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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New Clark Avenue School Opens with Buzz of Excitement on Wednesday

New Clark Avenue School Opens with Buzz of Excitement on Wednesday

It was a new year at the Clark Avenue Middle School Wednesday morning, Aug. 29.

But it wasn’t just any new year.

It was the year that students poured through a brand new front door to the clean, sparkling hallways of a brand new $54 million school building with all of the most modern amenities that their old school – the former 110-year-old Chelsea High School – couldn’t provide.

“I really want to see the new gym; I can’t wait,” said William Bay, a 7th grader, as he waited outside his new school Wednesday morning. “I guess I just want to see all of the school. I’m excited about the whole thing. I think it will help me do better in school. I’m going to learn more here.”

For parents, the excitement was just as frenzied.

“I’m so excited,” said Bernice Reyes, who brought her two sixth graders for their first day. “I have a college graduate who went to the old Clark Ave. I remember that school. It couldn’t give these kids what this one will.”

Said Sara El-Mahil, a returning student, “It’s better than the old one for sure. The classroom are larger and all the water fountains will work now. I really like the space in the front where kids can hang out before school. Everything is going to be more organized.”

The Clark Ave began several years ago, with Phase 1 concluding in December 2016 and kids being welcomed into the new classroom portion along Tudor Street. This year, however, the entire school was opened to students – revealing a new gym, new music rooms, the library and numerous other amenities that completed the project.

“It’s a fantastic building,” said Principal Michael Talbot. “The kids are going to love it. The teachers are going to love the new options that this building gives them to teach the kids. Everyone’s excited.”

Supt. Mary Bourque and other district officials, including Gerry McCue – who shepherded the project through before retiring this year, were on hand to welcome students and parents.

“I am so proud of what the City has done here with this facility,” she said. “This was the right thing to do for the kids and the community.”

One of the most appreciated things on Wednesday morning for the students, parents and staff was the new, sprawling courtyard and outdoor amphitheatre at the corner of Tudor  Street and Clark Avenue. The new space is still under construction, but was finished to the extent that it offered a great place to gather before school.

Previously, the school hugged the sidewalk, and there was little to no space for gathering.

The new outdoors space will support learning at the school, and will also be available for the community to use for things such as outdoor plays or movies.

Williams School sewer problems

The Williams School – home of the Browne Middle and Wright Middle Schools – experienced a heart-attack moment on Monday afternoon when a major sewer blockage threatened opening day.

Around 3 p.m. on Monday, the sewer backed up and caused a major problem in the school. All of the teachers getting prepared for the school year in the building were sent home.

Joe Cooney and his team at the Buildings and Grounds Department went to work on the problem and soon found that there was a huge cluster of baby wipes clogging the sewer pipe and drains.

“Joe’s team worked throughout the night washing and sanitizing everything and we were ready to be back in business Tuesday morning,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “I am truly the luckiest and most grateful Superintendent for our dedicated and hard-working Buildings and Grounds department.”

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Fiesta Verano

Fiesta Verano

Alex Taborta and Esther A. danced inside Pan y Cafe during Fiesta Verano last Saturday, Aug. 4. The second part of the Chelsea Art Walk had a hard time avoiding rain this year, having been cancelled once due to rain. On Saturday, organizers decided to go for broke, and moved the event inside Pan Y Café – courtesy of owner Roy Avellaneda. Several acts performed inside, and the Latin-themed afternoon was a hit.

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Chelsea Schools Get Raw Deal in ‘Pothole’ Account This Year

Chelsea Schools Get Raw Deal in ‘Pothole’ Account This Year

The Chelsea Public Schools have had a life-line in the State Budget the last few years as finances have gotten more difficult.

That life-line is known as the ‘Hold Harmless’ provision, or more popularly the ‘Pothole’ account. This year, that account is little to no help for Chelsea as the district saw their funding slashed in half.

Last year, Chelsea got an additional $1.214 million from the Pothole account funding – a fund that seeks to help districts who are not getting a proper count of their low-income students due to changes three years ago in the way they are counted.

However, this year Chelsea will only get $296,000, nearly $1 million less than last year.

“The whole idea of the account is to hold us harmless for the change in the way they calculate the funding, which has taken dollars away from us,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “Come to find out, it was slashed this year at a rate of about 56 percent, so we are not held harmless because that would mean you are at 100 percent. By their own admission, we aren’t held harmless at 100 percent.”

State Sen. Sal DiDomenico said he was disappointed in the funding allotted to Chelsea for the Pothole account, and the ability not to be able to fix the funding for the long-term. That was something he had proposed in the education funding bill.

“I’m disappointed that was also not addressed within this session,” he said. “It would have been addressed with (the education) bill and it’s another reason I’m disappointed with how all of this happened.”

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Gallery Opening

Gallery Opening

John Winam points himself out in one of Arnie Jarmak’s historic Chelsea Record photographs during the opening reception for Gallery 456 on Monday, July 16. The show was the first for the City-sponsored gallery in the old Salvation Army Store. Jarmak was a staff photographer for the Record in the 1970s and captured thousands of images of the city and its people. His show will be displayed at Boston College later this year, but will remain in Chelsea through September.

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Albanese Upset Over Council’s Cut

Albanese Upset Over Council’s Cut

Saying he is disappointed with the Council’s posture toward the Fire Department during last week’s successful $100,000 budget cut to his department, Chief Len Albanese said the Council missed an opportunity to help bring the Department forward.

The Council, particularly Council President Damali Vidot, called for the cut and said the Fire Department overtime budget had requested an increase. She and others felt like that number – which in the past has been described as being abused – should be doing down.

Albanese said it wasn’t fair, and he said he Council hasn’t listened to his calls for an appropriate percentage of funding and more staffing.

“I’m disappointed with the cut that was made and the comments made by Council President Vidot,” he said. “This year we made budget. I told the Council that if they properly funded the Fire Department we would do our best to live within that range, and we delivered. We require no supplemental funding to finish the year.

“I have advocated for more staffing since my first month on the job,” he continued. “We have acquired both the staffing and apparatus to make that happen. Now, we need this additional staffing to translate into more boots on the ground daily. If the recent fire on John Street is not indication enough of that, I’m not sure what is. These major fires in our densely populated neighborhoods are a significant threat to our community. We need as much help as possible in the first 10 minutes of these fires to protect our neighborhoods.”

He said the John Street fire was one where they lucked out because had other calls been going, the staffing might not have been there to respond correctly.

“We are lucky that all of our apparatus was available at the time of that alarm and not tied up on other calls,” he said. “I assure you, the devastation would have been much worse. Twenty homeless could have been 100. We cannot count on luck. We need to be prepared with a reasonable amount of protection based on the threat that we face.”

In 2016, Albanese presented to the Council that the Fire Department budget is around 6.25 percent of the overall budget, and national standard indicate it should be between 6.5-7 percent based on the call volumes.

This year, they would be 6.25 percent and that represents less percentage-wise than in 2016.

“Our overall budget represents only 6.25 percent of the overall City Budget which is actually less percentage wise than we received in 2016,” he said. “Even when you consider that we will eventually take over the new hire salaries in full, we will still be between 6.5 and 6.75 percent of total budget, well within a reasonable and acceptable range.”

For his overtime request, he said he requested a 4 percent increase to the current year’s $1.25 million overtime budget. That, he said, is because salaries increased by 4 percent and so there would be less overtime coverage.

“It’s one thing to hold the line, but to cut our entire request, plus an additional $50,000 that we had this year makes no sense,” he said. “It’s like saying thanks but no thanks.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he believes the chief can make things work despite the cut.

“I was opposed to that cut,” he said. “I think the chief can make his overtime and salaries work. He has some open positions. There are three now…Hopefully he’ll make it and if he can’t, I’ll have to come to the council in the spring and ask for more money.”

Albanese said the cut won’t stop them from carrying out their plan, but it does no one any favors.

“The $100,000 cut will not keep us from continuing on our plan to increase daily staffing, but it doesn’t help,” he said. “With the amount of information we have provided the council, I think those members who voted to support this cut missed an opportunity to show their commitment to protecting our neighborhoods. The $100,000 is literally one-half of 1 percent of the City Budget, but it can translate into having an extra firefighter searching for a trapped occupant. To me, that’s money well spent.”

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Anniversary Celebration

Anniversary Celebration

Kiaralis, Mike, and Sara Sandoval attended the 40th Anniversary of Chelsea TND where Mike was awarded as Chelsea member of the year. TND celebrated 40 years as an organization founded in Chelsea, and also celebrated their outgoing Director Ann Houston and their incoming Director Rafael Mares.

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Ambrosino Submits $174 Million City Budget

Ambrosino Submits $174 Million City Budget

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.

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Tobin Bridge Project to Begin April 1

Tobin Bridge Project to Begin April 1

The contract for the multi-year Mystic/Tobin Bridge Rehabilitation project will begin on April 1 for the first full year of construction on the upper and lower decks of the Bridge.

The project is fully separate from the controversial Chelsea Viaduct project – which is adjacent to this project – and is still in the design phase.

JF White received its notice to proceed last October and the contract begins on April 1, which will clear them to move in and begin work, particularly on the Lower Deck (outbound) part of the Bridge. The Lower Deck in each of the three-years will have one lane closed for concrete structure repairs.

Another major component will be the temporary closures at different points during the year of the Everett Avenue on-ramp, the Beacon Street off-ramp and the Fourth Street off-ramp.

“The Lower Deck is a little more involved because it requires milling and paving and replacement of the existing concrete deck,” said John McInerney of MassDOT. “It’s a steel grid so it’s a little more tedious to replace that concrete. Because of worker safety and the fact that the work is tedious and we have to pour concrete and let it cure, the three lanes on the Lower Deck will be down to two throughout the job.”

On the first year, this year, that will be the right lane of traffic that will be closed outbound. On the second year, it will be the left lane, and on the third year, the middle lane.

Paving and milling operations on the Upper Deck (inbound) is less intrusive and will only be done in off-peak hours with no lane closures expected.

The ramp closures will likely be the most impactful thing for Chelsea residents this year, but McInerney said they will not close multiple ramps at the same time for construction. They will do one at a time.

The first ramp up will be the Everett Avenue on-ramp, which is in deplorable shape.

He said it will likely be closed from late April to May.

“We are going to want them to really focus on that when they close a ramp,” he said. “We aren’t going to let them close a ramp and only work on it three hours a day. We want them to get it done as quickly as possible.”

Once that is done, they will move to close the Beacon Street off-ramp for two months. When it is completed, they will move to close the Fourth Street off-ramp for about one month. That is anticipated to happen in November.

“The bottom line is these three ramp closures are anticipated for this construction season and they won’t close simultaneously,” he said. “They have to have to come one after the other.”

He added that the MBTA is working with them to talk about changes to bus routes that use those ramps.

McInerney said there will also be extensive steel repairs on the Bridge, but the extent isn’t totally known right now. Once crews are able to set up access points, they will be able to examine the steel more closely.

McInerney said before JF White proceeds on April 1, there will be a community meeting to address any concerns. Dates for those meetings are forthcoming.

The project contract ends each Nov. 30 for the three-year period.

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Ward 4 Democratic Committee Elects Delegates to the State Convention

Ward 4 Democratic Committee Elects Delegates to the State Convention

Registered Democrats in the City of Chelsea Ward 4, held a Caucus on February 3, 2018 at the Chelsea Public Library to elect Delegates to the 2018 Democratic State Convention.

Elected Delegates are:

Olivia Anne Walsh

91 Crest Ave.

Luis Tejada

103 Franklin Ave.

Thomas J. Miller

91 Crest Ave.

Theresa G. Czerepica

21 Prospect Ave.

This year’s State Convention will be held June 1-2 at the DCU Center in Worcester, where thousands of Democrats from across the Commonwealth will come together to endorse Democratic candidates for statewide office, Including Constitutional officers and gubernatorial candidates

Those interested in getting involved with the Chelsea Ward 4 Democratic Committee should contact Attorney Olivia Anne Walsh, Ward 4 Chair, at 617-306-5501.

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