WRRB/Chamber District Council Debate

D3 Councilor George Russell and at-large candidate Khrystian King are here as well; unclear why we couldn’t just have Russell and Rosen debate one another in addition to the competitive races.


There are many attendees; I’d guess at least a third are Rivera supporters.

Opening statements:

Tony Economou: been a great four years, we have been able to accomplish many things.  $2 mil in park improvements within the district, new Nelson Place underway, returns phone calls and emails.

Cindy Nguyen: one of her top priorities is civic engagement.  She is a lifelong resident of Worcester, grew up on Piedmont Street, attended WPS and Holy Cross, lives in Indian Hill area for last 11 years.  Spends time volunteering, career path is to help community.  Need to involve “you guys”, push you guys, involve you guys.

Candy Mero-Carlson: committed to community, volunteering at United Way, neighborhood crime watch.  Committed to getting job done.

Jennithan Cortes: born and raised on East Side of Worcester, 47-year-old father of four, first generation of Colombian immigrants, passionate about Worcester.  Proud to be born and raised on the East Side.  Will challenge status quo for all the right reasons.  Think about where our future lies, D2 is a testimonial to what Worcester can be (three-deckers, single family, Canal District, businesses, parks).  Support him by hiring him on November 3.

Sarai Rivera: lived in Worcester since the age of 4.  District 4 is home.  She is not the voice of the people, the people have their own voices and she helps people get heard.

Jackie Kostas: married, daughter, works at Walmart for 17 years.  Promises to work for community with integrity and respect.

Q1: Under state law, at least 10% are affordable to those of limited means.  Worcester exceeds; other surrounding do not.  Do we have enough, what to do

Kostas: we need to support private developers, make three deckers easier to rent.

Rivera: when we look at threshold, according to National Low Income Household Coalition, it would take someone making $24/hr to afford (housing in Worcester, I think).  Not affordable to those who are out there working every day.  If city needs more, take consideration of what city needs.

Cortes: city of Worcester has a lot of opportunity to fulfill affordable housing needs.  Many D2 properties abandoned and underused.  Buy Worcester Now, other things city can do to support econ dev for those who have modest means.

Mero-Carlson: believes in 2012 study said there was sufficient affordable housing.  We have also learned that surrounding towns fall short.  Work on that to have surrounding towns have more affordable housing.  Need to look at this again as 2012 was a few years ago.

Nguyen: economic development, social issues — encourage people to be self-sufficient.  First positive namecheck of Ray Mariano of the night.  Agrees with Candy on having other towns step up (not her words).

Economou: we do have enough affordable housing.  We need to look at where we are as opposed to where other towns are.  Ask state to look at this as a regional issue.

Q2: For District 1: Non-profit orgs are exempt from local property taxes.  You (Economou) support PILOT.  Larger non-profits less reliant on public services, how would you make this happen?

Economou: Other communities do payment for services.  If fire or police come, pay for the visit.

Nguyen: not sure about PILOT.  Could create animosity, willing to do research.  From her personal experience, Holy Cross gave her a $200k scholarship.  What are other ways to collaborate with these organizations?

Economou: Quite frankly, as a taxpayer, we pay taxes and receive services for our tax dollars.  Many people take time out of their day and money out of pocket in addition to tax dollars — why not ask non-profits for the same?

Nguyen: taxpayer as well, but this is a complicated issue.  Doesn’t understand volunteering part.  Can find a way to get them to pay for other things, not just property taxes.

Economou: sewer and water (which Nguyen mentioned) just not enough.  Need to consider fee for service.

Q3: District 1: to Nguyen:you have said most fundamental issue for local government is communication.  How would you enhance?

Nguyen: we do have a website and social media presence, but we need more.  A full-time IT person.  WPD have mobile app.  Civic engagement is how we can foster ideas.

Economou: has found that people will get involved when they need to get involved.  He walked neighborhood in the beginning of his first term for an issue on Brook Street.  100 people at first meeting, after a month, 5 people.  WE do ok on notifying people about meetings.  If people have a need, they will show up.  Doing a good job with how things are being handled.

Nguyen: Not saying we can do a good job, but we can do more.  Dates/rooms wrong on listing for her local meeting, if people experience that, they will not show up.

Economou: people come to meetings because they choose to.  He can’t make them.  He knows there has not been a wrong date for any public meetings.  No problems with way meetings are posted on the city website.

Nguyen: one last point about communication: a lot of people have concerns.  If you’re responsive as councilor, that is not enough.  Staff needs training on communication.

Q4: To All Candidates: should city increase funding for schools?  (There’s more, but that’s essentially it)

Rivera: Augustus administration has been trying to meet economic needs of the schools.  Connection between schools and econ dev.  When businesses looking to relocate, they look at schools.

Cortes: One of most important services we can provide all residents.  vital that we do focus on education.  Look at administration costs.  [Ah, that old bugbear!]  Look at PILOT, collaborate with local colleges more than we do now, move forward with econ dev.

Mero-Carlson: if we don’t produce best students, we don’t move forward with econ dev.  Supports the manager’s efforts.

Nguyen: we do need to evaluate spending — how to have stable revenue in the city as a whole.  Everything is interconnected.  School environment, parks dept.

Economou: over last two years, with Dr Boone and CM Augustus, have been able to close gap with health care effiiciencies, state needs to look at CH 70 funding formula.  Needs to be looked at.

Kostas: kids need supplies to succeed.  Supports programs that provide schools with good funds kids. and solid schools for kids.

Q5: Is your District safe? And other safety-related questions.

Cortes: we need to maintain certain programs: summer impact should be done year-round.  Standard approach on year-round basis.  WPD needs to be properly and adequately funded/staffed, build

Mero-Carlson: Worcester’s neighborhoods comparatively safe (to other comparable cities).  Growing gangs and drug culture need to be looked at.  New resources and manpower for WPD, community policing.

Nguyen: lot of hype with safety.  Need to work on it because of perception.  Would like to praise WPD for officers on bikes.  A lot of safety concerns about gang members getting younger.  Find ways to collaborate with WPD on mentorship program.

Economou: Absolutely City is safe.  Neighbors getting more involved, vigilant, working with WPD.  WPD can’t do it all, incumbent on us to be part of the solution.

Kostas: when they break into our homes, where do they go to sell stuff?  Collaboration with secondhand stores, drug drop off should be expanded.

Rivera: City is safe, we have challenges of any urban community.  Food patrols, community engagement with police, youth violence prevention.  This is our city, do we let it get infested in crime, or continue to work with community and make it greater?

Q6: D2 question – site of only urban renewal plan, new urban renewal plan for Theater District.  Do you think eminent domain is appropriate?

Mero-Carlson: supports plan.  Eminent domain: unless absolutely necessary, does not support it.

Cortes: supports urban renewal plan.  Sensitive to eminent domain, need to be respectful and responsible, but also need to move forward in Canal District.

Mero-Carlson: thinks we will end up in court if we take any properties by eminent domain.

Cortes: we need to have big picture of what we want to accomplish, connect dots, stay true to the course.  Disconnected plan with the city — we see some Taj Mahal areas and some areas that are left behind.

Q7: D2 question – to Cortes: has called for aggressive approach to attract small and medium sized businesses.

Cortes: was manager of a family-owned business, now at Workforce Central.  Understands challenges.  Small and medium sized businesses are key to city’s success.

Mero-Carlson: need to do more for those businesses.

Cortes: need a councilor that will go out and market.  Governor is engaged in workforce development.  Iron is hot, city can take advantage of all this employer engagement.

Mero-Carlson: small businesses; we need to do more for them.  Great opportunity to do more for them.

[Not a lot of solid answers here.  Kind of like going to your average city council meeting.  They’re qualified!]

Q8: to all candidates: city has limited tools to support private economic investment.  Do you support TIFs, etc.?

Mero-Carlson: supports incentives for businesses coming to city.  Need to make sure that they follow through on requirements we ask for.

Nguyen: a long-term projection of what tax incentive entails.  With dual tax rate, hot topic.  Hard to be competitive when surrounding cities/towns have a single rate.

Economou: TIFs should be used as needed, doesn’t necessarily agree with them but it’s a tool in the toolbox.  Without econ dev, more burden on homeowners.  Can make ask.

Kostas: [hard to hear her]  tax on inventory is negative.

Rivera: we sing song during election season about creating jobs.  When we are in office, we have to put it into action.  Because of TIFs, started in struggling economy, now in an upswing.  Give and take.  We take tax dollars and want to invest in our people and our community.

Cortes: tool. but have to be careful.  Responsible oversight with clear measurements (of success).  There are also state programs, city does not need to bear brunt of cost with business negotiation.  Not taking full advantage of what is out there.

Q9: about neighborhood relations with non-profits and Dover Amendment.

Nguyen: need to provide clear guidelines for neighbors to have a voice in discussions.

Economou: we cannot open a business in most neighborhoods.  Should have to go through some sort of zoning approval, but this is a state issue not a local issue.  Change needs to take place at the state level.

Kostas: [again, having tough time hearing].  We have to support small business, incentivize them to provide jobs.  [Not sure if s he’s answering the question]

Rivera: community conversation — voices need to be heard.  Often fall into us-against-them; don’t fall into NIMBY mentality, organizations dealing with issues in our community.  Namechecks Laurie Ross — first reference to a moderator of the night.  Need to look at all the facts before making a decision.

Cortes: recently, state rep Keefe — meeting at Genesis Club, invited social services agencies and other organizations.  To bring about unity in the community.  We must work together as neighbors, be transparent in efforts.  This sort of leadership is what is needed.

Mero-Carlson: several folks have moved into D2 with no communication to neighbors.  To Economou’s point, needs to be process for them to go through.

Q10: D4: many urban ills can be linked to drugs — opiate addiction, in some cases introduced to it by doctor.

Rivera: because it was not addressed at time it needed to be addressed, it has festered.  Now grown widespread as an epidemic.  Opiate Task Force, goes into hot spots, everyone has narcan, drop box at police station, communicating with doctors about not prescribing opiates.

Kostas: all concerned about opiates, targets children.  Kids need to be occupied to stay off drugs.  [again, hard to hear]  Programs to fight and combat drug dealers, promote drop box for prescription drugs.  Need more agents to walk around neighborhoods.

Rivera: Look at evidence-based models that actually work.  DARE does not work [perhaps that is what Kostas was mentioning].  Quality of Life task force, partners like AIDS Project Worcester.  At neighborhood meetings, if anyone has medications, can give it to police officer there.  Hopeful plan of action right now.

Kostas: program Face-to-Face is in schools — walking around the city she found a car with guys exchanging pouches.  They are targeting children and schools.

Rivera: Drug issue has been going on for a long time.  Great to open up recovery high school, continue on other programs based on evidence-based research.

Q11: D4 – Kostas has identified OPEB and other liabilities.  Would take at least 1/6 of city’s annual budget to pay in 30 years.

Kostas: city needs to live within its means just like the rest of us.  City needs to put money on the side.

Rivera: has been analyzed every two years by an outside entity.  Three things to look at: funding, reducing costs, achieving legislative reforms.  We continue to try to reduce costs and fund liability every year.  Can’t do it without help with state legislators.

Kostas: needs to study through this.

[more answers, tough to hear Kostas because she’s not using a mic]

Q12: last question, for everyone: about dual tax rate.

Economou: you can go over the bridge and pay $10/14 per thousand.  Once we increase commercial tax base, can lower taxes for everyone.  Does not see the dual tax rate ending completely in his life time.

Kostas: need to apply breaks on district to help support small business.

Rivera: each year this topic takes different consideration.  We try to find somewhere in the middle, trying to close gaps between the tax rates.  Foreclosures: properties, residents running risk of foreclosure because of high property taxes.

Cortes: both the residential and commercial tax rates are higher than surrounding towns.  Tax rates has been our go-to financial resource.

Mero-Carlson: does not see us going to a single tax rate, not something residents can afford.

Nguyen: question is immensely complicated.  Perhaps in HER lifetime we might see a single tax rate [laughs from the audience]  Tax rates tough to address, encourage people to buy properties.


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