I Go To City Council Meetings #20

A rundown of the last two City Council meetings: Northampton Weed Money, an Airbnb Tax, the City Charter Review, 27 new parking spaces and more.

Meeting Agenda for January 17, 2019

Public Comment

During public comment, Al and Sally Griggs, addressed statements made by community members who opposed Walmart’s donation of $13,000 worth of bullets to the Northampton Police department.

In a previous meeting, after a lengthy discussion, the council voted to refer the donation to the City Services committee in support of Councilor Alisa Klein’s motion to try and get a breadth of answers from the NPD and Mayor about ammunition in stock at the NPD and the NPD’s ammunition budget. (Narkewicz refused to answer Councilor Klein’s requests on those matters when she asked via email saying the request was not supportive of the NPD and insisted the entire council would have to request that information in order for him to share it.) After the council sent it to committee, according to Police Chief Jody Kasper, Walmart cancelled the donation in a verbal exchange with a firearms instructor. Mayor Narkewicz and Chief Kasper went on record saying they didn’t blame Walmart for withdrawing the donation.

Al Griggs, the former Coca-Cola bottler and former chair of the Soft Drink Association,  expressed his support for Police Chief Kasper and criticized “the utopian suggestion to abandon police department.” He asked the council to somehow “signal” its support to the NPD saying, “I look forward to the time in the near future, when the council will signal respect and appreciation for work the Chief and her officers are doing.” As noted by Council President Ryan O’Donnell, during his time as a councilor (since 2013), the council has approved every budget request made by the NPD with the exception of police surveillance cameras on Main St.

Sally Griggs, whose husband is Al Griggs, expressed her support for Walmart. She defended Walmart saying it has “basics at reasonable price.” And added, “Walmart is a part of the kaleidoscope of our neat city.” She did not address Walmart’s notorious labor violations or the detrimental impact its stores have on local economies.

Financial Update: Business is not down

Financial director Susan Wright briefed the council on the city’s 2nd quarter financial report. She reported that hotel/motel tax is 4.6 % higher than it was last year and that parking revenue is also up. This contradicts the idea that is often proliferated by local business owners that less people are visiting Northampton due to the crisis of poverty and houselesness in the city. She also reported that the city is issuing an abundance of building permits totaling $352,000 in permit fees. It is not clear how much of this new building will alleviate houselessness in the city.

Northampton Weed Money

According to the Cannabis Control Commission, weed shops in Massachusetts have sold  $36,202,435 worth of weed and weed products since NETA opened on November 20, 2018. While not all of those sales were made at NETA in Northampton, it is likely that a decent amount of sales took place there. Northampton will receive its first payment of the city-imposed 3% tax on recreational adult use weed during the first week of April 2019. Because there will be more and more stores opening and competing with NETA, it will take a year of revenues to know how much the tax will contribute to the city. Though Northampton is deeply invested in the weed industry and Mayor Narkewicz bought a weed chocolate bar for all the press to see, Northampton community member Eric Matlock, who is black and houseless, currently faces an intent to distribute weed charge.

27 New Parking Spaces

The council approved a project that will cost up to $33,000 to redesign the Roundhouse Parking Lot. According to city planner, Wayne Fiden, the redesign will create 27 new parking spaces.

Whiting Street Trust Fund for Food Programs

The council approved the distribution of $25,000 from the Whiting Street Trust Fund to go to MANNA Soup Kitchen ($10,000), Northampton Survival Center ($5,000), Grow Food Northampton, Inc ($5,000), Abundance Farm ($5,000). Mr. Whiting Street, a successful Northampton business man, left $25,000 to the City of Northampton in his will of 1875 with instructions that the money be used “for the relief and comfort of the worthy poor.”

Meeting Agenda for Feb 7, 2019

Announcements

Councilor Bill Dwight, who represents the City Council on the Charter Review committee, announced that the committee will hold meetings that will be open to the public on the first and third Tuesday of every month in City Hall from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. The committee will compile a report with suggested changes to the charter to Mayor Narkewicz who then, if he chooses to act on the suggested changes, would incorporate them into orders that would have to be approved by the City Council. The Charter Review committee was appointed entirely by the City Council and Mayor Narkewicz.  

On Thursday Feb 21 at 7:05 pm, a public hearing regarding the city’s 2019-2023 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) will be held in City Council chambers. This hearing is required by the city charter. The CIP is created by the Mayor and includes a list of all capital improvements proposed to be undertaken during the next 5 years, cost estimates, methods of financing and recommended time schedules for each improvement, and the estimated annual cost of operating and maintaining each facility and piece of major equipment involved.

Watershed Preservation

The council approved a financial order to purchase a currently privately owned lot of land in Hatfield that is located on Northampton’s watershed land. The order is intended for the sanitary protection of the Mountain Street Reservoir, part of the City of Northampton’s Water Supply.

Affordable Housing Units in Village Hill

The council approved $150,000 in funds to be allocated to a project that will contribute the to creation of 65 units of mixed income rental housing, including 36 units restricted to low-income and extremely low income households, on two lots at Village Hill.

A very expensive window

The council approved $100,000 in funds to be spent on repairing a 125 year old window at Forbes library.

Airbnb Tax

A new Mass General Law (MSG) requires that a “Community Impact Fee” be paid by parties offering short term rentals that are located within two and three unit family dwellings. MGL requires that 3% of that fee, which is applied to the total amount of each individual rent transfer,  go toward either affordable housing or infrastructure, to be determined by specific municipalities. Mayor Narkewicz proposed that 100% of the Community Impact Fee go toward affordable housing in Northampton. The fee would be paid directly to the state and would then be reallocated to Northampton. According to Councilor LaBarge (Ward 6), some of the language in the law was concerning to residents who run Bed and Breakfasts. The order was referred to the Community Resources Committee, which will meet at 5pm on Feb 25, to allow for more review and public comment before it is approved.

Jules Marsh is a co-editor of The Shoestring. They are alive in Massachusetts.

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