The Council voted decidedly against a nearly $300,000 expenditure that would have funded an extensive Beautification Program concentrated in the downtown areas, noting that there were more critical needs for the money at this time.
The Council voted 2-7 in the defeat, which had been championed for some time by Councillor Naomi Zabot.
“This is something I’m very, very passionate about,” said Zabot. “In terms of the pandemic and the financial situation we’re I, we are getting federal funding to fill in those gaps. According to our City Manager we are in a good place financially and the addition of even one more job in the community is helpful to the community…This money would go back to the community and we’re cleaning up the streets which has become increasingly harder for the DPW to clean up. It’s increasingly hard to keep streets clean and some neighborhoods are spotless and other neighborhoods are full of litter.”
Those voting for the plan were Zabot and Yamir Rodriguez. Those voting against were Council President Roy Avellaneda and Councillors Giovanni Recupero, Melinda Vega Maldonado, Leo Robinson, Todd Taylor, Enio Lopez and Calvin Brown. Absent from the vote were Councillors Damali Vidot and Judith Garcia.
The plan, which has been discussed through the winter in long meetings and discussion about the priorities of the City right now. The plan would include one supervisor and 25 workers for 19 hours per week. Those workers would come at a cost of $255,850 in salaries, and $37,000 for materials. The total cost of the program was $292,850, which City Manager Tom Ambrosino had requested from the Council Monday night from the Streets and Sidewalks accounts.
Most of the Council members did come down against the measure, not necessarily because they disagreed with Beautification efforts, but because they felt that the City wasn’t at a point where they could spend money on that when people still needed food.
“It’s just not the right time,” said Brown. “I can’t vote for it…I think we’re opening up a bad can of worms now.”
Avellaneda said he respects the idea, and had championed such measures in the past – including the MadVac effort in the early 2000s. However, he said there are just other priorities now and he wonders why Roca isn’t doing a better job with the money the City pays them to keep the streets clean.
“The problem I have with this is I’m not satisfied,” he said. “We still have money going out to a company like Roca. I don’t feel confident that we’re spending on a business like this and Roca at the same time. I think we need to evaluate the totality of the program and maybe we need to look at the program with Roca if they’re not doing the job needed for our neighborhoods. If not, we should look at whether or not they should be and maybe we should do something else.”
He said he was also disappointed that the program would only hire four youths, and the rest would be adults. He said it might be better to farm such a program out to the temporary agencies in Chelsea for the adults, and have the City focus on a program for youth only.
The matter cannot be brought back to the Council for another three months under Council rules.