No, I see enough of it already. All these brand new City of Northampton Department of Public Works trucks running around the city. For every one you see there are probably three or four parked in back lots up in Williamsburg or in back of the recycling area off Locust Street. One hundred and thirteen of them, Big International 7400 series dump trucks with stainless steel dump bodies, hordes of pickups with mechanic’s bodies, a grader, and a lot of smaller dump trucks. Supervisors now ride around in classy dark blue Ford Explorers, unmarked as city vehicles except for the baby-blue State license plates. Equipment that many towns and cities lease from private owners, Northampton buys, because Northampton is rich.
But are Northampton taxpayers rich? Many newcomers to Northampton may be well-to-do, but many retirees and long-term residents are having a tough time paying ever-increasing tax bills.
I was talking to some independent truckers the other day that were killing time waiting for a state repaving job to start. I asked them how much they had to pay for a stainless truck bed.
“The city has stainless steel bodies on their dump trucks?” said one trucker, “They cost a lot more than the normal steel beds. I can’t afford them.”
The rich get richer, and the poor struggle to keep their heads above water as it rises inexorably. The town is hemorrhaging money right and left from our open spigots.
It’s hard to understand the city being short of money when house prices are sky-rocketing and we have had close to a million dollar’s worth of new construction on Hospital Hill. In the last months, eight new homes have sold on Hatfield Street. They stayed on the market for a while, but all of them have sold for between $340,000 to$380,000. Homes on Hospital Hill have also been selling like the proverbial hotcakes.
Bobby Gougeon, who runs Florence Towing and has developed and rehabilitated a number of real estate parcels up in Florence wonders why the department needs to buy so much equipment. He says many cities, even big ones like Springfield make do with leasing special purpose equipment when they need it.
Teachers in city schools often struggle on without aides, but there doesn’t seem to be a problem sending out an extra man on DPW jobs. A reader of ours had the DPW over to his neighborhood to deal with a tree stump. They brought over a front loader, a dump truck and two pickup trucks. To grind the stump down to grade level they had a worker operate a stump grinder. Another worker was raking up the shavings and shoveling them into a front loader, then the shavings went into the dump truck. While this was going on, my observer noticed a worker standing on the sidewalk. He was just watching. He had on working clothes and was evidently among several contract workers that the PW hires on a temporary basis.
Now we are planting trees everywhere and the DPW has bought a new state-of-the art Carlton self-propelled stump grinder that is essentially a small tractor with a diamond-armed cutting wheel and a device that enables it to be remote controlled. It looks like an expensive piece of machinery. The price of a similar unit on EBay was $86,000, Since our unit is brand-new, I am assuming that the price for it is close to $100.000
The Mayor’s DPW budget is slated to rise 13.97% from 2019 to 2020. Far and away the biggest increase built into the Mayor’s 2020 budget. Most of the departments have been held to increases of under 5%, including the schools. And then there are all the commitments built into the Mayor’s Capital plan for FY 2020-2024. It is true that the DPW has been tackling some big projects over the last two years. They have improved the dike that protects downtown from Connecticut flooding, and did at least two big jobs on the Roberts Brook watershed. But somewhere along the way, they seem to have broken the bindings of faith between them and the long-time residents and taxpayers, who are tapped out paying for all the storm water machinery, the drinking water treatment facility, the solid waste projects and their new stump grinder. Northampton is not a rich city.
I remember when the DPW hewed to the gospel of “making‘do’”. If the town didn’t have a budget item for a new plow, they’d rebuild an old one. Get old equipment and rework it. They’d scavenge, get federal throwaways, and weld and section and repaint and turn out a truck that would look good and do the job. Like many hilltowns with limited budgets, the gang in the barn were expert at utilizing old Army equipment. For details on the city’s budget, click on this link.