By SCOTT JACKSON
Mayor Thomas Koch will not sign a home rule petition that will be introduced by two ward councillors that would allow the city to use receipts from the hotel tax on street and sidewalk improvements.
Ward 3 Councillor Ian Cain and Ward 2 Councillor Brad Croall are set to introduce the home rule petition, which would add street and sidewalk improvements to the items on which hotel and motel tax receipts can be appropriated, when the City Council convenes Tuesday night. Mayoral spokesman Chris Walker on Friday told The Sun Koch would reject the home rule petition if the council passes it.
“The mayor will not sign anything that alters the original intent of the legislation,” Walker said.
The legislation, first approved in 2001, allows Quincy to use 85 percent of hotel and motel tax receipts – the tax charged to those staying in a hotel or motel in the city – on parks and other open space projects. The remaining 15 percent of that revenue stream goes to tourism.
Walker said the money was dedicated to parks and open space because the city had difficulty finding funds for those projects. He noted Koch served 12 years the park director – a position his father, Richard Koch Sr., also served in.
“The mayor remembers how hard it was to secure funding for park improvements before this legislation,” Walker said. “If you look at the improvements to the park system in the last 10 or 15 years, they would not have happened without this funding source.”
Walker said the mayor understands the sentiment behind the proposal by Cain and Croall, adding that Koch is committed to street and sidewalk repair.
“The sentiment in the proposal by the councillors is certainly a valid one,” he stated. “We are doing more work today (on roads) than we were at any time before, but there is a huge amount to be done and the mayor is committed to getting us there.”
As a home rule petition, the amendment by Cain and Croall would require approval from the City Council, the mayor, and the state Legislature. By not signing it, Koch would prevent the measure from moving on to Beacon Hill. The council would not be able to override the mayor’s decision not to sign it.
The two councillors, in phone interviews earlier Friday, said that street and sidewalk repairs are the most frequent concern they hear from constituents.
“The residential outcry I hear more frequently than not is that roads need investments,” Croall said. “Tuesday’s conversation is an opportunity to broaden the scope of the funding source, which by the way would not come out of the general fund and is not tied to the taxpayer.”
“This is just a nice way to leverage money that hasn’t come from property taxes for investments in infrastructure,” Cain said. “It’s something I hear about on a much more frequent basis than park spending.”
“What Brad and I are trying to do is present an alternative, present another option, to leverage money for the benefit of the city,” Cain added. “These are big-ticket items and you don’t just find that money everywhere.”
The home rule petition was introduced as the council considers passage of a $27 million park improvement bond that would be paid for using hotel tax receipts. Money than half of the request – $15.7 million – is for the construction of the Hancock-Adams Green in Quincy Center. Other projects in the spending measure include permitting and design of a series of boardwalks and trails at Merrymount Park as well as money for a new dog park on Quarry Street.
The council’s finance committee – which Croall chairs – met this week to review the proposal. Councillors were receptive to many items in the package, but several suggested it be broken up so they did not have to take an up or down vote on the entire $27 million plan.
Croall and Cain both said they support park funding, but believe streets and sidewalks and should be prioritized.
“If we’re taking into consideration utilizing a revenue source today that we’re going to be paying off over 15, 20 or 25 years, wouldn’t it be nice to potentially broaden its use?” Croall said, referring to the $27 million bond request.
“I’m a huge fan of parks, but if we’re trying to address needs without exacerbating taxpayers, we should definitely have this conversation.”
Cain said parks are important and several projects in the package – including Hancock-Adams Green and Merrymount Park – are good ones. But, as he did as this week’s meeting, Cain suggested the city should look into securing outside funding for the Merrymount Park project, such as through a conservancy.
“I think we need to think creatively to fund projects like that,” he said.