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In a diary, down blog, CM Lynch responds to considerations/perceptions of LiL commenters. I’ve pulled the Manager’s comment, out & up, to give it broader presentation. Of course, in a stand alone fashion, it is a bit out of context. So, if you’d like, please click HERE to get the full scope.
Suffice to say, the CM’s remarks are engaged in the topics currently floating in the Bubble, as the City election approaches, Nov. 5th. #GOTV
Staying out of all of the other back and forth that I shouldn’t be involved with….to Joe’s points which I think are legitimate. First the quick one, I’m not aware of anyone in the professional municipal management world that has moved into the world of finance (e.g. Wall Street) though I am aware of a couple that went to a rating agencies but that was more for their knowledge of municipal finance as they were Treasurers. Career Managers pretty much stay till retirement and/or go into consulting, teaching, interim work, or doing government relations. On the issue of how big should reserves be…the standard is between 5-10%, though some communities go beyond. I’d like Lowell to get a bit higher than our current level but certainly not at the expense of services that are required. A more pressing issue is our OPEB liability, retiree health insurance. We just put $8 million aside for this but we still have an unfunded liability of about $500 million. We really should be on a funding schedule for that or we’re simply passing the burden of payment onto future taxpayers. Unlike capital debt which should be paid overtime as future taxpayers use the facility retiree benefits are paid out now, or in the near future. Its the biggest ticking time bomb for most governmental entities.
I would have hoped that people would see that the administration is willing to spend money and take other steps to make for a better community….which career managers are also judged on. We’ve built reserves back to a good level and held the line on taxes but also invested in infrastructure (I think at this point over $170 million), increased spending on schools, increased spending on maintenance, expanded recreation programs to pre-2000 levels, leveraged resources for social service and cultural programs, become more supportive of community and organizational diversity, and I could go on about the administration’s achievements. Which, by the way, are the results of great work by department heads and employees. AND, we have invested in public safety, both fire and police. We’ve added resources to both. We never laid off uniformed personnel and in fact after the crunch of the recession started adding positions back into departments. We’re currently reviewing all of the information on this and hope to have a full report out within the next week which explains this. Some civilian grant funded positions have gone away but even there we are working to reinstate with other grants or city funds. These positions allow our police department to be more effective and keep patrol officers on the street. Finally, on the much debated use of OT, the philosophy we have used is to use added overtime resources to target officers into certain areas at specified times for maximum effectiveness. This notion of “smart policing” is being adopted in numerous communities that have recognized that a single officer only provides limited coverage during high activity times while that same level of funds buys coverage many times over meaning more officers on the street. That said, there is a place for added staff in a a carefully planned and managed manner to insure we get the best people not just more people. For instance, we have 11 new patrolmen coming on within the next month.
In the end, we need to recognize the perceptions of the community regarding safety but we shouldn’t fan it. We do need to look at the numbers to see how we’re doing and how we should be using our resources and developing our strategies. On the numbers we have made great progress in knocking back crime over the past several years. But, lower isn’t as good as none, which is what we need to strive for. Plus, we see trends that need our attention now rather than waiting for the problems to become less manageable…and, the police are working at that with their use of resources and strategies, and with their requests to me for added resources and supportive policies.
Thanks for letting me weigh in…..
Do you know where we are going, if we follow Councilor “Punk” Elliott’s path (keep taxes artificially low, blow through the reserves) to fiscal sanity?
Been there! Done that!
Gerry Nutter laid it out, by the numbers. (I’ll provide graphs, below the fold.)
Additionally, during those years that City Manager / Administration proposed and the City Council approved the use of about $17.87 million in one time money in Free Cash, nearly $6 million per year to sustain spending levels as opposed to making necessary cuts.All while being supported by the Editor at the SUN.
In October 2006 after removing that City Manager and with the appointment of a new CFO the City discovered that the budget that was now 1/3rd under way, was rife with miscalculations. Free cash to pay for services was estimated to be $3.5 million but in the end it was -$2.2 million, a difference of $5.7 million. Other local receipts were over estimated by about $2 million. The FY06 budget ran out of money for utility bills and they were moved into FY07 for payment making the already inadequate utility account doubly so
That is all fact, it supports and highlights the need for professional management along with a strong balanced council. Combined with the positive numbers I showed last week highlighting the upward direction the city is heading, why is this election being focused on stupid, petty garbage like OLD vs. New Lowell.
This week’s “The Column” opted to be cute by half with this treatment.
MONTHS AGO, outgoing Mayor Patrick Murphy held an event at The Old Court. Those who attended, including one veteran politician, observed that Murphy packed the room with young, exuberant 20-somethings whose apparent desire to get involved in politics signaled a “new Lowell,” an awakening of sorts.
I’ve heard the WCAP ‘infomercial’ try to lay the coining of this meme at the feet of Dick Howe, Jr. Of course, JMac only looks in the mirror, so he really won’t know where the phrasing comes from. Gerry Nutter puts it on an attention seeking local media, which includes us ‘big mouthed bloggers.’ I concur. The ‘new/old’ meme has been floating around for several years now. It spun off the chatter about ‘blow ins & grow ins,’ etc. It’s clear, from the way The Column above sidesteps it, that they didn’t do their homework. But, opted, rather, to parrot JMac’s empty headed contortion. JMac & Campi come up short. Funny, in my mind, was the word choice, ” veteran politician,” by Campi. Who hates Dick, Jr. only a little less than he hates Kendall Wallace, to the point Campi will only admit the existence of Dick’s Blog, if he absolutely has to.
Dick, btw, has given witness to Gerry Nutter’s framing of the corporate; desperate to survive, via, bargain basement fire sale journalistic ethics; local media:
In his Sunday Notes today, Gerry Nutter says that all the negativity about city government coming from the Sun and WCAP is designed to suppress voter turnout on November 5. I agree.
About those City Finance graphs:
I hate to say this, I really do, but I am
pretty underwhelmed utterly disgusted with the city’s new website. On several levels, unfortunately.
Let’s begin with the aesthetics. The site looks 10 years out of date, design-wise. I know that a municipal website doesn’t have to be all Web 3.0 with tons of bells and whistles and hipster giant fonts and illustrated icons, but at least keep up with the times visually. The Pollard Memorial Library comes to mind, their new site looks excellent. In addition, I’ve checked the new city website on my smartphone and it has zero elements of responsive design. Responsive web design is when your site changes its look and layout and interface, at least a little bit, to accommodate different screen sizes and devices. This can be achieved at a pretty primitive level with the use of relative widths rather than fixed (a percentage of the screen instead of specific pixels) and the way you lay out your columns in a page, etc. There are also far more advanced ways to effect responsive design (up to and including eliminating unnecessary content or simplifying the navigation). (more…)
Good news, everyone! Moody and S&P know there’s a lot to like about Lowell (city press release):
Standard & Poor Upgrades Lowell’s Bond Rating
Moody’s Assigns a Positive Outlook for the City
(Lowell, MA) – - September 5, 2013, – As a result of very favorable impressions about the City during their recent bus tour of various economic development sites in Lowell, two rating agencies upgraded their outlook for the Cities future. Standard & Poor’s upgraded Lowell’s long-term bond rating from A to A+. S & P cited a stable tax base poised for future growth and development, stronger reserves, operational flexibility through some unused levy capacity and low overall debt burden. They praised management for “continually working toward mitigating the effects of long-term pension and other postemployment benefit (OPEB) liabilities.” The ratings agency reclassified Lowell’s reserve levels from “adequate” to “good.”
While Moody’s Investors Services affirmed Lowell’s long-term bond rating of A1, it assigned a new “positive” outlook to the City. “The A1 rating reflects the city’s sizeable and diverse tax base and manageable debt burden. The positive outlook reflects the city’s improved financial position, including an increase in excess levy capacity to $12 million, and reductions in the city’s long term OPEB liability.” Moody’s cited as strengths the presence of higher education and regional health care institutions, development in the Hamilton Canal District, conservative budgeting, and financial forecasts and policies.
Lowell City Manager Bernard F. Lynch call the ratings reports “Votes of confidence that reflect a drastic improvement from 2007 when Moody’s rated Lowell’s bonds A3 with a “negative” outlook and from 1997 when the bonds were rated Baa2. Our financial flexibility is greater than it has been since 2003.”
Challenges remain for the City, primarily to continue to build reserves and control long-term liabilities.
If you have further questions, please contact CFO, Tom Moses at email@example.com. Full texts of both reports are available on the city’s website, http://www.lowellma.gov
Gerry Nutter is sorta tough, today. On C.Elliott, who Gerry calls a ‘Sun Flower.” How did Gerry come up with that handle?
… any current Councilor or challenger who hears City Councilor Elliot state he is the only one who hasn’t voted to raise taxes should point out to voters at every opportunity he is the ONLY Councilor to vote against repairing the schools that our children attend and voted against spending money to repair the streets having voted against the Capital Improvement plan presented this past week.
Unlike Councilor Elliot, I attended the joint City Council / School Committee tour of the schools last year and was appalled to find broken and unusable restrooms, broken water bubblers, doors and windows so drafty that students had to wear coats in class and holes and rust in shower stalls.
Some of these schools haven’t been painted in 30 years since I was a student. Look at how many of our streets have potholes and broken sidewalks and ask Councilor Elliot why our kids and neighbors don’t deserve to have the same attention paid to these buildings the way he’s paid so much attention to the Lowell Housing Authority buildings in the past term. He has no jurisdiction or control over those and yet he votes against fixing the buildings our kids attend, buildings he can have an effect on.
The taxpayers deserve clean safe and maintained schools just as he has stated he believes the residents of public housing have a right to those same conditions where they live.
So why has he voted against spending to fix up our schools for our kids?
Someone should also ask him if he supports the outrages past practices that allowed uncapped buyback of unused sick and vacation time for city employees and teachers. This Administration working with the Unions have made huge compromises to CAP this benefit and yet Elliot has constantly voted against these contracts.
Challengers and fellow Councilors cannot allow him to paint himself as a defender of the taxpayer when he has a voting record that shows he is against maintaining / repairing the school buildings our kids attend, paving our streets and capping buybacks which benefits all the citizens of Lowell.
C.Elliott fancies himself as a ‘fiscal watchdog.’ So much so, that he grandstands at every opportunity to crusade against any sort of raise in tax or fee. So, he is not so much a fiscal watch dog, as he is a “Grover Norquist wannabe.” Being fiscally prudent is not to hold a hard line on taxes or fees. It is taking fiscal health into account, in a more ‘holistic’ sense. Unfortunately, it is hard to pander to the fiscally obtuse using complex concepts. “NO!” is two letters and one syllable. Makes for neat bumper stickers.
Think the sequester doesn’t affect us? Think again.
Even the Lowell Sun knows better.
If automatic federal funding cuts go into effect Friday, Lowell National Historical Park officials expect they will have to cut about $415,000 from its budget, eliminating travel for employees and park funding for programs like the Lowell Folk Festival and the Tsongas Industrial History Center.
The National Park Service has asked individual parks to prepare to cut 5 percent from their budgets, but exactly what will happen when the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, go into effect still isn’t clear, said Celeste Bernardo, the Lowell park superintendent.
“The uncertainty is really difficult,” she said.
And I have news for the Republicans among us: The projected deficit has been cut pretty dramatically and it’s gone down already, without these draconian, stupid, self-inflicted and painful slashes to our important programs and services. And it is a LACK OF GROWTH that is killing our revenues and fueling huge deficits. The last thing you should be doing in a still-recovering economy is laying off teachers and fire fighters and reducing spending on projects like roads and bridges. All of those jobs are full of people who, when employed, SPEND MONEY and create economic activity. Guess what they do when they get laid off? They stop spending!
It’s that time again. I decided the big “Muttering Microphone Controversy of 2013″ was a great opportunity to highlight the utter inanity that is the Rodney Elliot Show on most Tuesday nights. By the time you watch the whole thing, you’ll be wishing the City Manager YELLED instead of muttered, you’re that frustrated.
This time, I got a little fancy in parts. I’m getting my editing legs under me. Soon I will be platform agnostic (Adobe Premiere and Final Cut).
Also, yeah, in parts I was brutal. You would be too if you had to play and rewind, play and rewind the bullshit over and over again.
Without much further ado, I present…Episode II.
PS - Episode I is here.
I was watching local news this morning and they had a segment on Governor Patrick’s and MassDOT’s new transportation plan (pdf). I think I owe the Governor a small apology as the things listed prominently as revenue sources for addressing the structural deficits, crumbing infrastructure, and needed transportation investments included MBTA fee hikes. I was all set to write a huffy blog post about that, and I will get to that in a minute, but it appears that the mention of MBTA fee increases is modest, if anything, in the actual report, so now I’m a little miffed at Channel 7 instead.
Since that early report, I have heard the Governor on WBUR on my way into work (audio not up yet) and read some online articles like on Boston.com and skimmed the revenue section of the report itself (as linked above). I have to say, the plan/report takes the situation pretty head on and has a very wide net in its revenue suggestions. And the report is not Boston-centric; although of course most of the public transit is in the Boston area, there is a call for a Boston-Springfield line (long overdue) and other projects. (more…)
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