taxes

A new chapter for Saugus author

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Michael Coller is running for Saugus selectman.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — A private investigator and author of two controversial books is seeking a spot on the Board of Selectmen.

Given his law enforcement and investigation background, Michael Coller said he feels confident he can thoroughly research anything that comes before the board and make a well-informed decision in the town’s best interest.

“If you all have the same feelings to vote as one body, what’s the difference between having five different selectmen or just one,” said Coller. “I’m not challenging anyone on the board but I think finer points could be brought out. I’m hoping to create a little more degree of independence.”

Coller is on the Conservation Commission and Library Board of Trustees. He was born and raised in Saugus and graduated from Bridgewater State University with a degree in management.

He has worked as a security professional for 23 years, focusing specifically on large retail firms, criminal investigations, asset protection, and firearm licensing.

In his spare time, he enjoys writing. He takes pride in a series of books he’s working on, the Bruno Johnson series. He’s currently working on the third installment, which follows the main character, a private investigator, as he returns home to uncover political wrongdoings in local government.

Characters in the second book “Bruno Johnson: Against the Grain,” include Missiles, known for her “voluptuous breasts years ago (which) were worthy of being dipped in bronze. However, they now look like tube socks with baseballs sunk in the bottom;” Alisa, “a tiny peanut sized gal with what appeared to be fried eggs for breasts;” and Sue the Moo, who is “as big as a cow with four wrecking balls attached to her body. Two stuck on her chest and the other ones jammed in the seat of her pants.”

Labor of love in Revere

Coller maintains that while the plot of the books may mirror local politics, the similarities are “purely coincidental.” He admitted he changed the names of characters in his book to protect the identities of real people but called his work fictional.

Like himself, he said Johnson is a character who refuses to knock on doors; he just opens them.

“I surely have the creativity to research what I need to research to come to a sound decision that will benefit the town,” he said. “This town shouldn’t be a stepping stone. I’m looking for a balance between property taxes and commercial taxes. As far as a new high school, it’s only going to help our property values. I don’t have children in the schools but I support a new high school. It’s going to help our town.”

If elected, Coller hopes to contribute to the revitalization of the town’s waterfront and Cliftondale Square.

“I went to Saugus High School with some of the people who own businesses (in Cliftondale Square),” he said. “It’s not as prominent as Saugus Center with the library and Town Hall. I think it’s gotten kind of dreary while Saugus Center is more welcoming. It needs some work. When I grew up here, it was as busy or busier than Saugus Center.”

Last year, a study of the square using a $10,000 Massachusetts Downtown Initiative grant found that 72 percent of the square’s businesses are independently owned. With more than 192,000 square feet of commercial space, the 66 existing businesses are underutilized, with some retail stores seeing fewer than 30 customers a day.

Coller worked as a commercial fisherman in Saugus, Gloucester, and Boston while putting himself through college and said he has an understanding for the importance of improving the waterfront area.

Town Clerk Ellen Schena said potential candidates can take out papers to run for office in July. Board of Selectmen candidates will be required to obtain 50 signatures and return the papers by Sept. 19.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Lynn doubles down on excise-tax delinquents

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Taxpayers will pay more if they fail to meet their obligations on time.

Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, proposed, and the council approved boosting the late fee to $30, up from $15 for late payers of excise and real estate tax bills.  

“The call has been out to department heads to review their fees as a way increase revenue,” he said. “That was one of the marching orders from the mayor.”  

Of the 55,000 excise bills last year, the city raised $480,000 in late fees from about 32,000 tardy payers. If the same number of residents fails to make timely payments, it would raise $960,000 in fiscal year 2018.

No re-election plans for Trahant

The Ways & Means Committee voted to approve the measure without debate and the City Council followed.

While Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy supported the fee hike, she vetoed the local option meals tax that would impose a .0075 percent tax on top of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax on meals.

The new levy would add 75 cents to a $100 dinner bill, about 19 cents to a $25 meal and raise $700,000 annually for the city. The City Council is expected override the mayor’s veto at a special meeting next Tuesday.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Ehrlich: Tax credit will earn income for state

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

BOSTON — State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) believes a budget recommendation she co-sponsored for Fiscal Year 2018 will benefit working families and domestic abuse survivors.

The bill draws on legislation filed by Ehrlich and Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge), making nonresidents of the state ineligible to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.

According to the Department of Revenue, there are more than 20,000 nonresidents who earn income tax in the state and claim the state EITC each year. With the former federal match rate of 15 percent, these claims have been estimated to cost more than $6.5 million in revenue each fiscal year. At the new match rate of 23 percent, the cost would be about $10 million in revenue each year, according to House Ways and Means estimates.

“This credit is a scarce state resource available to assist struggling working families, so it makes little sense that we are allowing people who do not live in Massachusetts to claim the credit,” Ehrlich said in a statement.

The changes also clarify eligibility for taxpayers who live in Massachusetts for part of the year and expands access to the survivors of domestic abuse by allowing them to claim the credit while filing their taxes as “married, filing separately.” In the past, an individual could not claim the EITC unless taxes were filed jointly with a spouse.

Wheelabrator Saugus being taken to court

By supporting the changes, Ehrlich said the state takes the lead by enabling victims of domestic violence, who courageously flee their batterers.

The proposed budget also included a $150,000 allocation for Self Esteem Boston, a nonprofit that supports Lynn-based Project Cope, an organization that helps women in transition through homelessness or recovery from substance abuse.

The amendment was previously filed by former Rep. Gloria Fox but filed by Ehrlich in this session.

Self Esteem Boston provides essential psychological counseling and training for women in recovery from substance abuse problems.

During budget deliberations last month, the House of Representatives approved an amendment made by Ehrlich to dedicate $50,000 of the $40 million budget to clean up the odorous Pilayella algae on King’s Beach and Long Beach in Lynn.

Ehrlich called the funding crucial for combating the algae and its odor, which is a quality of life issue.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

Colella left ‘tremendous impression’ on Revere

By MATT DEMIRS

REVERE —  A plaque dedicated in memory of former Mayor George V. Colella will be unveiled at 10 a.m. Saturday at City Hall.

He was the longest-serving elected official in the state’s history after 50 years in public offices, according to Mayor Brian M. Arrigo.

Ward 5 Councilor John F. Powers, a colleague for 14 years, said Colella, who died in 2010, made an indelible mark on the city.

“He has left a tremendous impression on the city of Revere while serving in public office,” he said. “As mayor, his primary concern was to keep taxes low for people who relied on fixed incomes because he realized their struggle.”

Councilor-at-Large and former Mayor Robert J. Haas Jr., who worked with Colella for more than three decades, said residents respected him.

“He kept the city moving forward in the right direction,” he said. Haas agreed there is no better place than City Hall for Colella’s bronze plaque.

Help is on the way for Lynn startups

“It is a great tribute to his daughters and will serve as a beacon for his dedication to Revere and its people” he added.

Powers said the plaque will “serve as a reminder to those who know George, and even those who didn’t. It shows how important his leadership was to our city.”

Born in 1927, Colella grew up in Revere. A longtime lover of his seaside city, Colella graduated from Revere High School in 1945, where he served as class president. During World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy. After returning home, he graduated from Boston University in 1952.

His first stint in office was when he was elected mayor in 1953 where he served for 20 years. He then did 25 years as city councilor and four years as a member of the Revere School Committee.

Colella was also involved in a number of local organizations from youth sports to senior citizen clubs including St. Anthony’s Holy Name Society, Soccorso Club, Elks, Loyal Order of Moose, Patriot Civic Club, VFW and the Revere League for Special Needs.

Colella’s family will be present for the ceremony.


Matt Demirs can be reached at mdemirs@itemlive.com.

Gonzalez says Gov. Baker OK with status quo

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Jay Gonzalez speaks with The Item’s editorial board.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Democratic candidate for governor Jay Gonzalez isn’t shy about saying what’s needed to fix the Bay State’s troubled transportation system and underfunded schools: new taxes.

“I support the fair share tax on incomes in excess of $1 million,” he said. “This is the fairest way to raise meaningful new revenue, about $2 billion annually, to be used for transportation and education.”

In a wide ranging interview with The Item’s editorial board Tuesday, Gonzalez, 45, said he’s running to unseat Gov. Charlie Baker because the Republican’s no new taxes pledge is unacceptable.

“Our governor’s core operating principle is no new taxes and we’re going to make it work with what we have,” he said. “I don’t think he’s being honest with people about the fact that it won’t work. We starved the MBTA for way too long and the condition of our roads and bridges is one of the worst in the country and getting worse under this administration.”

Gonzalez, who served as the budget secretary for former Gov. Deval Patrick and resigned last year as president and CEO of CeltiCare Health, could face competition from Democratic Mayor Setti Warren of Newton.

In March, Warren set up a finance committee to explore a run for governor. The panel includes former Treasurer Steven Grossman, former Gov. Michael Dukakis, former Democratic Party chair Phil Johnston, former Boston City Councilor Michael Ross and is chaired by Josh Boger, the former Vertex Pharmaceuticals executive.

Whoever takes on Baker, won’t have it easy. In a WBUR survey earlier this year, Baker was more popular than liberal Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Only 44 percent said Warren deserves reelection, while 51 percent view her favorably.

A taxing decision for Lynn council

In contrast, Baker’s favorability rating is 59 percent — 8 points better than Warren. Even more striking is that only 29 percent of poll respondents think someone else should get a chance at the governor’s office, the survey said.

But Gonzalez dismissed the suggestion that Baker will be hard to beat.

“I’m less concerned with the polls and more concerned with what I’m hearing from people around the state that they are very concerned about issues that are holding them back,” he said. “I think it’s very easy to be popular when you don’t do anything, when you don’t take stands on big issues, when your entire approach to the job is about political caution instead of political courage.”

One of the core issues in his run for governor is support for the so-called millionaires’ tax. If approved by voters next year, it would amend the state constitution by imposing a 4 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million. The money would be designated for schools and transportation.

About 20,000 or 0.5 percent of households in the state would be hit by the new tax and it would raise $1.9 billion annually, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Gonzalez said he’s running because he cares about people and wants to make a difference.

“Government plays a really important role in moving us forward to improve people’s lives,” he said. “I think Gov. Baker sees the job differently. He’s been way too satisfied with the status quo, too often sitting on the sidelines when we need him. I’ve been frustrated by how little he’s accomplished, but I’ve been more frustrated by how little he’s even tried.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com. Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

 

For Colucci challenger, youth are priority

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is Eliud Alcala, who is running for Ward 4 City Councilor.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Eliud Alcala has launched a campaign to unseat the city’s longest serving city councilor.

The 41-year-old family counseling doctoral candidate is making his first bid for public office against Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci, who has served on the panel for 15 years.

“I want to represent all of Ward 4 and offer voters an alternative,” he said.

Alcala, the former campaign manager for School Committeewoman Maria Carrasco, said if elected his first priority will be to implement youth programs.

“We should provide career pathways and programs that engage youth in our community,” he said.

He was unsure about the cost of the new initiatives such as an English as a Second Language program he would like to see relaunched at the Ford Elementary School.

McGee: Every morning I’ll wake up determined

“That program helped lots of people and we need to seek grants and be creative to pay for it,” he said.

He has also proposed that the city hire an interpreter to assist Spanish-speaking residents seeking services at City Hall.

“As I knock on doors in the ward, people tell me translators are not available at City Hall,” he said.

Alcala said he did not know how much such a position would cost or how the new post would be paid for amid the city’s budget crunch.

He does favor implementation of the .0075 percent meals tax option under consideration by the City Council that would add about $700,000 to the city’s coffers annually. In addition, he voted to support construction of two middle schools in the special election last month which was defeated.

The West Lynn resident was born in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City where he was raised by his parents who immigrated from Puerto Rico. The family moved to Lynn in 2000.  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Swampscott means business on licenses

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT Town officials have requested an increase in all-liquor licenses in Swampscott, which they hope will attract new businesses.

“We’re hoping that we can receive a few additional licenses, so we can continue to focus on economic development and bringing additional investments to Swampscott,” said Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald.

Town Meeting members on Monday will be asked to authorize the Board of Selectmen to petition the General Court for special legislation allowing the board to issue eight additional all-liquor licenses.

“This article would provide additional business opportunities in our commercial districts, such as Humphrey Street and Vinnin Square, where eating establishments would like to operate with a liquor license,” the warrant article reads. “The 14 existing licenses are currently granted in full.”

The town’s newly updated Master Plan calls for some strategic focus on Humphrey Street, Vinnin Square and the railroad station neighborhood, in terms of revitalizing some of the businesses and restaurant opportunities, Fitzgerald said. He said the increase would bring the right investments to Swampscott, and would bring a robust business quarter in those areas.

Fitzgerald said a few weeks ago, the Board of Selectmen issued the town’s last all-liquor license, which encompasses alcohol, mixed drinks, beer, wine and cordials. The town also offers beer and wine licenses, and a temporary beer and wine license, he said.

Illegal loaded handgun off the streets

Last week, a restaurant applied for a liquor license that the town doesn’t have, Fitzgerald said. He said the increase would be an opportunity to bring new investments or new opportunities to Swampscott that would be lost to another community that has the licenses available.

He said existing restaurants in town may want to apply for the additional liquor licenses, but the primary focus is on attracting new businesses to Swampscott. In addition, Fitzgerald said as officials look at ways to reduce the town’s overall residential tax rate, finding ways to increase the commercial tax rate will be part of that discussion.

If the article is approved by Town Meeting, Fitzgerald said the town would work with the legislative delegation, and the increase would have to advance to General Court for a vote by the legislature. Over the years, he said the legislature has seen fit to grant communities additional licenses.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the full liquor licenses are given out by the state based on the population in the town. Swampscott has 14, based on about 14,000 residents. She said the board is asking for an exception because “this is the kind of business that can succeed in Swampscott.” Restaurants would really like to have full liquor licenses, she added.

“The businesses that we want to encourage are interesting eateries,” Dreeben said. “We need the liquor licenses to bring those to town.”

Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Riding the idea circuit

Judges once “rode the circuit” from courthouse to courthouse to dispense justice. The practice has largely gone the way of the horse-drawn plow, but Massachusetts legislators and state officials continue to see the merit of crisscrossing the state to hear constituents’ ideas.

That practice will bring legislators to Melrose on May 15 to hear residents’ concerns about climate change, global warming and clean energy. The Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change’s mandate is to do more listening than talking. The comments the committee receives will give legislators an opportunity to work on enhancing Massachusetts’ status as a leader in energy efficiency.

The key question legislators will put before Melrose residents is, “Do you think the state legislature should monitor or regulate energy use and related issues to help keep Massachusetts healthy, sustainable and strong?”

State Sen. Thomas M. McGee and legislative colleagues hit the road this year and asked residents across the state to define their concerns about transportation and other topics. Commonwealth Conversations traveled to Lynn and Peabody in April.  Previous Commonwealth Conversation tours helped build legislative consensus on expanding the state’s earned income tax credit and on crafting a college savings plan.

Swampscott means business on licenses

Legislators are elected by constituents who expect results from them. But crafting and passing legislation on Beacon Hill also means striking a balance between interests stretching from the Berkshires to Southeastern Massachusetts to Cape Ann.

McGee has consistently advocated for a clear vision that equates transportation improvements across Massachusetts and the United States with long-term economic improvements. His vision received reinforcement Tuesday night when state transportation officials brought their own road show to Lynn to hear residents’ views about increased pedestrian and bicycle access across the city.

A first glance at local roads suggests motorized vehicles have won the battle for supremacy, leaving little or no room for bicyclists and pedestrians. But streets laid out a century, in some cases, two centuries ago cannot sustain increased vehicle traffic forever. Increasing safe opportunities to move on two feet and two wheels may shift the transportation balance to a variety of modes including increased public transportation.

The greatest benefit of putting legislators and state officials out on the road to hear what people have to say is not the new law or programs that are the product of listening tours. The real lasting benefit is the opportunity to have Massachusetts residents use legislators as a sounding board for how each and every person in the state can help improve its quality of life.

 

House passes balanced FY18 budget

By THOMAS GRILLO

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a $40 billion 2018 budget which provides investments in local aid, early education, substance abuse, homelessness, job training, and economic development.

“Our budget reflects a strong commitment to our cities and towns by funding local aid and education at historic levels,” Rep. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) said in a statement. “These along with funds for key local programs will go a long way to improving our neighborhoods, schools, economy, and quality of life in our community.”

The Lynn delegation, which also includes Reps. Lori Ehrlich, Donald Wong, and Daniel Cahill collaborated to secure funding for a number of local programs including:

  • $100,000 for Red Rock Park maintenance
  • $50,000 to support algae removal from Lynn Beach
  • $40,000 for Lynn Fire Department equipment
  • $20,000 for arts and cultural programs

“We were pleased to have the support of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey in securing critical funding for public safety, arts and culture, economic development, and our local environment in Lynn,” said Cahill in a statement. 

Moulton rips ‘terrible’ health care bill

Recognizing that municipalities have unique and diverse needs, the House continued to fund local aid at historic levels. The fiscal 2108 budget increases so-called unrestricted aid by $40 million and local education aid by $106 million.

The increase to Chapter 70 guarantees every school district will receive a minimum of $30 per pupil next year. The budget also provides school employee health benefits through a $31 million investment. It also adds $4 million to the special education and increases our investment in regional school transportation by $1 million.

“As we all know, we are in a deficit, and no one wants more taxes,” said Wong in a statement. “But we are hopeful that we will generate more revenue to do more for our cities and towns.”

Ehrlich said the algae funding is crucial to combatting the longstanding problem for beachgoers because of the annual buildup and the noxious odor it releases.

The budget will now go to the Senate for consideration.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Restaurant co-owner sentenced for $6M fraud

BOSTON — Nicholas Koudanis, the co-owner of Nick’s Famous Roast Beef, his wife and son were sentenced in federal court for skimming nearly $6 million in cash from the Beverly eatery and failing to report the income on tax returns, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  

Koudanis, 67, of Topsfield, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Patti Saris to two years in prison, two years of probation and ordered to pay $2 million to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  

In January, Koudanis pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by obstructing the IRS and 10 counts of filing of false tax returns.  

His wife, Eleni Koudanis, 61, was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay the same amount of restitution.  She previously pleaded guilty to five counts of aiding and assisting in the filing of false tax returns. The restitution amount consists of the approximately $992,821 in taxes the Koudanises avoided paying, plus interest and penalties.  

Steven Koudanis, their 40-year-old son, was sentenced to one year of probation to be served in home confinement and ordered to pay $151,240 to the IRS.  He pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing and impeding the administration of the IRS laws.

Beverly restaurant owners plead to $6M fraud

From 2008 to 2013, prosecutors alleged the co-owners of Nick’s failed to report more than $1 million in cash receipts annually. Each week, Koudanis and Nicholas Markos divided the cash receipts, determining how much to deposit to the business’s bank account and report on their tax returns, how much to use to pay suppliers and employees, and how much to keep for themselves.  

Eleni Koudanis was responsible for the bookkeeping functions of the restaurant and provided some of the false income information to the tax preparer.  

Their son, Steven, created false cash register receipts that were used in connection with an IRS tax audit of the business.  The actual cash register receipts were not provided to the tax preparer who prepared the business and personal tax returns.  

By the close of 2014, Nicholas and Eleni Koudanis amassed more than $1.6 million in cash, which they kept in a safe in their home.

In January, Markos pleaded guilty to the same charges as Nicholas Koudanis and is scheduled to be sentenced May 9.

 

Commonwealth loss could be Medford gain

By STEVE FREKER and THOR JOURGENSEN

MEDFORD — Sale of a two-acre state sign shop could set the stage for economic development locally, state officials said Thursday.

The state Department of Transportation (DOT) is moving forward with the sale of a parcel located at 300 Mystic Avenue with bids due by June 9.

“Our administration is proud to promote local economic growth and opportunity through the redevelopment of underutilized state properties,” said a DOT statement quoting Gov. Baker. “By ensuring the Commonwealth is “Open for Business” with the sale of properties such as the Mystic Avenue parcel, we can continue strengthening our cities and towns and allowing our resources to provide benefits and jobs to citizens throughout Massachusetts.”

Currently used as a DOT sign shop, the site is an example of the Baker administration’s “Open for Business” initiative launched in 2015.  The initiative seeks to develop state-owned vacant or underutilized assets so they may have more productive uses to benefit the local economy, including office space, retail and housing.

To date, 24 state-owned assets have been sold or leased and when fully executed, will generate $428 million in revenue, more than 2,000 new housing units, 600 new jobs, 450,000 square feet of commercial space, and $12.3 million in annual, local property tax payments.

“This location is in the immediate vicinity of several local businesses, transportation options, and notable attractions and is a prime piece of real estate within the City of Medford,” said Highway Administrator Thomas J. Tinlin. “By leveraging our existing state assets in innovative ways that put them to the best use, we can continue supporting our local communities and facilitating growth and opportunity across the Commonwealth.”

The effort to convert the state site into a local economic opportunity comes after a nearly eight-month-long drive to build a multi-story residential development at the site of a former auto repair shop on Salem Street has come to fruition for  Boston-based developer.

Taking a pulse in Swampscott

The Medford Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday night unanimously approved the site plan submitted by developer Milan Patel of HHC One Salem LLC to build a three-story, 16-unit residential building at 236-240 Salem St.

The vote concludes what had been a largely contentious process in which neighbors and abutters of the site, as well as a Medford City Councilor, balked at several other previous proposals for the site submitted by the developer, all of which called for bigger projects in both units number and stories.

All of the objections raised by locals at neighborhood meetings and board meetings were directly related to the size of the structure. Concerns were also raised on increased traffic in the densely populated neighborhood located a block from the Route 93 overpass, just before Medford Square.

The original plan, first floated in August, 2016 was a five-story, 25-unit complex. When objections were raised, the developer came back with a four-story, 19-unit plan, then the present three-story change which was ultimately approved. The developer had tried to sell the idea of the larger structure because of the cost of cleaning up contaminated soil left over from the former brake shop.  According to records given to the Zoning Board, that cleanup came in at just under $500,000.

“I want to thank everybody – the team, the community – we all pitched in and I think this was a great effort. Their voices were heard,” Patel said.

There is still an appeal process for those who remain opposed to the decision. If no appeal is filed in the 20-day period now under way, or if one is filed and then denied,  the developer will seek to acquire a building permit and be allowed to start  construction.  

A number of those in attendance at Monday’s meeting were seen shaking their heads and heard murmuring after the vote was taken. No public comment was requested nor made before the vote.

 

Time to prioritize in Lynn

It’s been a tough two months for city Police Chief Michael Mageary who has seen his officers and detectives respond to four homicides, including two deadly daylight shootings. To be sure, the four incidents were unrelated and some arrests have been made, with the suspect in the Central Square shooting on Easter still at large.

With recent violence in mind, City Councilors invited Mageary and Fire Chief James McDonald to council committee meetings on Tuesday to discuss “recent public safety issues.” It is not surprising the exchange between the elected officials and the public safety leaders focused on spending.

Mageary said the Police Department has 181 officers today compared to 193 in 2010. McDonald, a career public safety officer like Mageary, said Lynn’s eight aging fire stations need to be replaced.

In a perfect world, public safety gets top priority and somehow tax dollars pay to put a police officer on every corner and a firehouse in every neighborhood. That is not reality and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy made it clear she is struggling to make sure the city complies with burdensome state school spending formulas even as she tries to spend more money on police and fire departments.

There was a time 25 years ago when the federal government opened the spending spigot and sent a flood of money into Lynn and other cities. The money paid for police officers and firefighters and innovative policing programs that put cops on bicycles and on foot in neighborhoods.

Immigrant-worker march set for Monday

In the last 15 years, public safety departments in communities across the state have turned to grant money to hire new officers and firefighters. The problem with grants is that communities eventually have to incorporate the hires into their salary budgets once the grant money runs out.

Putting a cop on every corner could not have guaranteed a murder-free March and April in Lynn. But a heightened sense of police protection helps residents feel they are safe and gives them more opportunities to work with police to point out potential problems, including properties where drug dealing might be taking place, or playgrounds where gangs may be trying to stake out turf.

Mageary knows all about police work and he has seen budget shortfalls come and go during his career. He knows that some of the most effective police work often takes place behind the scenes and out of public view. Coordinated efforts to crack down on drug dealers and gangs can take months to plan with multiple law enforcement agencies involved.

Efforts to pull guns off streets and reduce violence also involve agencies working in many different communities and, sometimes, across state lines to get results.

It is often said that spending less means working smarter. Kennedy, Mageary, McDonald and the council should meet often during the next several months and develop a city budget for the spending year that starts on July 1 filled with strategies for addressing Lynn’s public safety priorities.

Nahant house goes to the birds

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
The house at 25 Furbush Road is set to be torn down by the Nahant Preservation Trust.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

NAHANT — Neighbors say Avis “Louise” Haynes, who died in 2007, would have been happy for her home to become part of the town’s bird sanctuary.

Haynes was the last person to live in the five-room home at 25 Furbush Rd., which sits overgrown with weeds and bushes and has vines climbing its sides. The roof is in disrepair and the structure suffers from water and flood damage, but through the large windows at the home’s corner, a leather chair looks out with a stack of books on the table beside it.

“It would have been nice to see the house rebuilt,“ said Jeannie Buckley, Haynes’ neighbor for about three decades. “I believe it was tied up with her will. The person who inherited it didn’t want it. But years ago when Louise lived here, she said she would leave it to the Audubon Society when she died. This would have been what she wanted.”

Emily Potts, chairwoman of the Nahant Preservation Trust said once the property is converted back to open space, it will serve as an extension to the Nahant Thicket Wildlife Sanctuary, which, at four acres, is among Mass Audubon’s smallest sanctuaries.

“I think (Louise) saw the need,” said Potts. “She was a nature lover.”

The town recently took over the 11,700 square foot property after several years of non-payment of taxes. It was sold through a public auction for $6,000 to the Nahant Preservation Trust in January.  Under the selectmen’s direction, the sale was conditioned on the existing 1,082 square foot structure being removed and the use limited to open space, giving the buyer no option to build on the land. The house was built in 1946.

Getting Revere in the pipeline

The trust is asking the town to appropriate $20,650 from the Community Preservation fund to demolish the existing house at the corner of Furbush and Walton roads. The funds will also cover the cost of remediating hazardous materials, and site restoration by the Nahant Preservation Trust.  

The trust, in a partnership with Nahant Safer Waters In Massachusetts, is committed to matching the Community Preservation money and has already raised between $18,000 and $19,000, said Potts. The overall cost is estimated to be $41,300, including excise and real estate taxes, closing costs, hazardous materials study and abatement, demolition, and filling in the ground.

A hazardous material assessment was performed, determining that the building and its partial basement is uninhabitable and needs to be demolished. Once the house is gone, the property will be returned to open space, as required under the terms of the sale.

“It’s a very difficult area,” said Selectman Enzo Barile. “This benefits the town with flood insurance. The more open space we have, especially in the floodplain, which this is, when (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) calculates our community rating system, our rates will go down. FEMA will see we’re trying to mitigate the flood rates.”

Barile added that, as the property sat abandoned, it became an eyesore and a danger to the community. As part of an intertidal zone, the property and the land around it have been difficult to build on. One landowner of a nearby property donated her parcel to the Audubon Society because she didn’t have another use for it, he said.

Potts said she expects the project to be completed in six months, should Town Meeting grant the funding.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

Landfill extension plan filed in Saugus

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Pictured is Wheelabrator Saugus.

By PAUL HALLORAN

SAUGUS — Wheelabrator Saugus has applied to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for continued use of its ash residue monofill.

The application seeks no change in the nature of the monofill, the daily capacity, the materials deposited, or operations at the monofill. 

The only proposed change is to apply the same minimum slope to the final grades within two of the five internal valleys of the monofill in a configuration that is consistent with what was already approved for the three other valleys. The application of this same minimum slope would not increase the monofill’s height or footprint.

The monofill is located next to the energy-from-waste facility on Route 107.

Job merger gets close council review

To plan for the possibility that the monofill reaches its currently permitted airspace before the application process is complete, Wheelabrator has submitted a second application to DEP to transport ash off-site to alternative landfills on an as-needed basis.

This option would represent only a temporary solution because the 26 daily truck trips associated with off-site ash transport will result in a bigger impact on the environment and higher costs for municipal and business customers.

Meanwhile, Wheelabrator continues to seek a public dialogue with town officials about a long-term plan for the monofill that would maintain and enhance Wheelabrator’s value to the town.

Wheelabrator Saugus is an integral part of the region’s environmental and economic infrastructure, providing nearby communities and businesses with an environmentally-sound way to convert post-recycled waste to clean energy while creating millions in economic benefits to the Town of Saugus, including jobs, taxes and support for community organizations and activities.

Election fight looms in Lynn’s Ward 1

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is Ward 1 City Councilor Wayne Lozzi.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Wayne Lozzi, the seven-term city councilor from Ward 1, has a race on his hands.

Courtesy photo

Pictured is attorney William O’Shea.

Two opponents have pulled papers. William O’Shea, an attorney, and Jesse Warren Jr. have set their sights on the post.

“Now that my children are grown and coaching youth sports is in the past, I have a lot of time on my hands,” said O’Shea, 53. One the things that puzzles O’Shea is why KIPP Academy, the city’s charter school, can build a new high school to serve 450 students for $20 million, while the plan defeated by voters last month called for construction of two middle schools for $188.5 million.

In March, voters rejected a 652-student school on Parkland Avenue and a second facility for 1,008 students on McManus Field.

“The city wanted to build one public school for nearly $90 million while a charter school can build it for one fourth the cost,” he said.

O’Shea also wonders why the city’s tax rate rises annually and yet there’s a budget shortfall.

In addition, O’Shea questioned why the city has a methadone clinic on the Lynnway and a homeless shelter downtown.

“We can’t attract new businesses or residents with those things in the middle of downtown,” he said.

Still, he is not sure how to solve that issue.

“I don’t have the particular answers, but as an attorney, I find solutions,” he said.  

Lozzi, 60, who has served on the council since 2004, said he is seeking re-election because he loves the job, and is proud of the work he’s done.

“I’ve accomplished quite a bit as the ward councilor,” he said.  Among his proudest projects, he said, is reconstruction of the city’s parks.

“When I first ran, Gowdy,  Flax Pond and Magnolia parks were in deplorable condition,” Lozzi said.  “Now, we have a new Flax Pond playground, Gowdy was mostly done with private funds at no cost to taxpayers, Magnolia has a fairly new tennis court and Lynn Woods Park playground has been remodeled.”

Lozzi noted that the council’s initiative to move the high tension wires off the waterfront and a zoning change for the Lynnway are key to modernizing the city and spurring development.

North Shore Community Promise: free tuition

While Lozzi acknowledges the city’s financial picture is grim today, he said it’s short term.

“Historically, the city has gone through these phases where we are up and down,” he said. “I don’t want to assign blame, we need to look forward and continue to provide good services to the residents despite these difficulties.”

While the city needs new sources of revenue, Lozzi said he opposed to the imposition of a local option meals tax that would raise about $600,000 annually.

“Raising taxes is a last resort and I’m not sure I would support it,” he said.

Still, Lozzi supported the plan to build two new middle schools by raising taxes.

“I voted yes because I felt strongly that we need a new Pickering Middle School,” he said.

On the question of whether the city will need to lay off city workers to balance the budget, Lozzi said the jury is still out.

“I hope we can avoid them,” he said. “If there is any question about layoffs, that falls onto the mayor’s desk and she has to answer those questions and inform the council and residents.”

Warren could not be reached for comment.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Consider the progress we’ve made, Kennedy says

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Donna Coppola, left, and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy have a word during Kennedy’s re-election kickoff.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy kicked off her campaign for a third term Wednesday night at a crowded fundraiser in the Porthole Restaurant.

Kennedy, a Republican, will face state Sen. Thomas McGee in what is expected to be a hotly contested race.  Last month the Lynn Democrat, who has served in the state Senate since 2002, announced his intention to seek the corner office.  

In mentioning McGee in her remarks, Kennedy said the two of them have been in public life for more than two decades and each of them have records that should be scrutinized.

“I hope all of you will base your vote in this election, not on personalities, not on political parties, not on family connections, but on who has done the most to bring improvements to our great city,” she said.

Kennedy became mayor in 2009 when she beat Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy by 27 votes of the more than 16,000 ballots cast. In 2013, she bested Timothy Phelan by a 59 to 41 percent margin.

The mayor reminded the crowd what Lynn was like in 2010, the year she took office. She said Sluice, Flax and Goldfish ponds were infested with invasive weeds, several parks lacked lights for night games, there were few options for seniors to save on their real estate taxes, the General Electric Factory of the Future site had been vacant for more than 10 years, the Thurgood Marshall Middle School was in need of replacing, the Lynn Auditorium had just three shows a year, the downtown was filled with litter, and if teens wanted a summer job, they needed help from an elected official.

“Today, the ponds are clean, Barry Park and Wyoma Baseball Field have lights, there’s a nightly street sweeping schedule in the downtown, we implemented a way for income-eligible seniors to work off $600 from their property tax bills, there’s a lottery for summer jobs, the Lynn Auditorium is air conditioned and booked, the Factory of the Future is the new home for Market Basket, and we built a new middle school,” she said. “I ask for your support as we continue this progress for the next four years.”

I think I can make a difference, McGee says

The event attracted many of the city’s elected officials and candidates for office, as well as supporters.

Elaine Letowski, an insurance writer who moved to Lynn in 2003, said she attended the event because she strongly backs Kennedy.

“She’s good for our city, she says no when you have to say no,” she said. “We don’t have enough money for everything. She’s working on the budget, makes good decisions, keeps our taxes down, and is making Lynn a better place to live.”

Eileen Spencer, a real estate broker at Annmarie Jonah Realtors, said Kennedy has helped revitalize the downtown.

“Judy has done a phenomenal job for the city,” she said. “What I like most of all is what’s she’s done to improve the Lynn Auditorium and that is bringing business to the downtown.”

The mayor’s fundraiser comes one day after a team of consultants told officials that without corrective action, the city’s budget is projected to have an $8.6 million deficit in 2017 and in each of the next five years.

The PFM Group, based out of Philadelphia, provided a grim prescription to City Hall: No raises for city employees, freeze hiring, contract EMS services to a private company, and eliminate 35 city jobs.

Kennedy did not ignore the city’s financial troubles in her speech.

“I want to be real, not everything is rosy and, of course, we have some difficulties, such as balancing the budget,” she said. “But I’ve been quietly looking to officials at the federal level … and I expect to return to Washington in the coming months to meet with the new Trump administration to see what I can do for my city.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

His two cents worth — literally

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Bruce Rideout shows off his two cent check.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — When the U.S. Department of the Treasury sent Bruce Rideout a check for two cents, he set out to ask his friends for theirs.

“First, they all laugh,” said Rideout, 79. “The second thing is always ‘do you know how much it cost them to send this check?’”

Rideout said he received the check two days ago and has been carrying it around ever since, showing it to just about everyone he has encountered.

They earned it, chief says of new firefighters

A retiree of the Lynn Water and Sewer Commission and  a U.S. Air Force veteran, Rideout said he already received his income tax refund and his monthly pension; both were directly deposited into his checking account. He has not contacted and does not plan to contact the Department of the Treasury or the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was listed on the stub, to ask why he received the money.

“It’s unique,” he said.

So unique, Rideout visited FastFrame in Swampscott’s Vinnin Square to have a custom frame made. He plans to hang the check in his Lakeview Place home, he said. The frame was priced at $82.15.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

 

Survey: Lynn should confront finance issues

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — A team of consultants told the city what they already knew: Confronting Lynn’s fiscal challenges will hurt.

In a stark report presented to the City Council Tuesday, a Philadelphia financial advisory services firm that specializes in advising municipalities, said the city should not issue raises after union contracts expire, freeze hiring, contract EMS services to a private company, and eliminate 35 city jobs.  

“Lynn now faces a critical moment,” said The PFM Group in the 18-page survey. “Absent corrective action, the city’s general fund is projected to have an $8.6 million deficit in 2017 and in each of the next five years … the longer it takes Lynn to confront its fiscal challenges, the harder and more painful it will become to implement viable solutions.”

Vieen Leung, a PFM senior managing consultant and one of the study’s authors, said to close the gap the city should consider increasing fees annually, raise taxes and implement a local meals tax.

“The deficits are real and they are daunting,” she told the Council.

Leung also said the city lacks long-term planning for capital improvements. Lynn must figure out a way to determine a city building’s life expectancy and how to fund new construction.

“The city has underinvested in its infrastructure over the last decade,” she said.

The team also recommended the city control employee pay and benefits and increase the amount city workers pay for health insurance.      

A day for optimism

Last winter, the state Department of Revenue provided Lynn with a $75,000 grant to hire PFM and help City Hall create a five-year plan toward better fiscal responsibility.

A team of three municipal finance experts combed through the city’s books over the last few months and presented the council with an outline of how to get the city back on track.

PFM said while revenues are projected to grow at an annual rate of 2.9 percent annually driven largely by property taxes and state aid, operating expenditures are expected to swell by 3.2 percent.

In at least one exception to the no-new-hire rule, PFM recommends the city hire a full-time chief financial officer (CFO) and potentially a city manager.

Today, Peter Caron, the city’s CFO, spends half of his time managing the city’s finances and the other half as head of assessing.

“While this arrangement has allowed the city to save salary costs, CFO duties should not be held by an employee who already leads one or more other departments,” the report said.

In a brief interview on Tuesday, Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said she questioned some of the recommendations on how to close the budget gap.

“Some of the assumptions they used are completely unrealistic to implement, such as no wage increases through 2022,” she said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Time for adult conversations

ITEM PHOTO BY JIM WILSON
State sens. Michael Rodrigues and Thomas McGee speak during a meeting with The Item.

State Sen. Michael Rodrigues delivered one of the all-time classic understatements on Thursday during an interview with fellow Sen. Thomas M. McGee and The Item editorial board.

“It’s very difficult to have an adult conversation about taxes,” said the Westport Democrat.

Truer words were never spoken.

A minority of Lynn voters went to the polls on March 21 and rammed a plan to build new public schools into the ground with the force of a piledriver. The argument against the schools revolved around protecting open space and cemetery land. But voters saw red when they were asked to approve a property tax debt exclusion to pay for new schools.

On the other extreme, statewide gambling proponents promised to open the floodgates and pour new tax money into Massachusetts. They pointed to tax revenue from two casinos and a slot parlor as a solution to everything from beefing up police forces to boosting the state’s economy.

Rodrigues and McGee have been crisscrossing Massachusetts with fellow senators as part of Commonwealth Connections. Billed as a listening tour, the series of forums, including one planned next Tuesday in Lynn and another scheduled for that night in Peabody, are aimed principally at collecting and prioritizing ideas for fixing Massachusetts’ transportation infrastructure.

Opposition mounts to Munroe school site

As chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, McGee has repeatedly pointed out how the state’s infrastructure is deteriorating. He has urged legislators, businesspeople, and fellow Lynn residents; as well as people statewide, to talk about how to pay for billions of dollars worth of needed transportation improvements.

He pointed out how tax discussion degenerate into “divisive” debates over prioritizing public spending. Echoing McGee’s point, Rodrigues observed how “everyone is dug into their own box” when it comes to protecting state-approved tax credits lessening the burden on a specific population or business sector.

McGee can’t be blamed for sometimes thinking he is whistling past the graveyard when he points out how improving transportation is a universal challenge everyone has to think about in dollars and cents. He points to the deteriorating General Edwards Bridge — a gateway to the city — as an example of a major expense that cannot be ignored.

Put in simpler terms, McGee is urging a statewide conversation on how to pay for transportation improvements that not only benefit Massachusetts’ economy but prevent disaster and loss of life.

He is not encouraged about the possibility of federal money flooding into the state for infrastructure repairs. But McGee isn’t giving up on the notion that Commonwealth Connections can inspire people across Massachusetts to focus on transportation improvement ideas and ways to pay for them.

It’s time for the adults in the room to start talking.  

Protect-Preserve needs to produce

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Don Castle motions at the “no-vote” victory party in this March file photo.

The founder of the “no new schools” movement pledged following the March 21 referendum vote to reach out and work with school officials.

Almost three weeks have passed and that conversation between Donald Castle and the officials he wants to speak with has yet to take place.

Mr. Castle and his Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove campaign defeated the city’s request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a middle school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field.

Give Mr. Castle credit; he tapped into voter anger over taxes and tallied a 64 percent to 36 percent win.

He told The Item’s editorial board before the March 21 special election that he opposed construction of the Parkland Avenue school because the city’s forefathers wanted the 44-acre site to be reserved to expand the Pine Grove Cemetery.

He argued that the parcel is too close to Breeds Pond Reservoir, the buildings were too expensive, and the process failed to be inclusive.

Insisting his group is not anti-education or anti-new schools, Mr. Castle said he would reach out to city officials after the school vote and say, “We want to work with you.”

He kept up that refrain the day after the election, saying, “I extended an olive branch to the mayor and the committee to pick another site.”

Schools out in Lynn

Mr. Castle and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, a school construction supporter, each say they made post-election efforts to reach out and meet, but missed each other’s post-election calls. Castle got a chance to state his case last week during the Pickering Middle School Building Committee meeting. Kennedy made a motion to suspend the rules and allow Mr. Castle to speak.

He declined.

“It was a bag job,” he said following the meeting, “They wanted to pick a fight with me, I’m not going to get into an argument with the superintendent that would make me look dumb. The proponents never sat down with us or called us once. I feel bad for the kids, but now they want to talk to us in the 11th hour. No thanks.”

Sorry, Mr. Castle, you can’t have it both ways. Protect-Preserve won a stunning election victory. But the middle-school enrollment tidal wave threat still looms.

Maybe Mr. Castle wants to hold on to that no new-schools anger and see if it converts into a possible City Council bid.

Maybe he got tongue tied when the opportunity came to actually present city decision makers with his school construction suggestions.

Or maybe it’s time for Mr. Castle and Protect-Preserve to make good on his pre-election statement and offer specific and positive ideas for solving the city’s school space crunch.

Unless they never had any ideas to begin with.

Schools out for the time being in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is pictured at a discussion on schools.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — No new schools will be built in the city anytime soon.

That was the decision of a city panel Tuesday that orchestrated a plan for construction of two middle schools to ease overcrowding and replace a dilapidated facility.

Following last Tuesday’s special election where voters resoundingly rejected a request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field, the Pickering School Building Committee withdrew its application for state funding.

In addition to taking itself out of consideration for funds, Lynn Stapleton, the city’s project manager for the school proposal, said Lynn had a number of options. They included a plan to split the project into two and build one school first and then a second; build one school and renovate the Pickering Middle School; or build one school and use Pickering as an elementary school.

But the panel seemed in no mood to consider them.

Before the vote to end the city’s bid for school dollars, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy invited Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, the grassroots organization that campaigned against the schools, to speak to the committee. The mayor said he had an alternative plan. But he declined.

School Committeewoman Donna Coppola voiced concern about where new students would be placed.

“We have kids coming in that will not have seats,” she said.

Edward Calnan said the committee did their job and despite the vote against the schools, the members should be proud of the work they did.

“We were told we needed to provide space for 1,600 students and that’s what we did,” he said. “We did an exhaustive search for sites in the city and came up with the best ones that were the least expensive to make the project viable.”

Off and running in Lynn

Kennedy said it’s clear the voters have no appetite for more taxes and she will honor their wishes.

“The people spoke loud and clear,” she said. “The problem was the price tag and I’m just ready to drop the whole thing. They say insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. That’s what we would be doing if we did anything but drop it.”

With that, the 16-member group voted unanimously to tell the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the  quasi-independent government authority created to help pay for the construction of public schools, that Lynn won’t be seeking funds.

At the close of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham choked back tears as she expressed her disappointment in the failure of the vote for the new schools.

“Our new Thurgood Marshall Middle School is a model for the entire state and I was hoping that just viewing that could carry an equalized opportunity for all our students,” she said. “But it was not to be.” 

In an interview following the meeting, Castle defended his position not to speak to the committee.

“It was a bag job,” he said. “They wanted to pick a fight with me, I’m not going to get into an argument with the superintendent that would make me look dumb. The proponents never sat down with us or called us once. I feel bad for the kids, but now they want to talk to us in the 11th hour. No thanks.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

The 6 ‘alternative facts’ of school no-voters

COMMENTARY BY CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT DARREN CYR

I write as president of the Lynn City Council and for the councilors-at-large. We cannot in good conscience sit by and allow the negative, defamatory statements, distortions and outright lies from the “vote no on two new schools” team go unanswered.  

The negativity and outright venom spewed by the opposition shocks the values that we hold true in our hearts. We are utterly disgusted to read social media posts stating that “those children” from foreign countries who speak with accents do not deserve a quality education.  

The anger and nastiness of this campaign by the “vote no” supporters makes the recent presidential election look like a hug fest.

We as Lynners have a unique opportunity to literally change the lives of more than 100,000 of our children for the next century. It is ironic that the residents of Ward 1 who pay some of the highest property taxes in the city are forced to send their children to a crumbling building that does not meet the educational needs of the 21st century.  

Not so long ago, a former Marblehead state representative told his constituents they should support strong state school funding for Lynn. Swampscott raises captains of industry, he said, who “need very well educated employees.”

As Lynners, we find that statement and such a sentiment to be a slap in the face.  We sincerely hope that no Lynner believes that we should be looked down upon by any other community.  

We are proud to be from Lynn and want nothing but the very best for our families and children.  

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

The irony is not lost on us collectively that Swampscott educational leaders have toured the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School and intend to model future construction in their town on this project that was finished on time and under budget. The proposed schools in large part will be modeled after Marshall and the West Lynn site will be almost identical.

“Alternative fact No. 1” put forth by the opposition claims that Lynn can simply go back to the drawing board and select a new site. This is just not true. Lynn has spent almost $1.1 million on architectural drawings, traffic studies, sewer studies and wetland/drinking supply protection studies. There is no more money to funnel into additional studies and plans.  

The plain fact of the matter is that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has insisted that one of the schools be located in the East Lynn District. There are no other sites in East Lynn that exist that are financially or environmentally feasible.  

The Magnolia Avenue site is not a viable option. That  land is located in a flood zone. There is an existing Massachusetts Water Resources Authority pipe that runs underneath the playground that supplies water to the citizens from Swampscott and Marblehead.  The site is not large enough to accommodate a 600-plus student facility without taking by eminent domain a portion of the neighboring elderly apartment complex. Such a taking would result in dozens of elderly persons being relocated to new homes.

If the citizens of Lynn reject the two modern state-of-the-art educational facilities, Lynn will go to the end of the line and be forced to submit a new application. Exploding enrollment projects show that by 2021, Lynn will have either double sessions or classrooms with 50 children.  In all likelihood, Lynn would not get back to the front of the line at the MSBA until 2019 or 2020.  

This ensures double sessions or students crammed into classrooms like sardines. But even this ignores the fact that there are no other viable sites in East Lynn. Therefore, it makes no sense to re-apply. Lynn will just dump good money after bad fixing up a Pickering Middle School that can never be adequately rebuilt for today’s middle school educational needs.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

“Alternative Fact No. 2” as put forth by the opposition states Lynn will be taking multiple homes at the reservoir site. This is just not true. Lynn heard the voices of the opposition and redrew the plans so that only one home will be taken by eminent domain.  

The wonderful woman who was the subject of news coverage several months ago will not lose her home. The younger woman who would be required to relocate has and will continue to be offered every reasonable accommodation. The Lynn City Council has gone on record supporting the idea of moving her home several hundred yards down the road so that she can remain in the home she built.

Opponents ignore the fact that two homes were taken by eminent domain in order to construct Thurgood Marshall. Those relocated for Marshall were residents of Ward 3 and we know for a fact that they were extremely satisfied with the efforts Lynn undertook to relocate them to a new home of their choosing.  

“Alternative fact No. 3” put forth by the opposition states that the cost of the school project will be $5,000 per taxpayer. This figure will be spread out over 25 years. In return, Lynners will see their property values soar. Think about it: Residents with children looking to buy property will not want to buy in Lynn if our schools are an embarrassment. We urge Lynners to take a tour of the existing Pickering.

Quite simply, the physical condition of Pickering is an embarrassment.

The more families are satisfied with the conditions of our schools, the greater the demand will be for our own homes. Our greatest assets are our homes. With the construction of two new schools, our homes will go up in value considerably.  By approving these two new schools, we have just increased our own net worth by tens of thousands of dollars almost immediately.  

“Alternative fact No. 4” put forth by the opposition states that the property is part of Lynn Woods. This outright fabrication can simply be rebutted by the fact that the Friends of Lynn Woods have publicly said that the land is not part of the Lynn Woods Reservation.

“Alternative fact No. 5” put forth by the opposition states that the land is cemetery land. The deeds for the subject land clearly state that the City of Lynn owns this land with no restrictions. An attorney for the “vote no” group has conceded at a public hearing before the Lynn City Council that the deeds on file at the Registry of Deeds contain no restrictions requiring this land to be used for cemetery purposes.

Conversely, the Lynn City Council is on record as supporting the sale of 32 acres to the Pine Grove Cemetery and said deed will state the land will be used solely for cemetery purposes.  Because there exists no deed restrictions or conditions on file at the Registry of Deeds, the Lynn City Council would be free to sell this land to a developer to construct hundreds of new homes.

The Lynn City Council did not seek such a solution. Rather, it unanimously voted to commence the process to transfer this land to the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission at no cost.

“Alternative fact No. 6” put forth by the opposition states that the selection of these sites was done behind closed doors with no public input. All meetings of the Pickering Site Committee have been open to the public.  Three public forums were held where our community could speak up on the proposed sites.

Members of the Lynn City Council have personally met and spoke with the leader of the opposition on almost a dozen occasions. Our city council colleagues have attempted to address or mitigate each and every one of their stated concerns.  

Now is the time for us as a community to step up.  The negativity and anger is unacceptable. We are supporting the two new schools because our only interest is the children of Lynn.  

Our fellow Lynners: Let’s vote yes on two new schools so that our children will have the necessary tools to be captains of industry for generations to come.  


Editor’s note: City Council President Darren P. Cyr wrote this editorial and signed it with fellow councilors Buzzy Barton, Council Vice President, and Councilors-at-large Daniel F. Cahill, Brian P. LaPierre and Hong L. Net.

 

Lynn school election snowed out

PHOTO BY SCOTT EISEN
Lynn City Clerk Janet Rowe, left, and election coordinator Mary Jules help Tim and Deborah Potter cast absentee ballots.

By THOMAS GRILLO

SALEM — As a late season blizzard threatens to shut down the Bay State with more than a foot of snow, today’s high stakes election on funding two new middle schools has been postponed.

Essex Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat issued the ruling on Monday in response to a request from the city. Less than three hours later, in an emergency meeting, the City Council moved the election to next Tuesday, March 21.

Lauriat approved a request by Richard Vitali, the city’s assistant city solicitor, to delay the special election. While the city had hoped the judge would approve the March 21 date, Lauriat declined.

“The City Council set the date of the first vote, they should set the new one,” Lauriat said from the bench.

That set in motion a swift response from City Hall to call for an emergency council meeting

“I’m glad,” said Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy. “I wanted to make sure we got into court today because it’s becoming more and more evident that it would be a real public safety hazard to have people attempting to go out to vote in a storm like this.”

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

Voters are being asked to pay for a 652-student school to be built near Pine Grove Cemetery on Parkland Avenue. A second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

If approved, property owners will be responsible for $91.4 million of the total $188.5 million project cost. School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall calculations. If those monies are not used, officials said it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million. City officials say the average homeowner would pay from $200-$275 a year extra on their real estate tax bill for the next 25 years.

Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the ballot question, said his group will spend the extra week before the election to convince residents to vote no.

“The fight continues,” he said. “We will keep organizing to oppose this.”

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

In a filing to the city on campaign spending, Two Schools for Lynn, the group organized to support the project, reported they raised $11,055 from Jan. 31 through Feb. 24. Much of the cash, $5,000, came from the Lynn Teachers Association. Public officials also made donations. City Councilor and state Rep. Daniel Cahill contributed $500, the mayor wrote a check for $200, City Councilor Brian LaPierre gave $450 and City Councilor Buzzy Barton donated $200.

The group opposing the ballot initiative, Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, failed to file on time. Castle said the report was in the mail and estimated the group raised about $7,000.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Swampscott Huddle focuses on change

ITEM PHOTO BY DAVID WILSON 
Members of the Swampscott Huddle group pose for a photo at the Panera Bread in Vinnin Square.

By DAVID WILSON

SWAMPSCOTT — Abbe Smith is quick to say not everyone in the room is necessarily a Democrat.

There may have been an independent; heck, there may have been a Republican. But looking around, it’s safe to say that any Donald Trump supporter in the room had an incredible amount of restraint.

The Swampscott Huddle — 13 men and women so far — got together Friday night at the Panera Bread in Vinnin Square.

The concept of a huddle was born out of the women’s marches; “a small group of friends, family, neighbors and fellow marchers … and a space to meet” is all that’s necessary, according to the website for the Women’s March on Washington.

The purpose of a huddle, the website says, is to “keep the women’s march spirit alive, build the movement beyond those who marched, and set a concrete plan of action.”

Smith, of Swampscott, said she had planned on being in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20; spending the day watching the inauguration of the country’s first female president. It was a plan that never came.

“I didn’t want to be anywhere near Washington” on that day, she said Friday over a coffee. Instead, she went to Florida. The day after Trump’s inauguration, she was at the women’s march in West Palm Beach.

“One of the reasons the women’s march was so powerful is it wasn’t anti-Republican, it wasn’t partisan and it wasn’t anti-Trump; it was pro-humanist, it was pro-our values, pro-family,” Smith said.

Lynn marchers see hope, but feel doubt

Fear of a Trump presidency was one of the topics that led off the discussion in the back room of the restaurant. We’ve got to make it another three-and-three-quarter years before another election, event organizer and Swampscott resident Brian Felder says.

“I’m not so sure it’s gonna take that long,” one discussion member interjects to laughter. 

Felder said people need to be aware “it’s not just that we don’t like (Trump), or we’re scared of him … but we have a damn good reason to be.”

“What are we afraid of?” one member later asks; it’s a question that silences the room for a moment.

Debbie Friedlander of Swampscott said she’s concerned the current administration is becoming, as she puts it, a kleptocracy: a form of government in which officials use their power to steal.

“I really don’t believe (former Exxon Mobil CEO) Rex Tillerson is acting in good faith as secretary of State,” she said. “That’s my greatest fear; there’s no transparency.”

Another question is asked: “What is the thing that hurts us the most?”

A few things, Felder says. “One is the view from the outside of what this country is right now; the other is … (losing) what this country stands for,” he said. “It is really frightening to think of what we’ve already sacrificed in the last 100 days, never mind what we could over the next (three-and-three-quarter years).”

It’s a period that may appear long to some, but this was not a meeting to complain. Members spoke of making phone calls; writing letters — Smith came with stationary — while others flipped through a 15-page contact list for elected officials.

April 15 is coming up. One member mentioned that an act of protest could be to send blank tax forms to the White House; “We want to see your taxes, (Trump),” she says to nods and agreement.

Getting youth involved was another topic touched upon. Their passion and love for their country is something that should be taken advantage of, members said.

“I think young people communicate very different than our age group,” said Friedlander, who is retired. “I also don’t think they associate with political parties, (but it) doesn’t mean they are not politically knowledgeable.”

“I think they see political parties as old-school,” she said. “I think they see it as part of a corporate bureaucracy; and I think they’re very distrustful.”

Felder, a member of the Swampscott Democratic Town Committee, said young voters want elected officials to listen to them.

“We know there are these groups in high schools and in colleges, and would they say they’re lined up with our party? No,” Felder said. “Would they be willing to sit down and talk with us about what would get through to them? Absolutely.”

Smith posed a question to the group: what are your three big concerns under a Trump administration. Could we gather a consensus, she asked.

It wasn’t easy; the “Russia issue” — the country’s alleged involvement in the U.S. election — could prove Trump a traitor, one member said. Other answers ranged from education to climate change; the Affordable Care Act to Tillerson’s role at the State Department.

Friedlander, again, went in on Tillerson. Once the State Department goes, we’re finished; it won’t matter what kind of health care we have, she said.

But under the first months of a Trump presidency, there’s one group most discussion members saved praise for: the press. Members rattled off publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, that, they say hold a spotlight on the administration.

Because without the press, Smith said, the country could fall further “down the rabbit hole.”

The next Swampscott Huddle meeting will be held from 7-9 p.m. Friday, March 24 in the back room of Panera Bread in Vinnin Square.


David Wilson can be reached at dwilson@itemlive.com.

Pickering principal states case for new school

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Pictured is the boys’ locker room at the Pickering Middle School.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN If you’re undecided or planning to vote against construction of two middle schools in next week’s special election, Kevin Rittershaus wants to meet you.

The principal of the Pickering Middle School has hundreds of reasons why voters should vote yes. If approved on Tuesday, the city would spend $188.5 million to build a three-story middle school on Parkland Avenue and a four-story one on Commercial Street.

“This is an ancient building trying to do 21st century education,” he said. “Every inch of space is used for something, former closets have been turned into offices while counselors and music teachers are working in corridors. Come and see my school and compare it with what kids get at the new Marshall Middle School.”

Rittershaus, who has worked at Pickering since the late 1990s and is now in his fourth year as principal, brought The Item on a tour of the worn-out grade 6-8 school on Conomo Avenue Wednesday.

There’s peeling paint on the auditorium’s tin ceiling and water damage on the walls. The special education and health teachers share an office, making private sessions impossible. The computer lab has three dozen dated personal computers for 620 students.

Let the transformation begin in Malden

The school adjustment counselor has a table in a 250-square-foot corridor space to meet students. The school’s library was closed because it was needed for a classroom. It was the same story with home economics. Down the hall, the school’s original lockers have never been replaced and a music room in a hallway is shared with a vending machine. The boiler room resembles a scene out of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

The art room lacks a sink, easels, drawing tables and storage space.

Angeliki Russell, the school’s art teacher, said while students create art good enough to be hung, the children would be better served with more space, sinks, higher tables, improved lighting, better chairs and places to store art materials.

Because of overcrowding, Pickering has four, one-half lunch periods that start at 11 a.m. just to fit all the kids in.

Joseph Smart, the city’s building and grounds director, said the roof leaks and water has damaged the historic tin ceilings.

“The building needs a new roof,” he said. “The auditorium was painted in 2014, it’s already peeling.”

In a section of the building that is below grade, moisture is coming through the brick and onto the plaster.

“We’ve done numerous repairs, but to do it right we’d have to dig it out, weatherproof it and do the inside work,” he said.

The city’s Inspectional Services Department estimates it will cost $44.2 million to renovate the 99,000-square-foot facility.

Proponents say it makes more sense to build a new school. The vote on Tuesday asks property owners to be responsible for $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total project cost. School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall cost. If those monies are not used, it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million.

The city said the average single-family homeowner would boost the tax bill to just under $200 more per year for 25 years. For multi-family units, the city estimates the added cost per year would range from $257-$269.

Rittershaus said there are lots of misconceptions about the project. For example, he said parents have told him that the land for the Parkland Avenue school belongs to Lynn Woods Reservation or the Pine Grove Cemetery, but in fact the land is owned by the city, he said.

“People don’t realize the work that’s gone into studying site selection,” he said. “We’ve spent days analyzing the potential locations and not one of them is ideal for everyone.”

On Tuesday, the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission took no action on a plan to transfer 32 acres from the city to the cemetery for a possible expansion, according to James Lamanna, the city’s attorney. In exchange, the commission was expected to provide about 12 acres to the city for the Parkland Avenue school to avoid any potential lawsuit.

“I am still hopeful it will happen, but it won’t happen before the election,” he said.

Construction of the school on Parkland Avenue has generated opposition from neighbors who argue the land should be preserved to expand the cemetery. In addition, opponents insist it will exacerbate traffic problems while others say they are being squeezed enough and can’t afford to pay more taxes.

State Rep. and City Councilor Daniel Cahill said it’s time to build the new schools.

“School buildings were not made to last 100 years,” he said.

New era begins for Lynn police


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn mayor offers tax cuts to seniors

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Trying to head off opposition to a $188.5 million school construction project, City Hall is offering more tax relief for seniors.

Under a plan proposed by Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy to offset the cost of building two new middle schools, the city plans to boost the real estate tax exemption to seniors by $200 and reduce the eligibility age to 65, from 70.

“We believe adopting these options will provide the necessary relief to seniors who would be most affected by a tax increase,” Kennedy said in a statement. “I have spoken to many seniors who are supportive of the new schools’ proposal, but understandably concerned about the impact on their taxes. Hopefully, this will make them feel more comfortable about a ‘yes’ vote.”

On Tuesday, March 14, voters will be asked to approve a tax hike to pay for a 652-student school to be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility to serve 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

If approved, voters will be responsible for $91.4 million of the project cost. The Massachusetts School Building Authority, the quasi-independent state agency that funds school projects, said it will contribute $97.1 million.

School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall cost. If those monies are not used, it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million.

The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years.

If voters reject the tax hike, the increased tax exemption would be dropped.

Kennedy said she’s heard the concerns of seniors who are worried about a $200 tax increase if voters approve two new schools. The mayor asked the Board of Assessors to explore options for providing additional tax relief.

The tax exemption is available to income-eligible seniors. A couple can earn no more than $29,804 and have assets of less than $45,974, not including a home and car. A single senior can earn up to $23,792 with assets no more than $42,908.

Today, about 100 seniors receive the $500 deduction, according to Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer.

Caron said most seniors who receive the exemption have homes valued around or under the average single-family value of $273,600. As a result, he said, the $200 additional exemption would mitigate the tax increase required to pay for the city’s share of the school building project.

“We have made a concerted effort to answer questions and address concerns related to the new schools,” Kennedy said. “It is critical that we build these schools in order to have the space required for the 20 percent increase in enrollment we will see in the next two years.”

Gary Welch, a member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the location of the Parkland Avenue school, declined comment. Donald Castle, a founding member of the group, could not be reached for comment.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Mayor, super make case for new schools

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham talks to a crowded room at Stadium Condominiums in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is taking no chances when it comes to passing a controversial ballot question to fund a pair of new middle schools.

On Wednesday night, the mayor and her City Hall team made the case for the $188.5 million project to more than three dozen seniors who packed the recreation room at the Stadium Condominiums.

“Right now, the library at Pickering consists of two rolling carts with books and there are no science labs,” Kennedy said. “When you contrast that with what we see at the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School, the kids are simply not getting the same educational experience.”

In a passionate plea, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said every child who attends a middle school should have the same opportunity as every other child.

“Our beautiful new Marshall has cooking, sewing, wood shop, a TV studio, three-dimensional art rooms, music rooms and they should be available to everyone in Lynn,” she said.

Latham said there is lots of misinformation about the project. The city looked at more than a dozen sites, she said.

“We’ve heard people suggest a site on Federal Street near the fire station,” she said. “But it’s contaminated land and that is not a possibility. Magnolia Avenue has flood plains and an MWRA water line. Some have told us to use the Union Hospital site; we don’t own it.”  

The building committee also considered renovating the existing Pickering and that would cost $44 million without any state reimbursement, Latham said.

If approved by voters on March 14, the Pickering Middle School on Conomo Avenue would be replaced with a school on Parkland Avenue near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir that would house 652 students, while a larger school for 1,008 students would be built on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

Residents will be responsible for an estimated $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total $188.5 million project cost. The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years. The rest of the cost will be picked up by the  Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-public agency that funds school construction.

But Donald Castle, a Stadium unit owner and founder of the Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization that opposes the Parkland Avenue school site, urged the crowd to vote no.

“Your taxes will go up above and beyond the legal limit for 25 years,” he said. “The land should be preserved for a cemetery. We ask the city to protect our cemetery and protect our reservoir.”

James Lamanna, the city’s assistant city solicitor, said the school will use about a dozen acres of the 44-acre site. The rest, he said, will be preserved for cemetery expansion. In addition, he said, the project will fund a $1 million road and bridge that the Cemetery Commission could not afford. Without the school, the land could not be accessed for new graveyards.

City Council President Darren Cyr said he favors construction of the two schools.

“No matter where kids live in Lynn, they should have the same opportunities as kids get in Swampscott, Marblehead and Lynnfield,” he said. “Every one of us has a chance to change kids’ lives and by voting yes on March 14, you will give those kids a chance that they will not get otherwise.”

School Committee member Lorraine Gately said a yes vote is essential for the city’s children.

“If we don’t support this, our future is larger class sizes and double sessions,” she said.

Moving on time in Lynn


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Pickering in middle of ballot debate

COURTESY PHOTO
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Pickering Middle School.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN  — If mother knows best, then an organized group of moms could be hard to stop as they push for two new middle schools in the city.

For the first time in Lynn’s history, voters will be asked to voluntarily raise their real estate taxes to pay for a school to be built near Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility on Commercial Street for West Lynn. Local moms say it’s worth it.

“There’s simply not enough room in the existing middle school and the conditions are terrible,” said Christine “Krissi” Pannell, the parent of a 4-year-old who attends the Busy Bee Nursery School. “The reasons that people want to vote no are petty compared to the reasons why we should be voting yes.”

The special election, scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, is pitting mothers against a vocal opposition who insist they are not against new schools. Instead, they say the city should find an alternative to the Pine Grove site that has been reserved for the graveyard’s expansion.                                                            

If approved, voters will be responsible for $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total $188.5 million project cost. The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years. The rest of the cost will be picked up by the  Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-public agency that funds school construction.      

Project Manager Lynn Stapleton said the actual cost of the project could be as much as $16 million less because the city is required to include contingencies that may not be needed. As a result, she said, the taxpayer contribution would be lower and the average cost per homeowner could drop below $200 annually.                                

“We are not opposed to the new schools, but we object to using Pine Grove Cemetery property and we oppose any effort to take that land for a school,” said Gary Welch, 63. “We are not anti-education and NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) activists. We are fine with the West Lynn site.”

Still, others who oppose the school have raised the issue of more traffic in the Parkland Avenue neighborhood, and the prospect of higher taxes.                                                                               

But the opposition hasn’t stopped moms from organizing to get out the vote in favor of the schools.                                       

Pannell said she has no patience with any of the arguments against the Parkland Avenue school.                                           

“I can’t believe people would vote no because they might have to wait a couple of extra minutes in the morning to get onto Parkland Avenue,” she said. “Traffic happens wherever there’s a school, so you plan ahead. Are we really going to deny these kids a better education and better conditions because we don’t want to figure out a little traffic pattern? As far as the cemetery is concerned, bury me anywhere. We’re talking about a new school for kids versus where we are going to bury people in 15 years when they die. Give me a break.”                               

Welch said opponents of the Parkland Avenue school are also concerned that the new access road would have a detrimental impact on the nearby reservoir. The city should consider other sites such as a parcel off Federal Street near Market Basket and one on Magnolia that would have less impact, he said.

But the School Building Committee said they vetted other sites and Parkland Avenue makes the most sense. They argued that no matter where a school is built, there will be opposition.         

Tara Osgood, whose two boys attend the Sisson Elementary School, said Pickering has outlived its usefulness.

“I attended Pickering when it was a junior high school when it had a seventh and eighth grade, and now there’s a sixth grade crammed into it,” she said. “It’s horrifying. It’s falling apart and there are 30 kids in a classroom. That’s major wear and tear on a 100-year-old building. It was never meant for that many kids and that many grades.”                                                        

Osgood said the condition of Lynn’s school buildings is driving parents out of the city.                                                          

“People who lived here their entire lives are moving out, not because of crime or taxes, it’s because the schools are falling down on the kids,” she said. “Nobody likes paying more taxes, but I am willing to pay a few hundred more for better school buildings for our children.”                                                       

But not everyone agrees. About 200 opponents packed the Hibernian Hall on Federal Street Saturday night to fight the proposal. The group, Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, raised $7,200 to continue the battle, according to Donald Castle, one of the founders.                                                       

Despite the well-financed opposition, Kristen Hawes, whose children attend Lynn Woods Elementary School, said she intends to vote yes for new schools.                                     

“These schools will benefit our children,” she said. “I understand there are issues about the cemetery and taxes. But  I’d rather pay for two brand new schools than have my taxes go to another charter school.”                                                         

Emily LeBlanc-Perrone, who is pregnant with her first child, said voters need to invest in the city if they want Lynn to improve.                                                                                      

“It will cost a few hundred more, but that’s not much when you consider we are investing in our children and for the community,” she said. “These are the people who will run the city someday and we want to provide them with the best education we can.”

Swampscott is showing signs of love


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn seeks middle ground on school project

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — The city said they have found a way to end the fighting over construction of a controversial middle school proposed near Pine Grove Cemetery, but opponents are standing firm.

Last week, the City Council asked the law department to prepare documents that would convey portions of the city-owned 40-acre site to the Pine Grove Cemetery Commision. Under the plan, the commission could use land not needed for the new school to expand the graveyard. The move was made to assuage school opponents who have insisted that the land was reserved for a graveyard. They have threatened court action if the school is approved.

“This should end all debate and any discussion of a taxpayer lawsuit,” said James Lamanna, city attorney.

But Protect Our Reservoir – Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the school site, said it is not willing to compromise.  

At issue is a controversial proposal for a pair of schools that would serve students in the Pickering Middle School district. Proponents say the new schools are needed to accommodate a growing school population.

Swampscott school race draws contenders

In a special election on March 14, voters will be asked to pay for a 652-student school to be built near the cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue. A second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street. Plans for the second school have no opposition.

If approved, homeowners would pay an estimated $75 million, or an average of $200 annually for the next 25 years on their real estate tax bills.

Lamanna said as many as 17 acres are needed for the new school. The rest, with the exception of four acres of wetlands, could be used to expand the cemetery, he said. The commission will consider the proposal on March 7.

One of the problems of enlarging the cemetery has been a $1 million project needed to build a new road and a bridge over wetlands to access the parcel, Lamanna said. While the commission lacks the funds to complete the project, the infrastructure would be built as part of the school project with most of the cost being reimbursed by the state.  

But the location of the proposed school, on what opponents insist has been designated by the city as cemetery land, has stirred debate. Opponents have argued that the Parkland Avenue property was intended for cemetery use, citing a city document from 1893.

On Saturday, they will plan to hold a fundraiser at Hibernian Hall on Federal Street to fight the proposal.

Donald Castle, one of the organizers of Protect Our Reservoir – Preserve Pine Grove, said they are not opposed to a new school, but to the site. He said the city’s latest plan to divide the parcel is wrong.

“It’s been cemetery land for 127 years and its wetlands with protected species,” he said. “It’s an inappropriate site.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Bellevue Heights developer is on thin ice

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The developer of a subdivision project started more than 17 years ago is on thin ice.

Chairman of the Planning Board Peter Rossetti said complaints were made about the subdivision’s roads not being treated for snow and ice during the winter storms in the past two weeks. Developer John “Jack” Mallon is responsible for making sure the roads are plowed, sanded and salted.

“The issue was in this last ice storm that they hadn’t taken care of making the road safe,” said Rossetti. “He’s required to keep the road safe. What happened was there was a lot of ice on the road and people couldn’t get out. It’s not a good thing.”

Rosetti said Mallon did not attend the meeting and hasn’t returned calls since. More than $5,000 in back taxes are due and Rossetti doesn’t believe Mallon is meeting deadlines that were outlined for him at the end of last year. Jersey Barriers that were supposed to be installed as a safety precaution in November, before the winter weather, have not been placed, he said.

Mallon is expected to complete the project by June 30. Should he miss any of the deadlines, a surety bond of $50,000 will be seized to finish the work. Mallon estimates it will cost about $65,000. On Thursday, he said he is on target to meet that requirement.

His original plans, outlined 17 years ago, included a 28-lot subdivision with single-family homes. Since then, 21 houses have been built and are occupied.

A retaining wall collapsed in 2008. Three houses were sold and moved to different lots, but the wall remains unfinished at the site, with Procopio Construction Company working to repair it.

The board previously asked Mallon to complete the project by Sept. 15. The deadline came and went, and work remains unfinished.

At the board’s Oct. 20 meeting, Mallon reported the retaining wall was 90 percent completed. Curbing had been installed on both sides of the road, but not repaired on the east side. The sidewalks were not finished and the Jersey Barriers had not been moved to their proper positions.

New signs with the proper spelling of Hitching Hill Road needed to be installed. The road needed to be paved, nine trees were yet to be planted, and a grass strip between the sidewalk and the street needed to be installed.

But Mallon said the barriers were in place more than two years ago and that he is not required to place any additional units. He said the roads were done “just perfectly.

My subdivision does not have to be any better than any other road in town,” said Mallon. “This is winter time. Ice is part of winter. There’s ice on every road. I look out my door and if the plow hasn’t come out by my door, I don’t go up and plow. If the town isn’t doing me, why should I do them?

“Instead of calling me and saying, ‘hey Jack, it’s icy,’ they let it be icy and they wait and complain to the Planning Board.”

Mallon said the same three neighbors have been complaining for two years and there are 20 other residents who never complain.

“It’s a non-issue,” he said. “Everything is a non-issue.”

But officials are losing patience. Mallon is expected to report to the panel at a March 16 meeting.

The board approved 2 Winston St. to be subdivided into three separate buildings with seven condominium units; two two-family and one three-family home. The plan replaces a previously approved project to construct one 10-unit building with one unit being affordable.

The developer will be required to follow the drainage requirements from the previous plan. They will also install additional drainage and drywells to cut down on the amount of water running off the property, Rossetti said.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

ICE rumors send chill through North Shore

PHOTO BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN President Donald Trump’s high stakes effort to target millions of undocumented immigrants has frayed the nerves of many North Shore residents.

“There’s tremendous fear, uncertainty and confusion over what is happening with the administration’s crackdown and it’s not just people from Muslim countries,” said Denzil Mohammed, a director at the Immigrant Learning Center, a Malden nonprofit that educates the public on the contributions of immigrants.

During the campaign, Trump promised to end immigration as we know it. This week, the president equipped the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, with the tools to potentially remove millions of undocumented residents from the country. The administration said serious criminals will be a top priority, but some are not so sure.

“People are worried and many of us are trying to figure out how to protect our families,” said Jose Palma, a Lynn resident who immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador nearly 20 years ago and works as an organizer at Neighbor To Neighbor, a local advocacy group. “Everyone is talking about what we should do if immigration enforcement officers show up at our homes and what kind of documents we must have to keep us safe.”

Day without immigrants hits Lynn

Juan Gonzalez, a Guatemalan native and founder of the American Latino Committee, said rumors are rampant about raids that may have been held in Lynn.

“The chief of police has assured me that this is not true, but people are still on edge,” he said.

Through a spokesman, Deputy Chief  Michael Mageary said no ICE raids have been made in the city.

Typically, ICE agents notify the Lynn Police Department before coming to the city and inform them about any actions they intend to take, according to Lt. Rick Donnelly.  

If an arrest is to be made, a Lynn police officer would accompany the ICE agent and the suspect would be taken to the police station for documentation before being sent to a federal facility, he said.

“We will assist ICE if they have a warrant, but we are not immigration officers and we don’t knock on doors asking residents if they are here legally,” Donnelly said.

An ICE spokesman confirmed the agency is not conducting any operations in Massachusetts.

Still, as part of its work, ICE officers target and arrest criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of the country’s immigration laws, the spokesman said.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Massachusetts is part of a global community and he has no plans to change enforcement measures when it comes to immigrants.

“We benefit enormously from the presence, the intelligence and vitality of foreign-born people in the commonwealth and we are going to work hard to remain a welcoming place for everyone,” Baker told The Item. “We have no intention of changing any of our policies.”

Mohammed said there’s confusion among newcomers over Trump’s aggressive immigration policies.

“Everything is happening so fast,” he said. “Many immigrants are questioning their futures in this country. Think of how damaging it would be for local economies of big cities where immigrants have moved in and are helping to sustain and rebuild them.”

A report by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms, found that Massachusetts immigrants play a key role in the state as taxpayers and consumers.

In 2014, immigrant-led households in the Bay State earned $36.8 billion, 15 percent of all income earned by Massachusetts residents that year, the survey said. With those earnings, the state’s foreign-born households contributed more than one in every seven dollars paid by residents in state and local tax revenues, payments that support schools, police and fire protection, the study found.

Through their individual wage contributions, immigrants also paid about $4.6 billion into the Social Security and Medicare programs that year, researchers found. By spending the money they earn at businesses such as hair salons, grocery stores and coffee shops, the study said immigrants also support small business owners and job creation in the communities where they live.

The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Bisignani sentenced for tax fraud

BOSTON The former town administrator of Nahant and Saugus was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in connection with failing to report more than $375,000 of his income on his federal tax returns from 2010 to 2013, according to a news release.

Andrew R. Bisignani, 70, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin to one year of probation, the first four months to be served in Coolidge House and the following six months on home confinement.

In December 2016, Bisignani pleaded guilty to four counts of filing false tax returns.

Council weeds out pot clinic locations

Bisignani admitted that from 2010 to 2013, he collected rental income from three properties in Revere, the release said. During the same years, Bisignani collected interest and loan income by making multiple, private, short-term loans that were secured by Massachusetts real estate.

Bisignani underreported his total rental real estate income when submitting his individual tax returns to the IRS in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He also underreported the interest income he received in connection with his private loans for 2010, 2011 and 2012, the release said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristina E. Barclay of Weinreb’s Public Corruption Unit is prosecuting the case.

Battle lines drawn in Lynn

The two sides supporting or opposing a March 14 debt exclusion vote tied to plans to build two middle schools have drawn up their forces and prepared to march.

Those opposed to the two-school proposal include angry residents facing eminent domain property takings near the proposed new Pickering Middle School site and other foes quick to jump on a soap box and vent their opposition.

Middle school construction supporters unveiled their efforts on Wednesday under the “Two Schools for Lynn” banner. Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is obviously part of the school construction initiative and she boiled down the argument in favor of construction to a succinct sentence on Wednesday: “We are already squeezing students into every possible classroom space.”

Mayor and teachers in union for new schools

Both sides have a two-front battle to wage and not much time to carry the fight to Lynn’s voters. The election is five weeks away and voters will be asked when they step into the polling place to  approve building a new Pickering and a “West Lynn Middle School.” They will also be asked to shoulder a payment plan for the new schools that will land squarely on the shoulders of property taxpayers.

Lynn, like most municipalities, uses a borrowing method combining short-term and long-term bond financing to pay for schools. City budget makers look for favorable interest rates and then calculate how expensive projects like new schools can be mixed into the city’s bonded indebtedness.

As debts are paid off on prior projects dating back years, even decades, new debt for newer projects is calculated and mixed into the financing stream. The city budget includes a line item every year to cover interest costs associated with bonded indebtedness.

This formula represents the traditional method for using tax dollars to pay for city projects. The formula gets a new twist this year with voters approving or voting down a debt exclusion allowing the city to raise the money needed to pay for the $188 million school project.

An estimated 60 percent of the construction price tag is supposed to be reimbursed by the state. But initial calculations indicate a debt exclusion will cost the average homeowner and taxpayer $5,000 over the next 25 years or $200 a year in property tax payments directly dedicated to building the two middle schools.

Is the expense worth it? Only the taxpayer staring at a ballot on March 14 will be able to answer that question.

Debt exclusion opponents and supporters agree the city needs new schools. But opponents offer arguments ranging from potential water quality risks to increased traffic in arguing against building a new Pickering off Parkland Avenue. Missing from their argument is any objection to turning part of McManus Field into a school site.

Supporters face a daunting challenge in their bid to convince local voters to approve spending more tax dollars on schools. Plenty of people will say, “Hey, I don’t have kids. It doesn’t affect me.” Others will agree with opponents and declare, “I don’t want it in my neighborhood.”

Chances are good the March 14 vote will attract people opposed to building a new Pickering and people who really believe it makes sense for every taxpayer to dig deep into a pocket or purse for the extra money to build new schools.

The winners and losers only have to wait a few weeks to weigh in with their verdict.

Revere sets sights on the new year

PHOTO BY BETHANY DOANE
Revere High School students Erin Mahoney, 15, Gabriela Barroso, 15, Savannah Hart, 17, represent RISE (Revere Intersectional Support for Education) at City Hall.

By BETHANY DOANE

REVERE Online services that will make local government more accessible was one of the city’s highlights lauded by Mayor Brian Arrigo in his State of the City Address Monday night at City Hall.

“Online services means you won’t have to wait in line at City Hall,” Arrigo said to a packed room of more than 100 people.

Construction of a new 31-constituent call center is underway, so residents can call, text, tweet, email and Facebook Revere city staff members to resolve community issues, he said. “The call center will open new avenues of conversations for residents, and allow city staff to collect and analyze data to improve management practices.”

A new online database tracking all Inspectional Service reports reduced response times to resident complaints to less than two business days. Additionally, residents can now pay property taxes, excise taxes and water bills online.

“I like the new innovation of technology; we’re seeing the fruition of hard work to update technology from the past few years,” said Tony Zambuto, Dean of City Council.

Seminar explains success for small business

Making services available to everyone through the internet was a much-needed change to the establishment, said Dimple Rana, a Revere resident and City Hall employee. Family members used to speak to City Hall staff through Rana because going there in person was too overwhelming, she said.

Arrigo, who also promised more government transparency, will propose a new ordinance to bring Revere into full compliance with state ethics and conflict of interest laws. “Our first training with the State Ethics Commission will take place in March.”

As far as the city’s 2018 fiscal budget goes, Mayor Arrigo said he’ll ask department heads to hold the lines on costs, while investing in the city’s infrastructure.

The project on Revere Beach Parkway will become a reality this year, bringing a new hotel to Revere for the first time in 20 years, and providing hundreds of jobs. The $3.63 million Infrastructure Program grant Revere received to kick off the Revere Beach Parkway project will also allow the city to improve water delivery, sidewalks and pedestrian access to the Beachmont neighborhood.

A pressing issue to the city’s budget is the disrepair of the water and sewer infrastructure, which resulted in a multi-million dollar EPA consent decree for violations of the Clean Water Act. Arrigo said his administration is seeking to extend the consent decree term to alleviate future rate shock.

He also said the administration will be even more effective in the city’s battle against opioid addiction. He launched a new Substance Use Disorder Initiative office last year and the office reports that overdose calls went down 24 percent in 2016.

To build on the battle against addiction, Revere will secure funding for a school-based program about prescription pill abuse, starting in middle school, he said.

“I’m concerned about opioids, and I’m on board with the mayor’s efforts,” said Kathleen Heiser, president of the Beachmont Improvement Committee. Heiser said she lost her daughter to opioid addiction in November of 2016.

Lastly, the mayor had a special message to the city’s immigrants.

“This is a city that has always thrived on immigrants,” he said, as the room erupted in applause. “For new immigrants to Revere and to your families: we are richer for your presence and proud that you sought to make a better life for yourselves in our community. Remain proud of your heritage, and be proud of your new home here.”

Students representing Revere Intersectional Support for Education (RISE), and Women Encouraging Empowerment (WEE) also had a message for immigrants. “We support inclusion and we’re here to welcome the public with open arms,” said Savannah Hart, 17, a student at Revere High School.

The message of inclusion resonated with other community members.

“As a lifelong resident, hearing the mayor welcome Revere to everyone makes me proud of my city and our mayor,” said Rana.

Loose ends in Swampscott

Swampscott’s School Committee is scheduled to approve the public school budget on Wednesday even as answers to a number of spending questions remain out of reach to committee members.

Before continuing on its predetermined path to Town Meeting, the budget needs to get untangled from state funding questions and teachers’ union challenges. If the teachers’ union and town officials can agree on a contract, what will the agreement’s price tag total and how much money will teachers get for raises?

Public employee contract talks are prone to heating up when money becomes a focal point of the conversation. The teachers want an explanation for how a school budget gap topping $1.6 million dropped to a fifth of that amount.

Their question deserves an answer and it is not the only pressing concern committee members need to address as they resolve budget challenges. Covering the budget’s $275,000 gap could mean ending all-day kindergarten in town and reverting to half-day kindergarten. The full-day option would be retained — but only for parents interested in paying tuition to cover part of the day.

It is a shame to see a community like Swampscott, where parents and educators value local schools and education, consider cutting a fundamental program like all-day kindergarten.

Saugus debates pros + cons of all-day K

Education in the 21st century is a process that begins before children can walk and includes familiarizing them with reading fundamentals while making them technically adept to function in the virtual world of online education.

All-day kindergarten is an opportunity to immerse children in education and acquaint them with the socialization skills required for modern learning.

Swampscott is home to Massachusetts’ governor and Charlie Baker’s past service as a town official makes him familiar with the challenges involved in funding local budgets and making sure schools receive enough money.

State tax dollar support for city and town schools is an enduring source of debate and contention for local officials and legislators. There are renewed cries this year to revamp the state Chapter 70 education funding formula to better benefit communities. This is a complicated process and an important one in an era when charter schools and traditional public schools compete for tax dollars.

It makes sense to consider juggling the state finance formula with money to ensure communities like Swampscott receive “must have” money to make sure services like all-day kindergarten are preserved.

Swampscott, like all communities, must get its own house in order when it comes to providing enough money for local schools. But the town could use help from the state in the form of additional money or more freedom to spend state allocations the way local educators see fit.

Newton lesson can be Massachusetts win

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
While Newton Mayor Setti Warren was visiting Lynn, he met Susan Masiello.

Setti Warren wants to be the second Democrat named Warren to hover like a bright star shining above Massachusetts’ political landscape. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren strode onto the national political stage after beating Republican Scott Brown — and Newton Mayor Warren wants to be the state’s next governor.

He hasn’t announced his candidacy. But the veteran and former Clinton administration official is holding the obligatory conversations to get the word out on his potential run.

He met with the Item’s editorial board on Wednesday after attending a meet-and-greet in Salem and plans to make similar stops over the next four or five months before deciding if he is going to throw his hat into the ring in 2018.

Warren is the full package when it comes to aspirational politicians. He is young and energetic. He served his country enlisting in the Navy after 9/11. He has strong campaign and governing experience and his mayoral track record is an impressive and bold one.

In seeking a second term as mayor in 2013, Warren tied his political fortunes to property-tax- override proposals aimed at giving Newton more revenue to invest in infrastructure. He knew the political risks involved in tying his reelection so closely to the override proposal. But the override passed, Warren got reelected and he intends to duplicate his formula for success if he runs for governor.

Warren backs a proposed millionaire’s tax adding a 4 percent surcharge on the state’s highest wage earners. “This is about asking people really well off to make an investment in the state,” he said.

If Warren runs and becomes the Democratic Party’s choice for governor, it is almost a certainty he will face off in November 2018 against Gov. Charlie Baker.

Warren sets sights on governor’s job

The Swampscott resident and first-term governor enjoys great voter poll ratings and Baker is taking full advantage of that odd Massachusetts political balance formula subscribing to the notion that voters favor a Democrat-controlled state Legislature and — with Deval Patrick as the exception in recent history — a Republican governor.

It doesn’t take a vivid imagination to conjure up an image of Baker licking his chops at the prospect of running against a Democrat unafraid of raising taxes. But the race for governor is two years away and plenty is bound to happen politically over the next two years.

President Trump might follow through with his promise to spend money on rebuilding America’s infrastructure and pour money into Massachusetts. A federal cash infusion would certainly boost Baker’s electability. But the governor is no friend of Donald Trump’s and Trump knows Massachusetts voted solidly for Hillary Clinton.

Warren knows he has an uphill battle to win the governor’s office. But he has some strong assets working in his favor. He is a skilled listener who wants to hear what people have to say. He is also an articulate advocate for rebuilding what he calls Massachusetts’ “abominable” transportation system.

Warren understands why extending the Blue Line to Lynn works economically. He knows the idea makes simple mass-transit common sense. The Baker administration shows no signs of moving on extension proposals regardless of how long the city has lobbied for it — and pulled the plug on a Lynn-to-Boston ferry last summer.

Can Warren — if he runs and wins — replicate his success in Newton on the state stage? The answer is “yes,” if logic and conversation carry the day.

Warren sets sights on governor’s job

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Newton Mayor Setti Warren talks with the editors at The Item.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who will likely be a Democratic candidate in the 2018 governor’s race, on Wednesday said a millionaire’s tax can help pay for needed state education, transportation and housing initiatives.

The veteran, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton, said fellow Democrats are afraid to call for more revenue.

“We’re not making investments that matter,” Warren said. “We have economic growth but people are struggling. There is a case to be made that we can do better.”

Warren outlined his views in an interview with the Item editorial board. He said he will make a final decision on running for governor in four to five months.

“I want to sit down with people  before I saw I’m doing this,” he said, adding, “I am very serious about this candidacy. Before I make any final announcement or decision, I want to talk to people.”

His focus is on improving education, housing and transportation in the state with funding from a Massachusetts Tax for Education and Transport proposed for the November ballot, which he will support and advocate for.

The measure, known commonly as a millionaire’s tax, would create an additional 4 percent tax on residents whose incomes exceed $1 million, or $21,000 per week. It has the potential to generate $2 billion each year in state revenue, Warren said.

“You have to make the case for revenue in a transparent way,” Warren said. “This is about asking people who are doing really well to make an investment in the state.”

Warren grew up in the Newton home where he now raises his own family. He said he’s prepared to turn to the residents of his own community, which has the second highest number of millionaires in the state.

His resume includes serving as a special assistant to the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs for former President Bill Clinton, the New England director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and deputy state director for Sen. John Kerry.

As mayor, Warren said he focused on energy consumption efforts and on transit-oriented development. Warren said he faced financial challenges during his first term in 2009 and spent time cleaning up the city’s finances and eliminating an annual structural deficit of $40 million. He established a previously non-existent rainy day fund of $20 million.

During his tenure, several tax overrides allowed for two new schools to be built, a third nearing completion and a new fire station.

Warren first became interested in the Newton mayoral position in 2007 but was unexpectedly deployed to Iraq, where he completed a yearlong tour of duty as a Naval Intelligence Specialist before being elected in 2009. He was reelected in 2013 but announced in late 2016 that he would not run for a third term.

Instead, he wants to run for governor. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Swampscott resident, has not announced his run for reelection in 2018. Democrat Jay Gonzalez, who oversaw Massachusetts’ operating budget under former Gov. Deval Patrick, is the only person to formally announce a campaign.

Baker’s popularity as a governor will make the race a “tough endeavor,” Warren acknowledged.

“But having the experiences I’ve had as mayor, the experiences I’ve had in the military, I think will help me,” Warren said. “Being on a base, there are people of all genders with different political opinions from all regions of the country. We had to get along and had to work together to complete the mission.”

Warren hopes to improve Chapter 70 school funding for public schools and generate money to provide additional enrichment programs, early education and post secondary education. During a time when higher paid jobs require a higher skill level, investments need to be made to make community and state college affordable, he said.

He called the existing transportation system “a complete and utter failure” and expressed a need for better regional transportation, including a ferry service in Lynn.

He supports raising the minimum wage to $15, expanding paid family leave and reforming the criminal justice system to include treatment of drug abuse and mental health.

Thinking locally on immigration


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Baker states his case

PHOTO BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, center, greets lawmakers and guests as he enters the House chamber at the Statehouse.

By THOMAS GRILLO

BOSTON As partisan battles rage nationwide in the wake of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker emphasized compromise in his State of the State speech Tuesday.

“It’s one thing to stand in a corner and shout insults at your opponents,” said Baker. “It’s quite another to climb into the arena and fight for common ground … Wedge issues may be great for making headlines, but they do not move this commonwealth forward. Success is measured by what we accomplish together.”

Baker’s speech to the Legislature’s packed House Chamber comes as he begins the second half of his term. It followed a weekend of anti-Trump protests where more than 1 million protesters gathered nationwide 175,000 in Boston and 50 in Lynn.

Did you attend one of the women’s marches?

In a speech that was interrupted more than 40 times with  applause, the governor praised legislators for working with his administration to pass legislation that will reduce the state’s carbon footprint; for their shared commitment to fund schools to a record high level; for creating a pathway for students to earn a bachelor’s degree from a state university for half the price; updated and eliminated obsolete state regulations; reduced the number of opioids prescriptions by 15 percent; lowered the population of homeless families in hotels to 100; switched to an all electronic tolling system.

“With a shared sense of purpose we’ve made real progress … We built a bipartisan team, worked in partnership with the legislature and looked for common ground.” Baker said.

The governor gave a shout out to Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, whom he credited with helping to convince General Electric Co. to locate its world headquarters in Boston.

He reiterated his opposition to new taxes which could become an issue this year as lawmakers debate a controversial measure to raise taxes on those earning more than $1 million and use the new cash to invest in education and transportation.

Baker, a Swampscott resident, is one of the most popular politicians in the state. In a recent poll of 508 Massachusetts voters conducted by WBUR, liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) received a 51 percent favorably rating while the governor’s 59 percent favorability rating put him ahead by 8 percentage points.

State Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) said it was a positive speech that touched on a number of initiatives where the Legislature and the governor worked collaboratively.

“We’ve seen the unemployment rate drop thanks to the work we’ve done since the recession, the best MCAS scores in the last six years and reducing the opioid crisis,” he said.

Still, McGee said he was disappointed that the governor did not talk more about transportation, K-12 and public higher education.

“He talked in a positive way, but there are many challenges and there was not enough specifics on how to get to where we need to be,” he said.

State Rep. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) said he agreed that in contrast with Washington, D.C., the Legislature and the governor have been able to work together.

“But I wish there was more about his vision in terms of investing in our infrastructure, early education, community colleges and the student loan crisis,” he said. “But we are committed to working with his administration to move things forward.”

The governor will launch the state budget season today by releasing his 2018 budget proposal. He gave a sneak peak by saying the new budget will propose more than $130 million in new funding for cities and towns, including increasing Chapter 70 support for K-12 education by more than $90 million.

“And we’ve done all of that and more while closing a $1 billion state budget gap without raising taxes,” he said. “We can and do disagree. But we listen, we learn and we make the best decisions we can. Our team looks forward to working with you on the challenges and opportunities of the next two years.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn on taxes: pay or lose

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Scofflaws take notice.

If the city gets its way, businesses who fail to pay their local taxes or have outstanding municipal fees or fines will lose their operating license.

Under the proposal that will be the subject of a public hearing next month, Lynn officials are seeking to revoke the license of any firm that is more than 60 days late in paying its personal property or real estate taxes.

“Our message is we will take their license away and force them to pay up or close,” said Ward 3 City Councilor Darren Cyr, chairman of the Ordinance Committee.

If the measure passes, any time a business applies for license renewal, the tax collector will provide information as to whether the establishment is up to date on their tax payments. If they are delinquent, the application will be denied until they pay. Typically, renewals come up on a yearly basis.

James Lamanna, the city’s assistant city solicitor, said the way the ordinance is written now, establishments must be delinquent for a year before the city can take action.

“Cities now have the option to reduce that to two months and that’s what we’re seeking to do,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for businesses to be behind in taxes.”

Revere springs another leak

Chief Financial Officer Peter Caron, the city official behind the proposed change, said he did not know how many businesses owe back payments or how much is due.

The idea for the change started two years ago when the city seized the White Eagle Cafe on Summer Street for nonpayment of more than $20,000 in taxes, he said. Lynn ended up owning the bar.

“That’s when I said this is crazy, we have to pay closer attention to this,” Caron said. “Now, it’s more heavily enforced and the council’s Licensing Committee has been aggressive with applicants, telling them to go pay your bills, come back and we’ll consider renewing your license.”

Still, Caron said, this is not an attempt to generate new revenues. It’s a new tool because the one year period before the city could revoke a license has been ineffective, he said.

“One year of nonpayment is just too long a time period,” he said.  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Average Lynn tax bill to rise by $163

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN It will cost more to live in the city next year.

While Lynn’s residential property tax rate is expected to fall by 58 cents, the median tax bill for a single-family home will rise by $163, a 4 percent increase. Condominium owners will see a $107 hike in taxes.

But multi-family owners will take the biggest hit with a nearly 9 percent increase, adding $452 to their bill.

“Sales of multi-families are being driven by buyers who are priced out of Malden, Medford, Somerville, Chelsea and Revere,” said Meaghan Kramer, an agent at Toner Real Estate in Lynn. “They’re coming to Lynn where they’re finding it a little more affordable.”

Businesses easing tax burden in Saugus

From January through November, 205 multi-family homes have sold in Lynn, up from 179 for the same period last year, according to the MLS Property Information Network. Median prices have jumped by 8 percent to $400,000, up from $370,000 a year ago.

Multi-families are not the only properties seeing an increase in sales and prices. Single-family home sales are up 7 percent since the first of the year while median prices have swelled by 12 percent.

“Property values are being driven by high demand,” said Peter Caron, Lynn’s chief financial officer. “There’s lots of pent-up demand and lots of people looking at a limited number of properties on the market. It’s rare to see homes selling for much under asking price.”

The commercial real estate tax rate fell by $1.39 to $30.67 from $32.06 in 2015.

The median increase for a commercial property owner will rise by $118 while the industrial user will see a $73 increase.

Caron said this is the first time in three years that commercial values have risen, up 4 percent. The city is seeing a reversal of the trend from 2008 through 2014 when the tax base shifted from residential properties to commercial due to a nearly 30 percent loss in home values.

The result, during that period, was a higher tax burden for the commercial and industrial sector.

While rising values are good news for sellers, Caron said he sees some of the same dynamics at play in the market reminiscent of the real estate meltdown from 2004-2006.

“We are starting to see the same type of market some years ago when prices rose substantially and quickly, and that led to the real estate bust,” he said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Businesses easing tax burden in Saugus

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS Home values have gone up and the average single-family household will pay $249 more on their tax bill next year.

The Board of Selectmen set the tax rate for residential properties at $12.05 per $1,000 assessment on Wednesday. The rate is a $.15 drop from last year. But the value of the average single-family home bumps up from $347,900 in Fiscal Year 2016 to a projected $372,900 in FY17.

The average tax bill was $4,248 in FY16 and $3,970 in FY15. Next year, the average single family home will pay $4,493.

“Saugus still remains one of the lowest in surrounding communities,” said Ronald Keohan, deputy assessor for the town.

Two Saugus icons unite

Keohan said Lynnfield set a residential tax rate of $14.50 for FY17, Melrose for $12.33, Reading for $14.50, and Wakefield for $13.49.

“What I hear and what everybody hears, is ‘where does all that tax money from businesses on Route 1 go?’” said Town Manager Scott Crabtree. “That tax money goes towards paying the residential share of the tax burden. Our residents in Saugus pay lower taxes because of the commercial properties. It goes to maintaining a lower-than-average tax bill than communities around us.”

Commercial, industrial and personal property owners will be taxed at the maximum share of the tax levy, or 175 percent. They will pay $25.78, $.73 less than in FY16. The average commercial tax bill is projected to be $34,842, down from $35,542 last year.

The average commercial property in 2016 was valued at $1,340,700. In 2017, it is projected to rise to $1,351,500.

Michael Serino, chairman of the Board of Assessors, said half of the properties were assessed this year by Patriot Properties, the Marblehead-based developer of AssessPro, a highly versatile and comprehensive Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) application. The remaining 50 percent will be assessed next year.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Mayor: Lynn won’t touch Prop 2 1/2

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Less than a week after Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said she had no choice but to seek a tax hike to fill a budget gap, the city’s chief executive changed her mind.

The mayor now says she is confident City Hall can close a massive shortfall with cuts and without seeking a Proposition 2½ override.

“I had a knee-jerk reaction last week when Peter (Caron, Lynn’s chief financial officer) said we must do a Prop 2½ override,” she said.  “I jumped and I shouldn’t have. I should have considered my other options before I spoke publicly. I’m taking a step back, looking at my options and I think I will be able to do this.”

ALSO: Take a step back into shoe history

The administration began considering how to solve its budget crisis last week when the state Department of Education threatened to withhold its $11 million November payment in school funds until City Hall came up with more school spending.

The budget deficit list includes a $7.5 million shortfall in school spending; how to pay for a wage hike for the Lynn Police Department over four years that will cost more than $3 million; and the city’s prospective share for the cost of building two new middle schools of $68.5 million.

In addition, the Lynn International Association of Firefighters Local 739 is in arbitration discussions on a wage hike.

Caron said he was working on a list of possible tax and fee increases and potential cuts.

The components include more aggressive collection of the boat excise tax, implementation of a local option meals tax that would  impose a .75 percent local tax on top of the state’s 6.25 percent meals tax, raising fees for a building permit, a hiring freeze, job cuts and approval for every non-school department purchase.  

Caron said he did not know how much could be saved by trimming the budget and was not sure of the exact amount of the shortfall.

The list of possible new taxes and fees along with cuts followed a request by the city council earlier this week when some members wanted cuts to be identified before any new taxes are approved.  

“I have produced a laundry list of steps that must be considered to go forward,” Caron said.

The mayor said given the budget challenges, she has three options: raise taxes, cut personnel or cut services.

“By far, the least odious of those choices is to cut services which could mean some extreme cutting, but that’s my focus right now,” said Kennedy.

“It requires me to go through every bit of spending that’s anticipated between now and June 30 and try to come up with the money to close the gap. If something is not absolutely necessary, then that is one of those line items that will be cut. Everything is on the table.”

Still, taxpayers are not out of the woods on a possible major tax hike next year.

If the city is to build two new schools to serve students in the Pickering Middle School district and West Lynn, voters will be asked to support a so-called debt exclusion next spring.

The $183 million proposal includes a 652-student school to be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

If approved, the measure would add $163 annually to the real estate tax bills for 25 years.  

City Council President Daniel Cahill said it’s important for the council and the public to know what course of action will be presented in the near future to address the budget issues raised by Caron at a council meeting this week.

Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre said he was pleased to hear that a Prop 2½ override is off the table.

“I’m glad to hear that things are progressing in different ways because the city has never had an override in the city’s history,” he said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

The only solution to the traffic mess: cash

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Morning commuters pack a Boston-bound train at Swampscott station. 

Fourth in a four-part series
ALSO: You can’t get there from here: Part 1
You can’t get there from here: Part 2
You can’t get there from here: Part 3


By THOMAS GRILLO

If you think your commute is bad now, just wait a few years.

That’s the verdict of a transportation study issued earlier this summer.

Barry Bluestone, professor of public policy at Northeastern University, co-authored “State of the Built Environment,” a study that said an additional 117,000 commuters are expected to hit the region’s roads through 2030.

The 82-page survey reported that 37 percent of the state-owned roads are in fair or poor condition. At the present rate of maintenance, 79 percent of the state’s roads could be in poor to fair condition by 2025.

And it’s not just roads that lead to Boston either. Locally, area residents have to contend with traffic along Route 107.

The state recently issued recommendations to reduce the lane width to 11 feet, the addition of left turn lanes, coordination of traffic signals, a new light at the Eastern Avenue intersection, north and southbound bicycle lanes, consolidation of bus stops that are ADA compliant and new sidewalks and crosswalks.

That plan will not come cheap. The state estimates it will cost more than $26 million to improve the road that links Lynn to Salem.

Bluestone said researchers have no idea how much it will cost to fix the Bay State’s roads and bridges. But one thing is certain: the answer lies in public transportation since no more highways will be built.

“Given the immense amount of highway congestion and the addition of more than 100,000 commuters coming in Greater Boston, there’s no way to solve this problem with more highways,” he said. “The question becomes how can we coax more people to use public transit.

A follow-up study, expected to be released later this fall, will recommend expanding commuter rail, and new forms of transit that rely on a public-private partnership between regional transit associations, and taxi services such as Uber, Lyft and Bridj, increased ferry service on the North and South shores and improving signaling on the subway lines so the T can double the number of trains to reduce congestion.

“The answer is to put up to 15 percent of commuters into other transit and highway speeds would rise rapidly,” he said.

But paying for it is a completely different challenge.

Bluestone said if the state can convince the public to pony up for public transit because it will benefit drivers who will reach their destination much faster, commuters would be willing to help pay for the public transit that frees up the roads for them.

He also said as property values rise, and they certainly will as transit-oriented development is built, those revenues should be used to pay for the additional transportation. Bluestone calls it “value capture.”

The professor admits that’s a tall order and will require leadership. Bluestone said raising taxes and fees is a political problem.

“Given that the congestion we face is getting worse, the people who should be be fighting for higher fees should be drivers,” he said. “I know it sounds weird. But once they realize how horrendous the roads will get, we can get them to support higher gas taxes. The people who will lead the battle for it are the drivers themselves. People know how dysfunctional the system is.”

Still, without support from Gov. Charlie Baker and Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, raising taxes or fees will be a major challenge.

“Maybe in a second term, Baker will get to the point where he says ‘My first priority was to fix a broken system and to make people believe we can run government well … I can’t ask people to pay more if they think taxes are wasted,’

“If we do that, we might get to a position where a sufficient number of people may change their vote on raising revenues,” Bluestone said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.