The City Council on Thursday discussed a plan to appoint, with the mayor’s office, a joint special Commission to Investigate Racialized Harms Perpetrated Against Black Residents and Workers in Northampton.

The commission will be composed of between nine and 11 people – with at least 50 percent Black members – who are Northampton residents “with a demonstrated interest, experience or expertise in the issues under review by the special commission.” Its charge is “to consider what initiatives should be funded and implemented by the city to support redress and fair treatment for Black people who live, work, and learn in this community, examine ways to restore, grow, and nourish Black community and culture in Northampton for future generations, and suggest ways the city might meaningfully atone for historic wrongs.”

The commission will include a member each from the Northampton Human Rights Commission and the Northampton Youth Commission; a representative from among the groups that have advocated for the creation of the commission (such as the Northampton Reparations Committee and Tikkun Olam Reparations Team); a representative of the city’s organizations that preserve its history (such as Historic Northampton, Forbes Library and the David Ruggles Center); and up to two city councilors.

Remaining members will be appointed through an application process administered by the sponsors (Jamila Gore and Marissa Elkins, at-large, and Garrick Perry of Ward 4 ) of the resolution establishing the commission that was approved unanimously by the City Council on Feb. 16. Anyone interested in serving may contact by April 21 the City Council ([email protected], 413- 587-1210) or the mayor’s office ([email protected], 413-587-1249).

Appointments will be made by May 5, and the commission will be asked to hold its first meeting by May 31. The City Council later will consider funding needed for consulting or staff support.

A preliminary report to the mayor and City Council is requested by May 24, 2024, with a final report by Oct. 5, 2024.

The full document discussed Thursday by the City Council is available here:

The resolution approved by the City Council is available here:

The Northampton Reparations Committee website is at:

Information about the Historic Northampton “Slavery in Northampton” project is available here:,scant%20evidence%20of%20these%20individuals.

Division of Community Care

The City Council’s Committee on City Services during its virtual meeting at 5 p.m., Monday, April 3, will hear an update about the work of the new Division of Community Care, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Kristen Rhodes, the first director of the Division of Community Care who began work March 13, and Merridith O’Leary, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, are scheduled to attend the meeting.

The Zoom link to join the meeting is: (Meeting ID 895 9411 6636, Password 722775).

Establishing a Division of Community Care under the Board of Health was a key recommendation by the Northampton Policing Review Committee in its report, “Reimagining Safety,” issued in March 2021. The new division’s mission is to provide alternatives to police responses for some public safety emergencies, including mental health, substance use, and other crisis calls. Four civilian community responders are expected to be hired this spring, and after training, the division will launch a pilot program by mid-summer.

The division will be housed in the Community Resilience Hub at the former First Baptist Church, 298 Main St.

Water and sewer rates

The City Council Finance Committee, of which I am a member, will hold a public hearing during its virtual meeting at 6:30 p.m., Monday, April 3, on the proposed increase in water and sewer rates for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The Zoom link to join the hearing is: (Meeting ID 889 6866 6749, Passcode 41374).

Residential customers with a 5/8-inch water meter would have their quarterly base rate (a fixed charge not affected by usage) increase from $15.29 to $47.45, or $128.64 annually. Residents with a 3/4-inch water meter would have their quarterly base rate charge increase from $22.95 to $71.25 , or $193.20 annually.

There is now no quarterly fixed base rate charge for sewer service. The city proposes to establish a $28.85 quarterly basic rate charge (or $115.40 annually) for customers with a 5/8-inch meter, and $36.06 quarterly rate charge (or $144.24 annually) for customers with a 3/4-inch meter.

The typical residential water and sewer bill would increase by about $239 per year, while the average commercial bill would rise by $523 annually, according to Donna LaScaleia, director of the Department of Public Works.

Exemptions will be available to homeowners who meet certain income guidelines.

The new rates are proposed to make up for revenue lost with the expected closing of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in the Northampton Industrial Park by the end of this year. Some 300 jobs will be lost when the plant closes.

War and sewer rates in Northampton have not increased for the past three years.

Capital Improvement Program

The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the five-year Capital Improvement Program submitted by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra.

It calls for spending $116,234,354 total during the next five fiscal years through June 30, 2028. That includes $36,034,187 in capital spending during fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1. Much of that money would pay for improvements to municipal and school buildings, and energy management systems, to meet the city’s goal of net carbon neutrality by 2030.

Among other projects are $141,000 to install a permanent outdoor public restroom known as a “Portland Loo” in Pulaski Park, $450,000 for repairs to the Hotel Bridge in Leeds so it can be reopened for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and $7.9 million for upgrading dams at the Ryan and West Whately reservoirs that supply the city with drinking water.

Capital projects include new buildings, renovations, equipment purchases, and land acquisitions costing $10,000 or more.

The Capital Improvement Program is available here:

Hybrid and remote meetings

The City Council agreed Thursday to continue its hybrid meetings at least through Sept. 7.

They allow councilors, city staff and the public to participate either remotely or in person at the City Council chambers, 212 Main St.

The exception will be the council’s meetings June 15, July 13 and Aug. 17, which will be entirely remote.

Gov. Maura Healey on Wednesday signed legislation that allows public meetings to be held remotely and in hybrid formats through March 31, 2025.

New school superintendent

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra announced Thursday that Portia Bonner officially has been hired as the new superintendent of Northampton Public Schools. She was selected by the School Committee on March 27.

Bonner, who has a doctor of philosophy in curriculum and instruction from the University of Connecticut, has experience as an educator in school districts and colleges in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Most recently, she was interim superintendent for the public schools in Bozrah, Conn.

Beginning July 1, Bonner will succeed Jannell Pearson-Campbell, who has been interim superintendent during this school year.

Rail Trail detour for repairs

A section of the New Haven & Northampton Canal Rail Trail will be closed beginning this week from near the Roundhouse parking lot to Veterans Field.

The detour for bicyclists and pedestrians is necessary while a crumbling retaining wall behind Forbes Library and the Smith College parking garage is repaired. A fence will block the bike path during daytime construction until about 3:30 p.m., when it will be removed.

The detour is expected until the beginning of June.