After more than two and a half years of negotiations, the City is on the verge of a new contract with its two police unions that will see pay increases of up to three percent and implement residency requirements for new hires.
Monday night, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino requested the City Council approve the contracts, which are retroactive to Fiscal year 2017. The Council forwarded the request to its subcommittee on conference, and will take up an official vote on the contracts at a future meeting.
The collective bargaining agreements are for the unions which represent police superior officers and patrol officers.
“Both deals encompass four years, made up of two separate contracts: a one year deal for FY17; and a subsequent three year deal for FY 19-FY20,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the City Council.
The contracts include a retroactive salary increase of 2.5 percent for FY17 and 3 percent for FY18 and FY19. There is also a 3 percent increase slated for FY20 and an additional 1 percent increase that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
All told, the retroactive salary increases total about $876,000.
“I strongly recommend that the City Council support these agreements, which have been the subject of lengthy negotiations spanning more than two and a half years,” Ambrosino stated. “We set aside in Salary Reserve for the resolution of these two agreements a total of $700,000. Accordingly, we will need an additional appropriation from Stabilization of $176,000 to satisfy these contractual commitments.”
The salary hikes are the only cost item in the new contracts, according to the City Manager. Other items in the contracts related to longevity, detail pay, sick leave incentive, and clothing allowance are limited to clarifications or minor changes and do not add any additional costs to the City, he added.
The percentage increases for salary are slightly more than those other City Hall unions have received, Ambrosino said.
“However, in return, the City did secure new language on residency upon which the City Council insisted,” he stated. “As of January 1, 2019, all new police hires must live in the City of Chelsea for five years, consistent with the Ordinance approved by the City Council earlier this year.”
While there was no debate over the union contracts themselves at Monday’s Council meeting, District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop did raise concerns about the City’s use of its stabilization, or “rainy day” funds.
Bishop noted that Ambrosino was requesting the use of stabilization funds for improvements to Eden Park and for a protective cover for the new high school turf field as well as for the contract salary costs.
Those stabilization funds should be used for emergency situations, Bishop said.
“I don’t think any of these requests rise to the level of an emergency to use the rainy day fund,” he said.
While Bishop said he supported the requests being made, he wanted assurances that any money taken out of the City’s stabilization funds be replaced by free cash as soon as those funds are certified by the state.
Outside graduation coming closer to a
resolution, decided Dec. 17
The Chelsea High School Class of 2019’s quest to graduate outside at the high school could come to a conclusion at the City Council’s next meeting on Monday, Dec. 17.
That’s when the Council is expected to vote on a $170,000 appropriation from the school stabilization account to pay for a protective mat for the new turf field at the high school.
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino made the request for the funds for the protective mat, which he said will allow for the use of the turf field for non-sporting events. The turf field comes with an eight-year warranty, but that warranty is voided if there are certain non-sporting uses on the field.
The possible purchase is good news for members of the high school’s senior class, who have been working with school and city officials, as well as fundraising, in an effort to have their graduation moved to the high school field.
Senior Manuel Teshe said the turf field cover will benefit the whole city, as well as students and their families attending the graduation.
“This investment is going to last for years,” he said. “If this is done, it is done for the city, and the future of the city is the students at Chelsea High School right now.”
Senior Class President Jocelyn Poste was one of a number of CHS students wearing “Dream Big” shirts who addressed the Council on Monday night.
“We are close to achieving our dream of graduating outside on our own field,” said Poste. “With the help of the City Council, this can be a possibility.”
School Supt. Mary Bourque also lent the students some support before the Council.
“This is a wise investment for our future and will have a positive impact on every generation here,” Bourque said.
District 5 Councillor Judith Garcia urged all the students present on Monday night to return with their friends on Dec. 17.
“I’m so incredibly proud of everything that was said tonight,” she said.
In other business, the Council approved a change in the zoning ordinance requiring tighter building controls in the Admiral’s Hill neighborhood.
Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda introduced an order requesting that the License Commission hold two recreational marijuana licenses for applicants that have a majority ownership consisting of Chelsea residents.
Ambrosino asked the Council to approve funding for renovations to Eden Park.
The majority of the renovations will be reimbursed through a state grant, the city manager stated.
“The proposed renovations of Eden Park include replacement of the playground’s rubber surfacing, introduction of new playground equipment, installation of a new water feature and splash pad, installation of new site furniture and lighting, and reconstruction of all site utilities,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the Council.
The total cost of the renovations is about $750,000, according to Ambrosino. The City Council appropriated $250,000 through the Fiscal Year 2019 Capital Improvement Program. Of the remaining $500,000, the City Manager said $400,000 should be reimbursed by the state.
Members of the Chelsea High School Class of 2019 are a step closer to getting their wish of an outdoor graduation on the new high school field.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino is requesting the City Council approve spending $170,000 from the City’s Stabilization Account to buy a protective mat for the new turf field at the high school.
“This removable, plastic covering will allow for greater use of the field for non-sporting events, including allowing for an outdoor graduation for the Chelsea High School Class of 2019,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the Council.
The city is in the midst of a $3 million-plus upgrade of Veterans Field at Chelsea High School. The first phase of the project, replacement of the artificial turf and the new track, is scheduled for completion this fall, according to Ambrosino. A second phase involving lighting and restrooms will continue in the spring.
The new turf field comes with an eight-year warranty, but that warranty is voided if certain uses occur on the field, including large static crowds, spiked heels, or chairs with four legs. The City Manager said these restrictions would all but eliminate the use of the surface for any non-sporting events.
“One method for eliminating this problem is to purchase a removable, protective surface for the turf, which is how the problem is handled in many large artificial turf stadiums across the country,” Ambrosino stated. “However, we did not budget for such a protective surface in this project.”
At the request of the school, Ambrosino is asking the Council to approve the additional funding through the School Capital Stabilization Account, which Ambrosino said was specifically established for these types of School Department capital expenditures.
At its Monday night meeting, the council voted to take up the issue in its Finance Subcommittee.
The request from the City Manager was good news for Chelsea High Senior Manuel Teshe, who addressed the Council earlier this month about senior class fundraising efforts to secure an outdoor graduation.
“Mr. Tom Ambrosino made me feel like people were listening to us after all the work we did,” said Teshe. “We felt alone, and now we appreciate the chance that the City is even considering it.”
Prior to hearing from Ambrosino, Councillors Ray Avellaneda, Leo Robinson, and Yamir Rodriguez introduced an order asking the City Manager to explore the purchase of an event decking system. After hearing about Ambrosino’s request to use the stabilization funds for the purchase, Avellaneda withdrew the order.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the City would defend the Zoning Board of Appeals’ (ZBA) September decision to deny an affordable housing project on upper Broadway, but at the same time he said he personally believes the ZBA made a “huge mistake.”
The ZBA denied the 42 unit affordable- and market-rate residential development at 1001 Broadway in a narrow vote that was based on creating more homeownership opportunities in the City. The project included nine units of market-rate housing and enhanced access to the Mill Creek waterfront.
And Ambrosino said, personally, he feels like the Board should have vote for the project.
“Personally, I think the Board made a big mistake in denying that project,” he said. “Affordable housing is the single most critical issue facing the city and to reject an affordable housing project is ludicrous. It’s the single biggest issue I hear about every week in this office. Denying that project will not create one single unit of home ownership.”
Last week, developers Traggorth and The Neighborhood Developers (TND) indicated they would appeal the decision in Suffolk Superior Court, believing that the project had ample community support.
Ambrosino said the City would defend the decision to deny, as it does have to, but his personal opinion differs.
“The City will defend the decision of the Board of Appeals,” he said. “My personal opinion is I like the project and supported the project. I wish them well (in their appeal).”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino has requested the Council to fund the demolition of the burnt-out home at 80 Warren Ave. that was the site of a domestic shooting incident and raging fire in May 22, 2017.
The home has sat in its burnt out condition for more than a year, mostly due to tie-ups in the court system due to a dispute by the owner and the insurance company. In that time, neighbors have had to see it as a reminder day in and day out of the chaos that ensued on that spring night.
Now, Ambrosino is asking for a supplemental appropriation from the Stabilization Fund in the amount of $25,000 to demolish the home. The owner, he said, doesn’t have the funds to tear down the home. So, the City will tear it down, secure it, and then seek to be reimbursed at a later date.
“I think it’s a great idea and long overdue,” said Councillor Leo Robinson, who lives on Warren Avenue. “I think it will mean a lot to the neighbors to not have to look at it every day and remember what happened there.”
On May 22, 2017, a man in the home shot at his 10-year-old daughter and wife, chasing them to a neighbor’s home where they sought shelter. After that, police were alerted and the man barricaded himself in the home. He then set a massive fire in the home and began shooting at police and firefighters. Police did shoot the man and the fire consumed the structure.
There was a massive police and fire presence at the scene.
The Council is expected to address the request on Monday, Sept. 24.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino told the City Council he believes it might be time to start a discussion about charging everyone a trash fee in the coming years as costs continue to rise for rubbish collection and recycling.
This came at the same time that he announced water and sewer rates would increase by 7.95 percent this year and the existing trash fee would climb 10 percent over last year.
Currently, trash fees are only charged to properties that are not owner-occupied. However, Ambrosino said it might be time to change all that.
“This new trash fee represents an increase of 10 percent,” he said. “Residential owners will pay an additional $32.88 annually as a result of this increase. I recognize that annual increases of 10 percent are painful, but even with this increase we will not cover the cost of our trash system with our fees. I have mentioned for some time that the City should consider changes to our current rate structure for Solid Waste Disposal. Specifically, I suggest we start the discussion of at least some nominal fee for owner occupied units. Otherwise, 10-plus percent increases will be the norm for the foreseeable future.”
The trash rate will increase to $30.09 monthly for residential property and $141.96 monthly for commercial units in mixed buildings.
Meanwhile, for water and sewer rates – which affect every homeowner – the combined rate increase will be 7.95 percent over last year. The average water user can assume a bill of $1,776 annual for water and sewer charges.
The water rate alone will go up 6 percent, and the sewer rate alone will go up 9 percent. Together, they arrive at the combined rate increase of 7.95 percent for residential users.
For Tier 1 users, the combined rate is $14.80 per hundred cubic feet.
The rates went into effect on July 1, but a Monday’s Council meeting Councillor Bob Bishop was quick to criticize.
“The water and sewer rates in Chelsea are too high,” he said. “I think we should be doing everything we can to hold the line or decrease these rates every year. Other cities and towns aren’t charging the rates we charge…It seems to be a feeding trough at the water and sewer department. I don’t like it.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would love to have a new contract and return to Chelsea so he can continue the work he started more than three years ago.
The announcement came on the eve of the beginning of his annual evaluation by a committee of the City Council – a process that will start Aug. 27.
Ambrosino is under contract for four years, and his contract runs out in July 2019, but the Council is required to notify him by January if they want him to return.
He’s hoping they do.
“I do hope they ask me to come back,” he said. “I have a great interest in continuing my work here. I love this city and love being City Manager here…The people here are wonderful. The challenges are interesting and it’s a vibrant and dynamic city with an exciting future ahead of it. I can’t think of a better place to be City Manager or CEO.”
Ambrosino signed his contract on July 20, 2015 in a four-year deal. Upon coming into the position, one of his first goals was to begin revamping the downtown business district, which was something that former City Manager Jay Ash had defined as a next focal point before he left.
Ambrosino said he feels like he only just started that work, and while a lot of planning and groundwork is complete, he’d like to see things completed.
“I feel like I’ve just started here, particularly with the downtown and our waterfront,” he said. “There’s a lot I’d like to see through to completion. When I was mayor in Revere, most of what I did there didn’t come to be until my last term in office and my last year there. It takes a long time to put your mark on a city.”
He is particularly impressed with the collaboration between the community and stakeholders like MGH, North Suffolk, Roca, the Collaborative, GreenRoots and so many more.
“I really feel that’s unique here and the City is lucky to have organizations like it does,” he said. “These are really tremendous community-based groups.”
All of that comes right alongside the upcoming City Manager evaluation process.
That has run a little slowly this time around. Though it is supposed to start in April, the Council appointed a committee but hasn’t had meetings yet. They will kick that off on Aug. 27, Council President Damali Vidot said.
The Committee is made up of Councillors Vidot, Judith Garcia, Bob Bishop, Leo Robinson, and Calvin Brown. They will evaluate Ambrosino on at least 11 points of his performance over the last year.
“It’s been tricky with our summer recess, but I’m confident we’ll have it wrapped up by October,” said Vidot.
She said a sticking point for her in any upcoming contract talks with Ambrosino – and in his evaluation – will be his residency.
Ambrosino said he cannot relocate to Chelsea due to personal circumstances that existed before he took the City Manager job.
Vidot said she feels strongly that the City Manager should live in Chelsea, but she also said that the previous Council didn’t require him to live here, so it wouldn’t be right to enforce it now.
“However, that shouldn’t be the norm moving forward,” she said.
The good news for Chelsea residents is that the $5 million redesign of the Broadway business district is moving forward, and a final decision will be made by the City Council about its exact components next month.
And if the vision and innovativeness that City Manager Tom Ambrosino fostered in all parts of Revere can be matched here, then Chelsea residents can expect a Broadway and Bellingham Square bustling with activity and commerce.
But a big question about “The New Broadway” remains: Should the six city blocks from Williams Street to City Hall Avenue be a one-way street (as it exists now and has for many decades) or a two-way street?
The Chelsea Traffic Commission hosted a public meeting Tuesday night at City Hall to hear residents’ opinions about the potential change of Broadway to a two-way street. The Commission is scheduled to vote on the matter at its next meeting before the Council casts the final vote about the entire redesign project, including the traffic plan.
Alexander Train, Chelsea’s assistant director of the department of planning and development, gave a thorough presentation of the re-imagined Broadway project that will totally transform the business district’s intersections, sidewalks, bicycle paths, tree pits, and physical appearance.
“We’ve completed the planning and development portion of the process and we’re now approaching the Traffic Commission to vote and adopt and enact the plan,” said Train. “Their vote will be relayed to City Council, who has the authority to approve or reject their decision.”
Police Chief Brian Kyes spoke in favor of a two-way Broadway, saying it would improve the flow of traffic.
“If a person double parks his vehicle, we have a reason to tow the vehicle ASAP,” said Kyes. “We want to keep the traffic flowing.”
Kyes said he was happy to hear that the intersection of Broadway and Third Street will have traffic lights in the redesign project. “Broadway and Third is probably one of the most dangerous intersections in the entire state,” said Kyes.
He said that when he drove from the police station to City Hall for the meeting, “the backup when I got to Hawthorne Street was incredible, because everybody is making the loop (around Broadway). I think the final [redesign] project makes a lot of sense. I drive down Broadway, Revere all the time and I very, very rarely see double parking there.” Councillor-at-Large Damlili
Vidot said she would like to see the city pay more attention to cleaning up Broadway (such as removing the weed in the metal grates). She also disputed the claim that two-way traffic would curtail double parking and that it would make it safer for pedestrians. She also asked about potential back-ups on the Tobin Bridge and how it would affect traffic on a two-way Broadway.
Vidot said she was not happy with the swiftness of the entire redesign process.
“I urge everyone to just take several steps back and let’s figure out a way to engage more people,” said Vidot. “The way that this process has gone, having a meeting in the middle of summer when the City Council isn’t even meeting – in a hot room where everyone is aggravated and we had to wait 10 minutes to even start the meeting, all of it is just not right.”
Ambrosino, who favors a two-way Broadway, said the traffic configuration should not predominate the discussion of the redesign project.
“That’s only a small part of the reimaging Broadway,” said Ambrosino. “Many of the improvements [to Bellingham Square, Fay Square, City Hall Avenue, traffic signals at dangerous intersections] are happening regardless of which of these two configurations between Williams and Fifth Streets is chosen. Even the one-way configuration is a major improvement over the two-lane speedway that currently exists on Broadway. The two-way configuration is still safer, calmer, and slower for bicylists and pedestrians.”
Ambrosino said the two-way configuration will be “transformative.”
“It will make a difference to the feel and the look of that downtown. It makes it vibrant. It makes it aesthetically pleasing. This will be better for pedestrians, for traffic, and for businesses.”
Rick Gordon, owner of Allen Cut Rite on Broadway, said the No. 1 issue in the downtown district is parking. “I personally prefer a one-way plan for the flow of traffic. The street is much narrower than other communities and I don’t think two-way makes a business more visible.”
Gordon credited the Chelsea Police for their efforts in slowing down motorists and enforcing double-parking restrictions on Broadway. Some residents at the meeting had noted that double-parking is a recurring issue on Broadway.
Councillor-at-Large Roy Avellaneda, whose family owns Tito’s Bakery, asked whether the City Council will have to vote on the redesign project in its entirety as opposed to voting on individual components such as the traffic configuration, and the placement of new bus stops and traffic lights on Broadway.
Following more than two hours of discussion, the one-way/two-way Broadway issue remains a hotly debated one and all eyes will be on the Traffic Commission when it convenes for a vote at its next meeting.WE should be Ambrosino said he favors a two-way Broadway
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would gladly enforce the new Police and Fire residency ordinance confirmed last week at Council, but not until at least 2021.
“It has to be negotiated through collective bargaining,” he said. “The firefighters are under contract until 2021, and the police are now at the state Joint Labor Management Commission. It probably won’t be able to be negotiated with either unit until 2021. We have no plans to enforce it until there is a new contract because the law is clear this is a change in the contract subject to collective bargaining.”
The Council voted for the matter last month, and staved off a challenge to that vote last week, led by Councilor Giovanni Recupero. Recupero has tried for seven years to get the residency plan in place for new police and fire hires. The plan now in effect would require all new hires as of July 31 to live in the city for five years after hire.
The matter, however, cannot be enforced until the City Manager re-negotiates the contracts with the police and fire, meaning that all member would get raises in exchange for that change in working conditions.
Ambrosino said the unions could decide not to agree to the matter, which would also make it unenforceable if it is outside any contract.
“An ordinance cannot supersede a mandatory collective bargaining matter,” he said. “It is unenforceable until it shows up in a collective bargaining agreement.”
The Chelsea City Council approved a request from City Manager Tom Ambrosino to clean up and make a big-time deposit into the City’s savings accounts.
The Council approved a $15 million transfer into the Stabilization Fund on Monday night, and also approved a $5 million transfer into a new School Stabilization Fund. At the same time, three old savings accounts were closed out with about $300,000 going into the Stabilization Fund.
The requests came at the behest of Councillor Bob Bishop, who made the requests last month and presided over a committee meeting two weeks ago discussing the matters.
Bishop had indicated that he would like the money in the Stabilization Fund because he believes the City needs to save more money in case of a downturn in the economy. On the background, having the money in the Stabilization Fund gives the Council more control over any spending due to the fact that it requires a two-thirds vote of the Council.
Ambrosino said he supported both transfers and believed that the School Fund was a wise idea given that there are several projects coming up on the City’s schools.
All of them, he said, are in the Capital Improvement Plan.
In the same financial vein, the Council approved the final $3 million payment on the Clark Avenue Middle School project. The City has been paying cash wherever it can on the project – which is still under construction until this summer – to save money on interest payments accrued from having to borrow.
Part of the project is also funded by state reimbursements.