By SCOTT JACKSON
Mayor Thomas Koch’s request to create a new downtown division with three employees to oversee city assets in Quincy Center was tabled at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.
Ward 4 Councillor Brian Palmucci put the budget on hold, saying he could not support creating a department whose employees would be assigned to one neighborhood. He asked the administration to return to the council on June 17 with a plan to place those three employees somewhere in the general fund budget.
Koch proposed the plan to create the downtown division in May when he submitted his annual budget requests to the City Council. The downtown division would be funded separate from the general fund using new tax revenue created within Quincy Center through the district improvement financing (DIF) program.
The mayor proposed a $7.27 million budget for the downtown division, including $4.67 million toward debt service line items, $250,000 to a reserve account for the downtown, and $1.91 million that would be transferred back to the general fund to reduce the taxes that would be collected elsewhere in the city. The three positions included in the budget are a downtown coordinator at a $101,000 salary, a junior mechanical engineer with a $92,000 salary, and a handyman with a $68,000 salary.
Palmucci asked that the downtown division budget be placed on hold during a meeting of the council’s finance committee on Wednesday. Ward 3 Councillor Ian Cain, the chairman of the finance committee, granted Palmucci’s request to table the matter until June 17, the final council meeting of the spring.
Palmucci said he was opposed to creating a department whose employees would only work in one area of the city.
“I’m not suggesting these positions aren’t necessary – I think the administration can make a case for why they are necessary. But whether or not they are necessary and whether or not they are supported by this body, it shouldn’t be done in a downtown department,” Palmucci said.
“I don’t support creating a department that services only one neighborhood of our very diverse city. For that reason, I am asking that this particular budget be held and that the administration go back to the drawing board and re-sprinkle these three positions into the agencies that are most appropriate for them and they service the downtown and residents.”
Chris Walker, Koch’s chief of staff, said other councillors had raised concerns about the department prior to the finance committee meeting. The administration, he said, was willing to take a second look at how the three positions are handled.
“We’re open to that – to having a further discussion. As I stand here right now, I can’t say definitely what shape or form it may take. We need a little bit of work on that, but I think we can certainly be open to a great degree to addressing Councillor Palmucci’s concerns and some of the other concerns already raised by the councillors,” Walker said.
“Clearly, we haven’t made enough of a case here for this and we’re open to the opportunity, if granted, to…go back and take a second look at it.”
Koch, in a June 3 letter to city councillors, said creating a new downtown division was done to ensure residents the city’s efforts in Quincy Center were self-sustaining.
“Segregating downtown operational costs into its own division creates a transparent mechanism of keeping to our shared goal of ensuring that the downtown pays for itself,” Koch said. “Rather than spreading positions and associated spending requests among multiple departments, this format will show all downtown-related spending in one place, including the debt service for previous and future financing packages.”
“Additionally, by housing these employees in a separate division, it helps maintain their focus on their specific duties,” Koch said later in the letter. “The practical reality is that employees of larger departments are often tasked to jobs outside of their normal responsibilities depending on day-to-day situations.”
The three new positions, Koch added, are essential.
“Regardless of how we account for downtown expenses, I strongly believe the funding and positions included as part of this year’s budget proposal meet essential operation needs,” the mayor said.
“In the coming fiscal year alone, we will take full control of the Hancock-Adams Common from the project’s contractors; we will open a new 700-space garage in the former Hancock Lot; and we will also be responsible for an expansive new civic space in the same area of the garage. There is without question a need for coordination and a robust operational management plan to tend to these assets.”
The downtown coordinator would be tasked with the day-to-day operations of all public assets in Quincy Center, including supervising operation and maintenance staff and contractors, according to a job description for the position provided to councillors. A bachelor’s degree in business, facilities or project management or a related field would be required for the job, plus at least 10 years of management experience.
The junior mechanical engineer would be charged with responsibility for operating and maintaining technical and mechanical components in all of the public assets in the downtown, including the garage, civic space and Hancock-Adams Common. Five years of experience in building and systems engineering would be required for the position.
The handyman would be responsible for the upkeep, repair and maintenance of those assets. Ten years of experience in general construction – including at least five years of experience in carpentry or another trade – is a prerequisite for the job.