By Luke Canavan
FRAMINGHAM – At-Large Framingham City Councilors George P. King Jr. and Janet Leombruno held a virtual Community Zoom Hour last night February 11, to take questions from Framingham residents.
The Councilors were first asked about their thoughts on the possibility of buying the Belknap Pool and Tennis Club.
King Jr. said for the amount of land throughout the property, it is certainly tempting. The problem lies in whether or not the City will actually be able to use it as a pool. If not, they need to consider whether it is valuable enough as an open space. This is primarily what the debate for buying it consists of, as well as issues of cost and upkeep.
The Councilors then discussed the vaccine and answered a question from a community member who was concerned about the rollout for the second dose of the vaccine. She was wondering why she was yet to receive an appointment date for her second dose after she had already gotten her first.
Leombruno said that everyone is scrambling right now due to the low amount of doses, which is out of Framingham’s control and entirely up to the state of Massachusetts. The main problem is the way in which the information has been released and the struggle of keeping people in the loop. Leombruno said she has been told people will receive an email about an appointment for their second dose within a week of getting their first dose.
The Councilors were also asked about the arrival of the new fiscal year and if there were any potential upcoming layoffs or cuts of services.
King said this is definitely a question on everyone’s mind, mainly because of the large accumulated debt from the water and sewage problem. King Jr. said they have to make structural changes in order to keep all the frontline services they want to have, but warned it is going to be a major challenge to come up with a budget that doesn’t make any cuts at all.
Leombruno said both her and King Jr. are on the City Council’s finance committee, so they get an early look at the situation. All departments are currently trying to do the best with what they have.
To build on the topic of the water and sewage dilemma, the Councilors were asked about how the depleted water and sewage funds could potentially raise taxes.
King, who chairs the 11–member City Council said he believes the current proposed plan is $2.5 million more to be subsidized by the taxpayers. It is very complicated estimating costs and usage percentage, but they estimated they are 20% below the number they need to hit for rates.
Leombruno said a couple of people have reached out to her and said that if the water rates go up too high, they will be forced to make layoffs. Things like increased costs and layoffs are merely short term fixes, and unless they want to deal with this problem every year, Leombruno said they must indeed make structural changes.
The Councilors were then asked about what types of structural changes they envision for the water and sewage problem.
King says that even though they have some power to make particular changes, he does not see it as being the best or most efficient way to go about things because they are not involved in the day to day. If it does come down to it, King Jr. says they will make the changes themselves.
King also said he thinks there are positions on both the city side and school side that could probably be eliminated while having very little effect on services, if any, which would help cut costs.
Community member Nicole Doak briefly talked about a new hotline via MetroWest Pharmacy in Framingham, where people can call in and receive help for making vaccine appointments. The hotline was created to assist people who cannot book appointments online themselves. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. The number for the hotline is 833-283-3939.
In regards to the vaccine, King said that to him it seems as though the government is beginning to open up more and more regional clinics. A new regional clinic is scheduled to open at the Natick mall later this month.
After the experiences they have had in Framingham, King hopes the state switches to more regional sites as time goes on, compared to having cities run their own vaccine clinic every week, which King said he finds strange.
The City Council Community Hour ended with the Councilors answering a question about how often the Community Hour would occur and whether or not other City Councilors are doing this in their own district.
The two Councilors would like to do a community hour at least once a month, but not opposed to something weekly.
King said he has seen many Councilors doing their own types of calls and getting out there to spread communication.
Luke Canavan is a spring 2021 SOURCE intern. He is currently a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he studies Communication and English. He is passionate about film, television, writing, and literature, and upon graduation, he hopes to work in the entertainment industry full-time, where he can pursue his love for storytelling.