Council whiffs on bond curve

WESTFIELD – The City Council voted last night at a special meeting to approve the license for the underground fuel storage tanks requested by Cumberland Farms and the developer, First National Realty Corporation of Manchester, Conn. The license, approved by an unanimous 9-0 vote, allows the installation of two underground fuel tanks that will store 32,000 gallons of gasoline and 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
The City Council tank license was the last local permit needed for construction of the 4,500-square-foot convenience store which will also have five fuel islands with a total of 10 fueling positions, two for diesel and eight for gasoline dispensing. The facility will be constructed on 1.17 acres of land on the southwest corner of the intersection of Southampton and North roads (Routes 10 &202). The project has already gained the approval of the Conservation Commission and Planning Board, both of which attached conditions to protect wetlands and the aquifer and to minimize the impact on traffic at that intersection which is the city’s northern gateway.
But the special council session was not called to approve the fuel storage license, tabled at an earlier meeting to ascertain if the permit needed to be signed by an official of the Fire Department before or after the council vote.
Nine members of the council assembled because of a request to act on another item which was also tabled at an earlier session, the $10 million bond requested by Mayor Daniel M. Knapik for energy efficiency and facility improvements at City Hall, Westfield High School, Westfield Vocational Technical High School and the Westfield Athenaeum. The bond was initially tabled at the request of the Finance Committee members who wanted Knapik’s financial team to revisit projections of revenue and expenses over the next five years.
The $10 million bond is being requested for Phase 1-B of the Energy Management System (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 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.
The council approved the first reading of the bond order at a special February 25 session, but could not vote at the March 7 meeting for the second reading and final passage because state law requires a 10-day period during which the bond order is published in local media. The action tabling the order at the March 21 council session further delayed the start of the work.
The council requires nine affirmative vote to approve or pass a bond order, the number present last night at the special session.
Ward 5 Councilor Richard E. Onofrey Jr., chairman of the Finance Committee, said that he received the revised numbers for revenue and expenses and that the finance officials answered all of the questions raised during previous discussion of the bond.
“This requires nine votes to pass,” Onofrey said. “We have nine councilors here tonight. I respectfully request that everyone here tonight vote for this.”
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty thanked Knapik and his financial team, which now also includes Community Development Director Peter J. Miller, Jr., who served on the City Council as the Ward 3 representative for more then eight years, for submitting the revised financial re-port.
“But the numbers are still wrong,” Flaherty said. “The projections for revenue and expenses are better, but I don’t think they are accurate enough for me to vote for this.”
Flaherty said the numbers on investment earnings are still too “rosy” and that no “plan of attack for OPEB (other post employment benefits)” was submitted as part of the financial report. “There is not even an attempt to pay anything into that.”
“So I am going to vote ‘no”,” Flaherty said.
Onofrey, who has said that the city needs to approve additional bonds to maintain the city bond debt, which is currently at $5.5 million, at between $6 and $7 million to preserve that debt capacity, then made a motion to table the bond until the regular City Council meeting slated for Thursday, April 18, 2013.
“If this bond does not pass the ‘no vote’ may want to consider what they will say to City Hall employees next summer when those employees are working in sweltering heat, with no air conditioning and are unable to even open the windows,” Onofrey said.
The motion to table to the next meeting was defeated by a vote of 3-6.
Ward 3 Councilor Ann Callahan said the city has already invested $3.5 million into City Hall improvements and needs to complete that work.
“I can’t see how this cannot happen,” Callahan said. “The students and staff of Westfield High School and Westfield Vocational Technical High School need this to happen.”
The councilors then discussed how to get out of the corner into which they had painted themselves by voting against Onofrey’s motion to table.
Initially they considered having a councilor who voted “yes” in the minority vote motion for reconsideration, but the council rules prohibit reconsideration of a motion to table.
The members then voted on the bond order. As the roll call was made, Miller advised his ward 3 successor, Callahan, to vote against the bond order so she would be in the minority vote and be positioned to motion for reconsideration at the April 18 meeting. The bond order was defeated by a 7-2 vote. Callahan immediately made the motion for reconsideration at the next meeting. That motion was approved on a voice vote, meaning that the current 12 council members can bring it out for a vote.
Councilors Keefe, O’Connell and Sweeney were unable to attend last night’s special meeting due to other obligations.
The motion to table was defeated by a 3-6 vote.

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