The Lynn City Council voted 10-1 in favor on Tuesday night for a Home Rule Petition that would allow the city to borrow up to $14 million from the Department of Revenue to close the city’s $8.1 million budget gap, raise some fees on residents and lift a restriction that requires voter approval before the city can borrow more than $4 million.
The one dissenting vote came from Ward 2 City Councilor Richard Starbard, who said he would not support the Home Rule Petition, due to the plan to implement a $90 annual trash fee on single-family owner-occupied homeowners. In June of last year the Council voted to enact the trash fee to help raise $2 million in revenue. At the time of that vote a single-family owner-occupied home was exempt from the fee.
However, some at Tuesday night’s meeting like Mayor Thomas McGee and former Fire Chief James McDonald argued that desperate times call for desperate measures and the borrowing of up to $14 million over the next two years, the increase in fees and removing restrictions were necessary in ensuring a viable fiscal future for Lynn.
“There is legislation needed first and foremost to start Lynn down the path of fiscal stability,” said Mayor McGee. “We are at a crossroads and the decisions we make now will have an impact on the future of the city.”
McGee said part of the borrowing plan would require Lynn to establish a rainy day fund that would only be used only to keep the budget balanced in the event revenues decline.
“This will help us to start living within our means,” he said. “I said from the beginning we would have to make some difficult decisions and thats where we are today but these decisions are necessary for our city and the well-being of Lynn.”
McDonald testified that the budget shortfalls were putting more and more strain on the department before he retired this year. Fiscal problems have led to staffing deficiencies that could lead to dangerous situations for fire personnel.
“In the five years I was chief we’ve done nothing but go backwards in terms of funding, manpower, equipment and the condition of the firehouses,” he said.
Others like CEO of the Greater Lynn Senior Services Paul Crowley were in support of the Home Rule Petition.
However others testified that they were sick and tired of being ‘nickel and dime’ while the city is unable to get its financial house in order.
Tom Dill, Vice Chair of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce, said borrowing up to $14 million made no sense and made an analogy that someone who doesn’t have enough money to pay bills usually doesn’t resort to taking out a loan that would only add one more bill the city can’t afford.
On lifting the restriction that requires voter approval for the city to borrow anything over $4 million Council President Darren Cyr said the city is the only municipality in the state with this type of restriction.
However, that didn’t stop some at Tuesday’s meeting from saying it stripped Lynn voters of their right to weigh in on the city’s fiscal planning.
The measure voted on Tuesday night also removed the residential requirement for the Lynn Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer positions. These two positions will be open before the end of the year and the Council is hoping to attract some outside talent that could help with some of the school and city’s fiscal planning.
The Home Rule petition will now go before the state legislature for a vote before it is enacted.