Monday, August 15, 2011

Recap of City Council Meeting of August 8, 2011

This is a quick recap of the Newburyport City Council meeting August 8, 2011. All Councillors were present. The meeting was chaired by City Council President Thomas O’Brien.


There were a number of items in the consent agenda that were approved or referred to committee. The consent agenda is the mechanism the City Council uses to deal with matters that do not require separate discussion of each item. Collectively these items can be enacted in one motion and then dispensed of. Included in the consent agenda typically are the approval of minutes. In this night’s agenda, we approved a transfer of $27,500 from the Health Department Reserve for Appropriation account for solid waste. This is the money that the city collects each year from sticker fees and the recycling rebate. The funds can be used for different items related to recycling and composting. $20,000 was transferred for the expenses to run the compost transfer site and for removal of leaves and brush. This transfer is the normal new fiscal year transfer which anticipates expenses over the next 6 to 12 months. And another $7500 was transferred to pay for the expenses to run the recycling center on Crow Lane, including removal of hazardous waste, electronics, and other materials.

There was also a first vote on an appointment of Edward Ramsdell to the Local Historic District Study Committee. Ed is currently doing a great job as the chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals.


In the regular agenda the City Council approved 11 to 0 an order to create a downtown marker for former Mayor Byron Matthews. The marker would be placed on a portion of the paved brick space between the Green Street parking lot and Inn street, with an inscription recognizing the leadership of former Mayor who was mayor from 1968 to 1977 and was instrumental in the city’s rebirth.

After much discussion the City Council approved by an 11-0 vote a transfer of funds for major repairs and replacement of IT and phone equipment. The transfer request was a late file addition to the regular agenda. The Mayor requested a transfer of $417,832 from the City’s Capital Improvement Stabilization Fund to IT computer expense. The Mayor had originally proposed a much larger amount of funding in March of 2011 in which the city would spend $717,000 for a complete IT and phone overhaul which would include additional software known as SharePoint.

In April and May the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee which includes myself as chair and Councillors Cronin and Herzog reviewed the proposal during several meetings which included the City’s IT director and interested citizens. We had concerns about what the city was proposing to purchase which we relayed to the mayor. Subsequently the Mayor revised the proposal by taking out the SharePoint component but at the same time adding the purchase of two new (and needed)vehicles for the Department of Public Services. The Mayor proposed a bond authorization in the amount of $608,000. Because these are capital items, the mayor felt that this was the most appropriate funding mechanism and the cost could be spread over the useful life of these assets.

When members of the Council expressed concerns about the funding mechanism and taking on new debt, the Mayor further revised the proposal and pulled out the vehicles and found a way to pay for the IT replacement and phone replacement without taking on additional debt. The $417,832 will be transferred from the Capital Improvement Stabilization Fund in the short term; as soon as free cash and retained earnings in the water, sewer, and harbor enterprise accounts are certified, the Capital Improvement Stabilization Fund will be reimbursed from those accounts.

Since the current state of the City’s computer and phone systems is atrocious, these improvements were long overdue. This has been talked about in the years I've been on the Council since 2008. City Hall's level of customer service will be improved by this upgrade.

The Council approved by an 11 to 0 vote a second reading on an ordinance by which commercial and residential disposable trash in the downtown district must be placed in closed containers. Currently such disposable refuse in the downtown district is often placed in bags and ends up ripped and all over the place. The city's Recycling Coordinator Molly Ettenborough has worked very closely with the chamber of commerce and downtown businesses so that businesses will be able to make this modification. The end result will be a cleaner downtown.

The council approved by a 7-4 vote a second reading of an ordinance to modify fines related to dogs being off leash. These adjustments make the first offense for having a dog off leash anywhere in the city consistent with what the City Council enacted in the pilot dog off leash areas. That first offense shall be now punishable by a $50 fine. The ordinance was sponsored by Councillor Herzog. Those voting in favor were Cameron, Cronin, Earls, Heartquist, Herzog, Hutcheson, and Ives. Those opposed were Connell, Derrrivan, Jones, and O'Brien.

The Council also it proved a second reading of an ordinance related to including parts of Green Street, Washington Street and Pleasant Street as areas for resident parking which will ease residents’ concerns about parking during the hours of the city's parking program. The ordinance was approved by an 11-0 vote and was sponsored by Councillor Cronin.

Overall, I think it was a productive meeting. The improvements to the IT and phone system are necessary. And the simple change to the downtown trash problem will make for a better city.

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