Sunday Notes March 22nd 2015

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A Defining Moment for Councilors and the Murphy Administration! aka providing a big election issue

At the foundation of my vision for Lowell are three main pillars: public safety, education, and economic development. You will see these pillars appear as themes, interwoven throughout the budget. The funding recommendations included in the proposed budget will address each issue independently; some use long – term strategies that will bear fruit over the course of several years, while others will be handled with immediate solutions that are initiated this year. Public Safety; perhaps the most pressing matter facing our community, is an example of the latter..

PUBLIC SAFETY FOCUS Key Performance Indicators for Goal 2
Figure 34 – Public Safety KFA, Goal 2 KPIs
Improve the quality of life in the City of Lowell by providing fire protection,emergency response services, prevention,and public education activities. Protect all citizens, their property, and the environment from natural and man-made disasters

Number of Fire Companies Closed Per Shift <1

All of the above comes from City Manager Murphy’s June budget. He made the taxpayers of Lowell and his bosses a pledge that Public Safety would be a major priority of his administration and he made it a goal. If he forces the shut down of two fire companies per shift, with funding available in the Manager’s contingency fund or from the $2.2 million remains of them defunct Chap. 17 funds, what does that say about his commitment to public safety?

Many current Councilors, especially Dan Rourke and Corey Belanger ran on a strong public safety platform. We have listened to them and many of the other Councilor’s talk about the need and their efforts for public safety.

Mayor Elliot was front and center after the Branch St.fire praising the firefighters for their actions and assisting the victims. He has talked on and on about the need to make sure Lowell is a safe city. What message are these Councilor’s and Manager sending cutting fire companies?

Remember in 2010 the flack the Lynch Administration and Council took after people were killed when 3 companies were closed?

Sun, The (Lowell, MA)
October 13, 2010

Union rings alarm about city closing fire stations Jennifer Myers, jmyers@lowellsun.com
LOWELL — Lowell Fire Department Lt. David Keene last night called for the end of the budget-saving practice of closing city fire stations on a rotating basis in light of the deadly fire that destroyed a Bridge Street apartment building early Sunday morning. Lowell firefighters rescued nine people from the inferno that claimed the lives of two residents and injured two firefighters, a feat Keene, the president of the firefighters union, said is even more impressive given that there were nine fewer firefighters on duty than there would have been had three companies not been closed at the time of the fire.

"To the layman, this means 60 percent of the closest companies were closed due to budget cuts," Keene read, at last night's City Council meeting, from a letter he wrote to City Manager Bernie Lynch. "We worked that fire with a reduction of personnel of 24 percent, one-fourth less manpower to take on the numerous tasks encountered simultaneously at this fire."

Remember the coverage of Branch St. last summer…

4 Adults, 3 Children Killed In Lowell Apartment Building Fire
LOWELL (CBS) – Seven people were killed in a fire that tore through a three-story apartment building in Lowell on Thursday.
A passing police officer spotted the fire around 4 a.m. and reported it. The building at 73-81 Branch Street was already engulfed by heavy flames when firefighters arrived.
The three-story building houses several apartments, as well as a liquor store on the first floor.
Lowell’s Fire Chief Edward Pitta says the victims were all found in two separate units on third floor. The victims included four adults and three children.

Lowell City Council Meeting: July 22, 2014
July 22, 2014 by DickH Posted in City Council 4 Comments
Meeting opens with Councilor Mercier requesting a moment of silence for the seven victims of the Branch Street fire. Mayor Elliott joins in with heartfelt remarks on effect of the tragedy and on the way the entire city pulled together in response to it. He presents commendations to the Lowell Police Department and the Lowell Fire Department and thanks all the agencies, organizations and individuals who did so much to assist the victims making special recognition of the Red Cross, City Manager Murphy, and a number of city departments. Councilor Mercier then thanks Mayor Elliott for recognizing everyone else but then commends Mayor Elliott for his leadership throughout this ordeal.

Lowell Councilors and the Manager get upset when the Boston Media comes to Lowell to highlight the shootings, they feel it portrays Lowell has an unsafe city. What will the Globe, WCVB and others around the state say about Lowell closing companies within a year of one of the worst fire in the state? The SUN which used the increase in shootings and the public safety issue against the past Council and supported Councilors who ran on strong public safety issues has been silent. Either they don’t read the City Council packet on Friday’s or they will say that this practice of closing fire companies has been around for many years,

That is true but in my memory, no Council has used Public Safety more has a Political Issue than this one with the support and stories in the SUN. Why haven’t they reacted to these Councilors and THIS MANAGER seemingly backing away from their support of public safety? If this was 2013 it would have been the Headline Saturday Morning!

This is a watershed moment for these City Councilors and this Manager. According to the Auditor’s report in the February 8th Council Packet there is $148,327 in the Manager’s Contingency Acct. according to the Data Analysis $177, 194 would be needed to keep from closing 2 stations a shift. That means only $30,000 ($28K and change to be exact) would be required from either the defunct Chap. 17 funds (the reserves) or another place in the budget.

We have heard over and over about a freeze on large purchases and hiring, is that to balance the budget or offset the over runs in the snow and ice account? Either way Lowell has the money to keep fire companies open and these Councilors who have proclaimed Public Safety has being their top priority, will be judged by their actions if they allow these fire companies to close.

Do as we say, NOT as we do!

“I am cautiously optimistic the transit authority will do the right thing,” City Manager Kevin Murphy

City: No development without LRTA deal was the headline in the Sun on Thursday and the story was about the Hamilton Canal District and another excuse by the current administration has to why development has been lacking there. This time the City Administration is not only pointing their finger at the Federal Gov’t for the delay do to the “land swap” but now it is pointing at the LRTA.

Part of the land swap deals calls for Lowell to make room for “tour buses” that come to the National Park.

The story states that

Lowell would have to spend more money to construct a parking garage that would accommodate the tour buses. Also, revenue would be lost, because the government would be getting up to 100 spaces for free

So instead Lowell wants to use parking spaces at the LRTA Hale St. site that the LRTA uses for buses not in service and employee parking. According to the article :

the LRTA Managing Director Scanlan said the city wants enough space for 11 buses on a daily basis. Scanlan said the proposal would take up about 60 percent of the available space at the Hale Street property and not leave much room for employee parking and the storage of LRTA buses not in active service.

The real sticking point is Lowell wants to do this and so far has never mentioned paying a fee of any kind.

HELLO! Doesn’t Lowell “rent” parking spots to UMASS Lowell, why would they expect the LRTA which is NOT 100% funded by the City to just give up employee parking and parking for their fleet to Lowell without any compensation?

I would hope the SUN is missing information or that the CITY Administration isn’t being as arrogant has the article made them seem. If you read the story it looks like the Manager is putting in former State Senator Phil Shea has his representative on the board to try to force or influence the board. The Sun wrote ”

Murphy declined to comment, but observers said Murphy’s selection of Shea is a message to the LRTA that it better be the partner city leaders want it be. Murphy was Shea’s chief-of-staff in the late 1970s and early l98Os. Shea will attend his first Advisory Board meeting on March 26

Is the implication that Shea is such a political force that his friends on the board Kevin O’Connor of Tyngsboro, Thomas Bomil of Dracut and David Tully from Dunstable, who all have a responsibilities for the good of the entire LRTA and the communities they represent, would instead do what is right for LOWELL instead of the entire LRTA Communities? I doubt Phil Shea still has that clout or that any one of these gentlemen would do that.

Instead I would hope they would agree with LRTA Director Scanian who is quoted in the story as saying “I am not going to make a commitment that is not in the best interests of the transit authority.” and in my view, neither should any of its board members.

Wicked leaky?

I heard a rumor that said, if Councilor Corey Belanger runs again his new theme song will be Phil Collins – The roof is leaking

ABCC in Lowell?

Details are sketchy, but there is a buzz about the State Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission being in town this past week and visiting an establishment that has been in trouble before and possibly finding booze being sold that wasn’t purchased from an authorized MA. distributor. The Manager of record may be fuzzy and ownership doesn’t appear to be really clear either. The official results aren’t yet known but keep an eye on the SUN and the License Commission…this could be UGLY!

HEY Look at Us and feel bad!

The Lowell Teacher’s union was again picketing at the school committee meeting trying to get public sympathy and it appears to me they are also trying to load up the Election with Pro-Teacher candidates (Andy Descoteaux. a retiring teacher, Chris Roux whose wife is a teacher ( so he could NOT vote on teacher contracts) and Bob Hoey )/

I would ask the taxpayers and parents to remember that their taxes just went up, Health care cost have increased and electrical rates have also soared and that Lowell teachers according to the State are pretty well compensated.

I pointed that out in a post earlier this year,Student Population and Teacher Salary Average Information

In the 2012 – 2013 School Year according to State Records, The City of Lowell ranked 53rd out of 358 School Districts in the State when it comes to the average Salary for Teachers
Teachers Ave Salary

Lowell Ranks as the 6th Largest School District, Boston the Largest but here’s how the “average” Lowell Teacher’s salary compares to the other Large School Districts.

Worcester – $91,504
Brockton – $82,841
Cambridge -$80,725
Boston – $79,263
Lowell -$78,298
Lynn – $69,379
Fall River -$66,138
Springfield -$58,693

Here’s how Lowell Teacher’s salaries compares locally to surrounding community’s –
Nashoba – $81,052
Andover – $80,529
Greater Lowell Tech – $71,620
Westford -$70,361
Chelmsford -$69,345
Billerica -$67,940
Tyngsboro -$67,974
Dracut -$66,937
Lawrence -$66,627

To remind everyone what they just experienced in the last year regarding property tax increases, here is some Tax / cost Information for Lowell:

Average Single Family Tax Bill – 2015 $3,480 (+ $207.00)
Average Single Fam Tax Bill – 2014 $3,273

1-year change in residential rate (from 2014) 2.2%
Avg. residential tax bill change since 2014 6.3%

Single Family Average Value -2015 $224,817 (Increased value $8,638)
Avg Single Family Value – 2014 $216,179

I hope the Union would recognize that Lowell doesn’t have the money a North Andover or Wellesley has and realize we can see that while Lowell has approx. 14,075 students, Boston has 54,312 students the average salary for a Lowell and Boston Teacher is pretty close.

Boston – $79,263
Lowell -$78,298

these numbers are according to the State records (which the Union President will argue isn’t correct..because as we all know figures lie and …well you know the rest)

I know and am friendly with many teachers (at least before this post), I worked in the schools and am an involved parent. Teachers have a tough job there is no argument about that. They deserve a modest, fair raise but they also have to realize that many of the working families here in Lowell are struggling (much more than teachers struggle).

The “average family” here in Lowell is trying to pay for their mortgage (or rent), food, increases in Health Care, rising Electric rates and the cost of raising children with their taxes and fees increasing and their pay rate holding. Unlike teacher’s most of us in the private sector don’t get step raises or salary increases every three years or so. We can’t cash in unused sick days when we retire and we certainly don’t get more than 5 a year, we use or lose them. I work in the private sector in an industry where barely anyone is getting a raise except those who receive the minimum wage. Not a vast majority in Lowell come near the median income of a teacher who has been in the system for 5+ years.

I do not and have not supported this committee or administration, I’ve called out the current committee for their lack of good faith bargaining and stalling negotiations so I don’t want to hear about being Anti-Union or not understanding.

I’m saying that the Teacher’s Union needs to stop playing the “oh poor us” card and holding signs that say Do your job , because the rest of us aren’t buying it and are just getting ticked off. continue to Do your job and while you are at it, make the Union leaders be more reasonable and less confrontational. NO other UNION in Lowell is as confrontational, demanding and uses bully tactics the way the UTL do. The taxpayers know or should know that.

I also would hope we find some impartial candidates in addition to some of these current people returning. Hopefully candidates and those committee people who do return are interested in letting a qualified Superintendent and their administration run the school system without the constant butting in of school committee members who think they should be Superintendent or think they are Horace Mann!

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