How creating a municipal network could be sped up

Mayor David Narkewicz’s capital plan calls for two studies. The first study would survey the community to determine if enough residents and businesses would subscribe to a municipal network. Money was approved by the City Council in July for this study.

After our last post, we did hear from the city’s Chief Information Officer, Antonio Pagan. He said:

For several reasons the process of putting the document together for your review, as agreed, has been delayed. All of them on my side, this is still one of the highest priorities for the Mayor’s Office and they are devoting resources to help get it done ASAP. 

If this study shows a level of interest to make it financially self-sustaining, an engineering study would estimate the costs to construct and maintain the network. If both studies were positive, it would form the basis for debate by the City Council for creating a municipal network.

The mayor’s capital plan proposes money for an engineering study in FY21, which starts July 1, 2020. When we met with Mayor Narkewicz in July, he suggested that after the first study is done, the next study could follow it rather quickly. He would have to ask the City Council to advance the money sooner than originally planned.

Most Massachusetts cities and towns trying to create municipal networks create a Municipal Light Plant. Easthampton voted to allow allow a MLP to be created in the November elections.

As Easthampton did this year, it’s possible the November 2020 Northampton ballot could include a question for voters on whether to allow the city to create a municipal light plant (MLP). A MLP is a likely vehicle to be used if a municipal network is built, and to maintain it for the future.

To create a MLP, the City Council would first have to vote by a two-thirds majority in two different fiscal years. The current fiscal year ends June 30, 2020. So if the City Council voted in this fiscal year and early in the next fiscal year, a MLP could be something to go before Northampton voters in November 2020, depending on deadlines for items appearing on the ballot.

These votes don’t have to depend on the completion of the two studies, but they should as it would give the City Council the information it needs to make an informed decision.

The November 5th election brought a huge change to the Northampton City Council. Five new members were elected to the City Council, and one incumbent won an at-large seat. 

We have met new council members Michael Quinlan (Ward 1), Karen Foster (Ward 2), Alex Jarrett (Ward 5) and Rachel Maiore (Ward 7), all who expressed support for a municipal network. We are confident that barring some unexpected results from these studies that the City Council will support creating a MLP and a future Northampton municipal network.

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