By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Michael Fenton, the new City Council president, intends to involve residents in two new committees designed to discuss solutions for two significant problems facing the city.
Fenton, who was administered the oath of council president on Jan. 6, explained to Reminder Publications
that he will form a committee to explore how to attract and retain young professionals to the city and another which will be charged in looking at how to raise revenues for the city.
Fenton explained the city can’t raise property taxes as they are at their legal limit, but could raise the trash fee, a move he dismissed.
Instead he is looking for the committee to talk about “new and alternative resources of revenue.”
He said his plan to introduce several ideas for consideration and then see what the committee develops. He would like the group to explore how the large non-profit organizations in the city – such as hospitals and colleges – could work with the city in making payments in lieu of taxes.
Another possibility would be to sell advertising space on city school buses and creating radio programming heard only on school buses on which advertising could be sold, he said.
Fenton is worried about the migration from the city by young professionals.
“I’ve seen friends move away,” he said.
For that committee he would like the topic of the homebuyers programs various city employers offer examined. Looking at the programs, he said, “I have found in my own experience a hodgepodge of tangled red tape.”
He hopes the committee will “untangle” the details of the programs in the hopes of making them easier to utilize.
His three main priorities for the council are public safety, economic development and transportation. Fenton said the council would look at legislation involving police and fire commission as well as updated rule for pawnbrokers this month.
On economic development, Fenton said that with the possibility of the MGM casino becoming a reality, he wants the council to undertake “a very thorough and vigorous discussion on problems and opportunities.”
He added that he wants the council to continue to investigate how the city could use tax breaks to create jobs and retain businesses.
The biggest transportation issue looming is the re-design of Interstate 91 as it flows through the downtown. Fenton said there is support within the Patrick Administration for taking the raised portion of the highway and placing it underground.
Fenton would like the council to play the role of ensuring the opinions of the residents on this issue is heard.