Starks takes seat on East Longmeadow City Council, financial affairs reviewed

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EAST LONGMEADOW – East Longmeadow City Council has appointed Sidney Starks to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Councilor Thomas O’Connor in January. Starks served on the Planning Committee during the creation of Center Square and currently serves on the City Council’s Subcommittee on Planning Affairs, where he helped draft the mixed-use village bylaws.

At the Feb. 8 meeting, Council President Michael Kane said Starks has no plans to run for the seat this spring. Starks was the only person to submit a formal expression of interest for the position. Kane said several people had made inquiries informally, but all had expressed an interest in running for tenure in the election.

financial matters

Finance Director Stephen Lonergan told City Council that investment and community ratings firm Standard & Poor’s had issued a positive report for the city. East Longmeadow’s rating remained at AA+, just below its highest rating of AAA.

“I cannot express how pleased I am with this report,” Lonergan said. He owes the city’s financial position to “a strong local economy, strong management, good fiscal policies, strong fiscal performance, liquidity and a strong debt and contingent liability profile”.

The only weaknesses identified in the report were the city’s pension and other post-employment benefit (OPEB) accounts. Hampden County’s regional pension system is approximately 53 percent funded. “Which isn’t bad, it’s just not where they want us to be,” Lonergan said.

The OPEB account pays for city retiree benefits such as B. the health insurance. It is 15 percent funded, with $56.8 million in outstanding debt. East Longmeadow is “aggressively funding” the OPEB account and Standard and Poor’s took this into account when publishing its report.”

Council Vice-President Ralph Page asked Lonergan if the OPEB were fully funded by municipalities. Lonergan didn’t know of any, saying overall, “We’re better than most in the state.”

As part of the aggressive funding, the council approved an additional $1 million to be added to OPEB from available cash. Kane noted that after being made available for emergencies, there was still $4.6 million in spare cash.

solar law

An update of a zoning statute for residential ground-mounted photovoltaic systems. The planning committee’s vice-chairman, George Kingston, said a company had approached the planning committee about a residential solar installation and was turned down. After the Massachusetts Land Court ruled in favor of the developer, the city had to update the bylaws to reflect and regulate this use.

The language in the charter is based on the “best practices” of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), a public advisory and advisory agency that works with member cities on community development projects.

During the first reading of the statute before the council, Page suggested that the statute was not yet ready for adoption. He identified linguistic inconsistencies and other details that needed to be corrected. Richards agreed, pointing to an example in Section 7.5.9 where the statute requires a registered professional engineer but later provides the option for a surveyor to do the work, which is a contradiction.

The issue continued through April 12, meanwhile referred to the Subcommittee on Planning Matters.

other topics

Outgoing City Manager Mary McNally reported that East Longmeadow will receive a $100,000 grant from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. McNally commended the work of Deputy City Manager Karen Korpinen to receive the grant, which “allows us to hire a consultant to develop a business resource portal,” McNally explained.

The intersection at North Main Street and Mapleshade and Westwood Avenues will be upgraded with $2.2 million in government funding. McNally said she has reached out to lawmakers but doesn’t yet know when the money will come in.

The city is feeling the effects of international supply chain issues. McNally said vehicles for various departments are on backlog and are not expected to be delivered for at least 12 to 14 months after ordering.

A COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Birchland Park Middle School has been successful. More than 50 people attended the clinic, with “a number of unexpected walk-ins,” she said. A second clinic will take place at the school on February 28th. The city’s COVID-19 positivity rate was still above 16 percent as of Feb. 8, but it was falling.

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