Bidwell Advisors
March 7, 2019
To neighbors and friends, Ward 2 and elsewhere,

As we turn the corner into March it's a busy time in the neighborhood and in City government.

Please read on to learn more about these topics:

As always, please be in touch with your suggestions and questions.


Dennis Bidwell
The Neighborhood Celebrates Retiring Letter Carrier Bob Currieretire
I want to acknowledge a remarkable neighborhood event this past week in recognition of Post Office letter carrier Bob Currie's retirement after 42 years of service in Northampton. The last twenty years of that service were on a route consisting mostly of the streets on the Mill River side of Elm Street between Smith College and the High School. 

On Bob's last day, Feb. 28, he was greeted at home after home with signs expressing gratitude for his service and friendship through the years, thanks to the organizing of Jenny Fleming-Ives, Stan Schapiro and Joan Weiner. And on the night of March 1, the neighborhood banded together with Bob's family and friends for a surprise party for Bob at the World War II club, where he was presented with gifts from the neighborhood and where I had the honor of reading a proclamation from the mayor declaring the day as Bob Currie Day in Northampton.

An important part of that proclamation was this: "Whereas, the service of Robert Currie reminds us of the role of vital government services in the lives of our families and neighborhoods; and Whereas, we ought not take for granted that these vital services will forever be with us, but rather, we should celebrate them and support them."

It's the work of government employees like Bob Currie, and the spontaneous organizing of neighborhood tributes and celebrations like this one, that remind us of the many things that make our community so vibrant. 
Upcoming meetings and eventsmeetings
  • Public Hearing on proposed new water and sewer rates effective this July. March 7, 7 pm, City Council Chambers (proposed rates)
  • Public Forum on proposed "Community Impact Fee" on short-term rentals (e.g. Air BnB's). March 18, 7 pm, City Council Chambers (flyer)
  • (IN)Dependent: The Heroin Project, a moving and powerful new play about the heroin epidemic that affects us all, in partnership with Hampshire HOPE. March 22 and 23, 7:30 pm, Academy of Music. Tickets and information.
It's City Budget Seasoncity
Arguably there is no more important responsibility of the City Council than its role in reviewing and approving an annual budget for the City and the annually-updated five-year Capital Improvement Program. Budgets are the means by which a community expresses its priorities and its moral stances. Last year's budget was almost $112 million, including the budgets for Northampton Public Schools and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, and including four Enterprise Fund budgets (water, sewer, solid waste and stormwater/flood control.) The Capital Improvement Program submitted this year by the Mayor projects $87 million in capital expenditures over the next five years.

Financial Overview. On January 31 the Mayor presented his annual overview of the City's financial condition to a joint meeting of the City Council and the School Committee. I encourage a review of the very informative slides developed by the Mayor and Finance Director Susan Wright. 

The key takeaways for me are:
  • When City voters approved a General Fund override of $2.5 million in 2013, it was projected that the reserve funds created would sustain the City's budget through FY 2017. In fact, those funds will get us through FY19 and FY20, with shortfalls not projected until FY21.
  • The City's ability to stretch these stabilization funds is due to a variety of factors:
    • greater than expected additions to the tax base through new construction than was anticipated (a function of an improving economy and changes to zoning that encourage properly-located appropriate development),
    • greater revenues from building permits and motor vehicle excise taxes than projected,
    • smaller health insurance cost increases than anticipated (due to the decision to enroll in the Commonwealth's General Insurance Commission)
    • careful and prudent financial management by the Mayor and his team
  • Over this period of time the City has been able to build up its reserve funds (Stabilization Fund for emergencies, Capital Stabilization fund for capital needs, and Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund for operating shortfalls.)
  • The City will be benefiting from new revenue sources in the years ahead that are difficult at this time to quantify: revenues from Adult Use Marijuana, and from the Short-Term Rental Local Option Tax (the so-called Air BnB tax) finally authorized by the legislature.
  • The projected fiscal shortfall in FY 21 will eventually require the community's choice between another General Fund override vote or significant decreases in city and school services.

This review of the City's financial situation also provided a dramatic reminder that action must be taken by the Legislature and Governor to move beyond long-term austerity funding of municipalities. Support of the PROMISE Act (Senate Bill 238)  is is an especially good place to start. Among other things this legislation addresses the education funding formulas that have been in place since 1993.

Capital Improvement Program. At its February 21 meeting the City Council reviewed, and supported by way of a Resolution, the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for FY 2020-2024 submitted by the Mayor. 

Approval of the Program by the Council, as required by the City Charter, means the Council supports the general vision of the five-year plan, without approving any specific expenditures. Any capital outlays proposed in the CIP must come to the Council for explicit expenditure approval one at a time.

Of the $87 million of proposed capital expenditures in the next five years, particularly significant are:
  • A bump in funds for street resurfacing to $2.5 million in FY2020 (this has already been approved by the City council). Many municipalities don't commit any local funding to supplement the State funds provided for this purpose.
  • $22,000,000 in very substantial and badly needed improvements to the Waste Water Improvement Plant, spread over four years
  • $10,000,000 of spending on repairs and improvements to the City's dams and other parts of our fresh water reservoir system

Timeline for budget process going forward:
  • March 7, 7:00 pm, City Council Chambers: Public hearing on proposed new Water and Sewer Rates (Proposed water and sewer rates, effective July 1, 2019.)
  • April 16: Deadline for School Committee and Smith Vocational/Agricultural Trustees to submit their respective budgets to the Mayor
  • Late April: Mayor's Town Hall budget meetings
  • May 16: Mayor's Budget submitted to City Council, and available on-line and at libraries
  • June: City Council public hearings on the proposed budget
  • June 30, 2019: Deadline for Council approval of the FY 2020 budget
Charter Review Committeecharter
The Charter Review Committee, charged with reviewing the City's Charter (essentially, our "Constitution"), has begun its public meetings. Robbie Sullivan was appointed by the Mayor, and approved by the Council, as the Ward 2 representative on the Committee. The Committee's meetings, open to the public, are held on the first and third Tuesdays of every month at 6:30 in the City Hall Hearing Room No. 18.

Issues that have already been brought to the Committee for consideration include: Rank choice voting for Northampton elections? Lowering the voting age to 16 in municipal elections? Should the City Clerk be appointed, not elected? Adjustments to Citizen Initiative and Citizen Referendum procedures? Adjustments to the budget development process?
On-line teach-ins by Senator Jo Comerford and her staffjo
Senator Jo Comerford has been working with her staff to prepare a series of on-line teach-ins focused on how the Massachusetts legislature works, critical issues facing the Commonwealth, and key bills sponsored and co-sponsored by the Senator.

Details about participating in these excellent teach-ins here.

I joined in the March 4 session on public education issues and pending legislation, and it was extremely well done.
Dennis Bidwell City Council Ward 2
19 Forbes Avenue
Northampton, MA 01060