At-Large City Council Forum – October 28

Video can be watched here; Nick K coverage in the Telegram here.

(showing up late – around 7:18)

I’m here in the middle of the opening statements

Haxhiaj – Since I’m coming in the middle of the opening statements, it is perhaps not fair to start summarizing from here.  On the other hand, it’s unfair to most of the other candidates that someone as articulate, caring, and prepared as Etel is running.  I’ll hold on the opening statements (unless I hear something interesting, of course!) and wait ‘til we get to the questions.

Gary Rosen says he’s the person running who’s been alive longest.  There you go, kids.

Ralph Tiscione: there are a few fun facts I didn’t hear before about him: he has a 16-year-old daughter in WPS, his first political experience was cold-calling people to vote in favor of the Centrum, he’s a veteran.

Toomey: another fun fact: Brian O’Connell convinced her to run for school committee.  A reporter said about her that “who’s she? She’s just a mother.”

Question 1: demand for housing.  13% classified as affordable – does Worcester have sufficient?  For all candidates.

Toomey: there are three-deckers that aren’t being rented out because we have aging, afraid population.  Recently mayor/CM/CC put forward new housing support program.  Also would like to see a sweat equity program.

Tiscione: there should be more affordable housing.  As a firefighter, has been all over the place.  A lot of housing stock going unused.  More effort to keep people to retain their homes.

Sarkodieh: believes the affordable rate is not enough for a city that professes to care about residents.  Worries more about ‘housing that is affordable’ – there are folks who cannot afford $850 a month.  Would like to see programs expanded for poor families.

Rosen: We do need more – lobby senators and congressmen for more HUD funds.  Keep reasonable property tax rates for homeowners.

(I already attended a forum where there was essentially the same question so excuse me if I don’t record everything)

Petty: at Gamechanger event, introduced program for people who are redeveloping 2-4 units of housing.  Rehab funding, loans? 

King: we need to require less direct public subsidies and require private developers more.  Inclusionary zoning would require private contractors to have more affordable housing.  About tax rate and making sure we are not taxing people disproportionately.

Haxhiaj: housing is a right not a privilege.  Folks at lower brackets and those moving up should both be remembered.  We aren’t building enough affordable housing, we should have gone after community land trusts.  We cannot continue to rely on CDCs to produce affordable housing – every project needs to require aff housing.

Gibson: population is growing and who is affected.  It should be across the board.

Economou: we need housing of all types in this city.  Need to strike a balance.  [OK, conflict of interest notice: Tony E’s mother is one of my favorite people ever and my sister is vaguely related to her]

Corrigan: this is a personal issue.  He is the only candidate who still lives at home with their parents.  All three of us want me to move out at some point.  [much laughter from the audience]  After he graduated college, he struggled finding a job.  He can’t afford to move out, make a down payment.  A lot of people in his age group are experiencing the same thing.

Colorio: keep residential taxes the lowest they can be.  As Worcester has grown, gone over 10% threshold for affordable housing.  Other communities have not.  Other towns should pay us a fee.

Coleman is basically dressed to be in a Fred Astaire movie.  There were cheap prices a long time ago.  There were starter houses.  Need to work with our bankers and mortgage people to educate public on how to buy houses.

Bergman: carriage houses – why can’t Worcester do what’s done in Newton.  If older house has a carriage house, you can make it available.  Ordinance that doesn’t allow over 3 people who are unrelated live in a unit.  Maybe rethink that.  Carrot and stick for taking on more affordable housing.

Q2: Trash.  Debate on wind-blown rubbish has morphed into recycling/trash discussion.

[MAD PROPS TO WHOEVER TALKS ABOUT NEED FOR COMPOST]

Sarkodieh: city clear recycling program is in good taste and everyone should be encouraged by that.  High cost of trash bags.  [Quick fact check: whatever you pay for the yellow bags is half of what it costs to dispose of it!]  People dump because of that.

Petty: manager’s plan was pretty good, gave funding for inspectors and to keep drop-off site open later at night.  He is for the bigger bin [?] or the plastic bag.

Bergman: wasn’t in favor of bin to bag.  People like the bins.  We’ve got a pretty good program. 

Colorio: opposed to changing the program.  She talks about areas of “excess trash” [I do not know what this means]

Sarkodieh says the yellow bags are not conducive to going green.

Q3: WRTA, transit to other areas, how to increase ridership and service.

Bergman: WRTA needs to go to no cost to passengers.  Need to engage colleges to use it more.  Trolley-type buses.  More cost-efficient buses.  We see buses go by that are a quarter full. Commuter rail: limited control, but can advocate at a state level.

Haxhiaj: Research Bureau showed that fare-free will increase ridership.  Also advocate for electrified commuter rail.  Invest in public transport, quickly.

Gibson: make sure that everyone in the city can move around.  Need funding from other sources.

Toomey: Smaller buses that are electric or solar-powered.  Directly identify where the jobs are.  Ask colleges to give us innovations.

Q4: deaths from opioid crisis.  Where does it rank on priority list?  What solutions?

Colorio: would prefer to invest in prevention.  Narcan, emergency room, are temporary fixes.  Peer to peer.  Active addicts need to know they are not allow.  Has sat in on drug court and thinks it is very valuable.  Goal is to get drugs off the street.

Economou: this is a state and national issue as well.  City is doing all it can.  Opiate Task Force bringing all of it together.  If we could have people in place when families need assistance…

Rosen: power of education.  We should be having the WPS have COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH EDUCATION. 

Haxhiaj: We need to acknowledge that this has hit the Latinx community hard.  When mental health and other beds are closed, it hurts everyone.  Luckily we have Mattie Castiel.  Street outreach so that people have wraparound services.  [OK FOLKS IN CASE YOU DIDN’T NOTICE IN 30 SECONDS THIS WAS THE BEST ANSWER]

Colorio: talking about how kids don’t have breakfast or lunch because of their parents struggling with addiction. 

Q5: POLAR PARK BABY! 

Coleman: supports construction efforts.  This baseball park is not just for baseball, we are catching up with construction of a “bad area of the city that needed to be rebuilt”.  Cleaning up a section of the city that was long overdue.  Whatever is done, sure we will do it right.

Toomey: park designed with community in mind.  Preferential housing for neighborhood residents.  She supports the CBA.

Sarkodieh reminds us that NO CBA HAS BEEN SIGNED.  [Aside: isn’t it amazing how all elected officials support a CBA yet none made it a requirement for a large project that is mostly funded by taxpayers…!]

Economou: desolate coming to life.  Urban renewal.  New job opportunities for those who live in the neighborhood.

Coleman agrees with Tony E.  Challenge the people of Worcester – need to link to other parts of the city.  Need a new police station.

Q6: Downtown activity.  How to balance downtown & neighborhood priorities.

Petty: Lot of investment downtown but also in the neighborhoods.  DOWNTOWN IS A NEIGHBORHOOD.  One City, One Library.  Mini-City Hall in Main South (sorry didn’t quite catch that).  Rand-Whitney is staying here, Table Talk expanding, SWIP is complete.  Small business façade program.

Coleman: (1) prioritize linkage program – when something happens downtown, we need to hear from people to see what they want done next.  (2) Let’s build a new police station

Haxhiaj: loves lead abatement part of this – also would like to see energy efficiency program.  Want to pay same attention to small businesses.

King: access to transportation is important.  Do more to support transpo to/from downtown/neighborhoods.  Tax amendments for transpo and education.

Petty: quality of life is very important.  $60 million in parks.  Continue to invest in streets and sidewalks.

Q7: Taking properties from those who do not want to sell.  Midtown Mall.  When to take by eminent domain?

Corrigan: Eminent domain should not be taken lightly.  Provided for in the constitution.  He doesn’t want to say it’s by force, but they don’t have a say in the matter.  If property at a detriment to the community at large, should be taken.  Land has to come from somewhere for larger projects.

King: There is certainly a contrast between Polar Park and Midtown Mall.  Would do it for public use and public purposes. 

Economou: it absolutely a tool in our toolbox.  [ACTUALLY – in our city, it’s only a tool in the WRA’s toolbox.]  If a house in a city is not keeping up with the neighbors, we send out inspectors.

Bergman: uncomfortable with WRA’s definition of underperforming, especially when it comes to the Midtown Mall.  Hasn’t seen anyone come in or out of the AT&T building for decades.

Q8: Historic preservation.  Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  However, we could save Stearns Tavern.

Gibson: needs to be studied carefully.  We need to look at historical records and balance whether the building is useful.

Corrigan: this is part of our cultural identity, establish connection between past and present.  Notre Dame de Paris vs Notre Dame des Canadiens.

Colorio: loves Arts and Crafts houses.  Should put more of a focus on bringing architectural heritage to the public

Coleman: go to the third floor of WPL – many pictures of ghost buildings.  Visitor info center closer to downtown.  Do something to preserve.

Q9: Diversity not in aspects of city life.  Construction prospects, other hiring.  What else could the city do?

Haxhiaj: proud that has hiring rate of women and POC higher than Boston.  Every policy should be centered on diversity of community – housing, job creation, school funding. 

Tiscione: well on their way to meeting goals that have been set.  Still have enclaves of neighborhoods that are diverse and city needs to reflect that in its workforce.

Corrigan: people come from all over the world to America.  [I feel a Neil Diamond song coming on…]

Sarkodieh: elect me to the city council, that will increase diversity quite a bit.  Mentions grievance process.

Haxhiaj: when we talk about Midtown Mall, incubator for small, immigrant-owned or POC-owned businesses – we need to ensure equity in the making.  They should benefit from growth of downtown the way other businesses are.

Q10: plowing sucks – or does it?

Economou: People who do the work do a great job.  A couple of years ago, his kids were in a school bus accident on Chester Street.  City has problem areas and needs to get ahead of it before the snow starts falling. 

Gibson: he lived in Main South and the city needs to have someone check to make sure the job’s being done – check and balance

Tiscione: major roads are good, but narrow, hilly roads are done with smaller trucks.  Kind of adds to problem. 

Petty: have had problems with ice storms.  Incentivize contractors to show up at every single storm.

Economou: are we paying the contractors fairly?  Need better communication system.

Q11: Marijuana

King: voters have spoken, but many have concerns.  Looks at this similar to alcohol industry, and should have similar standards/parameters.  City can also get revenue from this.  When you talk about incarceration issue, way to reassess folks who have been eliminated from opportunities in education and jobs.

Colorio: right now, city and police have to monitor where establishments are located.  Cannot be anywhere near schools or parks.  Needs to be closely monitored.

Toomey: critical to have a grievance board. Odor is a concern.

Tiscione: fantastic revenue source.  It’s still a drug and needs to be monitored. 

King: all electeds and high city officials have participated in neighborhood meetings.  Not aware of any major scandals.  Keep revenues in the city of Worcester.

Q12: pedestrian-friendliness.  Deaths still a concern, bike lanes, speed limits have been ignored.

Toomey: first one to talk about walkability score on the city council floor.  Identify places where we can have more public transportation.  Pedestrian accidents – much more distracted driving.  Would like to see oversight, stings, important to educate pedestrians as well.

Rosen: With all his time on the street corners and intersections, need to paint crosswalks.  Kelley Square – you can see them, but drivers ignore them.  When he walks to “Rosen Island”, drivers try to hit him.

Petty: makes a sassy comment about how many people want to hit Gary Rosen.  WHO KNEW HE HAD IT IN HIM!  Discusses a million policies and taskforces he has implemented.

Corrigan: after Kelley Square project is done, let’s have a moment of silence for Gary’s island.  Value of having pedestrian-only places.

Toomey: more pedestrian flashing lights – except cars blow through those, too.  Likes lower speed limits as well.

Q13: tax-exempt properties.  Other cities have PILOT.  While Worcester has a few PILOTS, they are the exception and not the rule.

Tiscione: tax base in Worcester – lots of residential.  They need to be kept at lowest rate possible.  Nothing to do about non-profits legally.  As far as businesses go, should have incentives and goals.

Bergman: PILOT great but can’t be enforced.  Boards don’t want to have to pay what they don’t have to pay. 

Coleman: Colleges spend a lot of money in Worcester. 

Rosen: we need to send a statement to every non-profit with a list of property and ask for partial payment in lieu of taxes.

Q14: what process/metrics to evaluate City Manager? How would you rate him?

Gary Rosen goes back to the school committee days for Ed Augustus. His best vote EVER was for Ed A. He doesn’t walk on water, but he certainly walks pretty well on land.

Sarkodieh: gets an “A” so far. Public surveys should be used to evaluate him. Criteria: evaluation should be specific, time-bound, measurable.

King: how responsive he is to the city council – balanced with responsibility to budget of the city. The budget speaks to a lot of our values.

Gibson: will analyze the work done and evaluate how he implements projects.

Q15: Single or dual tax rate?

Bergman: will approach as what’s fair and what’s affordable. Having a roof over your head is a (slightly) higher priority than businesses, and has voted that way. Businesses are doing very well. Despite talking points about business community suffering, we aren’t seeing it.

Coleman: not at point to have single tax rate. Need to make sure that we have a fair tax rate.

Colorio: small gap between residential and business when compared to other Gateway communities.

Corrigan: battle between business and residential communities – should be that the two communities agree that taxes should be as low as possible. How is tax rate computed? Assessed value of property is part of this! Right now, values are going up – so even if rate remains the same, taxes go up.

Economou: people talk about lowest residential tax rate and how local business bringing in jobs – yes, in Grafton, not in Worcester. Business owners pass on cost to those who use business. Small business exemption is not many businesses and does not solve the problem. If we are going to change this, need a complete new growth in tax base.

Gibson: as he walks around, learns and listens on tax issue. Let people speak and we will listen to them.

Haxhiaj: does not support a single tax rate because most vulnerable homeowners can’t afford it. Any time she has opportunity to have small business save a few dollars would be a good day in her book. Adopt small business exemption.

King: talking about young folks, veterans, aging in place. Increasing residential tax rate not something city should be doing. PILOT, new growth. If we want local people to be working local jobs, they have to be able to afford to live here.

Petty – not many tools in the toolchest. No city councilor has voted the lowest residential tax rate in three years.

Rosen: always votes for a favorable tax rate for residents. Just because you own your own home does not mean you have an unlimited pot of gold to pay your bills. We could tax $18 mil more and we haven’t been raising it. This is the most important issue at the Worcester Senior Center.

Sarkodieh: lowest tax rate helps incumbents (?) – flat tax rate is not fair and is inequitable.

Tiscione – not a simple, one-size-fits-all-issue.

Toomey: as Worcester grows, need to assess affordability and inequity for residents and businesses alike. We homeowners will feel burden when there are fewer businesses. Supports small business program. Would like to see more business growth which will make things more equitable in the long-term.

We are now on to final statements…if you are watching the video, it’s 8:52pm.

Gary Rosen does note that he already spends enough time with his family and would rather continue to spend time with his city family…

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