Apparently it took an elderly woman tripping and hurting herself recently on Whittier Drive that allowed the Council to have a change of heart about approving a borrowing of $3 million to do a pared-down paving and sidewalk program this summer.
The Council approved the matter by a vote of 9-0, with Councilor Gerly Adrien not voting and Councilor Wayne Matewsky absent.
Last month, amidst the first round of changes to the workforce and layoffs at City Hall, the Council conflated the issue of borrowing for the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) with the idea of saving money to save jobs. The two pots of money are completely separate, with the CIP money coming from a short- and long-term borrowing plan, and the City Budget issues coming from taxpayers and other forms of revenue.
Last month, the Council voted to hold over the money and the decision – which the administration said has cost four valuable weeks of construction time. Meanwhile, an elderly woman also tripped on a sidewalk that needed repairing on Whittier Drive and was hurt pretty seriously.
Those things seemed to point to a change of heart on Monday, and a clearer understanding of where the finances of the City were going and where this request fit into that plan. In the current budget, the $3 million borrowing would cost taxpayers about $40,000 and would be paid off over a 20-year period at a cost of about $210,000 annually.
“We cannot forgo doing infrastructure improvements because it will cost more money down the line,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “The longer we wait, the more it crumbles and the most it costs to fix. I know some are citing the layoffs and cutting of hours for employees because of the budget, but we also need to continue improving infrastructure.”
CFO Eric Demas and City Engineer Greg St. Louis said most of the work is the paving operations that will need to be done after MWRA-funded pipe and sewer work is completed. The work will take place either this summer, early fall or next spring, but both said the money needed to be in place and the work was critical to basic upkeep.
“It is absolutely critical you guys grant this tonight in some form so we can continue to do the work expeditiously,” said Demas.
The streets on the list include parts of Broadway, parts of Main Street, Hampshire Street, Florence, Nichols, Elm Street, Morris Street, Ferry Street and areas around Wehner Park – among others. Most of it is wrap up work following the planned and current work on piping that is being done with $1.8 million in loans from the MWRA.
However, getting that list was no easy task, as Councilor Michael McLaughlin tried for about 20 minutes to narrow down just what work was critical and what wasn’t – as many on the Council were trying to compromise to approve part of the $3 million and leave the rest for later consideration.
“Going out to bid for $3 million at one time worries me,” he said. “Maybe we can fund only the critical work and then come back later and vote on the rest if it’s needed. We’ll have a better understanding for the financial situation in Everett in the fall. Maybe we can hold some of the money back…”
That led to a back and forth with the mayor that nearly resulted in a disciplinary recess by Council President Rosa DiFlorio.
“He’s misunderstanding,” said the mayor.
“I’m not misunderstanding, Mr. Mayor,” replied McLaughlin. “I take offense to that. I’m good with the mayor. I’d like to hear from Mr. St. Louis.”
“I feel the councilor is being very disrespectful,” said the mayor.
Then DiFlorio threatened a recess, and they both returned to normal discussion.
However, it was Councilor Fred Capone who was in the spotlight, as he had not voted last month and that led to a defeat of the appropriation – which was re-submitted for Monday’s meeting. The administration was quite frustrated with that vote as construction season for paving and sidewalks is in full swing and time is of the essence. Holding up the money last month, they said, lost valuable time. The mayor also discussed the elderly woman who fell on Whittier Drive, and said that might have been fixed had the money passed last month due to it being on the list of areas to be repaired.
Capone said he had heard about the woman who fell, and felt the former contractor should be called in to fix the bad cement work. He also said it has been an uncommon year and the normal CIP process has been altered.
Demas said they actually haven’t sent the Council the CIP plan yet due to budget uncertainties, but wanted to go ahead with this $3 million to get some work in during the summer. He said there would be a traditional CIP when they submitted the traditional City Budget in September.
“This is a unique year; it’s anything but normal,” he said. “I’m more than happy to vote for $2 million tonight. If we’re going to use it all, I’m fine with voting for another $1 million down the road. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable.”
Councilor Michael Marchese said it is important to invest in the infrastructure, even in a pandemic.
“We’re talking about $3 million and that’s not a lot in the construction world,” he said. “The road work that needs to be done is astronomical. There’s not end to it. We have to continue making investments in infrastructure. If you lose a day, you’re a day late.”
The majority on the Council agreed, and the matter passed easily.