Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 1, 2012

Gathering Storm in Central Square – Oct 1, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 9:11 am

Gathering Storm in Central Square – Oct 1, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few items of interest on tonight’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Mass Dept. of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2013.

Here are some excerpts from the City Manager’s message on this topic:

"I am pleased to inform you that the actual FY13 property tax levy of $316,947,770 reflects a $17,857,132 or 5.97% increase from FY12, which is lower than the estimated increase projected in May 2012. The FY13 Budget adopted by the City Council in May 2012 projected a property tax levy increase of $19.7 million, or 6.6%, to $318,818,195 in order to fund operating and capital expenditures. The FY13 operating budget has increased by 2.87%."

"Based on a property tax levy of $316.9 million, the FY13 residential tax rate will be $8.66 per thousand dollars of value, which is an increase of $0.18, or 2.1% from FY12. The commercial tax rate will be $21.50, which is an increase of $0.74, or 3.6% from FY12. Both increases in the tax rate are less than FY12."

"This recommendation includes the use of $11 million in reserve accounts to lower the property tax levy; $2 million from overlay surplus; and $9 million in Free Cash. It should be noted that the certified Free Cash amount of $115.8 million is the highest amount in the City’s history and represents a $13.6 million increase over last year. Also, $0.6 million from the School Debt Stabilization Fund is used to offset increases in debt service costs that would otherwise have been funded from property taxes."

"Additionally, I am recommending that $10 million from Free Cash, as was stated at the time of the budget, be appropriated to the City’s Debt Stabilization Fund to offset anticipated debt service costs in the future for the City’s major capital projects especially in relation to the Elementary School reconstruction plan. This appropriation will help stabilize tax levy increases related to these projects in future years. This practice of using the Debt Stabilization Fund to offset debt service costs has resulted in a successful capital projects program, while maintaining stable property tax levy growth in past years."

"Approximately 74.9% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY13 tax bill. In addition, another 15.8% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100 and $250. Therefore, a total of 90.7% of the residential taxpayers will see no increase or an increase of less than $250. This will be the eighth year in a row that a majority of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no change or an increase of less than $100. This accomplishment should not be taken for granted given the national economic uncertainties, while maintaining city and school services that citizens have come to expect and while providing a strong capital improvement program highlighted by major projects such as the Mayor Russell/West Cambridge Youth and Community Center, Healy Public Safety Facility, Main Public Library, War Memorial Recreation Center and CRLS."

This week will see a Planning Board hearing (Tuesday) and an Ordinance Committee hearing (Wednesday) on the Yanow Petition (a.k.a. the Permanant Parking Petition). This petition calls for reductions in allowed height and density in Central Square at a time when all discussions to this point have been about maintaining or marginally increasing the allowed density as an incentive for new housing, repairing some of the current deficits in the Square, plus other community benefits. The petition also seeks to enshrine surface parking lots as the pinnacle of urban design. If ever there was a zoning petition that should be laughed out of the City Council and the Planning Board, this is that petition.

Communication #1. A communication was received from CARU Associates, et al., transmitting written protest to the Susan Yanow, et al. Zoning Petition.

This communication from Central Square property owners suggests sufficient opposition that the Yanow Petition will likely require 7 of 9 City Council votes for adoption, though that calculation has not yet been made. There appears to be near-unanimous opposition from Central Square business owners and commercial property owners.

Save Our City ManagerResolution #4. Resolution on the death of James Leo Sullivan.   Councillor Maher

I don’t know if I ever met the man, but I have always admired James Leo Sullivan from afar. He set the standard for professional city management in Cambridge and mentored his successor Robert W. Healy. His obituary (which appeared in the Lowell Sun) is rich in information. If anyone has any photos of James Leo Sullivan that may be posted here, including photos of him with contemporaries, they would be greatly appreciated. James Leo Sullivan served as City Manager from June 1968 to April 1970 and then again from April 1974 to July 1981. He was succeeded in 1981 by Robert W. Healy.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Sept 19, 2012 to continue discussions to develop a hiring process for the position of City Manager.

Among other things discussed at this committee meeting was the desire to gather as much community input as possible to advise this most important decision that the City Council can make. Soliciting and receiving input from a representative cross section of Cambridge residents and others with interests in Cambridge is not an easy task. All too often we hear only from the "self-anointed, self-appointed" groups claiming to represent others. The real challenge for the city councillors will be to craft a medium-term and long-term vision for the next decade or more and then choose the right person to implement that vision. That person might now be in the City administration or it could be someone hired from elsewhere. Let’s hope that the elected officials listen to all the people in the city as they make their decisions. – Robert Winters

1 Comment

  1. I hope that they hire a good search firm/consultant to help them construct the process, the important criteria for choice, and follow it through. An independent agency can do a good job of evaluating the candidates (internal and from afar) to give some objective information to help the council make a good decision. A comprehensive process will help boost the confidence in the residents, the city employees, and the many outside organizations that have to deal with the city in the choice – all important factors in influencing the success of the new manager.

    Comment by John Gintell — October 1, 2012 @ 11:11 am

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