Trash Talk:City Manager Calls for Consideration of Universal Trash Fee as Rates Rise for Water, Sewer and Trash

Trash Talk:City Manager Calls for Consideration of Universal Trash Fee as Rates Rise for Water, Sewer and Trash

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.”

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Council Seeks Further Study of Two-Way Broadway

Council Seeks Further Study of Two-Way Broadway

Facing many critics from the public that showed up to speak against two-way Broadway, the City Council on Monday decided to defer any vote and, instead, hold a Committee on Conference to review the matter.

In August, the Traffic Commission voted 5-1 to approve the two-way plan, as well as a spate of many other non-controversial changes to Fay Square, Chelsea Square, Bellingham Square and City Hall Avenue.

Council President Damali Vidot called for the committee, and the Council approved the move. She said they had until Oct. 6 to hold the meeting and to have a vote of the full Council. The City Council must approve all actions of the Traffic Commission, but if they do not do so by Oct. 6, the Commission’s approval will become law.

Many on the Council have not made their opinions known yet, but some have, and ultimately the fate of two-way Broadway will fall on the votes of 11 members of the Council.

Council President Vidot has been critical of the idea, and has particularly disagreed with the planning process that has unfolded over the past two years. In the past, she has been against the change.

Councillor Leo Robinson, however, said this week he is in favor of two-way Broadway.

“I’m a two-way Broadway guy,” he said.

Councillor Joe Perlatonda has also spoke in favor of the plan, and said the one-way plan is dangerous because it calls for cars to park outside of the protected bike lane. He said that would leave those exiting their cars in a dangerous position with oncoming traffic and with oncoming bicyclists.

Meanwhile, Councillor Bob Bishop said he doesn’t buy the idea of two-way Broadway. To this point, he said he isn’t convinced it’s a good change.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino and Chief Brian Kyes are some of the biggest advocates, and though they don’t have a vote, they have strongly called for the change for months.

Resident Sharleen McLain, however, was one of several residents who said the plan is flawed and has been forced upon the public.

“From the very first it was clear the City Manager and the planners have been pretty bent on getting two-way Broadway,” she said. “They’ve been pretty manipulative in moving forward on this two-way plan. None of these meetings have allowed for meaningful input. It wasn’t until the July Traffic Commission meeting that members of the public were able to speak directly to the plans.”

Said Barbara Richard, “I think two-way Broadway is spot-on dead wrong. Businesses will go under. I also think it hasn’t been a good enough outreach to the community.”

Ambrosino said he is in favor of the two-way plan, but he implored the Council to consider the plan is much more than just the two-way Broadway situation. He said there are many, many more non-controversial changes in the package that people do want universally.

“Much of what is before you is non-controversial,” he said. “Whether it’s Fay Square, Bellingham Square or City Hall Avenue, these provisions have no opposition to the changes.”

The Council will meet next on Monday, Sept. 24, and the Conference Committee will likely take place next week.

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Council Approves Resolution Supporting Locked Out National Grid Workers

Council Approves Resolution Supporting Locked Out National Grid Workers

The City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the locked out National Grid gas workers in a vote of 8-0 on Monday night, adding to the numbers of elected officials now supporting the workers – who have been locked out in a contract dispute for 12 weeks.

Ray Bell of Chelsea – who has lived here for 45 years – came before the Council as one of the locked out workers. He said it’s a matter of public safety, as the replacement workers are not trained or experienced enough to carry out the work they’re doing.

“This is a matter of public safety,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. This is not a labor issue. The workers trained and experienced need to be in the ground fixing our pipes. This is a no-brainer. It’s putting Chelsea people first…They’ll bury their mistakes. It may not go off now. Maybe it goes off in two months or two years. It could be a disaster. I’m telling you they don’t have experienced and trained people working on these gas pipes.”

Former Councillor Paul Murphy – whose brother is currently locked out – said he doesn’t want to see a disaster either.

“Knowing the work they’re doing on our streets, there could be a disaster here,” he said. “It is a labor dispute, but a different one because they’re locked out. They want to work.”

Councillors were very much in support of the measure despite a miscue last month at a special meeting when the matter didn’t pass due to Councillor Bob Bishop objecting to it. At a special meeting, one objection to a matter can kill it.

On Monday, Bishop said he didn’t oppose the matter, but had concerns last month due to the fact that it conflicted with the charter. Now, he said, the new draft of the resolution was free of any such conflicts.

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Controversial Parking Plan Gets Tabled at Council, Still a Victory for Vidot

Controversial Parking Plan Gets Tabled at Council, Still a Victory for Vidot

After many hours of meetings and dozens of discussions, a parking plan putting put forth by Council President Damali Vidot has been tabled by a vote of 6-4.

But within that vote was the promise by City Manager Tom Ambrosino to do a comprehensive parking study that would focus on resident needs and be done by this fall.

“Sometimes, you put things forth knowing you won’t get support; but as an opportunity to allow councilors to show where they stand to their constituency for when Election season comes,” said Vidot after the vote Monday night. “The parking ordinance served its purpose by initiating conversation and the City finally getting a comprehensive parking study going. It’s a win-win for the people of Chelsea.”

Vidot’s plan would have applied to developers who asked to waive more than 10 percent of the required parking under the zoning ordinances. Those that do ask for such relief would then be required to put in apartment leases that residents of the development could not apply for or receive City residential parking stickers.

One of the main problems with many developments, it has been explained, is that they waive the parking requirements with the assumption that residents won’t utilize cars. However, Vidot and other councillors have said that it isn’t the case, and resident parking is being taken up by those in new developments with nowhere to park.

By precluding the parking stickers for those who have sought relief for more than 10 percent of parking, Vidot hoped to open up spaces for existing residents.

“We have a serious problem with parking,” she said. “That’s one reason I became a city councilor…I’m not sure if this is the best thing personally. I speak to residents and they say it is, but I speak to businesses and non-profits who are in the development world and they say not to do it. I was elected by the residents, so I say yes to this.”

Many, however, had grave concerns that it would squash new development.

“I do speak in opposition to the amendment as proposed,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “I understand the sentiment, but the 10 percent figure will surely hamper out ability to improve the downtown and do one thing this Council is intent on doing and that’s building more affordable housing. I ask that you consider deferring action until we finish any parking study.”

Councillor Leo Robinson said he could not support the matter.

“I have concerns about how we’re going about this,” he said. “We’re in the process of finishing a parking study. At this point, I think we should be able to work on a study first.”

Those voting for the parking plan were Vidot, Enio Lopez, Bob Bishop, and Giovanni Recupero.

Those voting to table the matter were Yamir Rodriguez, Calvin Brown, Luis Tejada, Leo Robinson, Joe Perlatonda, and Judith Garcia.

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Packed Chambers:Budget Passes, but with Some Rare Controversy, Drama

Packed Chambers:Budget Passes, but with Some Rare Controversy, Drama

The City Budget vote at the Council is usually a night of empty seats and methodical tabulation.

Not so this past Monday night when teachers, students and School Department employees packed the Chambers and councillors debated over several controversial cuts to the document.

One councillor, Bob Bishop, even cast a lone vote against the City Budget.

In the end, the Council did approve the budget 10-1.

The total spending came in at $195,964,074, with the breakdown as follows:

  • General Fund Budget, $174,074,177.
  • Water Enterprise Fund, $8,397,199.
  • Sewer Enterprise Fund, 12,808,779.
  • General Fund Free Cash, $683,919.

The total sum represents an increase of 6.6 percent over last year’s budget.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said it was a document that represented a philosophy in government and he was proud of it.

“A budget is not just a compilation of numbers and spreadsheets,” he said. “A budget is always a document expressing a philosophy of government. This budget delivers services and programs and invests in our people, our community.”

The real drama came for the School Department, which needed a large influx of City cash into its coffers to avoid massive cuts to it program after being shorted several years by the state’s funding formula.

The City is required to give a set amount of money to the School Department each year, but in the budget crunch of the last few years, the City has kicked in extra funding. On Monday, numerous representatives from the schools were there to speak in support of what amounts to about $4 million (or 5.7 percent) above the required spending amount.

“The state is letting Chelsea down,” said Sam Baker, vice president of the Chelsea Teacher’s Union. “They can’t be relied upon to support urban Gateway districts like Chelsea…When the federal government lets you down, the state government lets you down, there is only one place left to turn – to the neighbors and the local officials of the city. This budget shows that the students and schools in Chelsea can rely on their local neighbors.”

Several others spoke as well, particularly for keeping special education position intact – positions that have been cut heavily in the past few years. School Committee Chair Jeannette Velez urged the Council to approve the additional spending in the budget.

After the vote, the room erupted in applause for the sake of the schools.

But it wasn’t that easy.

While the Council was uniformly in favor of the school measures, there were several things they were flat out against. Major amendments were proposed and hashed out on close votes over the course of an hour.

Almost all of them were proposed by Council President Damali Vidot.

First was a cut of $15,000 to the Law Department – which was a dart in the back of many on the Council. The cut represented funding put in the budget for the Council to have its own attorney on retainer to give them a second opinion when they aren’t satisfied with the City’s staff lawyers.

Only Councillor Giovanni Recupero and Damali Vidot voted for it, with it losing 9-2.

One cut that did survive was a $100,000 cut to the Fire Department as a shot across the bow for their use, and some on the Council would say abuse, of overtime in the last few years.

Vidot said the Department has seen numerous new hires in the last year and has proposed to increase its overtime budget. She said that number should be going down, not up.

The cut was approved 6-4, with Vidot, Recupero, Bishop, Luis Tejada, Enio Lopez and Rodriguez voting yes.

Vidot also proposed to cut the Police Department salaries by $150,000 to curtail the use of overtime pay being given to officers who do walking beats around the downtown. She said that should come out of regular pay at the regular rate, not as overtime pay.

That measure lost narrowly, on a 5-6 vote. Those voting against that were Calvin Brown, Tejada, Avellaneda, Robinson, Perlatonda, and Garcia.

A major discussion took place after that to cut the new Downtown Coordinator position, which comes at $72,000. Vidot said it was a failed program and should be staffed by a Chelsea person who can bring all different Chelsea residents to the downtown to connect in one place. She said she doesn’t see that happening.

However, the majority felt that good things were happening and the coordinator needed more time.

A key supporter was downtown district Councillor Judith Garcia.

That cut failed 3-8, with only Vidot, Lopez and Bishop voting for it.

The final controversial cut proposal was to eliminate monies being spent to keep retiring EMS Director Allan Alpert on board for a year. Alpert plans to retire on June 30, but will be kept on as a consultant to bring the new director up to speed. The cost for that is $55,000.

Vidot said it was unnecessary, and she said it’s time to stop keeping retiring City Hall people on the payroll as consultants.

However, other councillors such as Avellaneda, said there was a succession plan in place for Alpert that didn’t pan out. Now, to make sure a new plan could be put in place, Alpert needed to be allowed to stay on another year.

After much controversial discussion, the cut was defeated narrowly 5-6. Those voting to keep Alpert on were Rodriguez, Tejada, Avellaneda, Robinson, Perlatonda, and Garcia.

For the overall budget, all councillors except Bishop voted for it.

Bishop, who has emerged as a staunch fiscal conservative on the Council, said the spending was not sustainable.

“I cannot vote for this budget,” he said. “I can’t be for this budget because it is not sustainable. We’ll hit the wall one day and that $25 million in the Rainy Day Fund will go out one ear because out budget is almost all salaries.”

The City Budget goes into effect on July 1.

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Residency Ordinance for Police, Fire Hires Holds Firm at Council

Residency Ordinance for Police, Fire Hires Holds Firm at Council

A last ditch effort by Councillor Roy Avellaneda to reverse the new police and fire residency ordinance successfully passed by Councillor Giovanni Recupero failed on Monday night, June 4, in a close vote.

It represented seven years of twists and turns for Recupero’s number one issue and one that has been before the Council in several forms about a dozen times.

On Monday, the victory came in a narrow defeat of Avellaneda’s proposal, 5-6, which allowed the proposal to become the new law.

Those voting to keep the residency ordinance were Councillors Damali Vidot, Enio Lopez, Bob Bishop, Luis Tejada, Joe Perlatonda and Recupero – a one vote margin of victory.

Those voting to reconsider and repeal the ordinance were Councillors Yamir Rodriguez, Calvin Brown, Avellaneda, Leo Robinson and Judith Garcia.

“This is a good thing,” said Recupero. “It’s something the citizens of Chelsea wanted and I’ve fought for it for seven years solid. Now the councillors wanted it too. I think it’s good for the City and for the people. The police and fire can live in the neighborhood and understand the people and the people can understand them and respect them. The young men and women of the city will relate to them because they live in the same community.”

The matter will apply to anyone hired in the Police or Fire Department after July 31, 2018. It will require them to live in Chelsea for five years after starting on the job. After five years, they can move out of the city if they choose.

The negative came in that to get the measure, it had to become a collective bargaining issue. That meant that the entire Police and Fire Departments would get a raise in order to include the new condition in their contracts. Even those for whom the measure doesn’t apply will get additional pay to accept the new condition.

“Hey, it’s good for those on the department too,” said Recupero. “They’re all going to get a raise, but we’re going to get new officers that want to live in Chelsea.”

Councillor Leo Robinson said he was against the measure because of the cost. He said he was once in favor of residency, but that changed when he learned about the collective bargaining costs.

“The bottom line is you have 40 police living in the city and 26 firefighters right now,” he said. “ When we have to go and negotiate with the union that means 110 police and 96 firefighters get raises. That’s $200,000 we’ll have to give them. I think it’s foolish to do. They think it’s a great thing. You have Bob Bishop voting against the budget because he says it out of control and then he votes for this without knowing what it costs.”

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Councilors Look at Keeping Chelsea Affordable for Residents

Councilors Look at Keeping Chelsea Affordable for Residents

Monday night at the City Council meeting, the main item on the agenda was the new five-year Capital Improvement Program, detailing the maintenance and improvement of roadways, water, sewer and drainage systems, sidewalks, transportation, public buildings and facilities, parks and open space, public safety projects and general equipment.  However, Councilor Robert Bishop did not sign the resolution that would have brought the order before the councilors since he had several questions about some of the proposed work outlined in the document.  The matter was moved to unfinished business.

The Council still has until the end of the month to approve the recommendations and is expected to take the matter up at its next meeting.

With this main part of the agenda being put on hold, councilors started to address issues ranging from the new tax rate that could see a budget increase of 5 percent to providing more affordable housing in the city for residents.

While it may seem that both issues were not related, the councilors came to the same bottom line, which was having Chelsea families being able to afford to continue to reside in Chelsea.

Bishop questioned the proposed new fiscal 2019 tax rate that will go into effect on July 1.  “I would like to see a zero tax rate increase,” he said pointing out that the new tax rate could increase as much as 5 percent.  He pointed out that many Chelsea homeowners are struggling to pay their real estate bills.

In a similar vein, Councilor at-Large Leo Robinson introduced a motion to schedule a meeting  with the Planning Board and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to look into the possibility of purchasing homes that are foreclosed and keeping the affordable rental units for residents.

Council President Damali Vidot gave up the chair to speak on her motion on amending the existing Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance.  “We need to look out for the community,” she said.  “Developers have the discretion on whom to provide affordable housing units since we are put into the Boston average median income,” she added.

Vidot also noted the toll of decreasing affordable housing is taking on the most vulnerable in Chelsea, namely the young.  She noted that many students in the local schools know of the strain that their parents are having of being able to afford to stay in Chelsea or are in fact homeless and as a result, these students are struggling in school. “We must be mindful of renters,” she reminded her colleagues.

In another measure, Vidot is seeking to have an attendance record started for all appointed members to city boards and commissions. “I have received complaints from residents about people not showing up to meetings.  We appoint these people, we should know if they are there,” she said.  Vidot also added that an attendance record for councilors would be in order.

Councilor Joe Perlatonda introduced an order to install temporary speed bumps on Clinton Street, one located at Washburn Ave. and the other at  Lisa Lane off of Clinton Street   .  He noted that with the summer approaching and neighborhood children outdoors that these speed bumps would slow down drivers speeding.

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Council Calls for Ordinance to Be Drafted on Residency Restriction

Council Calls for Ordinance to Be Drafted on Residency Restriction

The Chelsea City Council voted 9-1 on Monday night to call for City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson to draw up a new ordinance requiring a five-year residency period for all new police and fire hires.

The controversial move was brought for the umpteenth time by Councillor Giovanni Recupero at Monday’s Council meeting, and it had been highly anticipated by the membership for several weeks.

Recupero’s plan calls for any new hire of the Police Department or Fire Department to live within the city for five years after being hired.

Currently, there are no such restrictions, but Recupero has been on a mission for more than five years to get something drafted and passed.

His order on Monday simply called for the Solicitor to draft up an ordinance and have it ready for Council consideration by the next meeting.

“For many, many years I’ve been trying to have people who work here live here,” he said. “Other cities do this. We should too. The residents like us love our city. It’s not to say they don’t love the City, but there’s a little extra care when you live here…Life is not what you want. Life is what it is. If you want to work here, you live here.”

Many had been interested to see what new Councillor Bob Bishop might think of the matter, as it was the first time it had been before him. And he made himself quite clear that he supports residency.

“I’m very upset on payday in Chelsea because three-fourths of our paychecks go to Saugus or Lynnfield. We don’t get an economic bang for that buck because that money of ours isn’t circulating in Chelsea. If you’re hired in Chelsea as a firefighter or police officer and you don’t want to live here, then don’t take the job. Someone else will. I think it’s a good thing to have police and fire live here.”

Councillor Roy Avellaneda was the lone lawmaker against the measure this time, and said he thinks the Council should focus on other things.

“I’d rather focus  my energy on making Chelsea a better place to live than a place to be forced to live,” he said.

Councillor Judith Garcia didn’t vote on the matter as she was absent.

Fisher Watson said there are concerns that any such ordinance would conflict with collective bargaining agreements, so she wasn’t sure she would be able to produce the new ordinance.

Recupero said that any such conflict does not exist and the ordinance can be written up and considered. He said after the Council passes the ordinance, it’s up to the City Manager to negotiate the collective bargaining to include the new requirement for new hires.

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Vidot Set to Become Next Council President

Vidot Set to Become Next Council President

By Seth Daniel

By a preliminary vote of 8-0, Councillor Damali Vidot received the support of her colleagues to become the new Council President in 2018 during a meeting on Monday.

The annual Conference Committee on leadership took place Monday with two possible candidates, current President Leo Robinson and Vidot. Both had been vying for the position behind the scenes, lobbying their colleagues for the position.

However, Robinson apparently had withdrawn his name before Monday’s conference, conceding the gavel to Vidot.

Those voting for Vidot to be president were Councillors Luis Tejada, Yamir Rodriguez, Giovanni Recupero, Calvin Brown, Bob Bishop, Enio Lopez, Robinson and Judith Garcia.

Vidot did not vote for herself, and Councillor Roy Avellaneda did not show up for the Conference. Councillor-elect Joe Perlatonda was absent during the president vote.

Vidot said she was honored to receive support from her colleagues, and will lean on the experience of long-time councillors to help her with the new role.

“I am honored to have received the support of my colleagues in serving as president of Chelsea City Council,” she said. “It is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I intend on leaning on the experience of longer-serving councillors while building on the passion and ideas of newer colleagues. We all have something different we bring to the table and I want to honor all of those voices while working cohesively on the concerns of our hard-working residents.

“More importantly, I want to ensure that we are always adhering to our City Charter and it’s ordinances and ensuring that the process is always fair and transparent,” she continued.

The vice president role was more hotly contested, with Councillor-elect Brown getting the nod over Recupero in a vote of 6-4.

Those voting for Brown were Vidot, Rodriguez, Brown, Bishop, Lopez, and Garcia. Those voting for Recupero were Tejada, Recupero, Robinson, and Perlatonda.

Avellaneda was not present for the vote.

Tejada was unanimously elected as the new School Committee liaison in a vote of 10-0, with Avellaneda absent.

The Council also participated in the annual drawing for Roll Call vote order and seating order.

Vidot will be the first vote next year in any roll call, with Recupero being the last vote.

In seating, there will be some interesting neighbors – with Councilors Recupero and Perlatonda sitting next to one another again. The old friends sat next to one another when Perlatonda was on the Council previously. Oddly enough, Perlatonda will also sit next to Garcia, who replaced him two years ago and whom he has criticized from time to time. Bishop will site on one end of the Council, while Calvin Brown will sit on the other end.

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Council President Race Down to Robinson, Vidot

Council President Race Down to Robinson, Vidot

By Seth Daniel

The City Council president race has been quietly going back and forth between Council President Leo Robinson and Council Vice President Damali Vidot for the last several weeks.

The showdown will likely continue as both court their fellow councillors for commitments and votes prior to a meeting that has been called to poll the members on Dec. 18. All that is needed is six votes, and the first candidate to achieve that commitment will emerge as the new president.

Vidot had an interest in pursuing the leadership spot last year, but put that on hold to become vice president and not take the post in her first term. Fresh off of a successful re-election effort, she said she wanted to pursue the position for the coming year.

“I’ve served as Vice President for two years and am prepared to facilitate conversations geared to community first and full adherence to the City Charter absent of personal attacks and status quo politics,” she said. “I believe it is my time, but if my colleagues determine that ‘it is not my time’ – as is typical in cases with women leaders – I will humbly continue to be a strong voice and advocate for the community. In all honesty, the title of president limits our ability to speak openly and so either way, it’s a win-win situation for myself and the residents of Chelsea.”

Meanwhile, Council President Leo Robinson has chosen to run again for the post and go for a second-straight year.

He said this week that he is a candidate and he’s running on a platform of experience.

He said the Council needs a proven leader at this moment in time, and he’s ready to continue his leadership into 2018.

As of now, it appears that both may have five committed votes, including themselves.

The key vote will likely boil down to Councillor Giovanni Recupero once again. Recupero is a supporter of both candidates, and will have a tough decision to make.

Meanwhile, there are also a number of wild cards in the race with three new councillors, including Bob Bishop, Calvin Brown and Joe Perlatonda. Their sentiments and leanings are completely unknown at the moment – though there are many assumptions as to where they might land.

All will be better known after the organizational meeting on Dec. 18, and then on inauguration night, Jan. 8, when the matter becomes official.

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