Left In Lowell

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October 27, 2008

Conversations with Bernie - A Podcast

by at 11:23 am.

[Bumped in case people missed it!]

I am hoping to generate more original content for this blog, and one of the easiest ways, if I’m not too concerned about perfect production values, is to take my little digital recorder around and interview people.

One series I would like to conduct I’m calling “Conversations with Bernie” where I take 15-20 minutes to walk over to the office of the City Manager and conduct an informal interview.

My interview style is still a little jarring if you ask me (one benefit of having to listen and edit is having to listen to yourself, unfortunately) and the recorder picks up everything, but here it is. Today, Bernie and I talked about the economic and budgetary outlook for the city, as well as the fuss over the sewage treatment plant. Click below to play the interview, which is just under 18 minutes.

icon for podpress  Conversations with Bernie - 10/24/2008 [17:43m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

5 Responses to “Conversations with Bernie - A Podcast”

  1. waittilnextyr Says:

    Well, you did a great job with this first interview - you put out the questions and then let him expound on the subjects.

    On the subject of the health care trust fund, and the need to recover that to be sufficient given the escalating cost of healthcare, I understand his approach to raise the current rates into the account, but I would have a concern that a 10-12% rate of increase is unsustainable, both for the City as well as the employees who pay their share of the bill. Is there hope that State and Federal approaches to healthcare could limit this cost escalation?

    On the subject of the risk to State aid for FY2009, and the likely reduced amount for FY 2010, what actions are the City taking now to build reserves to smooth out the effects of potential cutbacks? Does the City Council get quarterly financial reports to compare with the budget plan?

    On the subject of the Hamilton Canal, it was good to hear that the City and Trinity were to sign of on the plan today. But, will the reductions in spending by the State affect the progress with fewer or smaller grants? The manager seemed to say the Trinity’s financing was solid, so can we be sure that the design planning will start immediately and construction will begin in the Spring as planned?

    And to the degree that funding is required for infrastructure development for the Hamilton Canal, is there a possibility that Federal Stimulus round 2 will be an opportunity to finance the work in the short term?

  2. Paige Says:

    Good job Lynne. There is no way L’Energia should be allowed to hook up to the sewer lines and tax an already broken system. Did you hear Bernie say that stuff did go into the Merrimack River? How does Methuen feel about that? Not enough to trigger fines, but were they notified? Lowell is already under EPA watch for its discharge. Did you have to submit your questions in advance?

  3. Lynne Says:

    Questions in advance with Bernie? No, not at all. Though I do want to give him the opportunity to talk about issues he feels people should know about in future podcasts (ie the stuff that doesn’t get into the Sun), I always reserve the right to ask questions I feel salient.

  4. Bernie Lynch Says:

    Wait,

    Great questions. On Health Trust Fund. The idea of 10-12% is tough and hopefully will not need to be sustained for a long period. It is what we’ve essentially been doing the past couple of years and generally in line (maybe a bit higher) than other communities. Our problem is basically a number of years in the making. For about three years, 05-07, the Trust Fund was underfunded likely to put off the budgetary impact and to keep rates low for employees. During this time rates should have gone up by 8-9% but instead grew by only about 2%. Ultimately, there is a day of reckoning. There is a risk of the fund running out of money….a problem that has caused major issues in other communities. Because of this the state now enforces certain funding levels. Certainly, some state or federal changes could effect future costs.

    On Finances, we have been issuing quarterly reports to the council for the mast couple of years. We just provided a report on the first quarter that is fairly positive. Costs are running essentially as projected and revenues are doing okay primarilty because of conservative budget estimates. We did anticipate some of the economic problem…but certainly not to the extent that we’ve seen over the past six weeks. If we’d have seen that coming we probably would be doing something different career-wise. I am hopeful that we will make it through this year but the bigger problems are in FY10 and FY11. We are well into preparing for various scenarios and have put certain steps into place to control costs in the hopes of making futue cuts easier and building some budget surplus to help cushion the pain. Obviously, we’d be better off if reserves were already in place. I would add that we always seek cost savings through careful spending and evaluating filling positions. We are now at a point of not only seeking savings but evaluating service needs at this time given conditions.

    On the Hamilton Canal project we remain confident that the project will commence in the spring. To date the developer has been successful in interesting investors. They seem to be impressed with the project, the experience of the devloper and the stability/potential of Lowell. Of course things could change but so far things are moving forward. State support is in the works and we are optimistic that the current operational budget issues will not be a mojor impediment as the needed funding is through borrowings, and thee seems to be support for projects that grow the economy.

    We are watching the federal stimulus package to see what develops. Certainly the HCD project is one possibility but we also have some other infrastructure projects that are needed. We’l likely have to see what the parameters of such a program look like.

    Hope I’ve addressed all the questions raised.

  5. waittilnextyr Says:

    Yes, thanks for the extensive answers. Good luck with all these issues.

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