BID funding discussed, approved

WESTFIELD – City Council members voted unanimously last night to authorize Mayor Daniel M. Knapik to execute a memorandum of understanding with the city’s Business Improvement District after rejecting an amendment to that motion which would have required council review and approval of the final document.
The amendment was made by Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell, a charter member of BID who has served that organization in a number of capacities, to ensure that the level of city funding remains constant through the 2015 tenure of the agreement, a tenure that will extend beyond the current mayoral term.
“I’m concerned about the city’s level of commitment,” O’Connell said. “I feel that the City Council should have oversight.”
The city does not have that oversight of the funding because the money given to BID, for business advancement programs, does not come from the general fund, which the council approves when it reviews and votes on the annual city budget.
The BID’s funding is currently coming from the city’s Community Development Block Grant, a funding source over which the City Council has no authority to either approve or deny.
City Advancement Officer Jeff Daley said recently, at the Legislative & Ordinance Committee discussing the MOU, that CDBG funds are expended at the sole discretion of the sitting mayor, which is what concerns O’Connell. Knapik, the current sitting mayor, has increased the city’s level of BID funding as that organization expends programs supporting business in the CORE district. Yet Knapik has to stand for election every two years and the will of city voters will determine his tenure in office.
O’Connell said that in the early years of the BID, the city’s funding came from the general fund and required the City Council to review and approve those funds. However, she also said that the initial level of funding was $75,000, but that level dropped each year, eventually down to $20,000.
“We’re going to hold you to the $90,000 to $100,000 dollar range,” O’Connell said to Daley.
Daley said that the funding is directly related to the type and number of programs in place at the BID.
“The CDBG is designed for economic development in impoverished areas,” Daley said. “We’re not just looking at improving the environment for the businesses, but also the residents living on the upper floors of those buildings.”
“There is no contract, the MOU is the contract,” Daley said. “BID has to submit a three year strategic plan covering the term of the MOU.”
“We’ll support BID with funding which reflects its programs,” Daley said. “If that programming doesn’t justify spending $90,000, we’re not going to spend $90,000 just to spend $90,000.”
“If the federal government sweeps this program away, that would be a game changer,” he said. “If this was a line item in the budget, a future mayor, or City Council, could cut $50,000. I don’t want to see that happen.”
Several members of the council opposed O’Connell’s amendment.
Ward 6 Councilor Christopher Crean, a member of the Finance Committee, said it made no sense to approve the MOU if the council was also going to approve the final document.
“What would be the point of giving (Knapik) authorization to execute the MOU if we’re going to approve the contract?” Crean asked.
Ward 5 Councilor Richard E. Onofrey, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the contract is the MOU.
“Why approve something we’re already looking at?” he asked.
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty initially opposed the MOU because he felt the language did not provide the city with “enough wiggle room.”
“There are terms in here we should look at, promises that we’re making which we may not be able to keep,” he said.
Flaherty changed his position after further review the document during the council’s protracted debate.
“While you were talking, I did find wiggle words such as ‘subject to funding’ and other similar clauses, so I will vote to support this,” he said.
At-large Councilor James R. Adams also has issues with the language.
“I’m thinking about the people in the BID, I’m one of them, people who are taking money out of their pocket to pay the BID tax,” Adams said. “Can BID change some of the services it offers (under the MOU), and if so, do those changes give members the right to get out?”

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