October 13, 2014 Ward Letter

I hope you are enjoying Columbus Day Weekend.  This week’s letter discusses infrastructure repairs, school lunches and a tax stabilization extension for the Peerless Lofts and Alice Building projects.

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On Tuesday, October 14 at 5:00 p.m. at City Hall (Third Floor), the Public Works Committee will hear a presentation from the Public Works Department concerning the inventory of unrepaired sidewalks in the City pursuant to a Resolution I introduced and the City Council unanimously approved.  The Public Works Department will report on the number of unrepaired sidewalks, the dates on which repairs were requested and the cost of repair.  My preliminary research has revealed thousands of unrepaired sidewalks for which requests for repair date back as many as ten (10) years.  My goal is to review the feasibility of asking the voters to approve a sidewalk repair bond to address them all at once.  At a Ways and Means Committee hearing last week, the Internal Auditor reported that the City will have the capacity to borrow $10 to $20 million for such repairs should the voters approve them.  I believe the City is unlikely to be able to address this backlog in the near term from operating funds due to numerous other budgetary commitments, and therefore an initiative similar to the $40 million road repair bond provides the most practical avenue to address a condition that (1) involves a basic City service, (2) detracts from our residents’ quality of life and (3) presents a safety hazard throughout the City.

On Thursday, October 16 at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall (Third Floor), the Special Committee on Education will hold a hearing to review the School Department’s renewal of its food services contract with Sodexho.  While the contract has been vetted by the School Department and the School Board, I have asked the School Department to report on the issue of whether are school lunches are providing children with appropriate nutrition, a subject that was the subject of an Article in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine.  I remember studying the school lunch program soon after beginning my own term on the School Board in 2002, at which time certain popular menu items (such as the chicken nuggets and the pizza) provided unhealthy amounts of fat and sodium, but were kept on the menu due to their popularity with kids who might not otherwise have an important meal.  The New York Times article suggests we have made progress since then, and the public is invited to learn more about this issue.

Also on Thursday, October 16 at 7:00 p.m., the City Council will hold a regular meeting.  One of the docket items will be a second vote on the 5-year extension of a tax stabilization agreement for the Peerless Lofts and Alice Building developments on Westminster Street.  At the City Council’s October 2 meeting, I voted in favor of initial passage of this program for the reasons explained in this nine-paragraph Post.   This vote raises a number of difficult issues, including whether it is in the City’s interest to extend an existing tax stabilization, and whether such an extension will set an undesirable precedent for the future.  After much thought and consideration, I have concluded that this extension should be granted due to its distinctive history and legacy from a program that will be changed going forward from many lessons learned over the past decade.  For the reasons described in my Post, I expect this tax stabilization extension to be the last one the City Council will grant to any developer, and that future tax stabilizations will look significantly different from many that have been agreed to in the past.