Animal control facility
The City Council on Thursday voted 8-1 (I voted with the majority) to appropriate $100,000 to buy the former Moose Lodge property at 196 Cooke Ave. for an animal-control facility. That expense will be offset by the sale of a surplus city lot in Ward 6.

Northampton has long sought a site for a facility to shelter animals who have been separated from their owners. It will be built to hold up to eight dogs (worst-case scenario if that many are ever removed from an abusive owner), though on average there will be up to two dogs at the facility. It will also have space for cats and other lost domestic pets.

The City Council in 2017 approved a capital improvement plan that included $395,000 for construction of the animal control facility. The City Council unanimously voted in April 2021 to add another $400,000 for construction costs. The building is expected to last for about 50 years and will have solar panels on the roof. The city’s two animal-control officers (one full-time at 35 hours per week, and one part-time at 20 hours per week) will work at the facility and dogs will only be outside when the officers are present. They will be close to an entrance for Broad Brook Fitzgerald Lake conservation trails so they can more easily provide education and enforcement of the city’s leash law in an area that is heavily used by dog owners.

Next steps are designing the building, and submitting the project to the Conservation Commission and Planning Board, which among other things will consider the number of parking spaces designated for people using the conservation area. I will continue to advocate for reducing the noise from inside the facility to the lowest possible level, both in the construction of the building and the addition of an earth berm, if needed. I and other city officials also will continue communicating with neighbors to hear their suggestions about the appropriate amount of parking at the site.

Capital Improvement Program
The City Council on Thursday held a public hearing on the Capital Improvement Program submitted by the mayor which calls for spending $90,946,714 total during the next five fiscal years through June 30, 2027. Much of that money would pay for improvements to the schools and public works.

Recommended expenses for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, total $15,451,136. Major items include $2,5 million for improvements to the wastewater treatment plant and pump station; $1.5 million for street resurfacing; and $1,090,656 to replace the Fire Department ladder truck,

The City Council is expected to continue discussing capital expenses at its next meeting Feb. 17.

The Capital Improvement Program is available here:

Special legislation protecting tenants from brokers’ commissions
The City Council on Thursday voted unanimously to refer to three committees an order seeking special legislation prohibiting the charging of rental commissions to prospective tenants.

The proposal arises from a report titled “Unlocking Opportunity: An Assessment of Barriers to Fair Housing in Northampton” issued in 2019 by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, working with the Housing Partnership. The report found that two-thirds of the landlords in the PVPC study used rental brokers whose commissions – most at least 60 percent of monthly rent – are paid by tenants. The report determined that they “constitute significant barriers to fair housing in the city.”

Approval by the Legislature is needed before the city can ban landlords and brokers from charging tenants those commissions, and establish fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

The order seeking special legislation will be considered by the Northampton Housing Partnership when it meets virtually at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 7.  The proposal will then go to the City Council committees on Community Resources (March 21) and Legislative Matters (April 11).

Climate change
“Climate Change Impacts: How Will We Cope as Individuals and Communities?” is the title of a virtual conversation from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, sponsored by Climate Action Now and the Climate Action Group of the Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence.

Speakers are Ezra Markowitz, associate professor in the University of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Conservation and a member of the American Psychological Association Climate Change Task Force, and Ben Weil, assistant professor in the UMass Extension Department of Environmental Conservation and a member of the Northampton Environment & Sustainability Commission.

COVID vaccine clinics
The Northampton Health Department on Thursdays and Saturdays during March is holding a walk-in COVID vaccine clinic in the kiosk on the second floor at the top of the stairs inside Thornes Marketplace,150 Main St. The clinics are open from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursdays March 10, 17, 24, and 31, and from noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays March 12, 19 and 26.

The Health Department will continue to offer walk-in vaccine clinics at the Elks Lodge, 17 Spring St. in Florence, during March from 2 to 6 p.m. Mondays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays.

Both clinics offer first or second doses for anyone ages 5 and older, and first, second and booster doses for anyone ages 12 and older. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available, although federal, state and local health officials all recommend the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Kate Kelly, Northampton public health nurse, says, “We need everyone to keep their guard up against future COVID. The booster doses have been very effective at keeping people out of the hospital, even with the Omicron variant which is still here. We need to work as a community to protect ourselves and our neighbors against future variants and move back toward our more usual lifestyles.”

Veterans trip to Vietnam memorial
The Veterans Council of Northampton is working with Central Hampshire Veterans Services to determine whether there is sufficient interest among veterans for an overnight, all-expenses paid bus trip to Washington, D.C., during November. It would include a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the 40th anniversary of its dedication Nov. 13.

Veterans eligible for the trip are those who served in Vietnam between Feb. 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975, or on a Navy ship off the coast of Vietnam during the war. Veterans could bring a spouse or caregiver with them to Washington.

Interested veterans may contact the Veterans’ Services Department at 240 Main St., by phone at 413-587-1299, or by email at [email protected].