Council in holding pattern on $10 M bond

WESTFIELD – The City Council declined to vote on the final approval of a $10 million bond last night, charging the chairmen of two committees with failing to provide information to other councilors.
The bond was given its first reading at the March 21 session after the Finance Committee received a presentation by Mayor Daniel M. Knapik to answer issues raised during earlier City Council discussion of the bond, specifically the city’s debt capacity and ability to meet debt payments. The City Council tabled action on the $10 million bond, requested for energy efficiency and facility improvements, and requested that the administration’s financial team rework the numbers for revenue growth over the next five fiscal years.
Ward 5 Councilor Richard E. Onofrey Jr., reported last night that he, as Finance Committee chairman, and Ward 1 Councilor Christopher Keefe, as Legislative & Ordinance chairman, meet Monday with Knapik’s financial officers.
“There were some inaccuracies in the numbers presented to us (at the March 21 committee session), some revenue projections that were too rosy, so they came back to us with revised projections for revenue and dramatically revised expense estimates,” Onofrey said. “I’m comfortable with the numbers on those projections.”
“What I’m not comfortable with is the current bonding level,” Onofrey said. “It has dropped to $5.5 million and the council has agreed that it should be between $6 and $7 million. I think that maybe even between $7 and $8 million.”
“We need to maintain a certain level of debt so we can do projects in the future or that capacity will be put into the annual budget and used for salaries,” Onofrey said, “then we’d have to lay people off to afford to do those projects. We have the (debt) capacity.  We have the ability to pay (that debt) so we need to use that capacity to preserve it for future projects.”
Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell objected to the fact that only Onofrey and Keefe were presented the revised revenue and expense numbers.
“I have been trying all week to get that information,” O’Connell said. “This is an issue that I am extremely interested in. You need to get this information out to all of us. I was hoping to have time to go over the mayor’s corrected numbers.”
“I am not prepared to vote on this and would like to leave it on the table,” O’Connell said.
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty supported O’Connell’s argument.
“We voted to table this (bond order) until we (all) got the revised information, not just one or two councilors,” Flaherty said. “Nobody has answered my questions. As far as the bonding level is concerned, I agree that we have the capacity, but I don’t know if we have the ability to pay.”
Flaherty then made a motion to leave the issue on the table until all members receives the revised financial information in order to make an informed decision of the $10 million bond order.
Knapik is seeking council approval of the $10 million bond for Phase 1-B of the EMS program that includes work at City Hall, Westfield High School and Westfield Vocational Technical High School that was not included, or not eligible, for the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Green Energy program or the Energy Management System (EMS) Phase 1-A.
Energy improvements were made at the two school buildings, resulting in substantial reductions in energy consumption, but further controls, sensors and ventilation systems need to be installed to maximize the benefits of the new hot-water heating that replaced the boilers originally installed in those buildings 40 years ago.
The City Hall work will encompass installation of a hot-water heating system, new lights, revamping the electrical system, air conditioning, American with Disabilities (ADA) compliance, parking lot expansion and repaving and environmental remediation for asbestos.
Knapik discussed the city’s ability to finance the $10 million bond last night for an hour prior to the regular City Council meeting.
Members of the Finance Committee had requested a detailed report, with projections of new revenue and projected debt. The city plans to bond a number of other projects including about $13 million for the new elementary school, $7 million for construction of a new senior center, as well as funding needed for the Gaslight District and Old Town infrastructure improvements and extension of the Columbia Greenway into the downtown area.

To see last night’s city council meeting, click here.

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