Left In Lowell

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September 12, 2013

New Website…No Improvement (Update for WORSE!)

by at 9:47 am.

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 The site looks 10 years out of date, design-wise.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…)

September 5, 2013

A+ For Effort

by at 1:13 pm.

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 tmoses@lowellma.gov. Full texts of both reports are available on the city’s website, http://www.lowellma.gov

(more…)

May 12, 2013

Fiscal “Watch Dog” Left a Mess to Clean Up

by at 6:55 pm.

Gerry Nutter is sorta tough, today. On C.Elliott, who Gerry calls a ‘Sun Flower.” How did Gerry come up with that handle?

 photo 2cfb85ed-e805-47d0-9c72-ad4809c11a4a_zps092384c8.jpg

… 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.
(more…)

March 22, 2013

Gov. Patrick Pitches His Budget on LTC

by at 8:46 pm.

Here is a detailed breakdown of the Governor’s proposal by MassBudget.org.


(more…)

February 28, 2013

Lowell’s Sequester

by at 4:11 pm.

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!

February 22, 2013

Past the Breaking Point

by at 10:46 pm.

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.

January 15, 2013

Addressing the Core Transit Issue

by at 8:45 am.

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…)

December 4, 2012

Stash The Cash? Why, Yes!

by at 11:04 pm.

In a full, regular session CM Bernie Lynch made his case for what he views as the most fiscally prudent way forward, taking into account the $6.4Million the Commonwealth has certified as Free Cash. The CM presented a detailed slide presentation in an effort to convince a majority of the City Council to support his fiscal sensibilities. Your mileage may vary, but Lowell is doing swell on so many fronts. Shouldn’t we just follow along?

A lazy man may say “Yes.” But, we have a Plan E Charter and our Council cannot, in good faith, simply roll over should this manager, or any manager, wink. Fortunately, CM Lynch presents a very solid case for the fine shape we are in. That fact makes it that much tougher to recklessly bat at his logic.

Below we find two of Lynch’s favorite metrics: Cash Reserves & Excess Levy Capacity

Photobucket

These metrics are measures of frugality. We don’t blow our budget and we don’t, contrary to popular myth, tax Lowellelians to death. (The last point drives UTL President Paul Georges nuts.) The take away here is that it is good to build up a rainy day fund, while concurrently leaving money in folks pockets. Some may argue that raising taxes EVER is a torrential downpour. They are full of crap, imho. Next…
(more…)

October 20, 2012

Chinese Finance Officials Visit Lowell

by at 5:54 pm.

It’s great having a writer and former reporter of Jen Myers’ caliber working for the city. Her posts at Room 50 are always a joy to read, and her corresponding photography slideshows a big bonus. Check out her latest post on the visit to our city by finance professionals from the Chinese Ministry of Finance, here to see how we do things.

On Friday morning City Hall welcomed a delegation of 20 finance professionals from the Chinese Ministry of Finance, eager to learn the ins and outs of the City of Lowell’s budget process and successful financial management policies.

The group, which included 16 Supervision Commissioners from the Office of the Ministry of Finance, from cities ranging from Sichuan (population 87 million) to the “small” city of Dalian (6.1 million), began their morning with a tour of the City Council Chamber and brief introduction to the city’s Plan E government. They were quite astonished to learn Lowell was the first place in the world to utilize telephone numbers.

They then enjoyed a two-hour budget discussion with City Manager Bernie Lynch in the Mayor’s Reception Room.

There were some really amusing moments, apparently:

His Chinese visitors were surprised by the level of public input and participation in the budget process, but were much more stunned to hear the population of Lowell is only 106,000.

Some chuckled.

“You mean 106 million?” asked one of the delegates.

“No, 106,000,” answered Lynch.

“Oh, you are a very small town,” responded the Chinese visitor, astonished to learn Lowell is the fourth largest city in Massachusetts.

Go check out the full post. It’s great to have an inside eye on some of the really cool things that happen in our city government.

September 20, 2012

S&P: No, Trickle Down Doesn’t Increase Revenues

by at 7:41 am.

Poor Gov. Chris Christie. Coming off an awful Republican convention in which he was a keynote, Standard and Poor’s “lowered its credit outlook for New Jersey from stable to negative.” Why so? (Bold mine.)

While Standard & Poor’s did not change the state’s AA- rating — one of the worst among the states — it warned the more drastic step of a lower rating loomed if Christie’s nearly 8 percent growth in revenue failed to materialize.

[…]

“We revised the outlook to reflect our view of the risk of revenue assumptions we view as optimistic, continued reliance on one-time measures to offset revenue shortfalls, and longer-term growing expenditure pressures,” John Sugden, a credit analyst for Standard & Poor’s, said.

[…]

Christie has spent much of the year boasting of a “Jersey Comeback” — an assertion that has fizzled in recent months as state revenue has fallen short of expectations, unemployment has risen and foreclosures remain a drag on the real estate market.

What’s Christie’s risky revenue assumption? That cutting taxes will increase the state’s revenues! The Governor’s response to S&P? Double down!

Unswayed by the latest batch of economic news, Christie repeated his call for an income tax cut at an appearance in Bergen County and said it was a “joke” that Democrats had not yet delivered the cut.

I hate having to state the obvious, but…trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Cutting taxes does not increase revenues. It decreases revenues. If I get a pay cut at work, I don’t take in more money than I did before the cut.

Why is basic math so hard for conservatives to understand? Look, we can disagree, and do, about what government should be involved in and how much it should spend. But can we, please, just agree on basic freaking addition and subtraction? George H.W. Bush called Reagan’s supply-side plans “voodoo economics” over thirty years ago - he was right then, and he’s still right. Tax cuts have slashed revenues in states who have implemented them, and destroyed our national budgets. Conservatives complain about deficits but make them worse…the Bush tax cuts account for a very large percent of our deficit right now, along with his war bill, and the severe downturn he left behind him.

If I was a more cynical sort, I’d say that most trickle-down adherents actually know that what they peddle is a crock of snake oil, but they inflict the country with this policy anyway so that when the deficit inevitably balloons, they can slash the budget in places that will hurt the worst off in our country - that they really, underneath it all, mean “trickle-UP” - cutting taxes for the wealthy so their buddies can get even more gawd-awfully rich and the gap between them and the rest of us gets wider.

And a number of conservatives do know this, and do do this, aka the Norquist “drown it in a bathtub” admission. But I believe the real core of the Republican party, especially its voters, are merely obsessed with “supply-side economics” in a religious way, clinging to trickle-down dogma. You know, like when you see an interview with Tom Cruise, and the host tries to talk about the science of mental health, and Tom Cruise bounces up and down on the couch in denial that mental disease even exists, because his crazy ass religion tells him so. You can try to get him to stop bouncing and listen to the empirical evidence, but dogma prevents him from hearing you.

Well, that’s most trickle-down adherents for you. They keep bouncing, because if they stop and actually think logically, never mind view and digest the evidence against it, it would throw their entire worldview upside down, and that is a very uncomfortable place to be.

(Article via dkos.)

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