Updates on COVID, Policing, Water Rate at Council Meeting

On Tuesday, June 16, the Town Council met remotely via the online video conferencing platform Zoom, where it heard updates on issues impacting the community.

COVID-19

As of June 15, there were 236 documented cases of COVID-19 in Winthrop, with 207 recovered, 24 deceased and five in isolation. The Winthrop Board of Health voted to lift the 10pm curfew, effective immediately.

The Town is still at least two weeks from having the ability to host in-person meetings at City Hall. Zoom meetings will continue to be the norm and will most likely still be used to some degree even when boards and committees are allowed to convene physically, in order to ensure the safety of the public.

Restaurants are now offering outdoor seating, but Council President Phil Boncore cautioned that they would be closed again if patrons did not observe mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines.

“We don’t need a resurgence in COVID so that we have to close these restaurants again,” he said. “Be responsible, be safe and use common sense.”

Policing

Council President Boncore praised local residents and police officers alike for what he called a “well-run, well-organized and very peaceful protest” against police violence.

During public comment, resident Wendy Page called into the meeting to thank Town Manager Faison for his June 2 statement regarding the marginalization of the Black community.

“I was very moved by his commentary and his personal truth,” said Page. “It needed to be said.”

The council president said he received letters supporting Faison’s statement from six Winthrop families. He did not mention if he had received any negative comments.

Town Manager Faison thanked the members of the community who expressed their support for his statement and welcomed any skeptics to contact him directly.

“My office is always open,” he said. “I’m happy to have further conversations.”

The Town is currently revisiting the Winthrop Police Department’s use-of-force policy and exploring ways to adopt common sense measures from elsewhere in the Commonwealth when it comes to policing.

Campaigns like #8CantWait are pushing for police reforms, whereas other groups are saying reform does not go far enough to address more systemic inequities. Council President Boncore said he received two phone calls from unknown sources urging the body to “defund the police” and reroute funding to social service agencies.

Water/Sewer Rate

The combined water and sewer rate was originally due to go up one dollar, but it now looks like the increase will be closer to 75 cents through the end of the fiscal year. The Town is exploring the option of bringing in an outside consultant to help establish the water rate going forward. Town Manager Austin Faison floated the idea of increasing the base rate of residents who use more water, such as for lawn care, in order “to get closer to everyone paying their fair share.” There would be public hearings prior to making that decision.

Town Contracts

The Policy and Library Unions have come to an agreement with the Town for the Fiscal Year 2019 contract. They received a change in base pay of 1.5 percent, which is the same for all union groups. Retroactive payments will be issued. The Town is still in the bargaining process for fiscal years 2020, 2021 and 2022.

The council voted to accept a four-year contract between the Town and Odyssey Advisors for actuarial services, and a five-year lease agreement between the Town and Pitney Bowes.

School Department Report

The summer school program is ready to begin with combined in-person and remote learning opportunities. Kindergarten registration will be open until August 14. The Winthrop Public Schools will have to meet high standards of health and safety prior to reopening its doors in the fall. A date has not yet been established for reopening.

Events

The council urged all Winthrop citizens to participate in the 2020 Census by going to 2020census.gov. Only 61.4 percent of residents had responded by the publication of the agenda for this meeting. Winthrop residents are also encouraged to participate in the Win2030 online survey by MAPC. There are openings on all Town committees and individuals should apply using the Town website.

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