A new and irate constituency of condo owners has arisen in response to the Water Discount program championed by Councilor Giovanni Recupero and voted on by the City Council Sept. 24 – a proposal that excludes condo owners from the owner-occupied water bill discount.
Recupero proposed the measure in September, after many years of discussing it and proposing it in other forms, to find that it had support and the votes to pass. After a challenge by Councilor Roy Avellaneda last week, the measure stood.
It is to go into effect on July 1, 2019 with the new water rates.
But what it might have lacked in votes on the Council has not deterred the momentum that has grown among those in the City who own condos. Because condo owners don’t have separate water meters in their units, they are excluded from participating in the program along with absentee landlords.
That has ignited a base that continues to protest the move, and has spoken out this week in letters to the newspaper that decry the program and, potentially, others like it that could come down the road.
“Chelsea water and sewer rates are increasing significantly, and the Council’s vote means that those renters, businesses, and 1,861 condos are going to subsidize a discount for 625 owner-occupied, single-family households and 1,149 two- and three-family households,” read a letter written by Sharlene McLean and signed by numerous condo and homeowners. “This decision is blatantly discriminatory as it creates separate classes of homeownership in Chelsea, and privileges residents who have the financial capital to buy and own single or multi-family homes – all at the expense of, among others, condo owners who are also stakeholders in the community, and deserve the same consideration as other homeowners.”
The condo owners wrote that the policy will hurt the entire community. For example, they said houses of worship are not allowed to participate, and neither are businesses.
“Simply put, this is a poorly conceived and exclusionary policy that was rushed to a vote without any meaningful discussion or community input, and that benefits the few at the expense of the many,” they wrote.
The new constituency of condo owners asked that the Council repeal its vote before the new rates go into effect.
The City Council passed District 6 City Councillor Giovanni Recupero’s measure to provide a 10 percent water and sewer percent discount to Chelsea homeowners last month.
Yet, since that vote, there has been a fair share of resident dissatisfaction from condominium owners who don’t qualify for the price break, as well as allegations of some social media shenanigans between councillors.
But despite an attempt on Monday night by Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda to consider a repeal, the discount will stand for now.
The discount applies to all units in any owner-occupied single, two-, or three-family homes and any owner-occupied condominium that has an individual water meter. The problem, as some condominium owners noted at Monday night’s council meeting, is that very few condominium units in the city have individual water meters.
“I chose 15 years ago that I wanted to buy a condominium and not a house,” said resident Suzanne Perry. “I consider this to be a basic issue of discrimination and unfairness. I’m sure it was not meant to be that way, but that’s the way it ended up.”
Condominium owner Alison Cuneo circulated an online petition with more than 130 signatures as of Monday night asking the Council to overturn its water and sewer discount vote.
“I would oppose this even if I were to benefit from (the discount),” Cuneo said.
The debate over the issue took a personal turn early in the meeting, when District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop spoke out about a social media post by Avellaneda. In the post, Bishop said Avellaneda posted a Google maps image of his home and pool, noting that Bishop would benefit from the discounted water and sewer rates.
“Councillor Avellaneda wrote that Bob Bishop would get a discount to fill up his pool next year,” said Bishop. “That is not only petty, but it is untrue.”
Bishop said that he, like many people, has an individual water meter on his pool that would not qualify for the homeowner discount.
The District 1 Councillor also said he would be in favor of extending the discount to condominium owners if there was a way to determine the water use in owner-occupied units.
Avellaneda’s attempt to overturn the discount was struck down on a procedural vote.
Council President Damali Vidot ruled the request by Avellaneda to take another vote as out of order.
“We shouldn’t set a precedent just because this is something you disagreed with,” she said. “The majority of the Council voted in favor of adopting this.”
Avellaneda challenged Vidot’s ruling that his request was out of order, but the challenge failed.
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.”
On the heels of record-setting flood events in January and March 2018, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) announced today that it is updating its core mission and resources to help municipalities manage the extreme weather associated with climate change.
“Slowing down climate change is all about managing energy,” said Patrick Herron, MyRWA’s executive director. “Adapting to climate change is all about managing water—both flooding and drought. Water is something that we have thought about for over four decades.”
The Mystic River watershed spans 21 cities and towns from Woburn through Revere. This spring, MyRWA staff met with nearly fifty state and local stakeholders to best understand how a regional watershed association could help municipalities become more resilient to flooding, drought and heat.
“We heard over and over from cities and towns that they can’t manage flooding from just within their municipal boundaries,” explained Herron. “Stormwater flooding in Medford for example, has its origins in upstream communities. Coastal storms below the Amelia Earhart Dam threaten both New England’s largest produce distribution center and Logan Airport’s jet fuel supply.”
“We’re concerned about the neighborhoods and residents living in the shadows of massive petroleum storage tanks and other industries which are projected to be severely impacted by climate change. When the flood waters and chemicals reach homes, how will our communities be protected?” asked Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots in Chelsea. “We’ve seen neighborhoods in Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Houston be decimated. Chelsea and East Boston could be next.”
Based on this feedback, MyRWA requested and received a $115,000 grant from the Barr Foundation that will allow the non-profit to work with municipalities, businesses and community organizations on an action-oriented, regional, climate resilience strategy for the Mystic River Watershed. This grant will allow MyRWA to hire Julie Wormser to lead this new program.
“The Barr Foundation’s climate resilience grantmaking has historically focused on Boston. Yet, we know climate change is no respecter of city boundaries. If some act in isolation, neighboring communities could actually become more vulnerable,” said Mary Skelton Roberts, co-director of Barr’s Climate Program. “It is our privilege to support MyRWA’s efforts to advance solutions at a more expansive, watershed scale.”
As executive director of The Boston Harbor Association, Wormser was instrumental in in drawing attention to Boston’s need to prepare for coastal flooding from extreme storms and sea level rise. She coauthored Preparing for the Rising Tide and Designing With Water and co-led the Boston Living with Water international design competition with the City of Boston and Boston Society of Architects. She will join MyRWA as its deputy director beginning July 1st.
“Three of the US cities most engaged in climate preparedness—Boston, Cambridge and Somerville—are located in the Mystic River Watershed,” said Wormser. “This grant will allow us collectively to share information and lessons learned since Superstorm Sandy with lower-resourced municipalities. By working regionally and with the State, we can also create multiple benefit solutions such as riverfront greenways that double as flood protection. It’s very inspiring.”
With a proposal that increases spending by nearly $10 million, City Manager Tom Ambrosino submitted a City Budget to the Council this week for consideration at the May 7 meeting.
The $174 million budget is rather lean and creates only two new positions, but does contribute extra money to the School Department and covers the final year pay increases of several union contracts.
As submitted, the budget is out of balance by $790,000 – which Ambrosino said would not be a big deal to cover in the months ahead.
“We continue our improvements in the downtown and our support for the schools,” he said. “We have created two new positions in the DPW, one in the Water Department and a Junior Engineer.”
There are no new positions for Police and Fire this year, in contrast to the last two years when record numbers were added to the Fire Department through federal and local funding.
“There are not new positions in those departments this year,” he said. “We’ll maintain the current contingents.”
There are now 111 Police officers on, and just shy of 100 firefighters.
Other fixed costs included increases in health insurance, rubbish disposal/collection, and retirement system funding.
The two new positions relate to growth and water meters, he said.
The junior engineer will help the city with all of the ongoing projects, while the Water Department employee will be a liaison to the public regarding the many issues with the City’s current water meters.
Ambrosino said he has instructed the Department to begin the process of getting new water meters, but until then, the new employee would help sort out customer complaints.
“The City is looking into new water meters because our existing meters are old and not functioning well,” he said.
For the School Department, he said they gave an additional $1 million on top of the $1 million added last year. He said they have given the schools 5 percent more than required by the state this year.
However, he said that cannot continue forever.
“There is a balancing act in how much a City can contribute to the School Department without putting its own budget out of whack,” he said.
The School Department is primarily funded by state money, and the City is required to pay a certain portion of the funding as well through a state formula. This year, that mandatory payment is going to be $91.2 million. The City has given over and above that in the last three years.
Following their receipt of the City Budget on Monday, Council President Damali Vidot will schedule a full slate of budget hearings for the month of May and June. The City Budget must get Council approval by June 30.
State officials made their first presentation of the proposed Community Living Center at the Soldiers’ Home, a project that will replace the Quigley Hospital and require the removal of the iconic Soldiers’ Home water tower.
The $199 million project, some 66 percent of which could be federally funded, has the makings of improving the living conditions of those in the long-term care portion of the Home – taking them from open wards that are no longer permissible to private rooms with social areas arranged in “houses.” However, to date, and through a large part of the meeting Thursday night, Aug. 3, the overall project has been overshadowed by the potential loss of the water tower.
Some residents have voiced approval for the project, but want those building it to see if they can save the tower or come up with a similar iconic structure. Other residents have started a very popular online petition to ‘Save the Chelsea Water Tower,’ and it has caught on.
On Thursday night, many of the voices of the veterans, who have yet to be heard, resonated.
“I guarantee you a few years after it’s gone…we’ll barely remember it,” said Daniel Heagan. “You’ll say, ‘I know there was a water tower there, but I don’t even remember what color it is.’ Please accept this change. It’s for the best of the veterans. Please go along with it. This is a positive change for the men and women who represented you in combat. You won’t know it’s gone in a few years.”
Tom Miller, who has lived at the Home for 11 years and is a member of the Honor Guard, said the priority is now the veterans.
“The water tower provided some great memories,” he said. “Right now the priority is to build a new Quigley Hospital. That needs to be the focus. We can always have those memories. The Historical Society will have wonderful photographs. We can have a party when it comes down to celebrate what it meant. But it has to come down.”
However, many long-time Chelsea residents said they hoped there could be a compromise.
“When I come over the Tobin Bridge and have people in the car I point to the tower and tell people that is where I live,” said School Committeeman Rich Maronski. “You can see the tower from East Boston. That’s where I live. The residents really wish if you could preserve it or move it, that would be great. The veterans health care comes first, but we wonder if there is a chance to do something.”
Councillor Matt Frank said he loves the Soldiers’ Home and all that it represents. He said he believes its time to support the veterans to get the new home, but he also said he hopes there can be some accommodation for the tower.
“Sometimes emotions do matter and I think it’s for the best of the veterans community to be visible to everyone around like they are with the tower,” he said. “You see it every day. If you lose something that’s such a visual reminder, people would drive by without knowing what this place is…My biggest fear is the Solders’ Home could be lost in the shuffle. I think we need to take (resident) emotions into account.”
Some in the audience suggested replacing it with a “ginormous” flag that could be seen from downtown Boston, as the tower is.
Francisco Urena, secretary of Veterans Affairs, led the meeting and said that they are listening to the public and the residents. Both he and Supt. Cheryl Poppe said the status quo with open wards must be replaced, as they get marked deficient frequently and could lose crucial funding.
To weigh in, the state has established an e-mail to submit comments. It is email@example.com.
The Chelsea City Council voted 10-0 to approve the City Budget for fiscal year 2018 during its meeting on Monday night, approving an increase in the budget to $163.39 million.
The Council also approved a Water Enterprise Fund of $7.7 million and a Sewer Enterprise Fund of $11.74 million – all of which is funded by the ratepayers and the tax levy.
The budget is slightly out of balance, with an expenditure of $674,154 in Free Cash necessary to balance the books – less than has been used in year’s past despite an aggressive spending plan put forth by City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
“This budget re-affirms our commitment to provide good services to the resident of Chelsea,” he said.
Some of the budget priorities include the downtown initiative, the downtown coordinator position, social service contracts, two new firefighters, youth programming, summer jobs for youth and additional positions and administrative support at City Hall.
However, the main expenditure comes to the Chelsea Public Schools, which was hit over the head with a funding hammer by the state in that the funding formula statewide has changed and to the detriment of Chelsea and other urban schools that have poor students who aren’t on welfare programs. The old funding system allowed for students in the district to self-report being low income. However, the new system requires students to be on an official welfare program to qualify as low income – unlocking additional funds for the schools.
This year, the City gave $4 million to help make up the gap created by this discrepancy in the state funding formula. Last year, the City gave $2 million for the same cause.
In a previous budget hearing, Ambrosino said it cannot continue forever.
“I want the school administration to hear this clearly, this cannot be sustained,” he said. “We cannot continue to make these expenditures to fill these funding gaps out of the City Budget.”
That will likely be a hot topic of debate next year as Budget season rolls around if the state has once again not taken action to fix the funding problem.
A recent report issued by the public interest group Save the Harbor/Save the Bay informs us that the beaches surrounding the Metropolitan Boston area were open for bathing 96 percent of the time during the summer of 2016 and that, barring unforeseen circumstances, the outlook should be the same for 2017.
This is quite an accomplishment, given that a generation ago, beaches in the Boston area were closed more often than not — and even when open, our beaches were not exactly inviting to swimmers and other recreational users.
We ourselves recall sailing in Boston Harbor in the 1980s and being unable to find a clean place to take a dip off our boat — and that included the outer harbor waters around the Brewster islands. There was no escape from the sliminess (for want of a better word) that essentially made the waters of Boston Harbor nothing more than a giant cesspool.
It certainly is true that the clean-up of Boston Harbor came at great expense to the ratepayers of the MWRA and surrounding sewer districts. Water and sewer rates skyrocketed on an annual basis for the 15 years of the construction phase and immediate aftermath of the construction of the MWRA’s treatment plant on Deer Island.
However, as with everything else in life, you get what you pay — there is no such thing as a free lunch, as the saying goes — so while the sudden shock of rising water & sewer rates caused some degree of hardship for some ratepayers, the bottom line is that all of us in this area had taken for granted the cheap water & sewer rates we had known for our entire lives — as well as where our water came from and where it drained out to — with no concern about the consequences of what we were doing to Boston Harbor, the greatest natural resource in our area, every time we flushed our toilets.
Moreover, as with many things when it comes to government fees and taxes, most ratepayers only looked at one side of the cost equation. We did not recognize that not only were there economic drawbacks associated with creating a polluted harbor, but that there were huge economic gains to be derived from making an investment in cleaning it up.
The magnificent and clean harbor that we have now, which admittedly was achieved at great expense, has been an economic engine for the entire area, creating jobs and adding immensely to property values not only along the immediate coast, but throughout Greater Boston, that have benefited every ratepayer.
So as we look forward to the coming summer of 2017, we can be grateful that we have a clean Boston Harbor to enjoy with our friends and families. In the 30-plus years since the MWRA has come into existence, the advantages, economic and otherwise, of achieving a sparkling Boston Harbor have extended far beyond merely being able to enjoy a swim on a hot summer’s day (which, in our view, is priceless)
The President’s Day long weekend is upon us, a time when we can take a bit of a respite from the onslaught of winter (which finally started getting into gear this week) and enjoy time with our families during the public school vacation week.
For some of us, the break means a family ski vacation, for others a trip to warmer climes, and yet for others, perhaps a day just to relax and dream about the coming warmer weather with the thought that April 1 is just six weeks away.
The Washington’s Birthday holiday (before it was known as President’s Day and before it was turned into a long weekend) also traditionally has featured Open House sales events by car dealers, and no doubt many among us will take advantage of this opportunity to shop for good deals at our area auto showrooms.
The holiday weekend also brings the annual New England Boat Show (which opens this weekend at the Convention Center), when dreams of hot summer days on the water will at the very least bring a smile and a feeling of restfulness to many of us.
This year the long weekend also coincides with Valentine’s Day, which means that many of us will be doing something extra-special for the holiday break.
One thing we have noticed as the years have passed is that little is done to observe what it is that we ostensibly are celebrating, namely, the births of our two greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22).
So regardless of how we choose to observe the long weekend, let’s make the most of it for our families and ourselves to create memories that will last a lifetime.
And let us give a nod as well to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The reality is that if either of these great leaders had not accomplished what they did — in Washington’s case, creating the United States, and in Lincoln’s case, saving it — almost none of us who are reading this column would be here today. So think about that for a moment — and then say a silent, “Thank you,” to George and Abe.
It might have been the hand of God that initially snagged a wanted man who had jumped over the edge of the Mystic/Tobin Bridge on Aug. 8, 2014, but it was Chelsea Police Officer Paul McCarthy who carried out the rest of the daring and brave rescue and arrest of that man.
“I looked over the edge and saw him suspended over the green water so far below,” recalled McCarthy. “It was like the hand of God was there just holding him. I was waiting for a splash when I looked over, but there he was on that construction fence. If they hadn’t been working on the Bridge he would have died no doubt about it. When he came to and started to move towards the edge of the fence to finish going over, I knew I had to do something. To think about it afterward, it was kind of crazy. It was a gut reaction and it worked out well. Even though he was a wanted man, he was still a human being and I couldn’t let him kill himself. I couldn’t watch him do it.”
McCarthy, 49 and a 10 year veteran of the CPD, eventually saved and arrested the Malden man that day, and for his extreme bravery and for risking his life, he was awarded George L. Hanna Medal of Valor at the State House on Tuesday morning – one of only six officers to receive the award this year.
“It’s the crowning achievement of my career,” he said after being awarded the medal on the House floor by Gov. Charlie Baker. “I have three lifesaving medals in the department prior, but this is the largest award you can get. As a law enforcement professional, it’s the crowning achievement. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my other officers.”
Several officers, Chief Brian Kyes and City Manager Tom Ambrosino attended the poignant ceremony on Beacon Hill Tuesday morning.
“I think it’s a tremendous award for him and the department,” said Ambrosino. “It reflects well on the City and the Police Department.”
On Aug. 8, 2014, McCarthy said a call came over the radio that a man in Malden had attempted to murder his wife and was fleeing towards Chelsea. Shortly after, it was reported he was seen near the Market Basket. McCarthy and another officer located the car and it fled up to the upper deck of the Bridge.
McCarthy and his partner were able to chase the man onto the Bridge and block him in so that he could go no further.
“He jumped out of the car with the knife in his hand,” said McCarthy. “He realized that he had nowhere to go, so he ran and jumped over the side of the Bridge. I went over and looked and expected to see him in the water, but he was stuck on the fence.”
Work crews had been repairing the Bridge all summer, and while they repaired the underside of the bridge, a very minimal chain link fence had been installed under the bridge to catch tools that fell from workers’s hands. The fence wasn’t meant to hold the weight of a human being, but it proved strong enough to have snagged the wanted man.
The man had hit a steel beam on the bridge and was unconscious in the net. He was also seriously injured and had a severely broken leg. Both officers radioed for help and were content to wait it out until fire crews arrived from Chelsea and Boston to rescue the unconscious man.
However, as they waited, the man came to and began to slowly move to the edge of the fence in order to continue the suicide jump.
“He wasn’t moving quickly because he was injured, but he was pulling himself to the edge to go over,” said McCarthy. “I couldn’t just watch him kill himself without doing something.”
McCarthy had to first get to the lower deck and there was no easy way.
A worker told him that sometimes they use the “45 degree” to get down quickly.
Not knowing what that meant, he asked the worker to lead the way.
The “45-degree” ended up being an angled beam of the bridge that ran from upper to lower deck, and for which McCarthy slid down without a harness or any protective gear – just sliding down a 45-degree beam hundreds of feet above the water and one slip away from certain death.
“I came over looking for a ladder and realized soon what he was talking about,” said McCarthy. “I slid down and followed him and, looking back, I didn’t even think about it.”
From there, his only choice to get to the man was to jump off the side of the lower deck onto the frail fence.
“As I jumped, my initial thought was ‘Please just let the fence hold me,’” said McCarthy. “Looking back, I question whether I had time to think about it and all the risk and all the things that could have gone wrong. In the heat of the moment, I couldn’t let him kill himself. I had to do what was right. Occasionally, now, I’ll look up at the Bridge and how high it is and wonder how I did it. When you think about how high it is, you wonder if you would do it again.”
After getting down to the fence successfully, McCarthy engaged in a brief struggle with the suspect, but was easily able to handcuff him. Due to his injuries, he wasn’t able to put up much of a fight.
However, the ordeal wasn’t nearly over.
Hanging hundreds of feet over the water and on a uncertain fence, McCarthy and the suspect had to hang in the balance for two hours while crews struggled to figure out a way to bring the men to safety.
“We just sat there quietly for a long time,” said McCarthy. “Originally, he was trying to fight me, but once I handcuffed him, he was compliant. I just held on to him. I was talking to him and telling him that whatever happened in Malden was in Malden; that I was there now and there for him. He went from being the bad guy at that point to the victim. We talked for a long time about the whole back story with him and his wife. He was very upset.”
Eventually crews did bring the two men to safety, and McCarthy said he has no idea what happened to the man or what the resolution was on his case.
What he does know is that being a p
Gov. Charlie Baker puts the George L. Hanna Medal of Valor around the next of Chelsea Police Officer Paul McCarthy during a ceremony at the State House on Tuesday morning.
olice officer brings one in contact with the wildest and most daring situations.
“You can sit there and have a nice, quiet breakfast in the morning and don’t expect much to happen and then an hour later you’re hanging off the Tobin Bridge,” he said. “That’s what happened. You never know what will happen when you report to work.”