Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Manchester, England.
Have a safe Memorial Day weekend. Remember to thank God and a veteran for the country we live in. It was not free and someone had to fight to secure them the freedoms we enjoy. I invite you to join us for the Memorial Day parade on Monday on starting at Mestek on North Elm and ending on West Silver Street.
The Senior Super Snoopers requested that councilors report what we have accomplished. Since this may be my last article before the election, here goes.
After 9 years of increases, 2017 will be the first year that property tax rates will not increase. Working with the mayor, the city council voted not to raise taxes. We voted to approve a $15 million dollar bond for the Gas & Electric to expand Whip City Fiber to 70% of the city in the next two years. We worked to control spending, and the Gas & Electric was persuaded to increase the ILOT payment by about $120,000 a year. Thank you to all who made this possible.
In the last 3 years, I have:
- Voted to cut over $4 million from city budgets.
- Worked to restore state road funds; and obtain $660,000 in; and infrared pothole repair equipment.
- Led the local effort to successfully Repeal Automatic Gas Tax Increases.
- Voted against raising the local meals tax.
- Voted to dissolve Business Improvement District that burdened small businesses.
- Led the fight to reject Completes Streets policy because it took control away from
local officials, and would add to the cost of all public and private projects.
- Introduced an ordinance that the city will notify property owners about zone changes.
- I am working with the Legal Department to get the Mass Dept. of Environmental Protection to approve language that will allow residents to enjoy small fires without the possibility of excessive fines or restrictions.
Of course, the burning question that many people ask is “Why are Westfield roads so bad, and not being maintained?”
It is not because we don’t pay enough gas and excise taxes, but rather we get so little for what we pay for: and taxes that were originally created to fund a specific purpose are no longer used for their intended purpose.
Many people would support projects that promote economic development, beautify the downtown or improve infrastructure and the quality of life, including the bike trail, provided there was a balance in the amount of money spent on these projects, and maintaining our roads.
Unfortunately, there has not been a balance in spending or focus on fixing roads. We simply can no longer afford to wait years to fix our roads or accept the status quo of politicians in local, state and federal government who have not made basic road maintenance a top priority in the overall use of transportation funds.
In 2013, the state approved a 12.5 billion dollar transportation bond. Mainly earmarked for big projects, the state only provides 200 million dollars annually to cities and towns in Chapter 90 funds, with Westfield receiving 1.2 million dollars. The city collects 4.5 million dollars each year in vehicle excise tax. It should be obvious to everyone that Westfield is not spending 5.7 million dollars in road maintenance each year.
If we did, many of our problem roads could be rebuilt including drainage and new roadbeds within four or five years. These roads would last for decades and help save the 250,000 dollars we spend annually on patching roads every.
Please understand that large projects such as the Great River Bridge or work on Notre Dame or Western Avenue are mostly done with state and federal funds, and separate bonding with only a small portion of the design or work paid for with our Chapter 90 funds.
By the time the surface of a road begins to fail, the roadbed underneath has deteriorated, and costs more to repair. Simply milling and repaving a road lasts only a few years before the road falls apart. Each year, more Westfield roads fall into this category.
Instead of focusing resources on maintaining roads, the state and federal government specify what projects money can be spent on. Westfield has diverted millions in Chapter 90 funds to other projects, and some continue to advocate for future projects.
A lot of money was spent on water cannons that cannot be used, “decorative” balustrades that now are being replaced at a cost of $300,000, a $500,000 clock tower, a $300,000 gazebo, obelisks in the middle of downtown sidewalks, and more lights, marble and flower pots than is needed. Why were the twin bridges designed, built and no one thought to include a way for bikes to cross the river? Instead taxpayers will now spend 3 million dollars to build another bridge, and it will cost another 6.7 million for the central phase of the bike trail.
Massachusetts collects 766 million dollars a year in gas tax. The state raised the gas tax by 3 cents a gallon in July 2013, and voted to tie future increases to the Consumer Price Index. When I joined with other volunteers to put Repealing Automatic Gas hikes on the statewide ballot, we were told that unless the gas tax increased automatically, our roads and bridges would fall apart. That turned out to be a lie. After Charlie Baker was elected, he instituted a review panel for the MBTA that discovered most of the gas tax increase was being diverted to the MBTA.
Even after 3 years of investments, new leadership, a waiver from the prevailing wage requirement, improvements in cost savings and sources of revenues, and a guaranteed minimum of 992 million dollars from sales tax revenues, the MBTA still has a structural deficit of 85 million dollars. This week it was revealed that the MBTA is facing a billion dollar shortfall in its pension liabilities over the next ten years.
In its annual reports, the PVTA appears to take in 6 to 7 million dollars in revenue, but has 40 million dollars in expenses. As if this bleeding is not enough, the PVTA decided to build “a space station” in Westfield, designed by the same firm that gave us the $300,000 pavilion. Anyone care to guess what a private company could have built for that money?
How about other transportation departments? The Registry of Motor Vehicles takes in 600 million for an organization that only costs 60 million dollars to operate, and service has never been worse. We all know we have paid for the Mass Pike many times over. The state legislature is now considering putting tolls on other highways due to slumping revenues from sales tax. But I digress.
In 2013, the state passed a half billion-dollar tax increase and had a 900 million dollar surplus. Governor Patrick cut 100 million dollars in road funding to the cities, in retaliation for the state legislature not approving a billion-dollar tax increase.
In 2014, when I ran for State Rep I put a question on the local ballot asking the state to restore that funding for road maintenance. Governor Baker restored the 100 million dollars on his first day in office. Westfield received 660,000 dollars, and some additional funding two months later for pothole repair. I had to ask the City Engineer a number of questions to learn that none of the 660,000 dollars was spent on Papermill or Shaker Road, but instead went toward the bike trail. The pothole money paid for the roadwork.
People would not mind if the state or federal government spent tax dollars in a responsible way or could afford these projects; and we were driving on well maintained roads, instead of destroying our cars on a patchwork of potholes, and spending 270,000 a year on patching potholes. If a small percentage of the 88 million dollars spent on the Twin Bridges or downtown development was went to road repair we would be much farther down the road toward a solution.
Every time a politician or city engineer says that the state or federal government is giving us money, we should ask where is the money coming from?
First, our federal government is broke and borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends. The printing of money is robbing all of us in inflation, and burying our children and grandchildren in 20 trillion dollars in national debt.
Many residents pay significant property tax, and receive do not receive city services such as water, sewer, gas and their roads are falling apart. They are understandably upset when they see all the money spent downtown and so little spent in other areas.
Have a safe and happy summer. Keep the faith.
City Councilor Dan Allie