Meals tax could set table for a Planner

We wholeheartedly endorse the Lynn City Council’s decision to approve a .0075 percent local option meal tax.

The 10-1 vote on May 9 for the tax adds 75 cents to a $100 meal, and about 19 cents to a $25 meal. It would generate an annual estimated $700,000 in new revenue for the city.

Those additional tax dollars, in our view, should be dedicated and directed to supporting a new city Planning Department. Lynn desperately needs a creative, autonomous city planner who identifies opportunities to enhance the city and who can set a vision for the city.

Success stories in Salem and Somerville and, more recently, Saugus, where Town Manager Scott Crabtree spurred the creation of a two-person planning department, point to the need for independent planning in Lynn.

Dedicating meal tax revenue to the Planning Department will ensure the individual hired to serve as planner can act independently and hire competent assistants.

To their credit, City Councilors used common sense in discussing the meal tax against the backdrop of city financial problems. Councilor and state Rep. Dan Cahill pointed out Lynn residents already pay a meal tax when they dine in communities surrounding Lynn. Buzzy Barton and Peter Capano called the meals tax a way to avoid city layoffs and ensure public safety is funded. We invite them and Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi, the only councilor to vote against the meals tax, to evaluate the merits of using money generated by the tax to pay for a Planning Department.

Lynn’s time is now. The city has the tools and opportunities to help make development a reality downtown and on the city’s waterfront. Those tools include the local, state and federal resources making up the Lynn Economic Advancement Development Team and the expertise of MassDevelopment Fellow Joe Mulligan and downtown visionary Al Wilson, whose project is Beyond Walls.

Not having a planner doesn’t simply leave the city without a vision, it also leaves Lynn shortchanged when it comes to assigning a city point person who can engage residents in discussions on the direction Lynn should be going in.

Civic engagement is important. But a planner can also help the city stay the course as it sets planning priorities and takes stock periodically to assess progress in achieving those goals.

To her credit, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy has acknowledged the need for a planner. But Kennedy has structured a job under the title of planner that is defined within the city’s existing economic development structure. That structure denies a planner the critical ingredient of  independence with a budget on par with other city departments.

We encourage Kennedy to not veto the council vote on the meals tax. She is quoted as saying a new tax is a bad idea in the wake of the voters’ March rejection of a debt exclusion to pay for new schools.

“To approve it is being tone deaf and not listening to what the voters clearly told us,” Kennedy said.

It is important, the mayor added, to show residents the city can live within its means. That is a sound and sober viewpoint and no one can fault the mayor for prudently managing the city. But we urge Kennedy to act boldly on hiring a planner. She should state in no uncertain terms that a planner can set a course for the city.

Kennedy will deserve applause if she declares her support for an autonomous planner and backs that support by dedicating the meals tax to a new Lynn Planning Department.

 

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