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Library loan stirs Council
J.J. Huggins, Sentinel & Enterprise, October 1, 2006

LEOMINSTER -- The weeks-long debate about whether the City Council should approve spending $1.3 million more on the library hit a boiling point Thursday night as some councilors became furious with the mayor.

"I got played," an enraged Ward 1 City Councilor David Rowlands said during the special meeting at City Hall.

"I will never be put in this corner again," he said, referring to how Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella told the council that if they don't approve an additional $1.3 million of taxpayer's money for the new library, construction of the building would stop.

The library is 80 percent done and is supposed to open in the spring, according to officials.

Rowlands ended up voting in favor of the spending, but he said he will "scrutinize every penny" and "be a stickler for" the free cash Mazzarella said he will put toward the $1.3 million, so the city doesn't have to actually borrow the entire $1.3 million.

Rowlands sat in his chair in the City Council Chambers shaking his head after finishing a diatribe about how enraged he was, and he muttered something under his breath.

The council approved the loan order by a 7 to 2 vote.

At Large Councilor Dennis Rosa and Ward 5 Councilor Richard Marchand cast the opposing votes.

The additional spending has sparked concern from residents around the city who are fearful of a tax increase.

Mazzarella said the additional $1.3 million will amount to, at most, a $14 increase in property-taxes for the average single-family homeowner.

The mayor told a joke about how a guy told him that only equals "two six packs" of beer.

Rowlands asked Mazzarella to consider taking $650,000 from the city's stabilization account, and use the money the city will make when it sells a house near Sky View Middle School, for the library.

That would drastically reduce the impact the spending will have on taxes, according to Rowlands.

But Mazzarella said he won't take money from the stabilization account because the city needs that to be prepared for a looming downturn in the real-estate market, which will leave some people unable to pay their taxes.

Having more money in the stabilization account gives the city a better bond rating with Moody's Investor Service, which means the city gets a cheaper interest rate when they borrow money, Mazzarella said.

That leaves the city in better financial standing overall, according to Mazzarella.

So using money from the stabilization account was not an option the mayor would consider.

The mayor also said he doesn't know how much money the city will make from selling the house near Sky View, which the city acquired in 1999 when they bought land to build the school.

Ward 5 City Councilor Richard Marchand said any increase in property taxes will hurt people who lived on a fixed income when they go to fill their gas tank or pick up prescription medicine.

"Don't raise their taxes, I don't care if it's one dollar," Marchand said.

Mazzarella, during an interview Friday, said he found that statement ridiculous coming from Marchand, who has been urging the mayor to buy the now closed Julie Country Day School for more space for the city's public schools.

The school and its land have an assessed value of more than $4 million.

"Isn't he the same guy running around saying he wants to buy Julie Country Day," Mazzarella said. "That's a lot more (of a tax increase) than 14 bucks."

City Council President Robert Salvatelli also went off on the mayor Thursday night.

Mazzarella tried to interject at one point while Salvatelli spoke, to which Salvatelli balked, "I'm going to finish."

Salvatelli said he's not a "taxpayers' cheerleader," but he said a tax increase will cause "some hurt."

"I'm talking about the elderly," he said.

In the end, Salvatelli voted in favor of approving the loan, saying it was a "conscionable decision" in the best financial interest of the city.

Rosa said officials could have come up with a "creative" way to raise the $1.3 million without affecting property taxes.

"If there's a will, there's a way," he said. "I represent a majority of taxpayers I believe are saying 'Fund this ... but do not raise my taxes.'"

Mazzarella, during Friday's interview, said the councilors offended him by "claiming they're fiscal conservatives here, and they're talking $14."

"The part I take offense to is that I'm not looking out for the taxpayer. We went seven years without raising taxes at all, not even a penny," Mazzarella said.

Mazzarella promised the additional spending will cost residents less than $14 because he will put money from the free cash account toward the $1.3 million, when that money becomes available.

When he does that, he wants the City Council to give him credit.

"I expect them to say, 'The guy made a promise, he kept his word,'" Mazzarella said. "Let's keep score here."

Mazzarella said he has no problem with the councilors questioning the process they went through.

But, "my job isn't to agree with them," he said.

"There's two branches of government in Leominster," he said. "There's a check and a balance. Sometimes the council thinks there's just one balance -- that they're there to check me."

The council has to vote on the loan order a second time for it to pass. They are scheduled to vote again on Oct. 10.




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