Bidwell Advisors
May 23, 2018

To neighbors and friends, Ward 2 and elsewhere,

I hope you're all enjoying as much as I am the arrival, at last, of real spring.

Please read on to learn more about these topics:
Please be in touch with your suggestions, concerns and questions.

Sincerely,

Dennis Bidwell
There will be no cap on the number of retail marijuana establishments in Northamptoncap
I was pleased to join with Councilor Jim Nash to sponsor an ordinance that would place a cap of 10 on the number of retail marijuana establishments in Northampton. (Such establishments, if licensed by the state, may begin opening as of July 1, 2018.) At the May 17 meeting of the Council, and at a meeting of the Council's Legislative Matters Committee earlier in the week, many members of the public, and representatives of the Northampton Prevention Coalition, the SPIFFY Coalition (Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth), and the Northampton Board of Health, all expressed their support for the proposed ordinance and shared their desire that the City proceed cautiously with retail marijuana, given public health and public safety concerns and unknowns. (To be fair, most of those testifying would have preferred a smaller cap - 3 or 4 stores - but supported a cap of 10 believing it would have a better chance of securing Council approval.) The City's Public Health Director, Merridith O'Leary, and the City's Policy Chief, Jody Kasper, also went on record as supporting the cap ordinance.

A strong argument for the proposed ordinance was the fact that a cap could always be raised, or done away with entirely, at any time in the future. However, if a cap is not put in place initially, it could not be instated retroactively after stores have already opened.

Nonetheless, the ordinance was defeated 5-4 by the City Council. Joining Councilor Nash and I in supporting the ordinance, on first reading, were Councilors Sciarra and Murphy.

In my April 13 newsletter I outlined the pros and cons of a cap and asked for responses. Of the folks who replied, about 60% supported a cap of 10, about 20% wanted a cap of less than 10, and about 20% thought there should be no cap at all.

Based on reports from realtors, it appears that at least five establishments are proceeding through the application process and will likely secure downtown Northampton locations. Several others are reportedly in a "wait and see" mode, wanting to see how the market responds to an initial wave of stores before deciding if they'll proceed as well. It seems to me that we could have 5 to 7 downtown stores, or more, opening this year, perhaps with more to follow next year. (This is in addition to growing facilities.) If Northampton becomes known as a tourist destination for  marijuana, this number could certainly increase in the years ahead.

I hope that in the future we aren't regretting that we missed our chance to  proceed more deliberatively and cautiously with the introduction of retail marijuana establishments into the fabric of our downtown.
The Mayor's proposed FY2019 budgetbudget
On May 17 the Mayor presented to the City Council his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019. The $112 million budget includes the General Fund budget of about $96,000,000 plus the budgets for the City's four Enterprise Funds (Water, Sewer, Solid Waste, Stormwater and Flood Control) totaling about $16 million. The total proposed budget represents a 2.3% increase over the current fiscal year budget.

When Northampton voters approved a $2.5 million general override in 2013, the projections showed that the City's finances could remain in balance until 2017. Fortunately, good fiscal management and strong economic growth have made it possible to extend the window of fiscal balance further, through at least FY 2020. But, we have reached the start of the turning point. This is the first year that the proposed budget draws down on the Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund established in the wake of the 2013 override vote. Further drawdowns are anticipated in the next several years, until the structural imbalance between modest (generally inflation-driven) annual expense increases and the relatively fixed nature of local and state revenue sources will pose the need for another community decision about our budget needs. (Let's hope local marijuana revenues will buy us more time.)

The City Council will hold two public hearings on the Mayor's proposed budget: Wednesday, June 6, at 5:30 pm, at the JFK Middle School Community Room, and the following night, Thursday, June 7, at 7 pm, as part of the Council's regular Council Meeting.

You may view the Mayor's proposed budget, with narrative, here

Printed copies are available at Forbes Library, Lilly Library and the City Clerk's Office.
My Role in the Mayor's Work Group on Panhandlingrole
Since the Mayor's Work Group on Panhandling was established in the spring of 2017, at the urging of the City Council's Committee on Community Resources (where I serve as Vice Chair), I have been pleased to join the Mayor and representatives of ServiceNet, Tapestry Health, Friends of Hampshire County Homeless Individuals, Hampshire HOPE Coalition, Eliot Community Homeless Services, the Police Department, Downtown Northampton Association, and Northampton Chamber of Commerce in learning about the complicated dynamic of our downtown communities, and learning about ways other communities have addressed panhandling and the needs of people on their streets and sidewalks. Staffing has been provided by the City's Housing and Community Development Planner. The members of this group are intimately familiar with the needs and challenges of the people whose lives intersect to form the dynamic fabric of our downtown.

We've learned a great deal about the folks who spend time on our downtown sidewalks through in-depth interviews of 18 such individuals, conducted by social workers and others who have gotten to know our sidewalk populations over the years. We've learned about general community sentiments about downtown Northampton, its strengths and challenges, and gotten feedback on potential programs, through an online survey responded to by over 5000 respondents.

Recommendations from the Mayor, based on the interviews, surveys, research and deliberations of this work group, will be forthcoming in the months ahead.

Two of my colleagues on the City Council have been critics of the Mayor's Work Group and its activities from the start. Their frustration and criticisms boiled over when they released a public statement, prominently reported on by the Gazette, critical of the Work Group and critical of my role in carrying their views to the Work Group.

As I was out of town when all of this broke, and unable to comment, I decided that I needed to set the record straight. I did so in a Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Nov. 17, 2018 Gazette:

To The Editor:
Regarding the Gazette's May 10 article: "Two Northampton City Councilors Object to Panhandling Work Group." I was out of town and unavailable for comment when reporter Bera Dunau was preparing this article. Because the article was based on a statement issued by Councilors Alisa Klein and Maureen Carney that contains inaccurate information about my role as a member of the City Council's Committee on Community Resources (CCR) and as a member of the referenced Mayor's Work Group, I would like to set the record straight.

The statement by Carney and Klein, as reported by the Gazette, asserts that I objected to having "panhandlers" as members of the work group, and they question whether I carried to the work group the CCR's recommendation that the work group include "panhandler" representation. This is simply not the case. In fact, I supported the Committee's recommendation for "panhandler" inclusion in the work group, and I carried that recommendation to the Mayor and his work group. I then reported back to the CCR on the work group's extensive discussion of this recommendation. The minutes of the June 19, 2017 meeting of the CCR read: "[Bidwell] stated that there was another conversation [at the work group] about bringing a panhandler into the group; there was a consensus that this would not be the best way to get input about the panhandling population. Rather, a sub-group is working on a survey instrument that will be used to gather input from the various members of the downtown on-the-streets community."

I understand that Councilors Carney and Klein, then and now, disapprove of a work group that in any way regards "panhandling" as an issue worthy of understanding and investigation, and I understand their frustration that their views on various matters did not prevail in our Council committee. What I don't understand is why, 16 months after the Committee issued its report (with the support of Councilors Carney and Klein), they would resurrect their old objections, this time using inaccurate information to do so.

I am proud to have been working diligently with the Mayor and work group members (representatives of social service, housing and mental health organizations, clergy, the police department and other city departments, downtown business representatives) to better understand the complicated dynamics of our downtown communities and to, exactly as was recommended by the CCR, "explore non-ordinance and non-punitive ways of addressing the needs of downtown at-risk populations and ways that expanded resources can be directed towards the agencies and organizations doing direct work with our at-risk populations." Going forward I would hope for more accuracy and more open-mindedness regarding the important work of this group and the carefully-considered recommendations the Mayor will announce in the weeks and months to come.

Dennis Bidwell, Ward 2 City Councilor
Button Up Northampton 2.0button
I want to be sure you are aware of a program that provides easier access to free or heavily rebated energy efficiency improvements to homes. Three local non-profits - Climate Action NOW (CAN), Mothers Out Front (MOF), and ener-G-save - are working with the City of Northampton to offer people in Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4 free energy audits to assess the need for weatherization measures that could reduce home heating bills while cutting air pollution and fighting climate change.

The new campaign is called Button Up Northampton 2.0. (Some of you may remember an original energy efficiency program in the 1980's entitled Button Up Northampton.) Sometime in the next few months volunteers from CAN and MOF will come to your home and ask you to answer a simple survey about your energy efficiency desires, and then ener-G-save will call you and help facilitate a free energy audit if you are eligible and desire it, and/or help you proceed with any improvements you want: insulation, weather stripping, upgrade of boilers or appliances, conversion to efficient electric air source heat pumps (mini-splits), roof-top or community shared solar, and door and window upgrades. Ener-G-save can help you traverse the sometimes-confusing options and rebate offers that make up our state's energy efficiency programs. You will be warmer while saving energy and cutting your carbon footprint.

I ask you to welcome these volunteers who knock on your door and with them explore your home conservation options.

I also encourage you to join them in this massive undertaking to support our city as it moves toward our goal of 100% renewable energy, improved air quality, and low energy bills.

Button Up Northampton 2.0 is looking for volunteers to join them in Ward 2 to contact all our neighbors. For more information, and to sign up, please follow this link.

Also, if you wish to proceed online to the survey which will trigger an energy audit and improvements if you are eligible, click here.
Dennis Bidwell City Council Ward 2
  413-584-2732 | dbidwell@northamptonma.gov
19 Forbes Avenue
Northampton, MA 01060