Bidwell Advisors
October 23, 2017
To neighbors and friends, Ward 2 and elsewhere,

Before any more time passes in this busy fall, I wanted to provide an update on several matters of importance in our City. Please read on to learn more about these topics:

I always enjoy hearing your opinions, questions, recommendations and requests for assistance.

Sincerely,

Dennis Bidwell
Ward 2 Open House tomorrow, October 24, 5 to 7openhouse
I will be hosting an informal Open House tomorrow, Tuesday, October 24, from 5 to 7 pm, at the old Clarke School Campus. Specifically, the open house will be in the Coolidge Building (on the west side of Round Hill Road), at the office of Family Legacy Partners. Parking is available in the new parking lot accessible from Round Hill Road.

I'll look forward to talking with you about issues that have come up in the City and the neighborhood over the last two years, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
The Stormwater and Flood Control Utility and Feestormwater
The appearance around town of a few "Repeal the Rain Tax" signs has prompted some questions about the City's Stormwater and Flood Control Utility and fee.

We need only look to Houston and San Juan to remind ourselves of the necessity of maintaining and upgrading these vital and often aging systems.

An excellent source of information about the Utility and Fee can be found on the City's Department of Public Works website.That website also has a great deal of information about the process by which the utility was created, and the analysis that went into the fee structure designed to assure fairness and equity.

Other principles and background that guided the creation of the utility include:
  • Everyone in the City contributes to stormwater runoff, and everyone has an interest in maintaining the City's infrastructure.
  • Every resident and business benefits from a strong infrastructure and compliance with federal regulations, therefore everyone should contribute to the costs of the utility.
  • Massachusetts state law specifically allows municipalities to create a stormwater utility for the same reasons it allows the creation of municipal utilities for water and sewer systems.
  • A utility with a fee structure is the only way to provide the predictable revenue stream necessary to maintain the City's stormwater and flood control utility. (Options considered not reliable: periodic debt exclusion overrides, funding from the always-strained general fund, reliance on federal grants.)
  • Fees rather than taxes to support a stormwater utility meet legislative criteria so long as: 1) the utility's costs are reasonably related to the service being provided; 2) funds raised for the utility from fees must be segregated; and 3) the fee should be proportional to the property's contribution to storm water runoff and costs.
  • The fee structure should provide credits to property owners placing fewer demands on the City's system because of such things as rain gardens, porous driveways, adoption of larger stormwater management systems, etc.

Though I was not on the Council when the Stormwater and Flood Control Utility was created by way of ordinance, I closely followed the process. I was strongly supportive then and I am even more strongly supportive now that I've seen the Utility in operation and have seen how it's $2 million per year is spent on complying with federal mandates but, more importantly, staying on top of the maintenance needs of aging infrastructure throughout the City designed to protect us all from storm and flood events.

A few numbers to provide a sense of the scope of this portion of our municipal infrastructure:
  • 5000 catch basins
  • 114 miles of storm drain pipe 
  • 326 outfalls
  • 190 culverts
  • Connecticut River and Mill River flood control systems including about 1.5 miles of levee, 4 floodwalls, the 2-mile long Mill River diversion channel, pump station, emergency generator, and control structures.
Election Day: November 7electionday
Municipal elections will be held Tuesday, November 7. Polls will be open from 7 am to 8 pm. The polling place for Ward 2 precincts A and B is Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, 80 Locust Street.

Here is a sample ballot.

Even though I am running unopposed for reelection, I would greatly appreciate your vote on November 7. Background information on me and my first term in City Council

One of the contested races in our municipal election is the City Clerk race. I am enthusiastically supporting Pam Powers, with whom I've worked when she served as Clerk of the City Council. In that role she combined her business management expertise, her thorough familiarity with City government (she was assistant City Clerk for three years previously), her commitment to open and transparent government, and her skills as a communicator. She is superbly qualified for the office of Clerk. More information about Pam.

I am also supporting the reelection of our Mayor, David Narkewicz. More information about David

The League of Women Voters will be hosting a debate for the mayoral candidates and the City Clerk candidates on Wed. Oct. 25, from 6:30 to 9:00, at JFK Middle School.
Downtown Camerascameras
At its meeting last Thursday the City Council approved by a 7-2 vote a resolution expressing opposition in general to municipal surveillance cameras in our downtown area. I was one of the two no votes because I thought the totally one-sided resolution failed to address the complexity of the issue, failed to acknowledge the reality of public safety issues downtown, and expressed a view in opposition to even the continued operation of some police investigative functions. I offered an amended version of the resolution that offered a more balanced view, acknowledging that the City Council has responsibilities for public safety in addition to safeguarding civil liberties, but that amendment was defeated. The approved resolution will come before the Council for a second vote on November 2.

Though the resolution is merely an expression of the Council's will, and as such is nonbinding, it is the prelude to an ordinance now working its way through the Legislative Matters committee on its way to a full Council vote. This ordinance, as currently drafted, would impose a total ban on any city cameras downtown, with the exception of existing cameras in the parking garage and the Police station, and with the exception of cameras in use for less than 24 hours. In its current state I cannot support this ordinance. In its desire to protect civil liberties and assure privacy in public spaces it goes too far in my judgment - so far that it would substantially tie the hands of our Police department in crime solving and in efforts to deter crime.

I have a great deal of respect for our Police Chief, Jody Kasper, who has offered this opinion of the Council resolution and ordinance:

"The proposed ordinance and resolution work against the goals of the police department and fail to support our investigative efforts and security efforts. They reduce our department's ability to do our jobs. When the next human trafficking case is reported and it's in the downtown business district, when the next drug trafficking case arises, when we have repeat occurrences of crimes by a sexual predator, when we have another arson spree, when another individual comes into city hall intimidating and threatening our city employees, it's shocking to me that the city council would want to hinder the police department's ability to effectively investigate these crimes, would choose to fail to support our victims, and would choose to reduce the police department's ability to prevent future occurrences.

Passing any sort of ordinance that specifically prohibits the use of cameras absolutely ties our hands."

A disturbing aspect of this whole process is the early polarization around the issue - anyone involved has been viewed either as a defender of the First Amendment or as a tool of a militarized police force intent on protecting greedy downtown business owners. The hyperbole and misrepresentation on the part of opponents of cameras in any form has been distressing. The vilification of our downtown business community even went so far as to call for a boycott of downtown businesses expressing an openness to the possibility of additional cameras. In my opinion this crosses a line, and I will continue to do my part to stand up to this form of hysteria and bullying.
A Resolution Supporting the End of Life Options Actresolution1
I was pleased to be the principal sponsor of a Council resolution in support of the End of Life Options Act, now pending in the state legislature. If approved, this legislation would make Massachusetts the seventh state that would allow a terminally ill, mentally capable adult with a prognosis of six months or less to live the option to request, obtain and take medication - should they choose - to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes unbearable. The resolution was a result of the hard work of the Pioneer Valley Death with Dignity Action Group, headed by Ward 2 resident John Berkowitz.

The resolution approved unanimously on first reading, and will come before the Council for a final vote on November 2.
A Resolution Opposing Expansion of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter Schoolres2
I was also the principal sponsor of a resolution urging the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to not grant an enrollment expansion request to the Hadley-based Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School. This resolution has unanimously been approved by the City Council. The issue at hand was not the efficacy of charter schools in general or of this charter school in particular. The issue is the badly flawed funding program for charter schools that drains local public school district of scarce resources in order to send tuition to charter schools. For example, in the current year, Northampton sends over $2.2 million (net of reimbursements) to six nearby charter schools enrolling 190 Northampton students. It remains the position of the Northampton City Council, and the Northampton School Committee, that no new charter schools should be authorized, and no expansions allowed at existing charter schools, until the funding program is fundamentally overhauled.
Dennis Bidwell City Council Ward 2
  413-584-2732 | dennis@dennisbidwellcitycouncil.com
19 Forbes Avenue
Northampton, MA 01060