year and 15th in the November Election!

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