The Winthrop Town Council and Town Manager James McKenna discussed several topics during a three-hour session Tuesday night at the Winthrop Senior Center.
The meeting was more a roundtable discussion (in fact the councillors’ tables were set up in rectangular fashion) in which the nine councilors exchanged ideas for generating revenue for the town and improving the quality of life.
Just about every area of town government and construction project (Dalrymple School, Winthrop Hospital) was explored: the relocating of the school administrative offices from the E.B. Newton School to town hall; casino construction (at Suffolk Downs) and its financial impact on Winthrop; the renovation of the high school; and the goal of making Winthrop a clean and picturesque destination that tourists will want to come and enjoy.
Revenue-generating ideas were presented at the meeting, with McKenna taking the lead on [vehicle] parking revenues.
“Parking is a big subject and certainly I’d like the council’s advice and direction on this issue,” said McKenna. “We are not, by any stretch of the imagination, achieving what can be achieved by parking.”
McKenna said the town has 14 public parking lots that are basically non-functioning assets. “We have a very low fee ($5) for a parking sticker in the town. There are a lot of things, not to mention that enforcement is a very big issue – that we need to talk about and have a plan and have it be the revenue generator or keep it at the status quo.”
McKenna also touched on the enforcement of parking regulations in the business districts of the town, adding that “there is a lot to be discussed. I know it’s a third rail issue, but it’s an untapped and unregulated situation in this town.”
The council then turned its attention to residential parking stickers. “Frankly I’ve often wondered why we have a residential parking permit – somebody explained to me that it helps force people to register their car in town, but what’s the point?”
Councilor Linda Calla responded, “There were people in neighborhoods that were complaining because people would come from out of town and park their cars, go on vacation, and leave their cars in the town for a week.”
“The next question is that, if that’s why it [residential parking program] was put in place, then do we want to look at it as a way to gain revenue, or do we look at it as a way of solving this parking program?” said Turco.
Councilor Nick DelVento spoke about the difficulty of finding a parking spot in his neighborhood late at night. He noted that there are vehicle owners who do not have parking stickers and are thus not entitled to park in the spaces.
“It’s still a problem,” said DelVento. “The only way to do it is with enforcement. But I know people don’t like the idea of enforcement.”
Turco said at the next Council meeting he will formally request the Council’s economic development committee to look at the issue of generating parking revenues in the town.
In discussing the future direction of the town, Councilor James Letterie seemed to be perturbed about the delay in executing a proposal to move the school department’s offices from the former E.B. Newton School building to town hall.
“I hope we continue to push to have that building vacated when it was supposed to be vacated – which I believe is August 31,” said Letterie. “I think we tend to be going around and around in circles and I hope we don’t get to the point where it’s August 31, and we’re still in the E.B. Newton School and we’re looking at another year, which would be the third year.”
In the final portion of the meeting, councilors addressed how they see Winthrop in the next five years. Some of the topics included: the importance of finding the financial means to get though the next two years in this economy (Councilor Nick DelVento); the revenues being generated by the increase in the meals tax to 6.25 percent, the consolidation of town services, the continued implementation of the Quinn Bill (Councilor Letterie); casino construction and the economic opportunities for Winthrop, and a grant writer’s position (Councilor Russell Sanford); the improvement of Winthrop’s roads and sidewalks, beach revitalization projects (Council Vice President Linda Calla); community involvement in issues and projects (Councillor Jeanne Maggio); quality of life issues and town hall remaining open on Fridays (Councillor Paul Varone); the maintenance of Winthrop police and fire department vehicles and “giving our employees the tools” to make repairs to town streets, sidewalks and parks (Councilor-at-Large Larry Powers); and the improvement of conditions at Ingleside Park, the renovation of Winthrop High School, and whether to increase the number of officers in the Winthrop Police Department (Council President Jeffrey Turco).