Friday, August 22, 2008

Rebecca Lisi to wed Damian Cote

HOLYOKE- City Councilor At-Large Rebecca Lisi and fiancé, Damian Cote, announced this week their wedding planned for late October of this year.

Councilor Lisi is the daughter of Ellen and Joseph D. Lisi of West Hempstead, New York. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Binghamton University in New York and is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Lisi has worked as a policy advocate and community organizer since she moved to the Pioneer Valley in 2002. In 2007, Lisi was elected to serve a 2-year term as an At-Large Councilor on the Holyoke City Council.

The future bridegroom, Damian Cote, is the son of Robert and Gail Cote of Granby, MA. Cote is a veteran who served 4 years in the United States Marine Corps. He received a bachelor’s degree Cum Laude in both psychology and fine art from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and will begin the Master’s of Fine Arts Printmaking program at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence this September. He has owned and managed a local business, Holyoke Carpentry, since 2003.

The couple will be married at The Wistariahurst Museum and the reception will follow at The Delaney House.

“Damian and I are very committed to supporting the local economy. We very consciously planned an event that could show-off many of Holyoke’s distinctive features to guests coming to visit our home for the first time,” commented Lisi.

They decided on a fall wedding because the peak New England foliage would serve as the perfect backdrop to showcase Holyoke to the many friends and relatives they have coming from out of town. It brings the couple great pleasure to celebrate their relationship and share their happiness with the community in which they are making their home.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Letter to Editor

fom The Republican; August 20, 2008

Westfield Retirement vote shows fiscal responsibilityHolyoke Mayor Michael J. Sullivan and City Councilor Rebecca Lisi are correct to oppose extra increases in retirement benefits for 61 Holyoke retirees. ("Holyoke panel delays benefits increase ruling," The Republican, Aug. 15)

Sullivan has been fiscally responsible as mayor. In spite of severe budget shortfalls Holyoke has been able to avoid the fiscal fate of many struggling urban areas, such as Springfield's Finance Control Board. This is a significant accomplishment for any city in the current financial conditions; it is nothing short of miraculous for Holyoke.

Holyoke retirees automatically receive very generous cost-of-living adjustments. Historically Holyoke has been even more generous, by providing an extra increase based on 50 percent of the salary of the current person performing the job. This is an extra benefit that should only be offered when the city finances are in better shape. When the city has shut down two schools and still needs $400,000 for art and music programs, city officials should be more financially prudent!

It is politically brave of Sullivan and Lisi to commit to fiscal responsibility in light of the fact that city retirees are often politically connected and politically active in their communities. Residents of Holyoke support the fiscal responsibility of Sullivan and Lisi. We especially appreciate the principled commitment it represents.

If only the other 14 city councilors could be as politically brave and fiscally responsible.


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Monday, August 11, 2008

Officials split on payments to 61 retirees

from The Republican, Sunday, August 10, 2008

HOLYOKE - A proposal to provide additional money to 61 city retirees has strongly divided city officials.

On one side, city councilors support the additional appropriation, saying the retirees deserve the money since they have received it in years past.

"There's something not quite right here," City Councilor Patricia C. Devine said Tuesday. "These retirees need to be taken care of pronto."

On the other side, Mayor Michael J. Sullivan insists providing additional money for these retirees would cost $580,000. Otherwise, the city would not have the proper funding for future increases due to this raise, something that would be financially disastrous and add to the $9.7 million the city already appropriates each year to pay for similar increases in years past.

"I don't think it can go any farther," Sullivan said.

The City Council voted 14-1 on Tuesday in favor of three separate agenda items related to the additional money for the 61 retirees. Councilor Rebecca Lisi cast the sole dissenting vote.

Currently, there are 335 municipal retirees, Sullivan said. All of them receive a cost of living increase each year. A bill pending before the state Legislature would give these retirees an additional 4 percent.

But among the 335 retirees, 61 retirees are eligible for additional money since city officials voted to accept a state provision which pays city retirees 50 percent of the current salary for an employee performing the same job. Such retirees also had to have worked for the city for at least 25 years, according to the state provision.

One of the agenda items approved Tuesday by the council by a 14-1 vote was to accept this state provision for fiscal year 2008, which ended June 30.

But the raises will not go into effect until Sullivan appropriates the funding for them, according to Daniel R. Owens, executive director of the Holyoke Retirement Board.

Providing the necessary funding for the fiscal 2008 raises for the 61 retirees would cost the city a one-time payment of $580,000, Owens said. That's because the city would need to set aside enough money to invest and pay for raises in future years due to the higher payments made to retirees.

If the city were to simply provide the necessary funding for only fiscal 2008 and not future years, Owens said that would be fiscally irresponsible and would simply add to the debt created by similar financial practices in the past.

"These costs are being pushed off to future generations," Owens said.

Currently, the city has accumulated $94 million in debt due to similar retirement practices in the past. As a result, the city must pay $9.7 million extra this fiscal year in its annual budget to pay for such so-called unfunded liabilities. In contrast, the amount of money the city must appropriate for its normal retirement costs is $2.3 million this fiscal year.

"The pay as you go method is what has gotten us into this mess," Owens said. "It's fiscally naive to add to the unfunded liability of the city."

Owens met June 16 with the City Council's Finance Committee and explained these issues to them, he said Thursday.

Such issues were not discussed Tuesday before the council voted on the three related agenda items. Rather, several councilors stressed the importance of immediately approving the raises, citing numerous calls they have received from frustrated retirees who have not received the raises for last fiscal year.

"I don't understand this," Devine said. "We've never gone to this length to get the half pay. There's something really not quite right here."

City Councilor Kevin A. Jourdain also expressed confusion about why retirees were not receiving the raises. According to Jourdain, the council had already approved the raises. Therefore, the 61 retirees should be receiving them.

City Councilors John P. Brunelle, James M. Leahy and John E. Whelihan agreed.

"Holyoke should be proud to take care of its retirees," Whelihan said. "They're entitled to the money. Pay them."

But providing additional money for the 61 retirees without properly funding such raises for future years would be disastrous, Sullivan said. "Our increases have outpaced what we could realistically expect to make," Sullivan said.

"The taxpayer has to know they're paying the difference," Sullivan added.

And while Sullivan acknowledged he has approved similar increases in years past, the city simply can no longer afford to do so, he insisted. "All of those (raises) have a cumulative effect," Sullivan said.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Land swap divides council

from The Republican, Saturday, August 09, 2008

HOLYOKE - A land swap necessary to build a gas station in the southern section of the city was approved Tuesday by the City Council.

But some councilors believe the gas station is not the right business for that location and would not help spur development in the neighborhood.

"I think this is the wrong location for this type of business," City Councilor Rebecca Lisi said Tuesday.

Lisi was one of four councilors who voted against the land transfer, which was approved 11-4.
The other three councilors who voted against the transfer were John E. Whelihan, Diosdado Lopez and Timothy Purington.

The transfer affects two parcels located on Main Street between Cabot and Spring streets. A 14,850-square-foot parcel owned by the city was given to Trak II, LLC, in exchange for a 16,335-square-foot parcel owned by the development company.

Many councilors spoke in favor of the transfer and praised the proposed gas station.

"To me, this is a home run for the city," City Councilor Todd A. McGee said.

The developer plans to spend $2.5 million on the business, which will create 15 to 25 new jobs and will have a new parking facility, McGee said.

The developer has also promised to beautify the block and operate a laundromat on the site, City Councilor James M. Leahy said.

"It's certainly going to beautify the area," City Councilor Kevin A. Jourdain said.

But others disagreed. "I have a problem with this deal," Lopez said, adding he believes the new gas station will make it harder to attract businesses to the neighborhood.

Purington also said the developer operates two other gas stations in the city and both of them are in "disrepair."

"I don't have a lot of faith in this development company," Purington said.

But the majority of councilors favored the project. "There's more pros than cons," Leahy said.