Bidwell Advisors
May 30, 2019
To neighbors and friends, Ward 2 and elsewhere,

Much is happening on many fronts in City government, and I encourage you to tune in and get involved where you can.

Please read on for information on these topics:

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


Dennis Bidwell
Teacher salaries and the City budgetbudget
As you probably know, the Northampton School Committee and the Northampton Association of School Employees (NASE) were unable to reach an agreement in their collective bargaining negotiations, so they have jointly filed a request for mediation to help work out remaining differences. Hopefully that mediation process will begin in the days ahead, and will lead to an agreement in the very near future.

In the meantime the School Committee, along with the Mayor and members of the City Council, have been quite limited in what we have said publicly. This has meant that for the most part only one party in this process - NASE -- has been putting forward information in hopes of shaping public opinion.

Last week the School Committee did make public their latest offer, which represented an effort to bring wages of our school employees - teachers, ESPs (educational support professionals), custodians, food service workers, clerical staff - above the Hampshire County average. The dollars needed to fund this offer from the School Committee represent a 4.5% increase in City funding of the schools over the current year. The School Committee offer includes salary increases over three years ranging from about 15% to 20%. The complete School Committee statement, with information on their proposed salary increases, is here.

All of this is happening in the midst of the City's budget process. On May 16 the Mayor presented to the City Council his proposed FY 2020 budget, which includes funding for the latest School Committee offer to NASE.

I recommend a review of the Mayor's budget message, which provides context and overview of the $116.8 million proposed budget -- $100.4 Million General Fund, and $16.4 Million for our four Enterprise Funds (Water, Sewer, Solid Waste, and Stormwater and Flood Control).

The complete budget document is available here, and hard copies are available for review at the Forbes and Lilly libraries and at the Clerk's Office in City Hall.
Budget Hearings June 5 and 6hearings
Th City Council will hold two public hearings devoted to the proposed FY2020 budget. Both will be held in City Council chambers. The first will be Wednesday, June 5, at 7:00 pm. That meeting will include presentations by:
  • Northampton Public Schools Superintendent John Provost
  • Department of Public Works Director Donna LaScaleia
  • Police Department Chief Jody Kasper
  • Fire and Rescue Chief Duane Nichols
  • Central Services Director David Pomerantz
A second hearing will be at the regular City Council meeting the following night, Thursday June 6, also at 7:00 pm.

These hearings are the primary opportunity for residents to weigh in on how the City spends its money.
The call for a general override vote on the November ballotvote
As part of unveiling his proposed FY2020 budget the Mayor called for a Proposition 2 ½ general override question to be placed on the November 5 ballot, when elections of municipal officials will take place. In September the Council will consider the Mayor's request that this override be placed on the ballot.

Although we don't know the magnitude of the override the Mayor will propose, as a general rule I accept, unfortunately, the need for such an override. The way the limitations of Proposition 2 ½ are set up, combined with the ongoing paucity of State funding for cities and towns, means it is a structural and arithmetic inevitability that municipalities - if they choose to continue providing services consistent with past levels of service - will face the need for a general override. When Northampton's voters approved a $2.5 million general override in 2013, it was with the projection that those added funds would likely be sufficient to get the City through to a budget for FY2018 before facing a decision - choosing between cuts in services or another override. Fortunately, due to good fiscal management and a relatively strong economy contributing to additions to the tax base through new (and carefully located) development, we have been able to postpone this fundamental question for two years. But the time has come where we are facing the inevitable question again - do the voters and taxpayers of Northampton wish to see cuts in services, or do we choose to impose additional taxes on ourselves?

As more is known about the Mayor's override proposal in the months to come, I will have more to say about this.

In the meantime, please share with me your thoughts on this matter.
Measles vaccines - We need to increase our community's immunization rate!measles
The country is facing its worst outbreak of measles - cases have been reported in 26 states, including Massachusetts - since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. A community's protection against a measles outbreak is based on the community's immunization rate - the percentage of the community's population that is immune either through natural immunity (having had the disease before) or through vaccination. The level of immunization that constitutes this "herd immunity" for measles is about 95%. It is worrisome that some communities in Hampshire and Franklin counties, including some school communities, have immunization rates well below that number.

One reason for low immunization rates in some communities is the number of families that assert their "religious exemption" under state law to vaccinations. Massachusetts doesn't allow a "philosophical exemption," so the religious exemption is sometimes used rather liberally and loosely.

Recently Maine became the fourth state in the country to eliminate a religious exemption from vaccination in its state public health laws. (Maine also doesn't allow philosophical objections, meaning their only allowable exemption is a medical exemption.)

I will be introducing a City Council resolution calling upon the Massachusetts legislature to consider tightening up, or eliminating, the religious exemption from vaccinations in Massachusetts. The resolution will also commend the proactive work of our local Board of Health, and call on them to use all of their authority to improve vaccination rates in our community.

I am fully supportive of religious freedoms and the protected right to express and practice one's religious beliefs. However, I believe we need to draw a line at the point where that expression of religious belief poses dangers to the larger community.
Bears in the neighborhoodbears
It's bear season in the neighborhood! Several folks have asked me to provide reminders about precautions that should be taken.

Here is guidance from the Northampton Police Department:

Make trash cans inaccessible. Bring them inside at night or buy a bear-resistant trash can or an enclosure for the container.

Enclose your compost pile. Open compost piles, especially those that include kitchen scraps, are an irresistible treat in bear country. Burying compost won't work because bears will easily find and dig it up.

Recycle wisely. If you store recyclables outside, use enclosed bins. (Persistent bears will break into even ruggedly built bins.)

Keep your barbecue grill clean and as free of drippings as possible. Move the grill away from your house when you aren't using it, and clean it regularly with ammonia or bleach.

Rethink your bird feeders. In the summer, birds can make do with naturally available foods. If you do set up feeders, install them away from your house.

Additional information is available from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife here.
Northampton Democratic City Committee - June 1 Annual Meeting and Caucuscaucus
The Northampton Democratic City Committee will hold its annual meeting and caucus is on Saturday, June 1, 2019 in the Community Room of JFK Middle School. The Annual Meeting will run from 10-11:40 am. The Caucus, also to be held in the Community Room, will begin at 11:45 am.

The caucus will elect delegates and alternates from each Ward to the 2019 Massachusetts Democratic State Convention, which will be held on Saturday, September 14, 2019 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The caucus is open to all. Any Northampton resident who is a pre-registered or a registered Democrat at the time of the Caucus is eligible to vote for and/or run as a delegate. There will be voter registration forms available at the meeting. Pre-registered Democrats who will be 16 years old by May 11, 2019 will be allowed to participate and run as for delegate or alternate delegate. Youth, minorities, and people with disabilities who are not elected as delegates or alternates may apply to be "add-on" delegates.
Dennis Bidwell City Council Ward 2
19 Forbes Avenue
Northampton, MA 01060