The mayor of Fall River is defending his decision to divert a quarter of a million tax dollars earmarked for street repairs throughout the city - instead spending it on two little-used roads surrounding a project being developed by a major political supporter. This week Jim Hummel asks: Is it economic development or a political payoff?
Hummel: ``Like many communities Fall River has a lot of streets that look like this. This week, the mayor is defending his decision to divert a quarter of a million dollars earmarked for street repairs throughout the city and instead put it toward two roads surrounding a waterfront project. A project that is being developed by a major player in his re-election campaign.''
For decades Quaker Fabrics was one Fall River's largest employer, until it filed for bankruptcy in 2007. In the summer of 2010 a team led by local businessman Anthony Cordeiro bought the building at auction - touting a mixed-use plan for business and upscale rental units. The developers were part of Mayor William Flanagan's transition team when he was first elected two years ago.
Flanagan: ``The three partners of the building asked for a meeting with us and our development team. They said, `Hey, look we're making a $16 million investment in your community,' a community that two of them live in. `We want to know if we can get the assistance of government to help us with the roadways and the sidewalks to make this piece of property more attractive for investment.'
So the mayor took $250,000 of the $1.75 million the state had allocated for road repairs throughout the city and redirected it to nearby sidewalks, roads and improved lighting around what is now called Commonwealth Landing.
Dave Hebert is a lifelong city resident, who owns and manages dozens of properties in Fall River. He took us on a tour of streets he says need repair, but won't be getting it because of the reallocation of funds to the waterfront.
Hebert says the two roads surrounding Commonwealth Landing are little-used streets that had no potholes but have been re-paved anyway.
Hebert: ``How do these streets that weren't even on the radar, weren't under contract, how do they take priority over named streets on the contract.''
Hummel: ``They, in effect, have gone to the head of the list.''
Hebert: ``The y just became it, they came out of nowhere.''
Hebert says diverting the road repair money - which the state allows the mayor to allocate however he wants - is a favor to the developer, Anthony Cordeiro, who has raised at least $40,000 for Flanagan's re-election campaign.
The mayor sees it differently and assembled a team of department heads to sit in on our interview last week.
Flanagan: ``I don't think the project could have been successfully marketed if we didn't make the improvements that were requested.''
Hummel: ``Isn't that a big risk for the developers to take, though? What if the city had said: `Sorry - money's tight, we can't do it.'"
Flanagan: ``It's a risk that they took, but it's also a project I believe that's good for the city. It expands our tax base, it creates jobs here in the city and adds another destination reason for people to come to Fall River who have disposable incomes so they leave it here in our community.''
The developers recently announced a deal to bring a Jerry Remy's Sports Bar and Grille to Commonwealth Landing. A church has also moved in and the developers have plans for luxury rental units.
Meanwhile, The Hummel Report examined the city's plans for street repairs and how they changed with the mayor's decision to reallocate the state funds. Every year the mayor designates certain streets to be repaved - with additional streets on a backup list in case there is money left over.
The mayor last spring signed a change order - adding the quarter million for Commonwealth Landing work, after some of the other repaving jobs came in under budget. The city also received additional money from the state mid-year.
But we discovered the city has spent more than the $250,000 the mayor allocated at Commonwealth Landing. The city's planner estimates the final cost will be $289,000. It could top $300,000 depending on how much new lighting along the waterfront costs. Some of that is being paid for with the state money designated for road repair, and some is coming directly from city budgets. The project is about two-thirds complete.
Hebert: ``That doesn't include the sewer line they put in for 30 some thousand dollars; that's money we the taxpayers are paying for.''
Hebert also found that some of the streets on the spillover list have been dropped altogether for next year. Or the city has opted to pave only part of the street, something the mayor's office did not publicize. June Street is one of those roads.
Hebert: ``Mayor Flanagan sent out a letter to several residents of some of these streets saying don't worry your street's next, you're gonna get done. The new contract only calls for it to go from President Avenue to French Street, which is roughly one third. So he's deleting two-thirds of the street.''
Hummel: ``Saying that June Street is going to be done.''
Hebert: ``Right, but only one third is really getting done.''
Hummel: ``So if you're on the other end of June Street, you're out of luck.''
Hummel (to Flanagan) : ``You said all of the roads you had committed to getting done are being done, but that's really not the case for next year.''
Flanagan: ``It's not as if those projects are not getting done, we're still going to do them. They're still on the list to do and they will get done.''
Hummel: ``But it could be a year, maybe two years down the line. Is that the answer to the people who have potholes in front of their house?''
Flanagan: ``The people who have potholes in front of their house - we are very responsible, we get out there and fill the potholes immediately. Cracked sidewalks, we get out there and fill them immediately.''
We found several streets that look like this - streets originally on the list, but now delayed.
Flanagan said he has been responsive to residents' complaints about the roads, citing the example of Bell Rock Road in the northern end of the city. He says a woman who lives on the rutted dirt road spent 45 minutes in his office recently chewing him out and saying she was telling everyone not to vote for him.
Flanagan: ``I told them even though you don't support me, even though you're not contributing to me, even though you're going to vote for me, we're still going to do your road, because it's the right thing to do.''
And he took aim at those who are criticizing the decision on Commonwealth Landing.
Flanagan: ``And I understand the frustration. You know, they're waiting to get their road done and they may have to wait a little longer from what they normally expected for their roads to be done. This is an election year. And during an election year people, you know, ring bells and sounds alarms and do everything they can to make issues campaign issues and try to scare people and use statements to try to disguise what's going on. You know I've made...I'll talk about this issue any time because I truly believe in what we did, was the right thing to do.''
Hummel: ``You think your relationship - your financial relationship- with Mr. Cordeiro and the fact he is now developing a piece of property and getting $250,000 from the city, that's not an issue that should be brought up?''
Flanagan: ``It's an issue that should be brought up, but it's an issue I think we've got to look at the big picture here. He is not getting $250,000 - we're doing public ways in the city of Fall River.''
Hummel: ``It's $250,000 that doesn't have to come out of his pocket. Let's be clear about that. Sure, he's getting $250,000, otherwise it comes out of his, or financing or his developers or lessening of his profits. So he is getting the money.''
Flanagan: ``The money that is going to....Remington Street is $250,000 for a $16 million investment in the city of Fall River.''
Hebert: ``That's not the city's responsibility, or the taxpayers' responsibility to fund the development and the infrastructure, the curb appeal and the overall value of a private investor.''
In Fall River, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.