City Council OKs plan for capital spending, BID fee changes
NORTHAMPTON — The City Council Thursday signed off on Mayor David J. Narkewicz’s long-range blueprint for capital projects over the next five years and gave final approval for the Northampton Business Improvement District to cut membership fees in half starting July 1.
The $13.6 million capital plan for fiscal years between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2019, includes 75 projects across nearly every city department, with about half of the proposed funding earmarked for street resurfacing and replacement of Department of Public Works equipment.
Councilors were pleased with the thoroughness of the document, which is required under the city’s new charter. The plan differs from past long-range capital improvement plans in that it requires the mayor to explain how the city will pay for each of the projects on the list. The council’s approval does not commit the city to funding specific projects, which occurs annually as part of the city’s budget process.
Narkewicz highlighted several items in the plan, including an effort to spend more money on street repairs. He proposes $3 million for street resurfacing over the next five years, with $500,000 planned for the next fiscal year beginning July 1. That money would be combined with Chapter 90 funds from the state and would give the city about $2 million to spend on roads next fiscal year.
The funding would put a small dent in the backlog of work totaling some $39 million, but Narkewicz said it’s a step in the right direction.
“We believe that in order to address the backlog, we need to begin to put city capital into roads,” Narkewicz said.
Other highlights include purchasing three electric vehicles to be used by parking enforcement officers and as an inspection vehicle by the Fire Department. The mayor said the city is in the process of applying for state grants to help offset the cost of the vehicles.
A few councilors said they were pleased with the inclusion of $305,000 to fund traffic-calming projects over the next five years. These projects currently do not have a funding source.
The council also gave a unanimous final approval to the BID’s petition to cut fees for most commercial properties by 50 percent.
A handful of BID supporters attended Thursday’s meeting to urge the council to adopt the petition. Unlike the initial discussion at the March 20 meeting, no opponents spoke against the measure.
At the last meeting, BID critics asked the council to table a vote until pending lawsuits against the city are settled. They also argued the BID’s petition seeking a change in the exemption for single-family residences is not legal.
An attorney representing the city told councilors Thursday it was legal to adopt the legislation as presented. Councilors then did so by a vote of 7-0. As was the case March 20, Council Vice President Jesse M. Adams abstained because his family owns property within the district. Ward 5 City Councilor David A. Murphy also did not vote March 20 for the same reason, and he was absent from Thursday’s vote.
Approval of the BID’s petition begins the process for a renewal vote that is required as a result of changes made by the state Legislature to BIDs across the state, eliminating property owners being able to opt out of the district.
Under the fee change, property owners within the BID would pay a fee based on the calculation of assessed valuation multiplied by .0025, down from .005. A building assessed at $500,000, for example, would pay $1,250 rather than $2,500.