More like half a recap. Maybe 60%? I dunno. I was streaming the LTC feed and at about 7:45 p.m. something happened to my audio. I’m not sure if the problem was on my end or theirs (though there is no replay up today, so maybe they are still having some issues). In any event my ears started to bleed, so I tuned out. Here’s what I caught and found interesting:
1. Where’s My Money, Man?
A few weeks back, Councilor Mercier raised some concerns with the Animal Control office, notably reports that she received indicating that the city was in arrears with money owed to a couple of animal hospitals. Accordingly, there was a question as to whether these providers had closed their doors to the city. In December, she filed the following motion:
Req. City Manager Provide A Full Report On The Status Of Animal Control: ie., City Veterinarian And Procedures For Injured Animals, The Number Of Staff Employees In The Animal Control Office And Who Is In Charge, Any Partnerships With Lowell Humane Society, Emergency Hospital Invoices That Are Outstanding, Status Of Protective Gear And Training, Vaccines Etc.
Last night, there was a motion response as well as a vote addressing these concerns. Essentially, when Animal Control has an animal (usually a stray) that is sick or injured, they take it to an animal hospital for treatment or a humane death. The motion response revealed that Councilor Mercier was correct in that the city was “made aware of a billing issue with one of our providers and some monies owed.” In addition, “[t]here are two providers that are owed monies from fiscal year 2021.” The vote was to authorize payment in the amount of these unpaid bills totaling $7,972.81 (Westford Vet $4,744.90 + Bulger Vet $3,227.91). For a brief period, one provider put us on the “not welcome” list. Thus, the vote to get us out of the doghouse. A 2/3 vote of the Council is required to cover these expenses as per M.G.L. ch. 44 sec. 64. Accompanying the vote were 26(!) invoices, like the following, for services rendered:
(Did…did they ask the cat its name???)
Notably, some of these services were rendered way back in early 2022. All councilors who spoke on the motion response and vote indicated that they had concerns about the policies and procedures that the city had (or didn’t have) that lead to this somewhat embarrassing oversight. You may recall that back in September there was a similar vote to pay $130,386.79 in bad bills over in the Parking Department. The vote on the vet bills passed 10-1, with Councilor Gitschier voting in opposition on the grounds that additional information was necessary. In addition, citizens have been assured that new procedures will be put in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Councilor Jenness suggested quarterly audits, aimed at catching these oversights in a more timely fashion.
Finally, some good news, I have been assured that most of these animals are now “living on a big farm, somewhere out in the country.”
2. Tax Title Auction Coming Back
In June of 2022, Councilor Scoot filed a motion seeking an update as to whether the city would again hold a tax tile action. Councilor Jenness renewed the motion in November. A response to these motions was provided advising of the following:
Until the pandemic, Lowell held an auction every year. Currently, the Law Department and Treasurer’s Department have been working with the City Manager’s Office to facilitate an auction date. Despite the staffing turnover in the Law Department it is our goal to complete this auction in fiscal year 2023. This year’s auction list will include properties whose liens were not sold in recent years because of the pandemic. It is anticipated that roughly 150 properties will receive auction notices.
Manager Golden informed the council that advertising for the next auction could begin next month.
3. Homelessness, Again
There was a response to a Motion by Councilor Rourke seeking an itemization of money the City has extended to groups to combat the homelessness crisis. A registered speaker from the city’s unhoused population was critical of the city’s efforts and treatment of the homeless. Most councilors pushed back, citing the significant effort and money expended by the city on this issue (check the report). Frustration is starting to bubble to the surface in that despite these efforts, there are a number of homeless individuals in Lowell who are simply refusing the help that is offered.
4. The Rest
Because I essentially lost my audio, I missed many topics that I would have liked to have seen:
- The City received the Government Finance Officers Association (“GFOA”) ‘Distinguished Budget Presentation Award’ for the FY2023. Credit to those that put the budget together – it’s a massive document with an absurd amount of info. It’s a real triumph each and every Spring. Glad they got some recognition. Fortunately, Fire Department overtime was not used a criteria for grading (zing!).
- C. Nuon/C. Jenness – Req. City Mgr. Have Proper Department Provide A Report On Potential Initiatives To Reduce The Commercial Vacancy Rate In The Downtown Central Business District And The Neighborhood Business Districts. Report To Include Potential Funding For Business Districts From The American Rescue Plan (ARPA) Or The State’s Massachusetts Vacant Storefronts Program (MVSP).
- C. Nuon – Req. City Mgr. Update The City Council On The Status Of Potential Help From The State Regarding The $38 Million Dollar Overrun On The Lowell High School Construction Project. Yeah, what’s up with that?
- C. Robinson – Req. The City Mgr. Have The Proper Department Explore The Feasibility Of Acquiring A Mobile Snow Gun Machine To Create More Opportunities For Our Residents To Enjoy Public Space In Winter Months. Some people on the radio were losing their minds over this. Some people are just assholes.
- C. Robinson – Req. The City Mgr. Have The Proper Department Provide A Detailed Report With Focus On Cost To Bring ALL Services Included In Parking Enterprise Contract In House. I’m listening.
- C. Jenness – Req. City Mgr. Have Proper Department Investigate The Findings Of The Human Rights Campaign’s Annual Municipality Equality Index, Rating LGBTQ+ Inclusion In Municipal Law And Policy That Showed Lowell With The Lowest Score Of The Ten Massachusetts Municipalities Ranked In This Year’s Report And Develop An Action Plan Accordingly. Interesting report. Looking forward to city response.