Last night’s meetings of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen contained high stakes, high drama and probably came close to setting a record for length.
The first meeting, not counting the Committee on Human Resources and Insurance which we probably won’t get today, was a special one of the board called by Mayor Ted Gatsas for the purpose of discussing a plan assembled by the Department of Public Works to spend the six million dollars Gatsas has proposed in the Fiscal Sixteen budget and sketch out an approach to spend all eighteen million dollars Gatsas proposed to spend between now and twenty twenty.
The department reported it has let a contract for one point four million to Brox Industries and purchased four hundred thousand dollars of asphalt to spend the one point eight million dollars in the current budget which they say will resurface six miles of roads. That information came in a discussion of new maintenance techniques the department will deploy in light of the recently completed infrastructure management survey which identified every inch of roadway, gave it a score and developed the data and an approach the city will need to maintain, repair or replace it all.
With the six million proposed by the mayor, the department says it will crack seal thirty miles of roads, preserve another six, resurface six, mill and overlay eight point six, reclaim one and reconstruct half a mile for a total of fifty two miles of roads addressed. Time is short to get this work done however. The department will have to outsource about five million dollars of the work because it simply doesn’t have the capacity to do the work in house. If bids for the work aren’t out soon, contractors will have already committed to a work schedule that will leave the city with money to spend and nobody to spend it with. Expect the board to take the matter up at its next meeting.
After that hour long meeting, which started as six, School Superintendent Debra Livingston came with her crew to the regular meeting of the Board, which started a half hour late because of an onslaught of Uber drivers and taxi cab owners who showed up at the Public Participation meeting of the board, we’ll get to that in a minute, to make their budget presentation. As she did at the Board of School Committee, Livingston spent most of her time detailing the justification for the one hundred sixty four point seven million dollar budget she wanted. Unlike the School Board however, the Board of Aldermen wasn’t enamored of the request.
Ward Twelve Alderman Keith Hirschmann said he thought the mayor had been very generous in giving the schools a more than two million dollar increase given that the rest of the city’s departments were level funded at best. Several aldermen nit picked various additions Livingston proposed and several said many were nice, but not needed. However the truly revealing comments came as follows:
Ward One Alderman Joyce Craig seemed to have her mayoral candidate hat on as she continually pressed on the impact the mayor’s proposed budget would have. Would there be layoffs? Would class sizes swell? How many classes would soar over state standards? That kind of thing. The answers she got didn’t make her case. There would be no layoffs. A projected one point one million dollar surplus could be retained in trust funds and spent without affecting the tax cap, effectively adding that amount to the mayor’s proposal which gives the schools almost half a million dollars more than allowed by the cap, and uncertainty as to what class sizes would look like if they used the surpluses. Gatsas won that battle on all fronts.
Ward Six Alderman Garth Corriveau summed it up best when he said he would really like to give them all they’re asking for, but with the tax cap, which is really tough this year, it doesn’t look like they’ll find a way to do it. Too bad for Livingston, it’s an election year in which virtually nobody wants to override the cap, except Ward Two Alderman Ron Ludwig that is.
Ludwig noted that increases in health insurance and retirement contributions exceeded the cap all by themselves and said that there is no way to properly fund the schools without overriding the cap, which he said he was willing to do even if it meant he wasn’t reelected, which I guess means he’s running again. He said the board might as well vote on the budget that night, because it wasn’t going to get any higher. Yet, when Hirschmann moved to do just that, Ludwig opposed it, though he did say it should be done as soon as possible so they can make their plans. The motion was withdrawn. Point made after more than two hours of discussion.
Also on Last night’s agenda, the board narrowly voted to adopt an ordinance making it illegal for motorists to pass any item from their car to a pedestrian on any city roadway. There was a surprising level of opposition to the proposal which is designed to clamp down on panhandling which has become a serious problem along roadways. Police Chief David Mara said it was necessary to address aggressive tactics in roadways where panhandlers were walking into intersections to block cars while trying to get money form motorists. Ward Four’s Jim Roy, Ward Nine’s Barbara Shaw, Ward Eleven’s Normand Gamache and Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur opposed the ordinance. Hirschmann abstained saying they’re already enforcing the law against loitering in median strips and Corriveau abstained citing constitutional concerns.
Finally, at eleven P M, Uber came to the forefront. The issue boils down to this: Chief Mara and City Clerk Matt Normand want at a minimum, Uber drivers to go through a state police background check. Uber doesn’t want the mandate. All parties agree they’re close on all other items of concern. Chief Mara was unyielding on the background checks and the need to know who the drivers were. He was solidly in the corner of the Massachusetts approach, which Uber also supports, but that isn’t exactly what the board was looking for.
Long story short, and more than two hours of debate summairzed in less that twenty seconds. Uber was told that all of its current drivers had to go through a state police background check in thirty days and that all new applicants had to have a state police background check done or else they were done in the city. In that time, it was clear that they were to work with the police and other city staff to come up with either an ordinance or an operating agreement. If they don’t the city will either shut them down or allow them to continue as is, which isn’t likely at all. Uber says it will also decide over that period whether or not it will stay in the city. Craig, Corriveau Alderman at-Large Dan O’Neil and Ward Eight Alderman Tom Katsiantonis were opposed.
That’s news from our own backyard, Girard at Large hour ___ is next!