, Newburyport, MA

April 9, 2013

Heritage Park vote faces council tonight

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — Tonight the City Council will make its final decision on whether to fund the creation of the new Heritage Park in the Lower Millyard, which would completely transform the Lower Millyard area if approved.

The council is also poised to vote on five “free cash” spending proposals related to road repairs, city park improvements and the restoration of city war memorials, among other things.

The Heritage Park proposal is divided into four items, which are each before the council and have been voted on individually by the committees. The four items include a proposal to establish the new Heritage Park, a proposal to accept a $400,000 Parklands Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant that will help fund the park, a proposal to accept land being donated for the park by the Water Street Realty Trust for the park and a proposal to appropriate $725,000 to fund the park’s construction.

Last Monday, the Finance Committee voted in favor of recommending all four items. The first three items were endorsed unanimously, while the fourth was favored 8-1, with Councilor Joseph McMilleon casting the lone “no” vote. A night later, the Ordinance Committee also recommended all four items.

Much like last summer’s debate over the $5.9 million DPW garage, which was ultimately approved 8-1, the Lower Millyard proposal has garnered substantial support from officials and residents who want to see the area redeveloped while attracting vocal opposition from residents who are concerned about additional taxes being raised to fund it.

A similar argument has been raised against proposals to use free cash — or unspent tax money — for city improvements, but in that case it’s more a matter of principle, since spending free cash doesn’t impact the tax rate.

The free cash proposals being voted on by the City Council would authorize the following: $200,000 to be spent on the repair and maintenance of streets and sidewalks, $125,000 for the improvements of city parks, $30,000 to hire a city branding consultant, $25,000 for the restoration of monuments and war memorials and $20,000 to hire a solar park development consultant.

The Finance Committee endorsed all five proposals, but to varying degrees. The roads and parks proposals were recommended unanimously, while the war memorials proposal was endorsed 8-1, the solar park proposal 7-2 and the branding consultant proposal 5-4.

If there is time after the Heritage Park and free cash proposals, the City Council is also set to vote to accepting a trail easement on Elm Street from the True Homestead Limited Partnership, amending the polling location for elections from the “Amesbury High School Cafeteria” to just the “Amesbury High School,” accept the Quitclaim deed for land off Goss Avenue and transfer the Horace Mann School from the School Committee to the mayor.

A proposal to establish a local option meals tax in Amesbury has been working through the committee stages, but it has not yet received a recommendation from the Ordinance Committee and will not be put to a vote until the council’s next meeting on May 14.