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Boston College spends thirty nine million dollars on healthcare insurance for its 3100 employees. With a tad fewer than 3000 employees, the City of Cambridge pays more than seventy million.
Cambridge Election Commissioners are paid TEN TIMES as much as their Somerville counterparts.
The Cambridge Historical Commission, with five full time employees, has an annual payroll of $614,000. That’s not how they do it in Edgartown.
Staggering outlays like the above are the reason I chose to run for City Council. Nearly every page and line item of our budget features spending that no other municipality can match. As city revenue from all sources has skyrocketed, so too has our reckless spending. We pay more for absolutely everything, fund questionable programs other cities can’t even consider, and even borrow money to boot.
I’m Gary Mello, candidate for Cambridge City Council. Cambridge is my birthplace as well as lifelong residence. After graduation from the Webster School and Cambridge Latin I obtained Bachelor and Master of Engineering degrees. I have two kids in Cambridge Schools, work part time at a local pharmacy, and am a small landlord. I’ve kept a very close watch on Cambridge government for several years. We should be getting much more for our money and I can promise that your #1 vote will bring just that.
MY CAMPAIGN PRIORITIES:
HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT:
Cambridge has attempted to ease the affordable housing crisis through two primary vehicles- the Community Preservation Act surtax and Inclusionary Zoning for new development. The success of both programs is limited. A spineless City Council, terrified of voter reaction to spending tax dollars for affordable housing, uses the CPA surtax as the principal source of funding the city’s Affordable Housing Trust. I propose to drop the CPA altogether and instead properly install a regular budget line item for affordable housing at 3% of baseline. This would nearly double the Trust’s annual receipt from the city.
There is no need to increase taxes by a nickel if we stop spending so foolishly! The Inclusionary Zoning Program, whereby a builder must provide a portion of new construction for “affordable” housing has become an OUTRIGHT FAILURE in providing middle class housing! With newly built “inclusionaries” renting at $2400 for a two bedroom apartment , developers have taken the City Council and residents for an expensive ride while the seven-to-one ratio of full market price versus affordable makes everybody unhappy. Affordable Housing is not a slogan, it’s a number. Candidates who promise to provide more truly affordable housing through the Inclusionary program do not deserve your consideration. This program needs a total overhaul if it is to succeed at all. Most importantly, the assignment of Inclusionaries has to be properly handled by the Cambridge Housing Authority instead of Community Development to give unconnected folks a fair shot at new luxury housing.
The question everyone asks: Do developer contributions to Cambridge officials influence their decisions on new development? I’ll let you decide: The largest contributor to 2013 City Council candidates was MIT/ Forest City Enterprises. Indeed, Forest City was the biggest dollar donor for some individual candidates. The company was seeking approvals for the now nearly complete 300 Massachusetts Avenue building. To date, I see no 2015 contributions from Forest City to anybody after the company got everything it wanted. I rest my case.
HOW DO WE BEAT THE BUDGET MONSTER?
Boards and Commissions in Cambridge gain even more funding annually even though their very existence is hard to justify. Three years ago the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, whose charter is to rescue us from urban blight, demonstrated that it had no actual function and was unable to have regular meetings because members had left no forwarding addresses. Despite its uselessness, the chairman received a $200,000 salary, diverted agency funds to personal compensation, and collected yet another salary in Arlington. Exposed and unclothed, the director resigned, repaid taxpayers some of the booty, and now collects a pension. We did just fine without a CRA for a while. The Community Development Department is the appropriate agency for development, don’t you think? No, agencies never die- the CRA lives again with yet another brace of highly paid executives now tasked with creating further expenses and delays in the disposition of a tiny sliver of City owned land, the “Volpe Parcel”, and the never ending Foundry Building saga. Councillors found plenty of money to keep the CRA alive forever.
Sacred cows like the Police and Fire Departments escape sensible budget oversight. Three years ago, the Police formed a ridiculous million dollar a year “bomb squad” which is a fun job for cops who get to dress in black Ninja suits and play with Spetsnaz armaments on city streets. No bombs found yet; they’ll be there right after the boom. Presently, the Fire Department wants a remotely operated underwater vehicle to find the Charles River monster as well as a heap of expensive dive gear. Given my own long experience pulling people from the river, I can tell you that every dollar spent on the Marine Unit and Underwater Recovery Squad is wasted. That’s why other communities can’t even think of such silliness.
Cambridge City employees are paid at the absolute top of the scale vis-à-vis their counterparts in other towns. Plenty of Cambridge employees are lifers because the deal just can’t be beat. It’s great that we can be good to our people, but it’s not fair to taxpayers that the market rate never comes into consideration. Compensation levels must reflect local norms instead of more for friends. When Councillors recommend that city employees receive special preference in programs like affordable housing I’ll loudly speak out on your behalf. The buddy system is already a cancer in City Hall.
Every page of our budget deserves scrutiny. The annual 4% across the board increase in nearly everything isn’t justified solely because it’s consistent; each line item has to be justified every year. Residential property taxes contribute only a quarter or so of each dollar spent. This means that the spending frenzy doesn’t really adversely affect most property owners but nonetheless the City has to start operating as those towns that don’t have enough money.
TRAFFIC AND PARKING
Daily neighborhood congestion is blamed on out-of-towners passing through; the truth is that our unparalleled development boom is just as guilty. Didn’t anybody ever consider that a hundred cars turning left onto Concord Avenue all together might be a problem?
Red Line service improvements are impossible. We’ve lost the Green Line expansion. Commuters simply have no alternative to Cambridge streets. We can’t compel people to ride buses, bike, or walk to work. At best, the City Council can only make a small dent by reducing its own workforce’s driving habits.
ENVIRONMENTALISM AND ENERGY
Visit Watertown Plumbing Supply sometime to replace a hard to find part. The counterman, without a word, will know that it came from Cambridge, the sole municipality inside Route 128 that does not use MWRA water. Waltham, the real source of our drinking water, uses MWRA water! Unlike our own city manager, Waltham officials worry about sewage running into the Cambridge Reservoir. Management at Rindge Towers advised tenants that rent increases are necessary because of accelerated corrosion in the huge buildings’ copper supply pipes due to the high level of chemicals used at the Fresh Pond treatment facility. The city’s biggest electricity hogs, the finished water pumps, show just how poorly our city is managed - we pay for gravity! Cambridge can quickly swap over to superior MWRA bubbly just as it did during the years the water treatment plant was under construction.
COUNCILLORS’ AIDES - WHERE THE CRONYISM BEGINS
Quoting my website host: “remove ‘aide’ from ‘Councillor’s aide’ and you get what the aides really do”. All Councillors have full time occupations. One was brazen enough to leave the hemisphere for half a year following re-election in 2011. Having a personal flunky in addition to the Council’s full time city staff means showing up when you feel like it. This whole pesky election thing can be so time consuming…
First thing next term might be pay raise for your deserving hard to find career politicians. Don’t be surprised when they cite their aides’ increased salaries and benefits as basis for a boost.
Nobody will dispute that the ‘achievement gap’ is the primary issue before the School Committee. Four seated City Councillors have nearly 100 years experience on Committee/Council and haven’t any new ideas about fixing that gap. I don’t either; I won’t be meddling in school business because it’s not my job as a Councillor. That’s a lousy statement from a guy with two kids in the system, but it reflects my position that my job is to provide the schools with adequate funding while letting the professionals do their jobs.
Cambridge spends more than enough on its schools. It’ll be a darn hard sell fo anyone to convince me that more money will cure our system’s ills.
CENTRAL SQUARE: Are we going to fix it, or is all just more blabber?
Opioid crisis? Right there on Green Street across from the old Police Station. That’s where they score at the needle exchange then overdose right outside the door. When junkies can meet at a convenient location with impunity it’s a great place to do business. 240 Albany Street, the drunk tank no other community will tolerate, enables a lifestyle of get drunk, get scraped off the sidewalk, and repeat daily. You cross the street to avoid this gang. Police enforcement is a joke.
Who’s more cruel - me, with my demand that these facilities be shut down for good, or your seated Councillors who closed the Cambridge Hospital’s Emergency Psychiatric section for lack of a few bucks? I prioritize you, the Cambridge resident, not a growing flock of criminals who shoot up and drink endlessly destroying your neighborhoods. No more programs!
CONCLUSION: Get out and vote!
In 2013 there were a remarkable two vacated seats up for grabs. One challenger was slated to inherit his predecessor’s seat; the remaining incumbents were fully confident that the election would be a shoo-in . As we know now, a ‘councillor for life’ lost his seat in a remarkable outcome that elected two nobodys-from-nowhere to the Council and ousted a highly popular first timer.
My point? Even in lightly participated elections there is the possibility of major turnover. Don’t sit home Tuesday because you believe your own vote will be insignificant. If we can ever rearrange our municipal cycle to coincide with the state and federal elections we’ll indeed increase citizen participation; don’t regard your voting privilege as futile November 3.
I ask for your #1 vote based on my desire to rein in city spending, approach development and housing needs in a more sensible manner, and reduce the special advantages City pols and administrators enjoy.
Alternately, I hope that you will prioritize candidates who are moderates on development issues and stay clear of the gang promising affordable housing they can’t provide, no limits to City spending, and a clear plan to reward loyalists with jobs. SEE YOU AT THE POLLS!
CCTV Candidate Video (2015)
|Page last updated Friday, October 30, 2015 2:27 AM||Cambridge Candidates|