Lowell City Council Meeting: March 24, 2015

Mayor, city manager and councilors recognize Lowell DPW workers for effort they made in removing snow during this record-breaking winter.

Cambodian New Year planning committee addresses the council about upcoming New Year celebration at Lowell Senior Center on April 4th from 9am to 3pm.  Also the Cambodian flag raising is April 9th (will get details on time and place).  There will be another event on April 11th at Clemente Park.

The city is on the verge of enforcing the city parking ordinance as it exists on the books – namely 8am to 6pm on Monday through Saturday.  I believe they said they would have a short period of notifying downtown businesses that this is about to start and then it will start although I’m not sure when that will happen.  Plan is to see how the enhanced enforcement work before considering an overnight parking ban.  Councilor Belanger makes a speech advocating the overnight parking ban which he says is supported by businesses.  Councilor Leahy says he does not support an overnight ban.  Mayor says this is just informational so there will be other opportunities to discuss this.  Councilor Kennedy says he prefers overnight ban to enforcing the ordinance from 8am to 6pm but was outvoted.  Supports trying this out before addressing the ban.  Councilor Belanger moves that enforcement of the parking ordinance begin in 30 days.  Also moves that overnight parking ban issue be referred to the economic development subcommittee which will meet approximately 60 days after the enforcement of the hours go into effect.

Councilor Milinazzo moves that the Fire Dept overtime report be referred to the Public Safety Subcommittee for further analysis and discussion.  Says the fire dept sick leave report should be similarly referred.  Councilor Rourke asks CM Murphy why the overtime account has drained so quickly.  Murphy says there has been a 40% increase in sick time by firefighters who suffer off duty injuries.  Rourke asks Chief Pitta to explain the increase.  He says he doesn’t sense any abuse of sick leave; it just happens that a number of employees were injured off the job and were out sick for extended periods.  Says the line-of-duty sick time was down 25%.  Chief says they have 196 firefighters with a budget for 205.  Says they expect to start hiring more in the next fiscal year.  Urges Manager to try to find money from elsewhere in the budget to limit closings to one station per shift.  CM Murphy says this is a temporary solution and they are always looking for more funds that can be used.  Hiring 7 new firefighters who should be on the job by July 1.  Says the 2 stations closed per shift is the worst case scenario which he is trying to minimize as much as possible.   Manager points to greatly increased snow removal costs as using up most of the available funds that might otherwise supplement fire dept overtime.

Arts Subcommittee report on meeting held earlier tonight.  Met to discuss Mayor Elliott motion to coordinate an arts festival in downtown Lowell.  A number of artists attended and spoke.  Susan Halter did a presentation on a proposed Spring Fling to be held on May 16 that would combine a number of events such as Doors Open Lowell, a Mill City Grows event, etc.  Trying to leverage already planned events.  Also that day will be UMass Lowell commencement.  They hope to get more artists involved as a prelude to an independent Lowell Arts Festival to be held the following year.  The subcommittee will have a follow up meeting with members of the arts community to begin planning that Arts Festival.  They will still go forward with the event on May 16.

Mayor Elliott reports on recent meeting of Cambodian monument committee.  They mostly discussed the process to be followed.  There are now 25 members of the committee.  There are some artists who will develop three proposals then the Cambodian community will vote on its preference of the three.

Motion by CC Samaras asking DPD to ensure that new design of Lord Overpass be pedestrian friendly.  Says he hopes the plans are safe and walkable.  CC Belanger says there was a great presentation last week but he says it might be lacking walkability so he supports the motion.

Motion by CC Samaras asking City Solicitor to research steps to be taken to open Western Ave to pedestrian traffic from Dutton Street across the train tracks.  Says driving from the train station to Western Ave is more than 1 mile while walking would be 1/3 of a mile.  Says how close the end of Western Ave is to the Textile Museum, the Whistler House, the NPS Visitor Center and Mill No. 5.  He says this is a chance to improve the walkability of this city.  Says you should be able to park in one spot and easily walk to all of these venues.  He doesn’t want Western Ave open to vehicles but to pedestrians.  CC Mercier says this is a good motion because there was an outcry to open the area up.  Says dealing with train track owner is very difficult.  Wishes Samaras good luck with the motion because it’s tough to deal with Pan Am (owner of the track).  CC Leahy says it is worth pursuing and says it is frustrating working with the railroad.

Motion by CC Belanger request CM organize a spring cleaning of downtown.  Suggests Earth Day weekend which is late in April.

Motion by Mayor Elliott request CM work with UMass Lowell to organize a citywide cleanup in connection with Earth Day.  John Wooding speaks on the motion.  This idea came out of a meeting the mayor had with Wooding and Paul Marion (both of UMass Lowell).  Wooding says Earth Day, April 25th, could become an even bigger thing in Lowell.

Motion by Mayor Elliott to ask CM to invite Mass Dept of Transportation to come to the city council to make a presentation of the funds that will be used to realign the Bridge St – VFW Highway intersection.

Motion to go into Executive Session to discuss ongoing litigation.  At 8:03 pm, council goes into Executive Session and will adjourn from the Executive Session.

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