Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holyoke city councilors call for more aggressive attempt to track down tax scofflaws before sewer fees are increased

Published: Monday, November 29, 2010, 3:51 PM Updated: Monday, November 29, 2010, 3:57 PM
Mike Plaisance, The Republican

HOLYOKE – City councilors said they want more done to hunt down $600,000 in late bills before they will agree to increase the sewer rate, which would be unfair to those who pay bills on time.

“Essentially, they’re asking everyone to take on an added burden of those who owe fees into the system,” Councilor-at-Large Rebecca Lisi said on Nov. 18.

“We should go after these bills without raising a penny of the sewer fee,” Councilor-at-Large James M. Leahy said.

Leahy has proposed the city hire a collection agency to track down sewer bill delinquents.

Mayor Elaine A. Pluta said she was willing to discuss the hiring of such a collector with city Treasurer Jon D. Lumbra, provided councilors understand that such a hiring requires spending.

Councilors’ concerns come as Public Works Superintendent William D. Fuqua has outlined a proposal that would increase the sewer rate by 18.5 percent. That would be to avoid a $341,900 deficit in the sewer fund by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, he said.

Under the proposal, the average household’s yearly sewer bill would increase to $430 from the current $365.

That’s based on the current rate of $5.40 per 1,000 metered gallons used, increasing to $6.40 per 1,000 metered gallons used.

The setting of the sewer rate is a City Council decision.

Councilor Diosdado Lopez, chairman of the Ordinance Committee, said councilors want additional information that includes more effort on late bills. He was still hopeful about establishing a new sewer rate by late December, he said.

The sewer fund is about $8.7 million. Most of that is money the city is contractually bound to pay to United Water, the private company that manages the sewer system, Fuqua said.

United Water will be paid about $6.8 million this year, and the company gets an increase based on the rate of inflation, he said.

The problem that could result in a sewer-fund deficit is that revenue coming in from sewer customers isn’t keeping pace with the rate paid to United Water, he said.

Fuqua is working with Lumbra to issue letters to the overdue customers who collectively owe more than $600,000. That step precedes the city’s placement of a lien on the property. A lien is a legal step that assures that if the property is sold, the city is the first to get paid.

“That’s our only, most effective way to collect the money,” Fuqua said.

Lopez was among councilors seeking actions with more tangible results than liens. Sewer customers who owe money should be put on notice that permits or licenses they have from the city are at stake, he said.

“For example, a letter will go out on a specific date, and if you don’t pay by another date, you will lose the permit,” Lopez said.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Fairfield Avenue in Holyoke gets its own historical commission

Published: Sunday, November 28, 2010, 2:39 AM
Mike Plaisance, The Republican Mike Plaisance, The Republican

2009 rebecca lisi fairfield avenueThe Republican file photoHolyoke City Councilor Rebecca Lisi on historic Fairfield Avenue.

HOLYOKE - A street in the Highlands neighborhood has become the only one in the city with its own historical commission.

The Fairfield Avenue Local Historic District Commission consists of seven members authorized to preserve its distinctive architecture and other significant details.

The street, which is perpendicular to Northampton Street, is lined with Victorians and old mansions that date to 1870, 1800 and 1891.

Mayor Elaine A. Pluta appointed the commission and the City Council confirmed the appointments last month.

“I think it’s wonderful. It’s been in process for” years, Olivia L. Mausel, a member of the new commission, said.

Mausel, who also is cochairwoman of the citywide Historical Commission, said Fairfield Avenue is the city’s only street with its own historical commission.

Establishment of the commission will provide protection from demolition and inappropriate remodeling as commissioners try to maintain the street’s historic nature, she said.

The commission is permitted to review only changes proposed to the exterior architecture visible from a public way. The commission’s existence doesn’t mean all changes are banned, Mausel said.

“The intent is to make changes and additions harmonious, and prevent the intrusion of incongruous elements that might detract from the aesthetic and historic values of the district,” Mausel said.

The commission will hold meetings, which will be posted and open to the public, to discuss changes residents want to make to Fairfield Avenue homes, she said.

Councilor at Large Rebecca Lisi has pushed for several years to get a Fairfield Avenue commission appointed and was glad it is now in place.

“It’s an excellent example of citizens really taking revitalization of a community in their own hands,” Lisi said.

Support on Fairfield Avenue for such a commission wasn’t unanimous. Some residents have been wary of the street having such a designation.

The ordinance establishing the Fairfield Avenue Historic District says that in addition to residents, the commission must include one member from two nominees submitted by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects and one member from two nominees submitted by the local Board of Realtors.

Besides Mausel, of 25 Briarwood Drive, the commission consists of residential members James Sutter, 30 Fairfield Ave., Sandra Parent, 347 Westfield Road, Wendy Weiss, Fairfield Avenue, and Matt Chenier, 20 Fairfield Ave., who is chairman.

Others on the commission are Realtor Charles Davignon, 167 Main St., and architect Peter Papineau, 42 Fairfield Ave.

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