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Lynn council OKs $14M plan to close budget gap

Peter Grocki was one of the critics to speak out against the city’s plan to fix its financial woes. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Proponents and opponents faced off in the City Council chamber Tuesday night over a plan to fix the city’s financial woes.

The proponents got their way. After more than two hours of discussion, the council passed the measure by a 10-1 vote. “It’s imperative that we pass this,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee. “I didn’t run for this office to raise fees … but after examining every option, I believe this will give me, the council, and our city the best chance to be more stable, stronger and plan for the future.”

At issue was a home rule petition that would allow the city to borrow up to $14 million to close a budget deficit, enact a $90 annual trash fee with a $40 discount for seniors 69 or over, with exemptions for condominiums, nonprofits and commercial properties who hire their own trash collectors; remove the requirement to seek voter approval for borrowing more than $4 million; and eliminate the residency requirement for the superintendent of schools and chief financial officer. Both positions will be available later this year as a result of retirements.

Former Fire Chief James McDonald came out of retirement to support the measure. He noted staffing in his department over the last five years has been going in the wrong direction.

Paul Crowley, CEO of Greater Lynn Senior Services, who briefly considered seeking the senate seat vacated by McGee, praised the mayor for coming up with a solution for the city’s troubled finances.

“This is the right thing for the city,” he said.

Ward 2 City Councilor Richard Starbard voted no, saying he could not support a trash fee on single-family homeowners.  

The opposition made their case.

Bonnie Pilch led off a parade of opposition noting the city shouldn’t be borrowing its way out of debt.

“Here I am a taxpayer and I am being nickeled and dimed,” she said. “If you can’t pay your bills, getting a loan is not the answer.”

In a passionate plea, failed Ward 2 City Council candidate Peter Grocki said rather than borrow the cash to pay back over the next decade, the city should make cuts.

“I am sorry, I am frustrated, this government is riddled with fat,” he said to applause. “We deserve better, just say no. Let the state put us into receivership.”

Rick Wood, vice chair of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce, who said he was representing himself as a resident and not the Chamber, criticized the plan.

“When you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, you don’t take out a loan,” he said. “It looks like the city is kicking the can down the road.”

A number of speakers opposed the provision that would eliminate the need to seek voter approval to borrow more than $4 million. City Council President Darren Cyr argued Lynn is the only city in the commonwealth with this borrowing cap.

“Don’t take away our rights,” said one voter.

Peter McKenna voiced his opposition to the plan.

“I am against it until the city gets its financial house in order,” he said.

Duncan Maitland said voters should have been included in the discussions with the Department of Revenue over the city’s finances.

“Regular taxpayers should have been in those backroom meetings,” he said. “The taxpayers pay the bills, now you want to borrow, we should have been at the table.”

Joanne Lindner said the council should create a charter commission if they want to make these major changes.

“There’s a right way to do this and this isn’t it,” she said. “I don’t pay my mortgage with a credit card.”  

The legislation now goes to Beacon Hill where lawmakers and the governor must sign off on it.

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