City Council Agenda Highlights (10/1/18)

The City Council will meet on Monday. Oct. 1, 2018, at 5:30pm. The meeting will open as usual with public comment. At 6:30pm the city manager and budget and finance staff will present the only item on city’s agenda: an explanation of the FY19 property tax levy. See CMA #1 below. The requested Council action is for us to vote to send the tax classification to the Mass Dept. of Revenue for approval. The full agenda is here.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 FY19 Property Tax Levy: The 2019 fiscal year began on July 1, and in May we approved a budget based on a projected tax levy that has since been revised down by $2.75M. Here are a few figures pulled from the manager’s very detailed analysis of how the tax levy is set:

  • The final tax levy ($409.8M) reflects a 5.3% increase, which is higher than the 5-year average.
  • The additional property value generated by new construction and renovations gives the City the ability to increase its tax levy beyond the 2.5% allowed under Proposition 2.5.
  • The total value of all taxable property (including personal property) increased by $5.4B, an increase of 12.28% over FY18.
  • New commercial growth added almost half of increase in the tax base.
  • Property taxes represent about 65% of the city’s revenues.
  • The tax rates for both residential ($5.94 per $1,000) and commercial ($13.71) property owners will decrease slightly.
  • Despite continued increases in assessed values, the majority (69.8%) of residential taxpayers will see no increase or an increase of less than $100 on their bills.
  • The relative stability in residential taxes, even in a rising market, could change, however, if in the future the growth in residential value exceeds commercial growth. This is why when we talk about significantly increasing housing density we must recognize that it must be accompanied by new commercial growth — otherwise the tax classification could hit the levy ceiling, and the residential taxpayers would have to take on a larger share of the burden.
  • Total property tax payments are 65.4% commercial and 34.6% residential.
  • The assessed values are based on sales recorded in calendar year 2017 with refinements from over 4,000 inspections to produce an accurate model.
  • The Community Preservation Act adds 3% to the tax bills (amounting to, on a median basis, from $29 for a condo to $166 for a 3-family).
  • The 30% residential exemption (claimed by about 14,280 homeowners) reduces a property’s assessed value by $375,800, saving the resident-owner $2,232.
  • Free Cash will be appropriated to reduce the tax levy by $9M and to add $3.5M to the debt stabilization fund. The net Free Cash balance will be $213.8M. In this fiscal year additional Free Cash allocations will go to some high-priority capital projects listed on page 13 in the memo.

Policy Orders

#1 Food Allergens in Public Parks: I sponsored this order after hearing from the mother of a toddler with severe food allergies. She asked that we help raise awareness that leaving food remnants in playgrounds and parks can be dangerous for people with allergies. For example if someone eats peanut butter crackers at a playground and drops some of them, a small child with allergies could be tempted to eat them. The objective is not to ban such foods in parks — parents and caregivers will still need to be vigilant — but to make other park-users more aware that properly disposing of their food is very important to everyone’s safety.

#2 Four-Way Stop Sign Request at Hurley and Spring St, which is near the Kennedy Longfellow School and a tot lot.

#3 Public Financing: Last spring Councillor Toomey made a proposal for making public financing available to low-income candidates for municipal office and for an opt-in program limiting campaign spending by all candidates to amounts that are far lower than what successful candidates typically spend. It was referred to the Government Operations Committee, which I chair. He is now asking that a committee hearing be scheduled immediately and a plan for implementation be drafted by 11/19. His proposal is one of many possible strategies to help address concerns over how campaigns are financed, but it may not be workable or the best approach.

#4 3-D Crosswalk Painting: Councillor Toomey is requesting a 3-D optical illusion crosswalk used in Iceland be painted somewhere in East Cambridge. The image was widely shared on social media last year, but in the U.S. such non-standard markings are consider potentially more dangerous than the traditional white zebra stripes.

#5 Outreach at Food Pantries: This order suggests that the City place informational brochures about social services and housing programs at food pantries. Seems like something we should have thought of long ago.

#6 Racial Profiling at Local Businesses: This order asks the city manager to look into an alleged instance of racial profiling at a CVS and that a committee hearing be held to discuss what the City can do to address complaints of racial profiling at local stores and businesses.

#7 Draft Envision Recommendations Next Steps: Councillor Carlone sponsored an order, which I co-sponsored, to ask that the recommendations of the various Envision Working groups be referred to the City Council and the relevant committees for our review and discussion. Councillor Carlone has annotated the draft Envision recommendations with his own comments (#2 in the section called “Communications from City Officers”).

#8 LEED Platinum School: I am pleased to co-sponsor this order from Councillor Zondervan to plan an event celebrating the MLK-Putnam Ave Upper School for achieving a LEED Platinum rating.

#9 National Domestic Violence Awareness Month: The four female councillors are co-sponsoring this order recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month and scheduling a vigil at City Hall on 10/3 at 6pm. A number of other events are planned (see press release). The order also supports reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which expires at the end of Sept. First enacted in 1994, the federal law funds programs to aid victims of sexual violence. Read more.

Committee Reports

There are reports from two Transportation Committee hearings I chaired in September. Report #1 is on a potential pilot of shared electric scooters (on hold, pending changes to state regulations) and #2 is on reducing the speed limit to 20MPH on most residential streets (unanimously supported; the staff were asked to come back with recommendations for implementation).

Communications from Other City Officers

#1 Update on the 9/25 School Committee meeting

#2 Councillor Carlone’s comments on the draft Envision recommendations

Public Comment and Viewing Meetings

Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for up to 3 minutes on any agenda item except for communications from other members of the public. There is an online system for signing up for public comment that goes live on the Friday morning before each Monday meeting. Here is the link. You also may call 617-349-4280 on the Monday of the meeting from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign up when you arrive at City Hall by going to the City Council office after 5:00pm and using the public computer terminal on the desk by the door. Regardless of how you sign up you should do so before 6:00 pm on Monday. To submit written comments, please email and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at If received after Thursday at 3pm, your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next subsequent Council meeting.

City Council meetings are televised on Channel 22-CityView and live-streamed on the City’s Open Meeting Portal and on the City’s YouTube site. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the Open Meeting Portal.

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Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA