The City Council on Thursday approved with no changes the $132,312,990 budget proposed by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra for the fiscal year beginning July 1. That is $602,528, or 4.77 percent, higher than the city’s current budget for the year ending June 30.

At-large Councilor Jamila Gore and Ward 7 Councilor Rachel Maiore dissented, raising objections to the addition of three positions for “student officers” in the Police Department, at a total cost of $166,878.

Joining the majority of my colleagues in voting for the budget, I spoke in favor of those additional positions because they will help address two problems: the current 14- to 20-month wait to fill vacancies because of delays in training, which contributes to forced overtime hours resulting in too many tired officers on the street. Placing the positions in the budget formalizes the process of allowing student officers to be brought into the department so they are able to take advantage of the first available training, resulting in more quickly filling vacancies which should help reduce the need for overtime.

I also voiced support for the overall budget because, among my priorities, it includes:

  • A 7.18 percent increase for education, including a one-time allocation for the Northampton Public Schools of $1.2 million from the city’s Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund to help fill a projected $2.3 million budget gap
  • A total of $245,656 for the new Department of Climate Action and Project Administration, including a department-head-level director who will report directly to the mayor.
  • A total of $358,234 in salaries for six staff members in the Division of Community Care, including four community responders who, after having 150 hours of training this summer, are expected to begin working by Sept. 1 to help the city’s most vulnerable residents in need of services. They will replace police officers in responding to some public safety calls.

Here is a link to the fiscal year 2024 budget document:

The budget also is available in print at the city clerk’s office, 210 Main St.; Forbes Library, 20 West St.; and Lilly Library, 19 Meadow St., Florence.

Compensation for elected officials

The City Council on Thursday referred to its Committee on Legislative Matters, of which I am a member, five ordinances that would increase the mayor’s salary and the stipends paid to city councilors, School Committee members and the elected trustees of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.

The Committee on Legislative Matters is expected to issue a recommendation after discussion during its meeting at 5 p.m., Monday, June 12, in the City Council chambers, 212 Main St. There also will be remote participation via Zoom:

The proposed pay increases were recommended by the Elected Officials Compensation Advisory Board that is required by city ordinance to review “the adequacy and equity of the compensation, benefits and expense allowances of municipal elected officials” at least once every 10 years. The board members who served this year are Chair John Bidwell, Vice Chair Peter Whalen, Tara Brewster, Felicia Corbeil, Deb Henson, Sam Hopper and Javier Luengo Garrido.

The advisory board reported to the City Council on May 18 that increasing diversity was a key goal during its review of compensation for elected officials: “Encouraging a fair elected representation of the City’s diversity, especially underserved communities that traditionally have not been well-represented and historically have been denied equity, is most beneficial to the City as a whole.”

The ordinances propose :

  • Increasing the mayor’s annual salary from $92,500 to $130.000. It was last adjusted in 2016, increasing from $80,000.
  • Increasing the annual stipends paid to city councilors from $9,000 (ward councilors) and $9,500 (at-large councilors) to $16,900 for all. The City Council president’s stipend would rise from $10,000 to $21,000. The stipends were last adjusted in 2016 when they increased from $5,000.
  • Increasing the annual stipends paid to School Committee members from $5,000 (ward members) and $5,500 (at-large members) to $9,300 for all. They were last increased in 2016 from $2,500.
  • Increasing the annual stipends paid to the elected trustees of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School from $5,000 to $9,300. They were last increased in 2016 from $2,500.
  • A 2 percent annual cost of living adjustment for elected officials beginning in 2025 during the years that the advisory board does not convene.

The City Council must act on the advisory board’s recommendations by June 30, and any increases would take effect beginning in January 2024.

The Elected Officials Compensation Advisory Board’s full report is available here:

Regulating trash collection

The City Council on Thursday referred to its Committee on Legislative Matters, of which I am a member, two ordinances that would tighten the regulation of hours when commercial trash haulers may operate in the city. I cosponsored the ordinances with Council President James Nash and Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge.

The Committee on Legislative Matters is expected to issue a recommendation after discussion during its meeting at 5 p.m., Monday, June 12, in the City Council chambers, 212 Main St. There also will be remote participation via Zoom:

The ordinances clarify the city’s noise ordinance by specifying that trash and recyclable materials may be collected only between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., except for:

  • Properties in the downtown Central Business Core District, where there is no time restriction.
  • Properties in the Florence Village Center Districts, where collection is allowed between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The second ordinance would increase the fine for a first violation from $20 to $50, and for second and subsequent violations from $50 to $100. Violations would be reported to the city, which would issue the fine to the offending company. Any unpaid fines would be collected by the Department of Public Works when trash haulers’ annual licenses are renewed.

Resilience Hub

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra told the City Council on Thursday that she has signed an agreement to purchase the former First Baptist Church at 298 Main St. for use as the Community Resilience Hub.

After taking an option to pay $3.3 million for the 14,500-square-foot building, the city settled the final purchase price at $3.175 million. The former church has been vacant since 1993 when it was purchased by Eric Suher, owner of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group.

The city is using $1,610,000 in cannabis mitigation funds, $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act money, $506,872 in Community Development Block Grants, a $200,000 gift from Smith College, and $53,268 in other donations to purchase the site and pay for associated costs in establishing the Resilience Hub, which will be on the first floor.

The building also will serve as headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Community Care, and it will be used as an emergency response center and shelter during crises. Some space will be available for use by community groups.

An engineering firm is examining the potential use of geothermal heating for the building.

The city has sought a suitable location for a Resilience Hub since the 2019 report “A Downtown Northampton for Everyone: Residents, Visitors, Merchants, and People At-Risk” identified the need for such a resource center with programs and services for vulnerable residents. Community Action Pioneer Valley, led by its executive director, former mayor Clare Higgins, is the city’s social service partner as the lead operating agency for the Hub.

More information is available at:

Valley Green Energy

Representatives of MassPowerChoice, the energy consulting firm assisting Northampton, Amherst and Pelham in establishing an electricity aggregation program, explained what it will mean for consumers during an 80-minute presentation via Zoom on Tuesday.

Valley Green Energy will give residents and businesses in those three communities the option to buy cleaner electricity at a price stable for longer periods than offered by the utilities, Eversource and National Grid, which will still deliver the electricity.

The communities will use their collective buying power to increase the amount of renewable electricity in the supply provided by the utility, which in Northampton is National Grid. Consumers will have more choices and greater control over the price and environmental impact of the electricity they use. However, Valley Green Energy will not guarantee lower prices than that offered by National Grid’s basic service.

Before the program starts, the communities must develop an aggregation plan and submit it to state regulators for review and approval. The draft plan is available for review and comments through June 30 at:

Because the review by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities is expected to take about a year, Valley Green Energy is not expected to begin offering electricity until 2024. Consumers will receive a letter explaining their options several weeks before the program is launched.

Housing in Northampton

Increased housing in Northampton, particularly more affordable housing, is the topic of a municipal engagement initiative that will be launched during a meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, June 13, in the City Council chambers, 212 Main St.

Among those expected to participate are members of the Northampton Housing Partnership and the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, officials from the city’s Office of Planning & Sustainability, the Downtown Northampton Association and Valley Community Development, and city councilors.

Among the topics on the agenda are barriers to more affordable housing in Northampton and how to focus more attention on the issue.

People interested in attending are asked to register by June 12 at:

Downtown summer music

A new outdoor live performance venue in the Brewster Court walkway between the E.J. Gare Parking Garage and Northampton Brewery opened Thursday, adding to the free music offered downtown during the summer.

The Bands on Brewster concert series will continue from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 31 as a partnership between the city and Northampton Brewery.

This venue joins Masonic Street Live next to the Iconica Social Club, with concerts from 6 to 8 p.m. on Fridays through Aug. 25 and Salsa instruction from 4 to 6 p.m. on Sundays beginning June 11 through Aug. 27; and concerts in Pulaski Park from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 4 and 11 and Salsa in the Park from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 15 and 29 and Sept. 5 and 8.

A complete schedule of performances is available at

Also, again this year, Strong Avenue is closed to motor vehicle traffic until Oct. 10 to allow for outdoor dining and live music from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays during Summer on Strong.

“Sunburst Over State”

Artist and muralist Kim Carlino, who has a studio in Easthampton, is scheduled during June to paint the traffic box for the signals activated last summer at State and Finn streets.

Her project, “Sunburst Over State,” is supported by the Northampton Arts Council and is designed both to prevent unsightly tagging of the box and to brighten the intersection with public art.