Many have asked for a copy of the 186 page evaluation. Unfortunately, it is to large for me to load onto this blog. So, here is the short version without the referenced supports.:
CITY MANAGER EVALUATION
This evaluation must begin where the City Manager’s self-assessment ends.
The accomplishments laid out in the attached document are not only the results of hard work on the part of our employees, though they are that. They are the result of a community that is starting to push past cynicism towards a better future. There is a growing segment of our community that would rather work to make things better than to live in self-defeating negativity.
The statement is not only unprofessional, but an appalling thing to say about the people he works for. This line of thought, “my way or the highway” or “go along to get along”, has been promoted by the establishment for far too long. Either you agree with Manager Augustus or you “live in self-defeating negativity.” If your assessment of Manager Augustus isn’t glowing, then you want the City of Worcester to fail. By his own statement, Manager Augustus has made it clear that contrary opinions are not tolerated. I find this troubling as it is only through the sharing of differing ideas that true progress and change are realized.
Manager Augustus presented a 56 page self-serving self-assessment that was drafted using City resources and is absent of any notation of deficiency or areas of possible improvement. Simply put, reading his self-evaluation, he is beyond reproach. In this evaluation, I will not repeat his successes as he has already done so. Instead, I will focus on areas in need of improvement. However, the Manager reports to the City Council and policy is determined by the City Council. The success of the City is not the Manager’s alone. Further, the City Mayor repeatedly takes credit for the same instances as the City Manager. It is clear more focus needs to be on getting things done and less on dividing credit for other people’s work.
In summer 2015, after numerous public meetings with the Jewish Community Center and Worcester Senior Center, rising violent crime was a significant issue. Manager Augustus criticized an item brought before Council on July 21, 2015 requesting authorization of emergency funds and additional resources or personnel to restore public safety. That item read as follows:
Due to the continuing violence that appears to be escalating from last year’s high number of shootings in our city, request an oral report from the City Manager and/or Chief of Police on the plan to combat this increasing public safety issue. Further, request that City Council authorize any emergency funds needed be immediately transferred to battle the threat. Such funds to be used as deemed necessary by law enforcement and to include the authorization of additional resources or personnel required to fulfill the mission to restore public safety.
August 8, 2015, Manager Augustus advised Samantha Allen at the Telegram and Gazette:
In response to an 18 percent jump in shootings, officials Friday said they will make additional money available to extend the Police Department’s Summer Impact program, which provides additional officers for night-time patrols in the summer months.
City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said Friday that he will allow Police Chief Gary J. Gemme to extend the Summer Impact program- with 18 additional officers Wednesday through Sunday- beyond Labor Day, should the chief feel it’s necessary. The program was slated to cost $412,000 through the holiday, at a cost of about $40,000 a week. In a report to the City Council, Mr. Augustus also said he has approved Chief Gemme’s request to increase the incoming recruit class size from 23 to 35, to fill positions left by retiring officers and to maintain 369 officers in the department…
The city manager said overtime will be made available to support active police investigations. The costs for the overtime and additional Summer Impact program has yet to be determined, said spokesman John Hill.
However, in an email from former Chief Gary Gemme dated September 17, 2015:
The summer impact program was not extended beyond the 10 weeks that were funded during the budget process. The compliment of police officers has not increased beyond the 367 established by the city administration during the budget process. At the time of the budget hearing we had 22 vacancies, currently we have 32. All of these positions will be filled within the 367 budgeted number. Additionally, the department has not received any additional overtime funds beyond the amount set in the fiscal 2016 budget.
Manager Augustus made claims to have taken action when discussing the matters with the public, but former Chief Gemme says no such action ever occurred. Interestingly, Mayor Petty’s campaign website stated “we have extended the Summer Impact program to put more police on the streets this fall.” Apparently, Manager Augustus even mislead the Mayor.
MSN Money ranks Worcester as the 9th Worst City for Retirement in the United States
Affordability Rank: 118
Activities Rank: 108
Quality of Life Rank: 116
Health Care Rank: 132
Based on recent crime data, Worcester has a crime rate that is higher than 97% of cities and towns in Massachusetts, and is one of the 100 most dangerous cities in the United States. There is a one in 28 chance that a person in the city will be a victim of a crime of property and a one in 104 chance of being a victim of a violent crime.
Unfortunately, the first article on a simple Google search on crime rates in Worcester MA, is http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ma/worcester/crime/
The data is as follows:
About Worcester crime rates
The crime rate in Worcester is considerably higher than the national average across all communities in America from the largest to the smallest, although at 42 crimes per one thousand residents, it is not among the communities with the very highest crime rate. The chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime in Worcester is 1 in 24. Based on FBI crime data, Worcester is not one of the safest communities in America. Relative to Massachusetts, Worcester has a crime rate that is higher than 98% of the state's cities and towns of all sizes. In fact, after researching dangerous places to live, NeighborhoodScout found Worcester to be one of the top 100 most dangerous cities in the U.S.A.
How does the crime rate in Worcester compare to similar sized communities across America? When NeighborhoodScout compared Worcester with other communities its size, we found that the crime rate was near the average for all other communities of similar size. So, whether Worcester's crime rate is high or low compared to all places in the US, when we control for population size and compare it to places that are similar in size, it is near the middle of the pack in crime rate; not much more or less dangerous, and about what we would expect from the statistics.
The crime data that NeighborhoodScout used for this analysis are the seven offenses from the uniform crime reports, collected by the FBI from 18,000 local law enforcement agencies, and include both violent and property crimes, combined.
Now let us turn to take a look at how Worcester does for violent crimes specifically, and then how it does for property crimes. This is important because the overall crime rate can be further illuminated by understanding if violent crime or property crimes (or both) are the major contributors to the general rate of crime in Worcester.
For Worcester, we found that the violent crime rate is one of the highest in the nation, across communities of all sizes (both large and small). Violent offenses tracked included rape, murder and non-negligent manslaughter, armed robbery, and aggravated assault, including assault with a deadly weapon. According to NeighborhoodScout's analysis of FBI reported crime data, your chance of becoming a victim of one of these crimes in Worcester is one in 103.
NeighborhoodScout's analysis also reveals that Worcester's rate for property crime is 32 per one thousand population. This makes Worcester a place where there is an above average chance of becoming a victim of a property crime, when compared to all other communities in America of all population sizes. Property crimes are motor vehicle theft, arson, larceny, and burglary. Your chance of becoming a victim of any of these crimes in Worcester is one in 31.
Manager Augustus continues to ignore the facts. Instead, year over year comparisons are presented along with comparisons to Springfield, MA. The argument is that it is a perception problem rather than a reality. Anyone that questions the crime rate in the City is ostracized as being negative about Worcester as laid out in Manager Augustus’s closing statement in his self-assessment. Ignoring a problem or denying one exists will not make it go away. Acknowledging a problem and taking steps to eradicate it does not make you negative, it makes you a realist and accountable.
Again and again, Manager Augustus has shown little transparency and, for an alleged progressive, a surprising disdain for public land and trees. From the public disaster that was the attempt at taking away a ball field to pave it over for a parking lot, to the land-swap for the Newton Square tennis court, it was assumed that he had learned that the City had little tolerance for such endeavors. Unfortunately, he continues to take public land and clear cut trees for commercial endeavors. The latest was the city-run golf course expansion. Despite losing a half million dollars a year, Manager Augustus continues to have the city run a golf course and this year decided to expand the golf course by taking land from a Greenhill Park to make a driving range:
Telegram & Gazette “City sees benefit in turning ballfield into parking lot”
WORCESTER — City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. Monday revealed more details about a plan to turn a city-owned recreational field behind Chandler Magnet School into a parking lot for Worcester State University, saying it would address longstanding parking issues near the college and provide a significant investment for improvements at two city parks. . .
"There are many positive benefits to this project," Mr. Augustus said in an interview. "This will solve a parking problem that many people have complained about and it will benefit the community as a whole.
In light of significant neighborhood push-back to the proposal, Mr. Augustus and Mayor Joseph M. Petty have urged residents not to take a position without first learning the full details of the project.
Telegram & Gazette, “Opposition emerges to Newton Square tennis court expansion”
WORCESTER — Opponents of a potential public-private partnership between the city and the Worcester Tennis Club, which would involve moving the tennis club to a section of Elm Park, have taken to social media to draw support for their cause.
Turtleboy, November 5, 2015, “Don’t Let Ed Augustus Chop Down Green Hill Park To Build A Driving Range For Yuppies”
Why do liberal people in Worcester like City Manager Ed Augustus so much? One of the primary tenets of liberalism is protection of the environment. Conservatives are the ones who are supposed to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, not liberals. But since being handed the job by his buddies on the City Council, Fast Eddy has tried to sell the Chandler ballfields to Worcester State University, and a few acres of Newton Hill to the Worcester Tennis Club. His latest anti-environment scheme is to take some preserved land at Green Hill Park and turn it into a for-profit driving range that will sit adjacent to the golf course.
Why does Ed Augustus hate trees so much? Why does he keep getting a free pass form so called liberal people?
When considering that two of the three above projects were defeated because the public had found out and had time to rally against them, the fact that the Manager built out a studio in the basement of City Hall with little public discussion is a concern. The monies used could have expanded the City’s public access channel. Further, City officials could easily have access to the studios at the public access channel as it is one block away from City Hall. Finally, a full studio in the basement of City Hall for the purposes of pushing out the administration’s agenda and countering grass roots opposition is Un-American.
Telegram & Gazette, May 27, 2015, “WCCA director questions plan for TV studio at Worcester City Hall”
WORCESTER - A plan by the city to build an 1,100-square-foot studio in the basement of City Hall for its Cable Services Division is receiving flak from the head of the local public access cable channel.
Mauro DePasquale, executive director of WCCA TV, Tuesday night raised questions about the need for a new studio for the city government channel, especially when he believes it already has sufficient facilities to do its job of broadcasting and videotaping public meetings held at City Hall.
He told the City Council there needs to be a public discussion about the nearly $778,000 project before it proceeds further because he does not believe a need has been demonstrated for the expenditures of public access money on such a facility.
Mr. DePasquale said the news of the city's plans to build the studio caught public access advocates by surprise, pointing out that City Hall already has two large meeting rooms equipped with cameras and lighting, and that the city government channel also has field cameras and an edit suite.
Mosaic Part I
July 21, 2015 – The Agenda item read as follows:
Item 12(g) - Request an audit of the grants and other monies received by the Mosaic Cultural Complex and all documentation relative to the services the Mosaic Cultural Complex provides, to include, but not limited to documentation of the services that are supposed to be provided pursuant to the grant from the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund for the past five years. Said audit to include a review of the Mosaic Cultural Complex’s legal status as a non-profit or otherwise. And said documentation to include the lease information for the city property being occupied by the Mosaic Cultural Complex.
July 21, 2015 Statements concerning the Agenda item and predictions as to the outcome of the item:
174.47: Gaffney – “Best interests of the City and Mosaic to simply clear up this issue. I will leave the determination with regards to any issues . . . to the auditor. I think it fosters transparency in our government.”
180.21 – City Manager says he sat down with his administration, says “quite frankly I’m satisfied from a City prospective that they city has done everything that this council would expect us to do in order to preserve the integrity of any public dollars that we are responsible for . . . when there are paperwork requests or status reports to be made, as I have looked at this with the City team, we did that, the City did ask for that, when it wasn’t in place, they asked for it . . . all of that being said, my suggestion to the council would be if that there are any questions about the City’s responsibility they should just relate it to the wellness trust fund grant. That we take a look at any and all of it . . . the whole trust fund grant. . . I am confident that the City has done all the things that we would expect our City government to do to make sure the integrity of this process was in place . . . .”
The audit found that the City did not comply with timely reporting, that the City did not execute the necessary contracts as per Worcester Magazine “One of them focused on subcontracts with the organizations that were not executed before work started. Agreements with the organizations were executed during the implementation phase of the grant. Their work started Oct. 1, 2014. Ten of the contracts were executed between February and May this year.”
As Worcester Magazine reported “the agency, which under terms of the grant was required to provide six courses, did not in fact meet that requirement. Mosaic was expected, in its first year under the grant, to offer six courses. As of June, however there were ‘very few referrals’ for the program, although the pilot program was implemented that month. The agreement required the courses to be completed by Aug. 31, the end of the contract period. The course generally requires 10 participants, and there is a lack of signups, according to the audit. State agents, the audit said, indicated there is ‘great difficulty’ in attracting the appropriate number of referred patients for both the senior falls and hypertension programs.”
[Attachment #7, Worcester Magazine, October 23, 2105]
192.12 – Rushton “Asks the Manager, any monies distributed when dissolved? Manager says does it as a matter of course, quick review is that this organization was in that status, the City did not cut any checks, they were notified, they got into the appropriate status, they proceed forward.”
He was pleased that the City was double checking, doing our due diligence, our oversight, holding folks accountable again, not expending any public dollars until the entity was in the proper compliance.
Rushton to Manager: “Bills that were paid by the city were checked to see that the services were provided, right?”
Manager to Rushton: The normal oversight, quite frankly, lots of back and forth, protections in place for our public dollars. Quite frankly, the State was saying get this money out quicker, but the city had additional safe guards in place, but Worcester having learned some important lessons, had put in place some protections and additional oversights.
(Manager - Admits that property was not properly leased and that the City wasn’t tracking use of its property, the lease expired 20 years ago but not part of the grant issue.)
Rushton: “common place to use as a conduit to have the independent contractor provide the services. . . “
The problem is the grant forbids subcontracting. As per Worcester Magazine “In addition, Mosaic failed to notify the city its staff was employed by a separate organization acting as its fiscal agent: Covenant United Methodist Church. Under the contract to provide work through the grant, Mosaic was required to obtain approval from the city before assigning any work. Outsourcing payroll with the church, Stearns said, would fall under that category.”
[Attachment #7, Worcester Magazine, October 23, 2105]
Rushton: “I will support the City Manager tonight on his request to do it as an umbrella, but not because there is any substance here. The damage has been done, by raising the specter and making it seem like some impropriety has occurred so therefore to answer those questions where they should not actually be answered we’ll serve this community with this audit that the manager already told us he feels confident about, but that will not leave, that will not leave, this council without the moral compass to in its future to reject when people are going on fishing expeditions with no evidence.”
The audit found that Mosaic didn’t even pay its employees.
Per Worcester Magazine “According to the audit, the grant contract requires participating partners to pay its staff and submit related payroll registers to the city with reimbursement claims. State law, meanwhile, requires employers to pay employees six days after the end of the payroll period, usually weekly or biweekly. Mosaic, the audit found, had payroll expenses from Oct. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2014, but did not submit a claim for reimbursement until May 12 this year. The claim was made without payroll registers. According to the audit, employees who worked during the October-December period last year were not paid until Sept. 23 this year.
[Attachment #7, Worcester Magazine, October 23, 2105]
228.13 Petty: I don’t think there is an issue, the Manager doesn’t think there is an issue, so let’s just come back and confirm that.”
Mosaic Part II
December 10, 2015, Worcester Magazine “Mosaic Inquiry spurs larger audit debate” Manager Augustus states:
‘The goal is to make sure the people who did the work for Mosaic get reimbursed,’ Augustus said. ‘There’s no question the people did the work. The question is because they can’t float the loan, what we’ve said is for short windows of time we would provide an alternative invoicing strategy.’
Mosaic Part III
February 4, 2016, Worcester Magazine “AG now involved, Council holds off on audit of beleaguered Mosaic” Manager Augustus:
Meanwhile, Augustus said the city had received all the documentation from Mosaic that it receives from any other grant recipient, and that while lying on the forms could put the signers in hot water, the city had done what it does in all other grant cases.
“They sign those under pains and penalties of perjury,” Augustus said. “We do not, and I don’t think it’s realistic, go out and say where’s everyone at noontime today … there were no steps missed. If somebody was trying to take advantage of the system, we did what I think you would expect of us.”
“I didn’t want to hold it here and be accused of somehow, we’re managing the grant and then we’re reviewing it,” Augustus continued. “It seemed the safest thing to do and the most transparent thing to do was to send it to the Attorney General, and she can find out what’s fact or fiction.”
Manager Augustus stated on July 21, 2015 “quite frankly I’m satisfied from a City prospective that they City has done everything that this Council would expect us to do in order to preserve the integrity of any public dollars that we are responsible for … I am confident that the City has done all the things that we would expect our City government to do to make sure the integrity of this process was in place . . . .”
When the audit showed that his initial assessment to Council was completely wrong, as there was a failure to comply with the terms of the contract, unpaid employees, and work that was not done, Manager Augustus claimed “no fraud found.” And continued to issue payments. He further claimed on December 10, 2015 that “there’s no question the people did the work.”
By February 4, 2016, after it had been shown that the timesheets were improperly presented, Manager Augustus backtracked his statements to “If somebody was trying to take advantage of the system, we did what I think you would expect of us.” He then referred the matter to the Attorney General’s office as he was incapable of handling further review.
Had Council relied on the assessment of Manager Augustus, money would still be handed out for work that was never done.
List of Accomplishments in Self-Assessment
Manager Augustus’s list of Accomplishments in his self-evaluation:
“We completed the rebuilding of the famed Walking Bridge at Elm Park.” This project was begun under the tenure of City Manager Michael O’Brien with funds raised by the Worcester Rotary Club as said in Worcester Magazine’s Oct 21, 2013 article ‘Bye Bye Bridge.’
“Later this summer, we will open a new 911 Communications Center that will help regionalize emergency communications and improve our response in the event of a disaster.”
The project was begun in 2010 with a grant from the State.
Per Michael Kane at MassLive.com, “Worcester, Leicester break ground on dispatch center.”
When proposed, Worcester was in negotiations with several communities to regionalize dispatch centers, with as many as 20 saying they showed interest. By 2013, however, only Leicester and West Boylston were still in serious talks, and Boylston was still showing interest. Boylston eventually decided to stay with its own dispatchers. In late 2013, West Boylston announced its intention to enter negotiations with the town of Holden for shared dispatch.
On June 2, 2016 Manager Augustus attended a ribbon cutting for the Hanover Theater’s expansion into 551 Main Street which is supposed to contain a restaurant. However, the restaurant never came as outlined by the Worcester Sun on April 27, 2016, “Sonoma restaurant in, now out, as part of Hanover expansion”:
Plans for the first-floor restaurant at 551 Main St. are now in limbo, according to Troy Siebels, president and CEO of Hanover Theater for the Performing Arts, after Sonoma Restaurant of Princeton decided to walk away from the project because it was too expensive of an endeavor. . . One of those buildings, which includes The Muse could be targeted for taking by eminent domain if the city and landlord can’t come to an agreement on improvements.
Manager Augustus holds a block party for a non-existent restaurant that chose not to open because it was too expensive but at the party, says another landowner should improve his property or the city will take it over.
Manager Augustus cites numerous other projects started before his tenure (such as City Square begun in 2010) or to which he had little input, yet fails to mention that the last of the City’s retail business has left to neighboring towns to include the foreclosure of the Greendale Mall. Prior to foreclosure the property was purchased at a value far lower than what one would expect for a building of its size and its future remains unknown.
Manager Augustus cites the UMass Healthcare building at 100 Front Street claiming to bring 700 jobs (although every other report reads 500 jobs). At first blush it seems like a win for the City, but it is simply moving employees from one building to another (like Unum) and worse, the new building is self-contained (like St. Vincent). This is a wonderful project, but it will leave vacancies in other downtown buildings and bring little density to the downtown area as employees will have no reason to leave the building except to commute home.
Manager Augustus often blurs the line by actively campaigning during the City Council elections. Manager Augustus met with at least one candidate for City Council relative to giving his support and on the behalf of political establishment. (Said Candidate had also met with Tim Murray of the Worcester Chamber of Commerce.)
The newspapers, City websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc., are all replete with Manager Augustus’s attendance at every ribbon cutting, book reading, and announcement of even trivial matters. Meanwhile, City Council requests for information from the Manager's office with a $1,000,000 payroll continue to pile up, unanswered or ignored.
Department of Justice
Over the summer of 2015, Manager Augustus brought in the Department of Justice to discuss the alleged race issues in Worcester. Worcester does not have a race issue. Bringing the DOJ in was an insult to the good people of Worcester. Months after the hearings, a document was produced. Claims were made that minority employment would increase in Worcester as is the mantra of the social justice movement. However, when pressed if preferences would be made in hiring, should the Irish “need not apply”, Manager Augustus assured the public that the best qualified candidates would be employed. It is unclear what the hiring policy of the City of Worcester is or to what effect an entire summer of DOJ meetings meant. It seems that after dividing the City on the topic of race, in the end, it was merely political posturing.
12/29/15- Turtleboy- “Firetruck Goes Down Street Sideways Because Worcester City Manager Decided Not To Plow The Roads Today”
“Despite having a week’s notice of intended snow, Manager Augustus failed in his basic duty to keep the roads clear.” The article contains photographs showing how poorly the roads were in the city of Worcester. Worse, was a photograph of the damage to a Worcester Fire Department vehicle. Along with the photo, Jason Cross wrote, “This is what happens when a ladder truck goes half way down first street sideways!! (Thank u lawn for stopping us b4 we rolled over). . . And in Worcester, it has a tendency to snow. But since Ed Augustus has been a professional politician his entire career, and has no background in business administration, he has absolutely no clue how to run a small city, never mind the second largest city in New England.”
12/30/15- Worcester Magazine - “City Manager Apologizes for Snow on Worcester Roads”
After a winter storm that dumped a bit of snow and ice on Worcester streets Tuesday, residents across the city voiced their displeasure with how the city plowed the streets- inadequate, many people said angrily. Today, City Manager Ed Augustus Jr. agreed with some of the criticism, ordering every street in the city to be salted and sanded and vowing to improve the system for future storms. ‘In short, we needed to do better,’ a letter released today begins. ‘And we will.’
12/30/15- CBS Boston
The poor condition of the City’s roads became an embarrassment when it was reported on by the Boston media.
12/31/15- Worcester Telegram & Gazette - “Councilor Russell on snow response: ‘We’ve come to expect a lot more’”
“The bigger disappointment to me was once they decided to get out there and plow, the plowing was very selective and the quality was poor,” Mr. Economou said. “I would hope that we would have monitors out there, and if that’s the case, then somebody isn’t doing their job out in the field, the plow operates aren’t doing their job. We have to hold these people who work for us to the highest standards. We have to, and I’m afraid to say that from what I saw out there yesterday, unfortunately that’s not the case at the moment.”
12/31/15- Turtleboy- “City Manager and DPW Commissioner Got a Bicyclist Killed and City Councilors Are Making Excuses for Them”
In Dianne’s column today, he [Moosey] literally admits that the most valuable lesson Ed Augustus taught him in the last 24 hours is… ‘In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Moosey indicated h had been schooled in the fine art of owning a screw up’... ‘I just don’t have his political skills.’ Exactly. Couldn’t have said it any better myself. Ed Augustus is a politician, not a city manager. Managers run cities effectively. Politicians figure out ways to word press releases in order to make disasters not seem so bad.
12/31/15- Worcester Magazine - “UPDATE: Cyclist killed on Belmont Street raises concerns about street’s safety”
In response to the criticism of the safety on Worcester streets due to poor plowing, Manager Augustus stated “‘we made a [judgement] call that unfortunately turned out to be the wrong one,’ Augustus said in the letter. ‘As a result, many of the City’s streets were not in the condition our taxpayers have the right to expect.’”
1/13/16- Turtleboy- “There were 60 car accidents in 5 hours because Ed Augustus Forgot to Sand the Roads Again”
After the apology for the failure to properly sand and plow the roads in December, it took two weeks for another snow plowing debacle/ incident.
1/20-21/16- Worcester Telegram & Gazette - Snow Reimbursement
The DPW under Manager Augustus tweeted out there was a snow ban at 1am retroactive to 11:30pm resulting in 347 cars being towed and 750 tickets being issued. Costing the city $44,000.
4/4/16- Turtleboy- “Worcester roads were ice skating rinks”
Article contains photographs comparing Worcester roads to roads in other towns that were properly cleared.
Apparently Ed Augustus and DPW Chief Paul Moosey decided that they’d do NOTHING to make sure drivers in Worcester are safe. I know it’s snowing, and I know it’s a big hill, but if you can’t drive 5 mph in Worcester when we get light dusting, than why the hell are we paying property taxes? Why does Paul Moosey collect a salary? How incompetent can you possibly be?
4/5/16- Turtleboy- “Fire trucks can’t get to calls and no roads were plowed”
Article contains numerous photographs of yet another failure to plow. One showing a school bus crash. One report shows that “Worcester ladder two reports they are stuck on top of a hill due to road conditions. DPW advising they don’t have any trucks with plows on”.
In sum, Manager Augustus completely failed to keep the roads in the City safe and passable last winter. Instead of action, he has appointed a commission to study the poor performance of the DPW management. Manager’s manage, Politician’s set up commissions and complete studies. Manager Augustus is paid a significant sum to do his job. He was hired before other candidates because he was from New England and understood that it snows here. Worse, at the end of the year, there was nearly $1,000,000 in the snow budget that could have reduced the oppressive tax rates on businesses and resident, but a suggestion to do so was summarily rejected. Instead, Manager Augustus immediately spent it on equipment. His commission hadn’t even produced a report, but Manager Augustus determined to throw money at the problem.
June 22, 2016, WTAG, the Jordon Levy Show, Jordan inquires with Mayor Petty about the City Council reducing spending in next year’s budget. Mayor Petty retorts by listing off projects going on in the City. Jordan responds with the question, how does that help the residents and businesses? Are they going to see any tax relief? The answer was no.
June 26, 2016, WorcesterHerald reports on panhandlers on Mill, Chandler, and Park Ave on a simple drive through the City. Nine in all, on a Sunday morning. Two more were seen at the 290 on ramp off Lincoln. It is impossible to cross the City without spotting half a dozen panhandlers.
While the Assessor’s Office has predicted growth for 2016 to be at 5% and increased property assessments accordingly, according to Zillow the actual growth is 4.3%. In comparison to the Boston Market, growth in value has been flat. As to Market Health, Worcester is ranked 3.7 out of 10 with a less healthy outlook.
November 15, 2015, Telegram & Gazette, Nick Kotsopoulos “Politics & the City: Cost outpaces property values in Worcester”
One of the more oft-repeated refrains during the recent municipal election season was how "Worcester is moving in the right direction."
That may indeed be how some of the candidates truly felt, but numbers tell a much different story.
Those numbers lie in the annual tax classification report submitted to the City Council last week.
It is often said that the health of a community can be viewed through its property assessments. If that is indeed the case, the numbers in Worcester are really nothing to boast about.
For starters, property values once again stayed relatively flat during the past year, with the average valuation of most residential properties increasing ever so slightly while dropping for commercial and industrial properties.
Worcester’s total valuation of taxable property nudged up slightly this fiscal year to $11.24 billion, according to City Assessor William J. Ford.
That is a mere increase of 0.58 percent over the previous fiscal year. It is also the second consecutive year in which the city's total valuation went up by such a minuscule percentage.
At the same time, it is the second consecutive year in which most residential property values went up by less than 1 percent and the average valuation for industrial properties declined.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the average valuation for commercial properties dropped for the first time in a few years as well.
So, if one is to measure Worcester's overall health by looking at its property assessments, the conclusion would be that it is stagnant at best.
It is important to note, however, that the fiscal 2016 total valuation figure is based on property values as of Jan. 1, 2015. So, there is a chance things may have improved since then.
Nevertheless, the numbers should be of some concern at City Hall and to property owners.
Because it means that Worcester property owners will once again be paying more in taxes to fund the municipal government without seeing a corresponding increase in their property assessments.
In other words, the cost of city government is going up at a far greater pace than the value of their property.
An even bigger concern with the numbers has to be the $1.02 increase in Worcester's combined single tax rate for this fiscal year - it now stands at $24.46 per $1,000 valuation.
Worcester does not have a single tax rate – the City Council sets separate tax rates for residential and commercial-industrial properties. The residential tax rate has traditionally been considerably lower than the commercial-industrial tax rate, even though residential property accounts for 71 percent of Worcester's tax base.
But the tax classification rates are based off a community’s single effective tax rate.
Why is that important?
Because under state law (Chapter 59, section 21C), a community’s single tax rate cannot be higher than $25 per $1,000 of valuation.
With a single tax rate at $24.46, it means that the city is on a collision course to hit that limit. The fact that Worcester’s single tax rate has gone up by $1.74 in just the past two years alone could be a sign that collision could happen much sooner than later.
And that should be a concern for everyone who lives in Worcester.
Because unless things change it could seriously affect the city’s ability to provide services in the future.
Under Proposition 2½, the amount of money a community can raise in property taxes can never exceed 2.5 percent of the full cash value of all its taxable property. Also, the tax-levy limit can be increased by up to 2.5 percent over the prior year’s levy limit so long as it does not exceed 2.5 percent of a community’s total valuation, unless voters agree to override that cap.
If you take Worcester’s total valuation ($11.24 billion) and multiply it by .025, it would set the city’s maximum tax levy amount at $280.9 million. If the city raised that much in taxes, its single tax rate would be $25.
Worcester does not tax to the max, however; it plans on raising $274.86 million in taxes this year.
But what about the $10 million in excess tax-levy capacity that city councilors often like to boast about because the city does not tax to the max?
Well, that $10 million in untapped tax-levy capacity is now down to about $6 million even though the city never spent a penny of it.
Now that Worcester’s single tax rate is $24.46, it means the City Council could only raise an additional $6 million more in property taxes if it wanted to before hitting the $25 single tax rate limit. As for the other $4 million, it could not be used unless voters agreed to override that tax cap.
That is a game-changer for Worcester.
Interestingly, in his tax classification report Mr. Ford noted that Worcester’s tax levy limit for this year was $284.9 million – taking into account the allowable 2.5 percent increase ($6.79 million) over last year’s tax levy and new growth from construction ($6.17 million).
He also pointed out that if the city taxed to the maximum, its single tax rate would be $25.36 – but that is a rate that would not be allowed under state law unless there was an override.
So, what does this all mean?
It means that Worcester property values need to show some life and begin growing at a rate that outpaces that of city government spending, or government spending is going to have to be lowered.
Otherwise, the city appears destined to hit its tax-levy ceiling. And once that happens, it may not be able to fund all its programs and services to the same levels it does now.
Also, if Worcester’s levy limit exceeds its tax-levy ceiling, it could prevent the city from calculating new growth into the equation.
So, property owners in the future could find themselves paying more in taxes but end up receiving less in the way of services.
Perhaps the most troubling question in all of this, though, is why Worcester property values have remained so stagnant while they have been going up in many other communities, especially east of the city?
The lack of growth in real estate values versus the year over year increase in taxes caused the City’s “buffer”, its untapped levy capacity, to drop from $10 million to $6 million. Manager Augustus continues to tout projects downtown while taxpayers continue to pay more for stagnant real estate growth. Worse, the bond rating agencies have always noted the “buffer” as a reason for the City’s high bond rate. Either the City grows or it runs out of money to continue to pay for Manager Augustus’s continued tax increases. Fortunately, despite the efforts of Manager Augustus to continue to raise taxes, Council was able to reduce his increase and thus salvage some of the “buffer.”
July 21, 2015 Telegram & Gazette, “Universal free lunch on the table for Worcester schools”
There’s no question, at least according to the state’s latest determination, that Worcester is eligible for the USDA program. A table released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this spring shows 48 percent of Worcester students are eligible for subsidized meals, eclipsing the 40 percent threshold needed to participate.
The City being so poor that it qualifies for free lunch is not an economic development success.
There are a handful of development projects going on downtown that show progress; however, the overall impact of a few developments in a City of 180,000 isn’t a complete change in direction. The simple fact is that, after all the chatter about new projects and millions of dollars in investment, along with the continued economic theory that the only way for Worcester to succeed is by giving financial benefits to big business through tax-incentives that are paid for by our residents and small businesses, the millions in tax relief has failed to produce results or “trickle out.”
Merriam-Webster definition of “trickle-down economics - “a theory that financial benefits given to big business will in turn pass down to smaller businesses and consumers.”
The economic benefits of the tax breaks we hand out to big business are not trickling out to our small businesses, our empty store fronts on Main Street, or in improved services for our residents. And they are certainly not trickling down to our residential market as noted above.
Unfortunately, property values are stagnant while our taxes continue to rise.
Budget and Taxes:
Per AWARE (Accurate Worcester Assessment on Real Estate):
Did you know that Worcester Ranks 332 out of 351 Communities in lowest per capita income, yet Worcester’s FY2016 Residential and/or Commercial Tax Rate is amongst the fifteen highest of all 351 Massachusetts Communities?
The Chamber of Commerce has written “Worcester has one of the highest commercial/industrial tax rates in our region; this puts the City at a competitive disadvantage when negotiating with developers to consider building in Worcester.”
The AWARE Coalition, representing residential property owners has written “There are 60 communities in Central Massachusetts. For FY2015, 55 out of 60 communities all have a lower residential tax rate than Worcester.”
January 11, 2016 Masslive Worcester “Worcester City Councilor Michael Gaffney calling for no tax increases”
Gaffney said he believes that a city budget can be written that does not increase the tax levy by the full 2.5 percent allowed under Proposition 2 ½. That would allow the council to set a "fairer" tax rate in 2016.
Gaffney's statement also calls out the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, which he wrote should support his measure, but was "silent during the last budget debate, only to awaken at the tax rate classification," adding his expectations of the chamber's support is low.
"Hope springs eternal that he will abandon that political agenda in favor of what is best for the city, its residents and taxpayers," Gaffney wrote. "The truth is, we are taxing our residents and businesses out of the city with little offerings as to services. Real action must be taken to bring back our city."
February 21, 2016 Telegram & Gazette “As I See it” by Manager Augustus states:
As Dr. Martin Luther King said, a budget is a moral document. It is not only an accounting of how much paper the treasurer’s office will need to buy, or how many lifeguards we will hire for the summer swimming season. It is a statement of principles, a framing document that sets out the path for the future of our community.
The above statement by Manager Augustus shows several things. First, his concept of fiscal policy is that of moral value rather than of sound financial principals. Second, he openly campaigned against the notion of tax relief. Third, he fails to consider the effect of increased taxes on residents and business in his “moral compass.” Finally, he espouses a social justice warrior political agenda that he puts before sound financial policy for the residents and businesses in Worcester. Yet, I fail to see anything in his budget that supports said agenda. Once again it is more political rhetoric without action from a person whose job it is to be a manager of The City.
Fortunately, Manager Augustus lost his campaign to increase taxes on the working poor and seniors. However, professional managers should not be campaigning. And professional managers should be focused on sound financial policy and efficient governance, not tax and spend policies for the purpose of wealth redistribution.
Signed this 27th day of June 2016.
Michael T. Gaffney
Vice-Chair, Worcester City Council