Bidwell Advisors
December 11, 2019
To neighbors and friends, Ward 2 and elsewhere,

As I wind down my time on City Council and prepare to turn over the reins to your new Ward 2 City Councilor, Karen Foster, I am often asked how I feel about this transition. I usually answer that I'm experiencing a combination of wistfulness and liberation. Some of the wistfulness is about the enormous range of issues we deal with on Council, debated with smart colleagues,  with dedicated and talented professional City staff, and with impassioned citizen input.  Meetings that run from 7:00 pm to 12:30 am (that was last week's Council meeting) is what I'll feel liberated from.
As always, please be in touch with your questions, comments and concerns.

Sincerely,

Dennis Bidwell
dennis@dennisbidwellcitycouncil.com
Gather with me January 2 at the Northampton Brewery!beer
Please join me January 2, 4:30 to 6:00 pm, at the Northampton Brewery, for an informal gathering to greet constituents and other friends as I step down as Ward 2 City Councilor. I hope to see you there!
The DPW's Snowplowingsnow
I'm told that in the recent snowstorm we experienced the longest continual snowfall event since some time in the mid-1990s. I think our DPW deserves a shoutout for their performance on the first storm of the year. They plowed the entire City seven times. I've heard nothing but compliments. Thank you DPW and your army of snowplowers!
A $2.5 million Override proposal will go to the voters March 3override
Last week the City Council, on first reading, approved an order to place a $2.5 million general Override measure on the ballot March 3, the day of the Massachusetts Democratic Presidential Primary (Super Tuesday.) This is hardly a surprise. Because Proposition 2 ½ permits municipalities to increase their property tax levies by only 2 ½ % per year (in addition to taxing new growth), and because many items in the City budget increase at greater annual rates than 2 ½% (health insurance, wages per negotiated union contracts, etc.), it is a structural and arithmetic inevitability that if a municipality wants to maintain a current level of services (let alone increase services) it will be necessary from time to time to ask the voters to approve a general override. Overrides are not exceptions to the rule; rather, they are the democratic mechanism for voter buy-in provided for in the original Proposition 2 ½ measure.

When the voters approved the last general override, in 2013, the Mayor's projections showed that another override would likely be necessary in four years, in 2017. But due to excellent financial management, a fairly strong economy and zoning that has steered new growth to the right places in the City, and marijuana revenues unanticipated six years ago, we've been able as a City to go two years longer than projected before facing up to the inevitability of the next override.

At its final meeting of the year, Dec. 19, the City Council will take a second vote on placing the override on the March 3 ballot. In January and February, the Mayor will work with Councilors to hold "town hall" meetings in every ward to make his case for the override and hear questions and suggestions from the public.

When I voted to place the Override on the ballot, it was with a recognition that increases in property taxes - a horribly regressive way to fund municipal services - will pose real hardships for many homeowners, for renters whose rents may increase accordingly, and for small businesses facing increasing costs across the board. The Mayor and City Council are addressing this, in small part, by extending low income senior property tax relief provisions to younger (age 65+) seniors and by lowering income and asset limitation requirements. But ultimately the solution to our fiscal situation lies in increased state aid for our schools and our highways, a state solution to the charter school funding provisions that constantly drain our City coffers, and greater state authority to raise revenues locally. In the months and years ahead we must all keep the pressure on the Legislature and Governor to increase state revenue sources.

In the meantime, and understanding the inequities built into our current revenue raising system, I will be supporting the Override on March 3. People wanting to join in the campaign to support the Override can go to Yes!Northampton.
Variety at City Council meetingsvariety
I will indeed miss the enormous variety of issues the Council regularly deals with. As an example, here are some of the issues we dealt with at our last two meetings:
  • Based on the work of a committee we established to look into the City's use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and how that use might be reduced, we approved an ordinance requiring elimination of such uses on parks, playgrounds and playing fields over the next three year, except in emergencies.
  • We gave preliminary approval for placing a $2.5 million general override measure on the March 3 ballot.
  • We voted to ask the State Legislature to relieve us of our obligation to hire a Weigher of Hay, a Weigher of Coal, and a Fence Viewer (you can't make this stuff up).
  • We approved the Northampton Safe City Ordinance, which prohibits City personnel from assisting with federal immigration enforcement, unless specifically required by state or federal law.
  • We approved (over my objections) the Mayor's revised administrative code, which will now require that a City department head chair advisory commissions (Energy and Sustainability Commission, Transportation and Parking Commission) composed of citizens and City Councilors as well as City staff.
  • We re-purposed about $5.5 million in funds unspent at the end of the last fiscal year, within the general budget and the City's utilities, with road resurfacing, shoring up stabilization funds, and water system investments getting the bulk of the reprogrammed funds.
  • We authorized four Councilors (I'm one of them) to vote on the Council's behalf to endorse a wide range of energy efficiency improvements to the International Building Code, which will likely become the standard for Massachusetts.
  • We approved the Arts Council's permit for fireworks on First Night.
  • We moved some money around for emergency bridge repairs, and a handicapped ramp at the Academy of Music.
  • We voted to set the same property tax rate in the next fiscal year for residential and commercial property.
  • We approved the purchase of additional Saw Mill Hills conservation land.
  • We accepted the donation of steel-toed boots for the Department of Public Works (with one dissenting vote).
  • We finalized the contract for an outside auditor.
  • We referred to committee a proposed ordinance to ban municipal use of facial recognition technology.
  • We voted to rezone 37 parcels from General Industrial to Office Industrial use.
  • We updated a parking meter ordinance to reflect the new technologies taking the place of coin-operated meters
  • We approved no parking signs on several streets throughout the City.
  • We approved the conversion of some ten-hour parking meters on Bridge Street to two-hour meters
  • We approved an order that will make it possible for restaurants serving beer and wine to also serve cordials and liqueurs.
All in a night's work...
Dennis Bidwell City Council Ward 2
19 Forbes Avenue
Northampton, MA 01060