Sunday Notes March 8th 2015


Back in June I posted the following city-budget-some-clarity-needed. Today I’ll call this Post City Finances, some explanation required.

Thursday the Sun had an article titled

City manager: Lowell fiscal outlook strong

Which sounds good but if you read the story it clearly states the outlook for 2016 isn’t really that strong:

Among other challenges, the school district has forecasted a fiscal 2016 budget deficit of potentially $3 million. Lowell also expects a 9 percent increase, or about $2.5 million, in its employee health-care costs next year. and Pension and contractual obligations are also expected to rise.

That doesn’t sound to healthy nor does a Feb 3 letter to the Council from CFO Connor Baldwin who noted that Revenue Projections are strong but running behind and Local receipts are 7% behind.

To further confuse things the article in the SUN states

that Lowell has a reserve fund of nearly $11 million, what officials said is the highest level for that account

That statement leaves a lot to question by someone. Hopefully a City Councilor!

Manager Murphy started the year according to his own budget

with a Stabilization Fund Balances at $12 million and our Chapter 17 reserve balance is at $2.2 million

In February the Manager transferred the $2.2 million Chapt. 17 funds into the “General Reserves” .

So how do you start the 2015 budget with 12 million add 2 million and say in late February that you have 11 million without anyone asking how that could be?

One thing that Tax Payers should remember from that Thursday Sun article:

Lowell does have an ability to raise revenue. Nearly $12 million is available in property-tax revenue until the city would bump up against the maximum mandated by Proposition 2 1/2.

Which translates to, open your wallet, another tax increase ahead!

Is the Sun story incorrect on the amount in the Reserve fund? Was a city official misquoted? Was the city official unclear on what exact reserve fund was being talked about? I’ll give them some benefit of the doubt, They have replaced many reporters over the past year (most recently Dracut reporter John Collins had reportedly moved on) and the current staff has little prior history covering Lowell politics.

However it appears to me that the former City Hall guy may have had a personal agenda, the guy covering City Hall now apparently accepts anything told to him without bothering to look up the budget or doesn’t have the time since all of their time is stretched covering many things.

Is the Manager just looking for puff press or was the budget statement incorrect or was reserve money used somewhere that hasn’t been noted?.

In June I asked specifically about the following that should be (in my opinion) asked about again: Some line item increases that are listed below need some explaining (to me anyway) because of the projected increases:

Excise Tax – An increase of $845,294
Tax Liens Redeemed – projects an increase of $800,000
Treasurer Misc.- increases by $103,000.00
Special Detail Receipts- increases by $100,000.
Code and Inspection bld permits – Increases by $144,250
Pilot Program – increase $147,850 (Payment in Lieu of Taxes)
Meals tax – increase of $90,000
Medicaid reimbursement – Increased by $100,000
40R Revenue – In 2013 $150,000 was listed – Zero in 2014 and $225,000 in this Budget (What is 40R?)

Are these projected increases on target? Also how come the Budget stated the General Reserve had $12 Million in July but in Feb. the paper states it has $11 million? If we transferred $2.2 million from the one defunct Chap 17 requirement,why aren’t we at $14 million?

The Manager, Asst. Manager or CFO are welcome to explain and answer these questions to clear up the confusion anytime.

I think that City Clerk Mike Geary has done a great job and stabilized the office but looking for such a large pay hike in a tough fiscal atmosphere is hard to endorse. He may be paid lower than other dept. heads but that shouldn’t matter, he should have known that when he took the position. A 6% increase over 3 years seems more in line.

The budget and tax increases, this Councils and Manager’s lack of cost saving actions and the right for honest hard working people, especially veterans to be able to get a FAIR chance of obtaining a license to carry a concealed weapon could all become campaign issues.

The big question is will there be any candidates? For Council so far we have only Dave Conway with a strong rumor that former councilor Joe Mendonca will also run.

Bob Hoey is announced for the School Committee but after his appearance on City Life Friday, you have to wonder if he will be anything but a Fred Doyle or Buckles Nolan type candidate, outrageous comments and fun to cover but not a strong chance to ever win.

Here is the Timeline for Lowell Candidates:

Monday, June 1, 2015: 2015 Municipal Election nomination papers released
Friday, July 31, 2015 Last day and hour to obtain nomination papers 5 PM
Tuesday, August 4, 2015 Last day and hour to submit nomination papers to the Election Commission 5 PM
Wednesday, August 19, 2015 Posting of list of candidates

Meet John Cross!

For those of you on Facebook who accepted his “friend” request, his real name is Frank and he used to run the derogatory web site Dracut After Dar that was forced to shut down and he was forced to pay some damages..he may have to again. Be smart and de friend him.