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Quincy council to review Honeywell spending proposal

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 29, 2013 04:45 PM

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With $3.8 million in hand from the settlement of a controversial energy project, Quincy officials are now facing the task of how best to spend that money.

Mayor Thomas Koch already has some ideas, which call for the money, received from a $4 million settlement with Honeywell International Inc., to be given to a variety of town departments. City councilors will review the proposal Monday night.

“When you get a settlement like this, you look at the city’s needs overall, and you take a conservative approach and do everything you can through this money to achieve those ends,” said Chris Walker, spokesman for Koch.

The settlement comes after a long dispute with the energy provider, who installed millions of dollars of equipment in city buildings.

When Quincy officials discovered that some of the equipment was breaking, they called for the Inspector General to launch an investigation. Soon the Attorney General began looking into the case. A settlement was reached in January.

The attorney general took $200,000 of the settlement money to cover the cost of their work. For the remainder, spending ideas include putting $1 million to the stabilization fund, giving $1 million to the Public Buildings Department for energy upgrades and repairs, and using $800,000 for equipment purchases.

The mayor would also like to spend $500,000 of the money to upgrade school security as well as reserve $500,000 for any issues in balancing the budget in the current fiscal year.

Walker defended the mayor’s proposal in a phone interview on Thursday, saying that putting $1 million into reserves shows the mayor’s commitment to improving the city’s savings, and equipment purchases are necessary and will save the city money in the long run.

As for the $1 million into public buildings, part will address energy upgrades initially intended by the Honeywell project, a multi-million energy project that, for years, city officials alleged was faulty.

The remainder will go to new projects looking at improving aging infrastructure with an eye toward energy savings.

Walker declined to comment on whether any of the money would go on maintaining systems already installed by Honeywell, saying that could potentially violate the requirements of the settlement.

Yet for Councilor Joseph Finn, who chairs the Finance Committee, whether or not the existing systems will be maintained is a large concern.

“What is the level of maintenance we will have moving forward given that they acknowledged at the last discussion that they can’t afford that?” Finn said. “That’s a pressing concern I have.”

The overarching issue will be whether or not the city should spend money received from an energy-savings settlement entirely for energy-saving purposes.

“I’m sure there will be some discussion on specific appropriations in terms of what they are putting it towards… the whole question of whether or not this should be strictly directed to energy efficiency,” Finn said.

The council will also have to review the terms of the settlement to see if it specifies how the city has to spend the money.

“The mayor well may be under the terms of this settlement, in the authority to spend the money how he wants, or ask for an appropriation, but that doesn’t mean they should,” Finn said.

Councilor Doug Gutro, who previously had critiques of how the money might be spent, could not be reached for comment.

Regardless of where this money goes, however, Walker said the mayor is committed to energy saving projects.

Currently, the mayor is working on installing solar panels on the roofs of all public buildings. Currently that is out to bid, Walker said.

The mayor is also looking to purchase LED energy efficient street-lights from national grid, and is replacing the windows in several elementary schools through the Capital Improvement Plan, which will result in a substantial energy savings in the long run.

“The mayor is without a doubt serious about energy efficiency,” Walker said. “It’s not just all about Honeywell. The city is doing a lot of things… there are projects that may not be considered at the top of anyone’s head as energy efficiency, but they very much are.”

The Finance Committee and the City Council will discuss the Honeywell spending on Monday at 7:30 p.m.

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