Raises that should get a rise out of we the Peabody taxpayers

4 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Quick! Raise your hand if you have ever in your career received a 25% pay raise that wasn’t tied to a promotion? And … after just one year on the job!

government-spending1Well, the good times are rolling for a couple of Peabody city employees, department heads who only recently ascended to their positions.

Calling it an issue of parity, Mayor Bettencourt actually got the City Council to approve hefty raises for the new building inspector and the director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry. Each will see their annual pay go from about $84K to $100K.

No slight intended to those folks personally  (after all, who among us would turn down an extra $16K in his/her paycheck?)  But in these days when we the people are about to absorb a 17th straight year of seeing our property taxes increase, these raises are gross, grosser, grossest.

In just a few weeks, the Mayor will come before the City Council and ask for yet another property tax increase. He’ll say how it’s just going up a little on average. The cost of five pizzas a month? And don’t forget, we still have one of the lowest tax rates on the North Shore!

Woo hoo! I guess it doesn’t matter that — over the past 10 years — these so-called little increases have collectively raised the average Peabody property tax bill by more than 50%. And, there’s no end in sight to these increases as we continue to stumble and bumble when it comes to finding ways to increase our commercial tax base by bringing more attractive businesses to our ghost downtown, or our outdated Centennial Industrial Park.

Senior citizens are seeing their incomes go down while their taxes continue to increase, causing them to fear that they won’t be able to afford the homes they worked so hard for all of their lives. Young families, who scraped and saved to buy that starter home in Peabody, continue to feel squeezed by these annual increases too.

Look, I get it when taxes are raised because the city is struggling to pay for a much-needed new middle school, and that we can’t get out of a horrible decision to join and pay for the new mega voke in Middleton. I get it when the rising cost of healthcare, tied to collective bargaining agreements, makes it necessary to ask the taxpayers for more dough.

But raises like these are salt in our taxpaying open wounds!

It’s just another example, in a long list of them these days, of how our city’s government continues to not live within its means while passing the extra tax burden on to us.

I mean, it isn’t just these two recent inappropriate raises. Salary increases have been proposed at a fast and furious rate lately at City Hall. Do we really need multiple part-time city solicitors at individual salaries of more than $100K each? Many seemingly unnecessary positions have also been added to the payroll the past seven years at a time where we should be freezing government spending, and participating in some austerity.

Until we figure out how to raise more commercial tax revenues while not putting additional burdens on the resident taxpayers, there should be a hiring and raise increase freeze when it comes to any position in the city that doesn’t involve public safety (e.g., police and fire). Sorry, but when you are a public employee, living off taxpayer money, this is the bargain you just need to accept.

The one lone vote against the increase was Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw. Councilors Barry Sinewitz and Anne Manning-Martin couldn’t attend the meeting, but my hunch — based on their past actions in standing by the taxpayers — is that they would have objected too.

By the way? Because the council last year approved AUTOMATIC pay raises annually for all city employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, these two department heads will get another 2% increase come next July.

Think about that as you struggle each day in your private sector job where — when the business isn’t doing well — you get no raise at all.

Vote no on Question 2: Save Our Public Schools

4 Aug

 

By Bob Croce, Candidate for State Rep, 13th Essex District

 
For me, there is no gray area. Plain and simple, lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts is bad for our traditional public schools.

It’s bad for all of our local public school systems, and bad for an overwhelming majority of the children of the Commonwealth.

In November, voters across the state will get an opportunity to weigh in on Ballot Question 2, which would allow major expansion of charter schools in the state, schoolswhile draining billions of dollars from our traditional public schools.

I urge you to vote no.

Not because I am against the basic concept of specialized education, but because the system for charter school funding right now is broken. Any expansion would only further take away funding from traditional public schools across the Commonwealth, and place further financial hardship on public schools in Danvers, Peabody and Middleton. Our school systems will be hurt while major charter school companies—backed by Wall Street investors—reap the benefits.

Save Our Public Schools, a grassroots coalition of parents, educators and community groups opposes the ballot question, and I hope you will too.

The following points, made by Save Our Public Schools, are the heart of why I feel raising the cap would have a negative impact on public schools in Danvers, Peabody and Middleton:

Lost funding
This year alone, charters will divert more than $400 million from public schools. That’s money districts desperately need so they can offer more science, technology, arts and music classes, as well as preschool services and smaller class sizes. The money should be kept in the public schools for the benefit of all students.

No local accountability
Charter schools are not accountable to their local communities. The state often approves them over the united opposition of the communities where they will be located. That’s wrong. Local communities should have the final say on what kinds of schools they want.

For more information, please visit Save Our Public Schools at http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org.

 

If elected, Bob Croce will pay for his own gas to work

5 Jul

(Bob Croce is the publisher of Eye On Peabody, and a candidate for State Representative in the 13th Essex District. Please vote for him in the Democratic primary election on Thursday, Sept. 8th)

By Bob Croce

Political candidates make a lot of promises while trying to get elected. But here’s one that you can write down, clip and save, share with all of your friends in West Peabody, Danvers and Middleton:

If elected State Representative, I WILL NOT have the taxpayers pay for my gas so I can drive into work each day at the State House.

As for my opponent? If he’s re-elected, he will continue to put in for a controversial gas reimbursement, and quite frankly, thinks it’s not that big of a deal.

Not only will he continue to make you and I pay for his gas each day so he can go to work, but in an article in today’s Salem News, Representative Ted Speliotis called the perk “minuscule.”

He said this, mind you, as Peabody was learning that it had lost $300,000 in state aid due to a Beacon Hill budget cut, money that was earmarked for full-day kindergarten, which means more will be coming out of property taxes to pay for that shortfall.

Meanwhile, it cost us $327,338 total last year for all of the legislators who put in for what Rep Speliotis calls a “minuscule” reimbursement benefit.

“Travel has been paid for lawmakers since the first days of the State Legislature. It’s been around for hundreds of years,” the Rep told the Salem News while trying to justify why he collected $3,384 from taxpayers last year while commuting the 20 miles from Danvers each day.

By the way, State Legislators put in for this reimbursement on the “honor system.” They don’t need to show receipts, or even prove that they actually came into the State House on the days they claim.

Speliotis’ reimbursement was the highest among all North Shore State Legislators. Some in the North Shore delegation, including Senator Joan Lovely, refuse to accept the perk.

If I win, count me in with that group, which refuses to force taxpayers to pay so elected officials can drive to work. Plain and simple, it’s abuse of power.

If you have to pay for your gas to work, so should I!

 

Stop the DPU scheme that would force residents to pay for pipeline construction

7 Apr

(Bob Croce is Chair of the pipeline opposition group Peabody Citizens United, and a candidate for State Representative in the 13th Essex District. Click here to read more about Bob on Facebook. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobCroce4Rep.)

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

For more than a year, we’ve been educating residents about the potentially devastating quality of life and environmental impacts posed by the multiple natural gas pipelines proposed for the Commonwealth.

pipelineWe’ve all heard how these pipelines would put the safety of residents in jeopardy, violate basic homeowner rights and threaten public drinking water for 350,000 North Shore residents within the Ipswich River Watershed.

But there is one aspect on which we haven’t focused enough:

The Department of Public Utilities, an appointed group of state bureaucrats – most of whom are former utilities industry executives – last year passed Docket 15-37, a scheme that will allow electric companies to pass the cost of this new gas infrastructure on to consumers in the form of a surcharge or “tariff” on our electric bills.

Putting it simply, companies such as Kinder Morgan and Spectra will build these new pipelines, and we will pay for the cost of construction. The argument for the tariff is that these pipeline companies are doing us a favor by helping us meet demand and lower the cost of natural gas and our electric bills. The estimated cost alone of Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, passed onto consumers, could be $8 billion.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen, through a comprehensive study published by Attorney General Maura Healey, how this massive expansion of natural gas pipeline infrastructure was unnecessary from a demand and economic perspective, and could slow our progress toward a clean, renewable energy future.

The Conservation Law Foundation and others are now challenging in court whether the DPU has the authority to enforce such a tariff. But the DPU might also have a powerful ally, who could help the agency achieve a bullet proof defense of this surcharge.

Rep. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset) – who is Speaker Pro Tempore in the MA House — filed legislation (H.2881) this session, which contained language that would essentially make this tariff law.

With Kinder Morgan’s proposed NED pipeline, which directly threatens the 13th Essex District communities of Danvers, Middleton and Peabody, we’ve seen convincing evidence that most – if not all – of the gas transported is destined for export to Canada and then lucrative European Markets. By the way, some experts feel that this export scenario would actually raise the cost of gas in our region, since the price would be set by demand on foreign markets.

While the courts decide whether the DPU has abused its power, and hopefully strike down Docket 15-37, here’s hoping that legislators across the Commonwealth do not incorporate the tariff language in their omnibus energy bill!

Forcing the residents of the Commonwealth to pay for pipelines we don’t need, while companies such as Kinder Morgan make profits on this gas through an export scheme, is obscene and un-American.

Make a final pitch for your Peabody State Rep Special Election candidate

30 Jan

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

voteAfter just over three months of wintertime campaigning the five party-affiliated candidates in the special election for State Representative in the 12th Essex District, will leave it up to the voters in Tuesday’s two primary run offs.

Call it the Battle of Groundhog Day!

Today, as a public service I’ve put this post here for you to comment on the race. Who will you vote for and why? And, if you want, please feel free to make a final pitch for your chosen candidate. All I ask is that you keep the conversation focused on candidate qualifications and key issues, and not lob any personal attacks.

Please go out and vote!

But first, here are the vitals:

  • 12th Essex District primaries, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016
  • Polls are open 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
  • You are eligible to vote in this election if you live in Peabody, Wards 1-4 and Ward 5-Precincts 1 and 3
  • If you are enrolled as a Democrat or Republican, you must choose your party’s ballot
  • If you are unenrolled in a party, you may choose either ballot
  • The winners on Tuesday will go onto the March 1st final election ballot, along with unenrolled candidate Chris Gallagher

Tuesday’s contestants!

DEMOCRATS

Moutsoulos

James Moutsoulas

walsh

Tom Walsh

welton

Craig Welton

REPUBLICANS

corriveau

Jaclyn Corriveau

Peach

Stephanie Peach

NED pipeline would imperil Ipswich, put North Shore drinking water supplies at risk

26 Jan

(Bob Croce is Chair of Peabody Citizens United, and a candidate for State Representative in the MA 13th Essex District.)

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

I’ve used this space over the past year to talk about the critically important homeowner rights and safety issues surrounding Kinder Morgan’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline. But today, I’d like to bring up a concern that should be front and center, not just in Peabody, Danvers and Middleton, but throughout the North Shore.

Protecting our public drinking water supply.

riverWe should remind ourselves of the tragedy of Flint, Mich., and come to a consensus that locating this pipeline within the Ipswich Watershed District is just too much of a risk for the half million North Shore residents who draw water from this endangered river. Now is the time for our North Shore elected leaders to unite and lobby the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to not approve this new gas pipeline infrastructure for an area so vital to the health and well being of our communities.

Here are the facts on the pipeline and the river from the stewards of the river, the Ipswich Watershed Association:

The proposed Lynnfield and Peabody lateral sections of the NED pipeline will be constructed within the Ipswich River Watershed, and it will:

  • Traverse the watershed for more than 11 miles, cross the river and dozens of named and unnamed tributaries
  • Traverse more than two miles of wetlands, alter dozens of vernal pools
  • Be built directly on the riverbank for more than two miles
  • Be built in the immediate proximity of seven public permanently-protected water supply intakes and traverse hundreds of acres of permanently protected conservation areas, including several parcels protected by Article 97 of the Massachusetts State Constitution.
  • Temporarily clear 131.5 acres of land during construction and permanently alter 65.8 acres in the required pipeline easement. The pipeline will significantly disrupt the underground hydrology of the watershed, which is critical to its function as well as the hundreds of public and private water supply intakes in the immediate vicinity of its route.

Once constructed, Kinder Morgan will continuously use herbicides to keep the pipeline right-of-way clear of vegetation, and there are no studies showing what negative effects that could have on the source of our drinking water. Then there’s the danger of leaking pipes allowing toxic methane to seep into our water.

If anyone thinks the dangers here only affect “a couple of streets” in Peabody, think again. The proposed NED pipeline should be a regional concern.

 

 

Speliotis owes taxpayers an explanation on why he helped developer get special treatment

20 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Let’s call it what it is and all agree that it was a questionable deal that allowed a developer to get a no-bid contract to construct a state-of-the-art sports complex on the grounds of the Essex Technical Regional High School in Middleton.

Ted

Ted Speliotis

The developer, a company named Edge Sports, was not only granted the rights to build the $11 million facility on public property, it won the contract with no competition. Instead of following state law, which requires that taxpayer rights be protected through an open bidding process on such projects, Edge was granted the contract through a line item added to a larger spending bill on Beacon Hill, according to the Salem News.

Was that legal? Well, the Office of the Inspector General and the State Ethics Commission will need to decide, and a source tells us that state oversight officials are looking into whether there was a violation here.

For now, though, Ted Speliotis – our State Rep, who co-sponsored the legislation that gave Edge the edge outside of the open bid process – has some explaining to do to the taxpayers he represents in West Peabody, Middleton and Danvers.

Not only didn’t he help his constituents receive the protection of the open bid process, he helped pass essentially an “earmark” that will give Edge Sports the opportunity to lease the property at our vocational school for free.

There is a lot that smells with this deal, and so far, we the taxpayers should not be satisfied with the response from Rep. Speliotis.

According to the Salem News, Speliotis said in a phone interview this week that he did not pay close enough attention when the deal was being negotiated.

“I did go along with it, but it was really my colleagues who amended this thing” to require that the lease be awarded to Edge Sports without a competitive bid process or review by the state Inspector General, Speliotis told the Salem News.

Instead of “passing the buck” on this one, Ted, how about giving the taxpayers you represent a real explanation on how you just didn’t look out for our best interests?

Ethical questions arise over construction of new sports complex at regional voke school

16 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Following the publication of a comprehensive investigative report this morning by Paul Leighton of the Salem News, it might finally be time for the State Ethics Commission to investigate potential political shenanigans on the grandiose grounds of Essex Technical Regional High School.

The latest saga involving the $135 million “Mega-Voke” — which serves 40 communities, including Danvers, Peabody and Middleton — concerns a dubious deal for a new sports complex. Leighton reports that, in November 2013, Essex Tech Superintendent Dan O’Connell suggested – as required when it comes to public projects — that the school board issue a request for proposal (RFP), and put out for bid a plan to build a sports complex on school grounds in Middleton.

But now, two years later, as construction is about to begin on the $11 million facility — with its two ice-skating rinks, an indoor turf field, and an athlete training center — it has come to light that that no bidding process occurred. A developer called Edge Sports Group was simply handed the contract following some questionable maneuvers within the State Legislature.

Ted Speliotis

Ted Speliotis

Contrary to a “strong recommendation” from the State Inspector General that the deal be put out to bid in an effort to ensure “an open and fair deal” for taxpayers, State Rep. Ted Speliotis and Gloucester state Sen. Bruce Tarr sneaked a few lines into a large spending bill on Beacon Hill that gave the lease to Essex Sports.

Not necessarily illegal or unusual on Beacon Hill, but according to Leighton’s report, here are some things that make you go “hmmm” as a taxpayer:

  • According to Leighton, one of the key people behind the passage of the special legislation was Jack McGlynn, a Salem-based attorney and lobbyist who also works as outside counsel to Essex Tech. McGlynn played a significant role in guiding the legislation that created Essex Tech, Leighton writes, adding that, according to state records, the North Shore Regional Vocational School District paid McGlynn $217,000 as a lobbyist from 2005 to 2010 while the merger was being developed.
  • McGlynn, Leighton writes, has been paid approximately $24,000 over the last two years by Essex Tech for his advice on the sports complex and other issues, according to the school district.
  • In 2014, he landed another employer regarding the project – Edge Sports Developer Brian DeVellis. According to state records, Leighton writes, the company hired McGlynn on Feb. 14, 2014, to lobby for passage of the legislation that would specify Essex Sports (Edge) as the developer. Leighton adds that 10 days later, O’Connell and McGlynn hosted a meeting for local legislators at Essex Tech to introduce the DeVellis and Edge Sports Group.
  • McGlynn, Speliotis tells the Salem News, has also contributed to every fundraiser the Rep has held since he was elected in 1997.

Speliotis, meanwhile, told the Salem News that he was not concerned about going through a public bidding process because there were no other developers willing to build the sports facility. “The RFP process is to make sure you’re not giving a special deal to someone in a marketplace where someone else doesn’t have an opportunity,” he said. “There wasn’t any market for this. I’m confident today that if we could put it out to bid, we’re not going to get any bidders.”

Not a market for this? Does Edge Sports really have a “monopoly” on building sports complexes?

The other sweetheart part of this deal for the developer comes through the actual lease. Essex Sports has agreed to allow all of the voke’s teams to use the facility for its games and practices without paying a fee. But there’s also a catch: Essex Sports will deduct a per athlete user-fee from the rent it will pay to the school district. In other words, the developer will probably end up paying no rent at all.

Great job of reporting by Paul Leighton, and I’m sure he’ll have further details and follow up. Here’s hoping that members of the State Ethics Commission read the Salem News.

Asking our legislators to stand with the people, and stand against Kinder Morgan

10 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

article97

Residents from western Mass. urge legislators to uphold Article 97

BOSTON – Spending my day today in solidarity with the residents of Sandisfield in southwestern Mass., who fill the Gardner Auditorium at the State House to implore legislators to reject bill H.3690. That bill seeks to set aside Article 97 protection so that a Texas-based gas pipeline company — run by the guy who used to run Enron – can essentially jeopardize their scenic Mayberry-like community of less than 900 year-round residents.

Article 97 of the Mass. State Constitution says that lands set aside for conservation cannot be used for any other purposes without a two thirds disposition vote of both the House and Senate on Beacon Hill. It is our only hope as residents of the Commonwealth to fight back against not only Kinder Morgan and its notorious CEO Richard Kinder – who helped create that mess that was Enron – but also a five-person appointed board in Washington, DC, called The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Even though there is overwhelming public opposition to this pipeline — which will slash through Massachusetts and southern NH — FERC is expected to grant approval to build Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline Project.

But back in the Texas offices of Kinder Morgan, they probably should be saying “Houston, we have a problem.”

After all, Article 97 battles are setting up all over the Commonwealth, as KM seeks to take as many as 100 environmentally protected parcels for a project that will be of no benefit to the residents of Massachusetts. Since our Independence Greenway bike path is set aside conservation land, we could end up having our own day too here on Beacon Hill, which is why I’m sitting in the balcony right now listening to compelling testimony from residents who are asking their legislators to please do the will of the people and kill this bill in committee. If we stop H.3690 and stop them from taking Article 97 land in Sandisfield, then we might be able to do the same in Peabody. This is our precedent-setter.

Right now, residents of this beautiful little community, and others, are making a plea before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, which is co-chaired by our Senator Joan Lovely.

What this comes down to is a battle between residents of the Commonwealth, a company bent on increasing its already obscene profits, and the federal government. Clearly, we’re just a potentially dangerous and disruptive pass through, since it’s become clear that most of the gas shipped in the NED pipeline is destined to be loaded on LNG tankers, and shipped to lucrative overseas markets.

Facts are stubborn things, and the fact is that the NED pipeline, and five other pipeline projects on the drawing board for Mass., will produce five times more natural gas than is needed to meet future demand in the state. Peabody has zero need for additional gas, and the Spectra pipeline currently running through the bikeway area is on most days at half capacity. We assume all of the risk, get no benefit, and KM increases it’s already huge profits.

It’s not about lowering your electric bill, or keeping your home warm. But it is about big energy and big money. H.3690 was filed by a State Rep from Hingham named Garrett Bradley. His district is a 3-hour ride from Sandisfield and Otis State Forest, with its scenic and endangered Spectacle Pond, and old growth forest, yet it was he who brought the bill forward on behalf of the pipeline company. Wonder if he doing KM a solid here has anything to do with the campaign contributions Brian Hickey & Associates – the pipeline company’s main lobbyist on Beacon Hill – made to Rep Bradley’s war chest?

The fact is that Beacon Hill these days is awash in Kinder Morgan blood money. But here’s hoping that our state legislators do the right thing. Are you listening Rep. Ted Speliotis and Senator Lovely?

This needs to be about protecting the quality of life of the residents of the Commonwealth. This should be about doing the will of the people. It’s about the public trust set established when we the people voted to add Article 97 to our Constitution more than 40 years ago.

Be aware that the Kinder Morgan ‘community meeting’ at Spinelli’s will be filled with half truths and total lies

28 Oct

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

By now, you’ve probably heard about the so-called pipeline “community meeting” taking place (Oct. 29, 6-8 p.m.) at Spinelli’s function facility on Route 1 in Lynnfield.

Just so you know, this is not really a “community meeting,” but instead is a carefully orchestrated propaganda show run by Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based company bent on destroying your quality of life with a high-pressure natural gas highway that will be of no benefit to any of the local communities through which it passes.

The meeting will be brought to you by KM Chief Propaganda Officer Allen Fore, and it will be filled with half-truths and outright lies.

But there will likely be free chicken fingers and balloons for the kids, so that’s something.

I’ve been debating all week on whether to inform you of this dog and pony show, since the last thing we want to do is help KM with its tour of lies. But you’re all grownups, and can decide for yourselves whether or not to attend. But please, go knowing that what will really be served for food is a heaping helping of crapola.

All you really need to know about this obscenely profitable Texas company is that it is seeking to risk the safety of your home, your environment and your water supply to build its pipeline and all of its laterals. Furthermore, KM plans to get approval for this project through a five-person appointed board in Washington, DC, called FERC. Loaded with friends of the fossil fuel industry, FERC hardly ever rejects a pipeline permit. Your ELECTED representatives will have no say here.

Know going in, too, that all of this gas is destined to be loaded on LNG tankers and shipped to lucrative, gas-starved foreign markets.  None of the gas will be used by Massachusetts residents.

There is zero need for additional gas in the Commonwealth, the ISO-New England statistics prove this, and right now we’re simply cannon fodder for this company and its goal to make even more profit for its shareholders. They’ll tell you otherwise, but in Peabody we have a gas line owned by a company called Spectra, and that pipe is currently at half capacity.

By the way, did I mention yet that the “Kinder” in Kinder Morgan is for Richard Kinder, who went along for the ride as a high-ranking executive for a famously notorious company called Enron. Kinder Morgan is indeed everything that is wrong with America. Somewhere, Gordon Gekko is smiling, since when it comes to Kinder Morgan the company motto is … “greed is good.”

So, if you go tonight, please ask some tough questions and let them know that you know what they’re up to, all of it bad for Peabody, Lynnfield and Danvers.

Kinder Morgan is a disgraceful corporate citizen, and their destructive and dangerous pipeline will benefit no one other than their stock holders.