WSAR NEWS Archives for 2020-02

Fall River City Council Talks $4.7 Million Shortfall In F-Y 2021

At this week’s session of the Fall River city council during final budget preparations for the fiscal year 2021 budget, it was learned that there is a 4.7 million dollar shortfall on the municipal side. 


The goal now is to find ways to reduce that figure. WSAR had conversations with a few councillors in regards to that 4.7 million dollars. 


"I'm a bit upset about it,” Veteran Councilor Leo Pelletier said. “What do we do now?” 


Pelletier said he realizes that the annual near 2.5% in property taxes will not be going away with this new information. 


“We have had a 2.5 % property tax every year and people think we can relax on it but we can't,” he said. “We just can't. We've been paying that every year and it doesn't change. We have too many commitments to find 4.7 million dollars. It's going to be a tough thing to do.”


Council member Michelle Dionne told WSAR she wants to take a second look at values of new homes in the city that have been built in recent years. 


She said that those on the council have a responsibility to the citizens of Fall River.


"As councilors, we have an obligation to realistically look at numbers and to keep tax payers informed,” Dionne said. “We have to reassure people that their dollars are going where they should and make sure they are wisely spent. And we have to make sure they don't pony up more than necessary. 


“The issue for me is the new housing market with so many homes being built in the last few years,” Dionne said. “People recognize that as a source of revenue and right now, we don't have a dollar amount on how that has increased our tax base."

Mayor Paul Coogan Talks Legal Cannabis In Fall River

The cannabis business in Fall River is booming. 


A third dispensary will most likely make its way into the city’s rotation before the end of 2020 and join Northeast Alternatives and Hope Heal Health. 


A major concern for the city and its mayor is the traffic congestion at the Northeast Alternatives location at the border of Rhode Island. Its hoped that the addition of Hope Heal Health and a future shop will alleviate those issues. 


"When you have only one open in a city this big sitting on the Rhode Island border, it's fraught with disaster,” Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan said. “Twenty-five percent of the customers at Northeast were from out-of-state with fifty percent from Fall River.”


Mayor Coogan said he’s mostly concerned with that fifty percent number and how it will dictate the addition of future dispensaries in Fall River. 


“I'm hoping those north of Bedford Street try Hope Heal Health and if they like it then like I said after one or two more dispensaries, I'd like the city to take a pause and see where to go from there,” he said.


The Fall River Mayor said that the city’s second dispensary is making progress since opening in early February. 


"I did speak with Hope Heal Health,” Coogan said. “They just trained 15 more people. They are expanding their dispensary hours to mirror what's going on at Northeast opening an hour earlier once the new people are trained.” 


He continued, “they said the business is on a steady increase. Every day, they are picking up more and more customers."


Rhode Island, currently, has yet to legalize cannabis recreationally.

Meth Lab Explosion In Norton

The Bristol County District Attorney’s Office reported over the weekend that 38-year old Norton man died on Saturday as a result of a small explosion at his apartment Faith Way.


The explosion appears to be a result of a meth lab operating inside of the residence.


Edward Rooney had already fled the scene when police arrived just before 1 am Saturday morning. There was no fire upon arrival on the scene.


Then, shortly after Attleboro Police and fire personnel responded to a residence in Attleboro on Pike Avenue after a 9-1-1 call for a man experiencing medical issues. The residents were awoken by a man screaming for help outside their home. When they let him, he collapsed in the entryway. 


Rooney was transported to Sturdy Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead just after 2:30 am. 


Residents in the Faith Way apartment building in Norton were ordered to evacuate to a community center. The investigation is ongoing as a medical examiner will perform an autopsy on the deceased.

Potential Borden School Demolition

The clock is ticking on the proposed demolition of the former Borden School building in Fall River. 


The City Council’s Committee on Real Estate held a meeting this week and discussed this topic. Representatives from Fall River’s Preservation Society asked them for more time to see if they could find a way to save the building. 


Currently, a search for necessary documents are underway in hopes of saving the property.


The City’s Chief Financial Officer said Corporation Counsel needs to get involved.


"We know that the purchase and sale was being sought after,” Mary Sahady said. “So, I'd like to go meet with Corporation Counsel to make sure it is not available.”


Sahady, who is also the city’s interim administrator, says this needs more research before it can proceed. 


“I’d like to pull the deed to make sure there are no restrictions on it,” she said. “I think we need to do some further investigation in regards to this particular sale.”


Attorney Matt Thomas explained that many city parcels that could be looking to sell are wetlands. The city’s planning departments will be asked what can be sold and what needs to be retained. 


City administrators will also be tasked to investigate the issues on Whitefield Street where flooding and building problems have frustrated residents for several years.

Jason Burns & Early Prevention Of Cancer In Retired Firefighters

Fall River Firefighters have asked, and received, decontamination kits and specially-designed washing machines to remove carcinogens as various forms of cancers continue to take the lives of retired fire professionals.


The Head of the IAFF Local 13-14 representing Fall River Firefighters is Jason Burns and he asked for funding. He said sixty-one percent of firefighters lose their lives to different forms of cancer.


"Early prevention is the key,” Burns said. “That is the other level of what we are doing here. You will save lives if you catch the cancer early.” 


Burns knows this is something that comes with the territory of the job. 


“It's bound to happen in our job,” he said. “It's a part of what it is. I'm not here singing you a sad song. I get it, cancer is part of it. But if we can do anything as  a group here to prevent it, catch it early and keep people alive we have to so I'm asking for your support."


Burns explained what exactly funds will go to including an interesting cancer-screening process involving dogs. 


"The cancer-screening process sounds hoaky because it's a dog screening process but it has a ninety-four percent accuracy rate,” he said. “So, we breathe into masks for fifteen minutes and send it back to them.” 


In some cases, the animals can find early signs before human blood tests


“They have a series of dogs trained to sniff out what could be a sign of cancer,” Burns said. “Sometimes, they hit on precancerous cells before even a doctor with a blood test can tell."

Cannabis Revenue Numbers

In just a few months, the city of Fall River could have an idea of what type of impact the opening of the second recreational cannabis location in Fall River will have on revenue numbers. 


Hope Heal Health opened their doors to recreational cannabis during in the first week of February. 


Mary Sahady, the city’s Chief Financial Officer and Interim CIty Administrator, said the first few months of transactions might be able to predict how revenue will be affected in the long-term between Hope Heal Health’s addition and the business it could potentially take away from Northeast Alternatives. 


"At this particular point, I don't really have any idea on what their revenue stream will be,” she said. “Our budget is due May 15th so hopefully I will have at least one if not two months of cash receipts so I can better estimate what our revenue stream will be from Hope Heal Health as well as if there’s a decline from Northeast.”


Northeast Alternatives who contributed nearly two million dollars to Fall River in its first year is now attempting to expand into Swansea with a new location. Their CFO and CEO told the Swansea Board of Selectmen they could net the town $750,000 in their first year.

Northeast Alternatives Wants To Expand Into Swansea

Northeast Alternatives in Fall River is looking to expand to a new location in Swansea. 


At a recent Board of Selectmen meeting in Swansea, there were frustrations expressed about the process of granting letters of non-opposition and host agreements. 


Selectman Steven Kitchin said that investment groups have bailed and partnerships have ended without administrators in Swansea being notified. 


"I'm in this uncomfortable position of feeling like we have hanging letters of non-opposition letters out there with no response, in terms of activity from previous applicants," he said. 


The CEO and CFO of Northeast attempted to remind the Swansea board of the three percent sales tax could produce an amount of $750,000 in revenue. 


"This applicant has no less right to a letter of non-opposition than the other letters we have written that turned into thin air,” Kitchin said. “That's kind-of where I stand on this topic."


Swansea is on the list of Commonwealth cities and towns that have to go before a grand jury in Boston to explain their process of how they award the proper documentation for a recreational cannabis license.

Council Approves A Pair Of Loan Orders

A pair of loan orders were approved last night at the Fall River CIty Council session.


The first was for $2.1 million for snow removal equipment. 


Community Maintenance Director John Perry talked about the new equipment that should be coming in soon


"The trucks are ordered,” he said. “They are being manufactured as we speak. I confirmed with the vendor today that the first two trucks will be in on Thursday.” 


Perry continued, “and then six will be in shortly thereafter. There are a total of fourteen trucks on the order so hopefully in the next week and half we have the first eight in and ready to go."


Three of the trucks will be used throughout the entire year while the remaining 11 will be used for only snow removal in the Winter months. 


"Some are multi-purposed so I bought three of them,” Perry said. “They have dump bodies so we will remove the salters in the Spring, Fall and Summer and use them for our concrete and asphalt crews. The rest will be serviced and housed for those months and only used in the Winter season."


The second loan order was for street repair which was created when council, last month, rejected the remaining streetscapes. The amount for this loan order is $2.2 million. 


Perry discussed the relationship with Liberty Utilities that the city has had in regards to various street repairs. 


"I know our issues with Liberty are well-documented throughout the year,” he said. “It may be hard to believe but we have made strides with them."


The Community Maintenance Director said everyone has learned a lesson in regards to the Chapter 90 street projects.


"We have learned from our mistakes and going forward those won't be repeated,” he said. “If I have anything to do with it, there will be accountability. We will keep as many eyes as possible on those projects to make sure that proper oversight is being maintained throughout the entire project."


Council also approved a decision by the Committee on Regulations regarding Cumberland Farm Gas Tanks which will hold 48,000 gallons underground. The proposed STevens street location for a new Cumberland Farms will likely operate 24/7.     

Cannabis Control Commission Requests Interview Reports

The U.S District Judge in charge of Correia V. The United States of America agreed to a request by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission to review the interview reports of those identified in the second superseding against the former Fall River Mayor handed down last September. 


Five prospective cannabis vendors were interviewed by federal investigators. 


The information contained will now be used by the Commission in terms of its own investigation. They will look at how and why certain cities and towns handed out letters of non-opposition and host agreements for recreational licensure. 


Back in September, United States Attorney Andrew Lelling was unclear about the status of the remaining letters of non-opposition and host agreements in the pipeline when asked by WSAR. 


“The status of those applications are not up to my office,” he said. “As to whether currently the commission considers them valid or not valid or what those vendors should, I honestly don’t know.”


He also told WSAR back in September this wasn’t just an issue for Fall River but one across the state that could be an epidemic. 


“My understanding is that it is not unique,” Lelling said. “Many towns in the Commonwealth give their local head of government, usually mayor, sole discretion in granting letters. We are concerned and we may or may not look into that issue.”


If the Cannabis Control Commission wants to make its information public, it must return to the federal courts for permission.

Mayor Paul Coogan Talks Hope Heal Health Grand Opening

Hope Heal Health on Weaver Street in Fall River officially began selling recreational cannabis on Friday.


In a weekly conversation with WSAR, Mayor Paul Coogan who speaks with WSAR every Friday at 12:30 talked about the city opening up its second recreational cannabis dispensary. 


The major issue that is hoped to be solved is traffic. Northeast Alternatives has been the only dispensary in Fall River thus far selling cannabis recreationally which means it is a monopoly in Fall River. 


There is a weekly congestion of vehicles and complaints of noise at the location which resides near the border of Tiverton. Hopefully, now that there are more places to buy product, business will be divvied up and those concerns will be solved naturally. 


The Fall River Mayor took a tour of the facility on its day of grand opening. 


"It's a beautiful facility,” he said. “They put a ton of money into the building. They hired a ton of people from Fall River. They have somewhere between 125 and 130 employees right now. When the build-out is done on floors 3 and 4 they expect to have up to 225 employees."


If you’re thinking parking might be an issue with the type of demand this product holds, think again. The company’s CEO John Rogue has figured that out, says Coogan. 


"There is a substantial amount of parking,” he said. “He has somewhere around 250 parking spots including some he rented. For the mere fact that some people may not want to go up there with the type of parking at Northeast and all of the traffic.” 


“Weaver Street is a bit quieter and people can get in and out a little quicker,” Coogan said. “There will be a natural market force that will alleviate the pressure at Northeast. Everyone's hope in the city is to spread out that traffic a bit."


Currently, 14 prospective cannabis dispensaries have attained host agreements and non-opposition letters in Fall River with others waiting to get in front of the Cannabis COntrol Commission. But that doesn’t mean all will come to fruition.


"I don't see Fall River supporting a number like 14,” the Fall River Mayor said. “I know Taunton gave out 18. If I was drawing out the rollout, I'd like to see us go to 3 then 4 then 5 and sit around there a little while to look at what traffic looks like and how business is doing. We can determine the upsides and downsides and then go forward from there."


Boston was approved for their first recreational dispensary earlier in the month and expect its opening in a few weeks. 

New Massachusetts Mental Health Reform Bill

The Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman announced to WSAR on Thursday that a new comprehensive reform package regarding mental health has been produced. 


Michael Rodrigues, who also serves as the Bristol-Plymouth 1st District State Senator, began to discuss what type of things we can expect from this piece of legislation. 


He told WSAR, “among other things it would eliminate prior authorizations so that should your mental health provider determine you need intensive outpatient treatment or inpatient treatment, you don’t have to wait for your insurance company to insure that.”  


Rodrigues went on to list the other things that represent what this bill will mean.


“It calls for true parity between mental and physical health,” he said. “It reforms the way we treat those, especially pediatric, that are present in emergency rooms. It insures they get the help they need in a timely manner.”


State House News Services is reporting that the bill will be debated in the Senate next week. Senators will have until Monday to file amendments for a Thursday debate.

Commonwealth Awards Grant Money To Fall River, New Bedford And Fairhaven

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts entered into a third round of funding of M.V.P Action Grants this week.


Fall River, New Bedford and Fairhaven were among the various communities to share in over 10.5 million dollars. The grant money is intended to be used in the funding of projects that build local resilience to climate change.  


Fall River was awarded 115,000 dollars which will be used for the water supply risk and resilience assessment as well as a distribution system. 


New Bedford and Fairhaven will share in a sum of over 58,000 dollars for a New Bedford Harbor Evaluation as well as towards resilience design guideline development.

Joe Kennedy III Reacts To State Of The Union Address

President Trump gave his third and what could be his final State of the Union Address earlier this week. 


Hours prior to the speech, the White House to Massachusetts media sent information touting aspects of the Commonwealth’s economy. It was claimed that the state’s falling poverty rate has lifted 62,000 people out.


Other things praised by the Trump Administration was the wage increase by five percent for Massachusetts workers over the last year.


The COmmonwealth’s 4th District Congressman who is running against Ed Markey for a U.S Senate Seat had much to say about the man in charge and his words earlier in the week. 


Kennedy called Trump  ''a man who has proven himself incapable of practicing the unity he preaches during his State of the Union Address.” 


Kennedy also said in his reactions that this leadership group is only in this for themselves. 


“This administration has never judged its own success by the success of our neighbors,” he said. “It has only sought to consolidate power at the expense of those it silences.”

John Perry Talks Recycling Education In Fall River

In a post Pay-As-You-Throw Era in Fall River, the Director of Community Maintenance indicated the city has begun an education program on the proper ways to recycle. 


John Perry made it clear the goal is to keep recyclings as clean as possible to keep as many toxins out as possible. 


"We're going to start an education pu,” he said..” We started with the schools last year. We gave them some demonstrations to get the kids involved. I think that’s a big piece. Eventually, those children are going to be our recycling producers.”


Perry continued, “they'll be the ones putting it out on the curbside and if they're recycling responsibly our contamination rates will be lower."


The question of shipping internationally out our recycling was brought up. Perry said Fall River has to build-up a stock of recycling to begin that process. If the youth in Fall River are educated on the proper ways of recycling, this can become a main option for the city. 


"Once the market does call for the need for more recycling to be shipped to these countries, the initial recycling that we’re putting out on our curbside as residents won't be what they receive,” he said. “They'll get stockpiles of recycling that have been baled and stored.”


The Director of Community Maintenance said that this will not be something that happens overnight. 


“It will take a while for the consumer recycling to be what’s in demand,” Perry said. “When that happens is when market price turns back."

Hope Heal Health Will Open Door To Recreational Cannabis This Friday

Hope Heal Health will begin selling recreational cannabis this Friday, February 7th. 


They became the second dispensary in the City of Fall River to sell cannabis, recreationally and began selling medicinally in February of 2019.


The store is located at a renovated mill on West Street which will also cultivate the product.


The first store, Northeast Alternatives, is located on the North End of the city near the border of Tiverton. Business has done so well that there have been issues of traffic concerns and noise complaints for those in the surrounding neighborhood.


Mayor Paul Coogan is hopeful with Hope Heal Health beginning to sell recreationally that those issues will be solved. 


"Right now, Northeast Alternatives has a monopoly in the city of Fall River on recreational marijuana,” he said. “If we can open up a few places, I have to believe the traffic will lessen quickly up there.”


Coogan continued, “just for the mere fact that people don't want to wait in line that long. People don't want to be jumping around the block three times to park.” 


The Fall River Mayor believes this is going to benefit everyone. 


“I think if there’s other places they can go, it will be good for the community,” Coogan said. “It will be good for the residents up there. And it's going to help financially in Fall River.”

Swansea's Town Administrator Takes Indefinite Medical Leave

An indefinite medical leave was approved for Swansea’s Town Administrator on Friday and someone who is no stranger to the area was selected in the interim. 


James Purcell will take over for John MacAuliffe as Swansea’s Acting Town Administrator as MacAuliffe will deal with medical concerns. 


Purcell has a storied history in this capacity across various communities in the Commonwealth. 


Steven Kitchin, a Swansea Selectman, listed Purcell’s accomplishments in the field and highlighted his experience.


"For those of you who don't know James Purcell, he served as Town Manager for the town of Norton, Massachusetts between 2003 and 2011,” he said. “He served as Town Administrator in the town of Leicester, Massachusetts between 1995 and 2003.” 


It seems as though Purcell is an expert when it comes to filling in the interim for Massachusetts cities and towns when they are in need. 


“He has conducted interim appointments in such communities as North Andover, Sherborn, Ashland, Carver, Swansea, West Boylston, Douglas, Leicester, Avon and most recently Rockland," Kitchin said.


A second Selectmen member, Chris Carreiro, approved of the selection and praised Purcell in their time working together. 


"I have worked with Mr. Purcell back in 2015 during the transition from our Town Administrator Jim Kearn to John MacAuliffe,” he said. “I thought he did an outstanding job. It's difficult to come in and hit the ground running. But Mr. Purcell seems to be successful at that."


Purcell was incredibly humble in accepting the position and happy to lend a hand. 


"The circumstances are certainly much different than the time I first served here,” he said. “But it is my pleasure to assist John and the Town of Swansea as well as this board. I would be most pleased."


This is the second time Purcell will fill in the interim as Town Administrator in Swansea.