In this issue, March 20-26

Leading off, we have Worcester firefighters answering the call — as usual — followed by Chris Sinacola channeling a talking statue. Hitch and our editorial tackle the latest developments in marijuana dispensaries coming to Worcester. Augustine and Giselle are back. And a pair of city councilors take a new shot at an old adversary. It’s a jam-packed March 20-26 Worcester Sun!

Up Next: Downtown underground garage nears debut in CitySquare

The new parking garage in downtown Worcester will be opening soon and will mark the completion of a significant portion of the city’s $570 million CitySquare project.

According to the quarterly Economic Development Initiatives Detail Report filed by the Executive Office of Economic Development to the City Council on Thursday, March 3, the 550-space CitySquare underground parking garage is nearly finished and a portion of the garage will be open to the public in early 2016, as soon as April according to sources.

The portion of the garage that will be open first is bounded by Eaton Place [the St. Vincent Hospital cancer center] and Front and Mercantile streets. This includes 340 of the 550 parking spots.

Worcester's downtown skyline, slightly askew

Wikimedia Commons

Worcester’s downtown skyline, slightly askew — you can almost see CitySquare from here!

Garage space underneath the planned $33.1 million, 168-room AC hotel in CitySquare will remain closed while the hotel is being constructed. Construction on the hotel is set to begin this spring, according to the report.

On Tuesday evening, March 8, Michael E. Traynor, chief development officer of the Executive Office of Economic Development, will present the report to the City Council along with development updates on Gateway Park, Union Station, the Blackstone Canal and the former Worcester County Courthouse, among others.

Sun Logo

Up Next: Dual concerns as school officials seek superintendent, budget answers

When the Worcester Public Schools Finance and Operations Standing Committee meets Monday night, it will be looking at preliminary budget numbers that show the city school system requires an additional $11 million in funding just to keep existing services available to students, teachers and parents.

The current numbers are based on Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed 2017 state budget.

The schools Human Resources Department and administration are requesting another $14.5 million that they believe is needed to fill positions and fulfill other services.

According to school budget documents for fiscal 2017, a $3.5 million revenue increase is expected. In total, that leaves a potential $22 million budget gap heading into next fiscal year.

Now it’s up to administration and School Committee members to find ways to close the gap.

Gary Rosen

Up Next: To save money, Rosen proposes city do its schools’ work

In an effort to cut costs, District 5 Councilor Gary Rosen is asking City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. to look into the possibility of city administration absorbing several financial and administrative responsibilities from Worcester Public Schools central office.

Rosen placed the item on the agenda for the Tuesday, Feb. 23, City Council meeting. The item “is an effort to consolidate and eliminate duplication of efforts — thereby saving taxpayer dollars,” Rosen wrote in an email to the Sun.

Worcester City Hall

Terageorge/Wikimedia Commons

Worcester City Hall

Rosen’s proposal comes on the heels of an unprecedented set of recommendations made by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce earlier this month which aim to control costs in the school budget for fiscal 2017 in light of recent estimates that enrollment trends will continue to point upward and expenses will inevitably climb.

Moe Bergman

Up Next: City petition would expand protection for landlords

Massachusetts landlords may be afforded additional protection against tenants who violate state weapons laws if an amendment originating from Worcester’s city government passes muster.

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. requested the city draft a home-rule petition that would allow landlords the right to terminate the lease of any occupant charged with crimes involving illegal weapons or explosive devices.

Moe Bergman

Courtesy city of Worcester


At the next City Council meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 9, Augustus will address the home-rule petition that expands the public-nuisance law.

The petition, originally proposed by Councilor at-large Morris A. Bergman, would allow not only landlords, but the district attorney and chief of police in any municipality, to bring court action against such a tenant.

Michael Gaffney

Up Next: City halts Mosaic’s work under Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund; Gaffney asks for another audit

City officials have told Mosaic Cultural Complex, a local organization receiving funds from the Massachusetts Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, to cease operations on work relating to the fund.

[Editor’s Note: Shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. released a statement that reads:
“Questions have been raised in regard to recent payments made as part of the state Prevention & Wellness Trust Fund. In order to get all the answers, I have asked the Attorney General’s Office to look into this information. In the meantime, I have put a hold on all reimbursements to Mosaic Cultural Complex and an update to their contract which ran until Dec. 31, 2015. I believe that asking an outside, independent agency to look into this matter is the best course to promote transparency and ensure public confidence in the expenditure of these state funds.”]

Mosaic is one of 11 organizations in Worcester that receives funding from The Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund. The city’s administration of the grant was the subject of an audit in the fall.

The city on Oct. 27 made public the results of the audit, which found no evidence of fraud on the part of Mosaic or the other partner organizations. The review did, however, among other findings, reveal deficiencies in internal controls and possible violations of state labor law by Mosaic.

At the Dec. 8 City Council meeting, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., said the city, as of Dec. 31, would require Mosaic to abide by the original terms of the contract and cease up-front payments if those terms were not met.

Up Next: Arts Council taps East Middle, Palladium projects for awards

The Worcester Arts Council has announced 56 local artists, organizations and institutions will receive nearly $113,000 in grant funding in 2016.

The recipients, to be announced at the Tuesday, Jan. 26, City Council meeting, include projects in poetry, film, music, dancing, multimedia, science, art and education.

This year, the council is allocating $24,000 more in funding to 16 more recipients than it did in 2015.

Sarah Valente, left, and Nicole Landry are Holy Cross seniors leading the Magafan Mural Project at Worcester East Middle School.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Sarah Valente, left, and Nicole Landry are Holy Cross seniors leading the Magafan Mural Project at Worcester East Middle School.

In a letter to City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. announcing the recipients, Chief Development Officer Michael E. Traynor said, “Worcester is fortunate to have such a wealth of creative talent within it, and these noteworthy projects illustrate the vibrant cultural community that can be found throughout Worcester.

“These projects and their success will play a vital and important role in enhancing the strength of our community through art and creative expression.”

Moe Bergman

Up Next: Bergman explores tax break, boost to property values

For Worcester residents with aging parents or grandparents, deciding between looking into senior assisted living homes or having mom or dad come live with you can be difficult.

Moe Bergman

Courtesy city of Worcester


Councilor at-large Morris A. Bergman will present a proposal at the Tuesday, Jan. 19, City Council meeting that may make that decision a little easier.

“The trend among family members these days is to oftentimes have an older parent or grandparent move in with you and when people do that, they oftentimes have to put on an addition or an extra bedroom or bathroom,” Bergman said

Bergman will request the city draft a home-rule petition legislating a tax break for Worcester residents who build an addition to their homes to accommodate elderly relatives that come to live with them. [Age eligibility would have to mirror existing city tax exclusions, between 65 and 75, Bergman said.]

Up Next: Augustus, Gemme have gun violence in their crosshairs

Up Next is intended to be a regular to occasional series highlighting stories and subjects we believe will be making news in the coming week.

It’s still very early in 2016, but Worcester’s city manager and police chief are already set out to tackle gang violence and keep positive momentum from the final months of 2015 building on the city’s streets.

As part of his agenda for the Tuesday, Jan. 12, City Council meeting, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. will address the issue of gun violence and the Police Department’s means to deter further gang activity in hopes to see a continued decline in such crime.

Last year, according to Worcester Police data, the city witnessed 31 acts of gun violence, five of which resulted in homicides.

The summer saw an unusually high amount of gun incidents: 18 of last year’s 31 shootings occurred during summer.