Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holyoke boosters organize CRUSH and New Year's gala

from The Republican
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
By ELIZABETH R. LaFOND


HOLYOKE - It's no longer a secret: Some residents have a CRUSH on Holyoke.

CRUSH - Citizens for the Revitalization and Urban Success of Holyoke - is a growing nonpartisan group that started with three enthusiastic residents looking to bring the artistic, political and business communities together. They created CRUSH and, in less than five months, gathered more than 160 members.

"There is a lot of energy in Holyoke and we wanted to capture it," said Rebecca Lisi, city councilor at-large and doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts. "Our mission is to create positive change by facilitating connections between people, resources and ideas."

James A.G. Sutter, of Sutter's Jewelry, felt he was alone with his ideas to find ways for revitalizing and sustaining Holyoke. He and his wife, Rebecca, partnered with Lisi and merged their creative thoughts to form CRUSH.

"When we started telling our friends and acquaintances about our idea, they thought it was great," Sutter said. "We learned that there is a large amount of people who have great creative ideas and want to make a change."

Lisi and the Sutters joined Aaron M. Vega, of Vega Yoga, James N. Chevalier, Noel C. St. Jean, Craig Crouch, Brendan Ciecko, of One Minute Media, Laurie Landry and many others to lead monthly meetings. They also developed an electronic network online at www.crushonholyoke.org

"Our efforts are very much alive," Vega said.

St. Jean agreed, saying, "Our Web site allows everyone to see projects and events in progress."

Meetings take place the last Thursday of every month at the Waterfront Tavern. Membership is open to anyone interested in learning more about CRUSH or contributing ideas for future projects.

CRUSH also is planning an event, "Holyoke Unmasked, a New Year's Eve Gala" at the Wistariahurst Museum on Dec. 31 from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. The event, catered by the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, will include a cash bar and an array of entertainment.

Ticket reservations can be made at Sutter's Jewelry and Vega Yoga, or by calling (413) 332-5660. Tickets can also be reserved by visiting www.crushonholyoke.org or by e-mailing admin@wistariahurst.org. Tickets are $50.

"We hope to attract people of all ages across the city and to really celebrate Holyoke with great food, great conversations and music for New Year's," Vega said.

"We like it here and we want to do stuff here," Sutter said. "We're not going anywhere and we're totally committed to supporting Holyoke. We hope our New Year's event will bring many people together and be a kick-off to announce CRUSH's upcoming plans, including saving the Victory Theater."

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Holyoke Needs to Engage in Plan for Economic Success



Jobs and a robust tax base are essential to running a successful municipality. Holyoke is in need of comprehensive economic development. Citizens, along with government and business need to work together on determining how that tax base is developed. Holyoke needs to be an assertive player as opposed to a passive recipient, always desperate for proposals from outside the community.


The City Council has before it an order considering a spot-zone on a parcel of land on Whiting Farms Rd. The current zoning ordinances allow for residential and industrial business uses. “Spot zoning” unfairly favors the applicant of the zone change by giving preference to changes in access and traffic patterns that serve the applicant over those already established by the zoning in that area.


The Lowes proposal is “strip-mall” development not unlike the vacant and run-down area in the K-Mart Plaza which has proven not to produce promised benefits. Development in that area further disincentivizes development downtown, where it is needed most. A lack of investment in downtown is the source of our collapsing economy, as small businesses go under and Holyoke's building stock falls into disrepair.


The Lowes proposal is a project. It is neither a plan nor part of a plan for economic success in Holyoke. It is a stand-alone enterprise seemingly removed from any larger vision of what is best for the city as whole. An expansive vision of urban planning in Holyoke would look at many variables and ask whether this project is a contribution to the direction in which Holyoke residents want the city to move.


Holyoke was founded on a sophisticated and well thought-out plan for urban development that places the core of economic activity in the city center – downtown Holyoke. A new Lowes does not get us any closer to a revitalized and successful Holyoke. Any decision that diverts badly needed resources away from downtown is nothing more than a short sighted project going after short term dollars.


The Lowes project comes not only at the expense of the industrial and residential neighbors at Whiting Farms Rd., but also at the expense of small-business owners and the Latino community who have been holding a place for economic development downtown. Our city can no longer sustain decisions based on narrow and divisive self-interests.


The community needs to work together to forge a new plan for a new Holyoke. I hope that there are other residents, who like me, have greater expectations for what Holyoke can become. We need to see your support for a long term plan that will need a lot of help. Please call or email your City Councilors and urge them to vote against this zone change.


Sincerely,

Rebecca Lisi
Holyoke City Council At-Large

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Council approves sewer rate increase

from The Sun

by: Aimee Henderson
December 5, 2008


HOLYOKE – After months of discussion and disagreement, the City Council voted on Tuesday night to raise the city’s sewer rates by 15 percent from $4.66 per 1,000 gallons to $5.40 per gallons of water used.

The Council voted 8-6 in favor of the increase, with one councilor absent. Voting against the increase were Councilors John Whelihan, Kevin Jourdain, Rebecca Lisi, Diosdado Lopez, Elaine Pluta and Peter Tallman. Councilor Timothy Purington was absent.

The sewer rate increase had been tabled at the council’s last meeting after a 9-6 vote in favor of tabling the report. The council had previously voted on the rate increase at their Sept. 2 meeting in a 7-6 vote favoring the increase, but a two-thirds vote was needed to pass.

The increase is needed to pay construction costs, which will prevent sewage overflow into the Connecticut River totaling closeto $9 million. There are also costs from outstanding loans, interests and user fees, since the wastewater treatment plant has been privatized.

Councilor John O’Neill led the discussion in favor of the increase, saying, “We are mandated as a council to fully fund the budget we have approved.” He added, “The deficit continues to grow because we are not adequately funding it.”

For years the sewage fees have brought controversial conversations, starting when the city hired AOS Operating Company three years ago to run the wastewater treatment facility. Last year the council raised sewer rates by 139 percent, which wasn’t enough and so the most recent increase was brought forward.

O’Neill argued that the increase was the only way to fairly fund the budget, ensuring money from free cash or the stabilization fund wouldn’t be used.

“We have to (increase rates),” said O’Neill. “That enterprise budget is bleeding.”

Councilor Jourdain did not see eye-to-eye with O’Neill saying the 15 percent increase in unaffordable to the average Joe during these economic times.

“Even through the last fiscal crisis in 1991 we didn’t raise rates,” said Jourdain, adding that the increase would only be good for the next couple years.

“The City Council should be setting the rate, not using this ‘take it or leave it’ approach.”

An order filed by Jourdain which would modify how rates are set passed later in the meeting.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Council to set sewer rates

from The Republican

Thursday, December 04, 2008
By JEANETTE DeFORGE
jdeforge@repub.com


HOLYOKE - For the first time in more than 50 years, the City Council will be able to adjust sewer rates instead of solely accepting or rejecting recommendations.

The council adopted the new ordinance in a 13-1 vote on Tuesday, shortly after deciding to accept a Board of Public Works recommendation to raise sewer rates by 15 percent to $5.40 per 1,000 gallons used.

Raising the rates has continually been controversial, even though the wastewater enterprise fund has a $250,000 deficit.

Most members agreed on Tuesday that some rate increase was needed, but argued against the 15-percent recommendation. It passed in a 8-6 vote.

Councilor Kevin A. Jourdain said he could accept a 3- or 4-percent cost-of-living raise, but found 15 percent too high.

"If we don't have the power to dispute the rate, what is the point of approving it?" asked Councilor Rebecca Lisi.

The procedure for setting sewer rates was developed in 1961. It called for the three-member Board of Public Works to recommend changes, and then for the City Council to approve or reject them.

At the time, wastewater was not treated, and the rate was 89 cents for 1,000 gallons of water used. It was rarely boosted, and in the 1980s, it was still $1.95 for 1,000 gallons and the department still had a $3 million reserve, said Jourdain.

But about seven years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated that the wastewater treatment system be upgraded to prevent frequent overflows of untreated sewage into the Connecticut River.

The multi-million-dollar project has required the city to raise rates, and the Board of Public Works said it expects to have to continue recommending 15-percent increases every few years, said Jourdain.

"This way," he said, "we will have more control over the department and it will lead to more accountability and more transparency."

He argued that it is fairer to have 15 elected politicians set sewer rates than the three people appointees to the board.

Before rates are set, Jourdain said, public hearings will be called so that residents and the Board of Public Works can express opinions.

Public Works Superintendent William D. Fuqua said that he and the board will work with the council to make sure the wastewater treatment budget is funded adequately.

"It is a different procedure," he said. "We will have to work with them and provide the council any information to set the rates in the future."

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