Council addresses stormwater fee, grant usage and development questions

At-Large Councilor Dan Allie

WESTFIELD – At Thursday’s City Council meeting, Finance sub-committee chairman Dan Allie reported that the committee had voted 3-0 to recommend increases to the stormwater fee. He then employed his discretion as chairman to keep the matter in committee.
Allie said he appreciated the work done by Department of Public Works Director Dave Billips and by the committee’s members on the issue, having met at least three times previously together. However, he said changes in the capital plan had been sent to councilors that same day.
“We’re looking at 14 projects over the next three years. These projects are necessary,” Allie said.
Allie said he also met on Wednesday with Mayor Brian P. Sullivan, who asked him how much revenue would be generated by the increases, which is yet to be determined.
“I object to raising residential rates. We have to find a way to have commercial rates pay 10 cents more,” said At-large Councilor Cindy C. Harris.
Finance committee member Andrew K. Surprise said there are a couple of issues for the incoming Finance committee, such as repairs to Powdermill and Armbrook Dams, which Billips said would be significantly less than projected. Surprise was referring to new committee assignments which will be made by Council president Ralph J. Figy.
At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty said the reason for increasing the fees is to repair the stormwater, which impacts road work. “We’ve made a great effort to address this,” Flaherty said, adding that $10 annually per house is a modest increase. “We have to do the hard work. I hate to send this back to the committee. This is priority number one in the city. Go to committee, do your analysis, and come back soon,” he added.
“It’s very disappointing for me personally that we haven’t been able to move this forward. Infrastructure is the second leading contributor to the issue of clean water,” said outgoing Ward 5 Councilor Robert A. Paul, Sr., who has been a big proponent of the plan.
At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III acknowledged that there has been a lot of work done. “I was at the meeting with the Mayor (yesterday). Since that meeting, there’s been a pretty substantial adjustment. I was not in favor in any way, shape or form until the adjustment was made,” said Beltrandi, who also wrote a letter this week to The Westfield News citing his opposition to the fee increases.
The council voted to have it remain in committee, with Paul and Ward 4 Councilor Michael Burns opposed. The Finance committee will meet on Jan. 9 at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers.
Action was taken by the City Council on a 2-1 recommendation from the Finance committee to accept MassDOT Aeronautics grants to Barnes Airport, as well as the 20% city share for the grants.
At-large Councilor Matthew Emmershy said his was the dissenting vote, because he had questions about the city’s investment. “I had questions based on budget time statements. The manager reached out and clarified the revenue the projects will generate,” Emmershy said, adding that he now believes the grants will be positive revenue generators for the city.
Emmershy said the first grant of $16,700 local share ($66,800 state share) will replace two 20 ft. plow blades with new 18 ft. plow blades, which are a better fit for the runway. The second grant of $95,000 local share (state share $380,000) is for the construction of a new aircraft ramp to potential new hangars. Emmershy said whether the city builds them and budgets them out, or if new investors come in, the ramp will make access more viable.
The third grant is for the installation of a self-fueling AvGas system, at a cost to the city of $77,000 (state share $308,000). Emmershy said this grant is the largest immediate generator of funds for the airport. A vote on acceptance of the grants passed unanimously 13-0.
Also voted unanimously was an appropriation of $75,000 from Community Development Act Housing funds to Powdermill Village on a 3-0 recommendation from Finance. Councilor Surprise said Powdermill needs extensive renovations, and has applied for a low income loan of $30 million. These funds are needed for a local match by Feb. 1 for the application.
Flaherty said community housing is one of the primary purposes of the Community Preservation Commission, that is rarely applied. “This is perfectly appropriate,” he said.
Emmershy described it as a 16-acre site getting extensive renovations. “Our kick in is $75,000 to a $50 million project,” he said.
Action was also taken on the second reading and final passage of easement rights to a piece of property off of Turnpike Industrial Road, by a vote of 13-0. Also passed unanimously, was an order discontinuing a portion of Turnpike Industrial Road. Both of these votes help pave the way for the incoming James Hardie Building Supply Company, which has purchased an abutting property.
Also unanimous, was a zone change at 595 Southampton Rd from Business A to Industrial. ZPD chair Flaherty said this zone change was unopposed, and made perfect sense.

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