By Seth Daniel
In a move on Monday that caught many in the Town off-guard – including elected officials involved in the process – Mayor Martin Walsh submitted a letter to the City Council Monday morning asking it to approve a newly-created Charlestown Impact Trust Fund – the conduit that will hold Wynn casino mitigation payments and approve funding requests from that soon-to-be lucrative fund.
While most were preoccupied with Charlestown Pride Week and the upcoming Parade on Sunday, the mayor put in the request early Monday morning, seemingly with the intention of beginning a dialog with folks during his visits to the Town on Pride Week.
“I am pleased that we have been able to reach an agreement with Wynn that will benefit the residents of Charlestown, and the Community Impact Trust Fund will provide much needed resources that will support programming, infrastructure and more in the neighborhood for generations to come,” he said in a statement.
The Fund will be overseen by Chief Financial Officer David Sweeney, Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Gina Fiandaca, Chief of Civic Engagement Jerome Smith, City Councilor Sal LaMattina, and State Rep. Dan Ryan. Each, however, could appoint a representative to serve in his or her place on the Fund committee. They will be charged with overseeing that fund and processing and awarding funding requests from organizations and City departments related to the Wynn project and its impacts on Charlestown.
That said, many in the Town had no idea on Monday that the plan was in place, and were taken by surprise that such a request was submitted to Council without first having had a public meeting or a discussion with local leaders.
State Rep. Ryan, who is named as being on the Trust Fund Committee, had never heard of the matter when contacted by the paper on Monday.
“I would love to comment, but this is the first I have heard of it,” he said. “I will comment when we all get on the same page.”
Neither Councilor LaMattina or Council President Michelle Wu were immediately available for comment.
Others in the Town who didn’t wish to go on the record just yet until the process played out said it would have been nice to have community participation before putting forth a plan – even though most said they understood the plan put forth wasn’t a finished product.
Some were concerned that maybe the City would find a way to divert some of the money to other citywide budget needs that could be attributed to casino impacts – such as police overtime or firefighting equipment.
Others pointed out that the makeup of the Committee is heavy on City Hall officials, and could in theory not even have a Charlestown person on the Board in the future.
Currently, the City Councilor, LaMattina, is a resident of East Boston. State Rep. Ryan is a resident of Charlestown, but his district encompasses Chelsea also.
“What if one day Dan isn’t state representative any longer and someone from Chelsea is elected,” said one person familiar with the issue. “You’ll have a Chelsea person making these key decisions and there won’t be anyone from Charlestown with any input.”
That said, the Mayor’s Office has indicated that the Fund has been part of a long-standing plan to create some sort of program to administer the Wynn mitigation money – a plan which is roughly spelled out in the City’s January Surrounding Community Agreement (SCA) with Wynn. The bones of that program have also been reported in the Patriot Bridge over the last several months as City Hall officials worked on creating it.
Already, if the Council approved the Trust Fund creation request, there is a $1 million check waiting to be deposited into the account – money that was part of a 2015 Licensing Fee payment and is earmarked specifically for Charlestown non-profits and organizations.
The other funds expected to accumulate in the account are part of the Community Impact Fee that Wynn has agreed to pay annually to Boston – for use on specific purposes laid out in the SCA. That fee was negotiated at $2 million per year. It begins on or before 90 days after the casino opens its doors to the public, which is predicted at the moment to be some time in 2018.
The criteria for that money is less specific than the $1 million that is currently available and reserved for Charlestown non-profits and organizations.
The SCA indicates that the Community Impact Fee has the following uses.
“The purpose of this payment shall include, without limitation, the following: (i) improvements to the facilities within the City to facilitate water transportation and to fund staffing and other public safety initiatives related to increased use of water transportation in the Boston Harbor related to the Project; (ii) support of Charlestown’s non-profits, parks, after-school activities, senior programs, job training programs, cultural events and related activities that promote Charlestown’s heritage, quality of life, recreational and cultural activities; (iii) staffing and other public safety initiatives related to increased pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the City related to the Project following the Opening Date; and (iv) any other impacts including any transportation infrastructure impacts and the Sullivan Square Infrastructure Project related to the Project.”
There was no indication as to when any application process for the Trust Fund or the distributions from the Trust Fund would begin. However, the mayor will likely be clarifying such points as he navigates the Pride Week festivities in the Town.
Mayor Walsh has committed since signing the SCA that the money from the Community Impact Fee will stay in Charlestown.
“Protecting the people of Boston and ensuring the neighborhood of Charlestown is treated fairly is our shared goal,” he wrote the Council in his letter penned on Friday and submitted Monday morning.