By Seth Daniel
With a lot of money comes the anxiety of not blowing it all due to poor planning or infighting.
That’s exactly what members of the Charlestown community began trying to avoid on Tuesday night, Jan. 31, in a meeting sponsored by the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) to discuss with City Councilor Sal LaMattina and State Rep. Dan Ryan local ideas for the responsible use of the millions that will land in the community as a result of the Surrounding Community Agreement (SCA) with Wynn Boston Harbor.
LaMattina and Ryan kicked off the meeting, which was crowded with at least 27 local non-profits and some residents, by announcing that the first meeting of the Charlestown Community Impact Trust Fund Committee will take place on Feb. 7 in City Hall. The meeting would be an initial meeting to begin forming the frameworks of the Fund, which already has more than $1 million in it reserved for Charlestown non-profits.
The fund is scheduled to get payments of $2 million per year for 15 years staring in 2019 when the casino opens its doors. That’s a total of $31 million over that time period for the Town, and none of that money would be used to address transportation or traffic issues – as there is a separate pot of money specifically for that purpose.
“We have our first meeting on Feb. 7 and we wanted to come to the community and to the non-profits to get ideas before that meeting and bring them to City Hall,” said LaMattina. “That meeting will be the first time we’ll sit down and begin talking about how to get this money to the neighborhood. I don’t know where you are on the casino, but it is what it is. Now we have $1 million to give out. That is great news because for some non-profits you can do some long-term planning that you could never do before…I’m excited because I think there will be a lot of opportunities for this neighborhood.”
Ryan said it is still hard to grasp the enormity of the money that will now become available for the community. While the Town has spread out generous mitigation gifts of $500,000 over three years very successfully, he reiterated that this is twice that amount, and if all goes as expected, there will be more than enough money to help local groups get where they want to be for the long term.
“We only get this chance once,” he said. “If we have to sell another raffle ticket or have another fundraiser in the future, except if its just for fun, then we should be ashamed of ourselves,” he said. “No other square mile on the face of the Earth will get this kind of opportunity ever…This is our money and we can’t blow it…Everything we have been complaining about for the last 15 years can be answered with this.”
Those on the Fund Committee include four members from City Hall, and three elected officials or their representatives. The elected officials include Ryan, LaMattina and State Sen. Sal DiDomenico. The City Hall officials include the Director of Boston Transportation, the Director of Public Works, Jerome Smith of the Mayor’s Office, and the City Chief Financial Officer.
LaMattina said he would like to sit on the committee personally until it’s formed. Once he’s comfortable with the setup, he said he would nominate someone from a Charlestown non-profit to sit on the Committee in his place. He also indicated that DiDomenico planned to nominate a resident from Charlestown to sit in his place.
It appeared Ryan would sit personally on the committee for the time being, as he resides in the Town.
In sum, the meeting was the beginning of a lot of good ideas being bantered around, but also a lot of anxiety about whether it would be doled out fairly, or if it would actually even make it to Charlestown at all.
Bill Galvin of the CNC said he would prefer to dissolve the City Hall structure and to allow the CNC to dole out the money within the process that it has conducted over several decades for mitigation funds that came from MWRA, the Big Dig and Spaulding. He said the numbers of City Hall folks outnumber the elected officials or residents of the Town – which worries him.
“They can come in and say they’re going to build a park,” he said. “Well, they should build a park anyway out of the operating budget. This should be for the extras.”
One point of anxiety is that the annual $2 million payments – which Mayor Walsh has promised will be reserved for Charlestown only for the full 15 years – are more flexible in their uses. While the current $1 million payment is strictly for Charlestown non-profits, the $2 million payments can be used for non-profits, parks, water shuttles, after school opportunities, job training, cultural activities and other related events.
One of the unifying themes of the meeting was to make sure the Town saves some of the money, putting it back to collect interest and to make it last beyond the 15 years.
“Maybe we could set a portion of it back so that after five or six years it could collect interest and make an even greater impact on the community – just a piece of it every year,” said Tom Cunha, chair of the CNC.
Most everyone agreed with that, and LaMattina said that would be a major piece of the discussion on Feb. 7 – setting up some kind of savings plan for the payments.
For the sports leagues, just about every one of them was present at the meeting – including football/cheerleading, Little League, Girls Softball, Lacrosse, Soccer, Town Track, Youth Hockey and others.
While those non-profits run smaller budgets than the full-time non-profits, they all seemed to be more on the same page than any other group.
One of the greatest deficits right now in the youth sports arena is that there are very few playing fields in the Town. Most all of the sports teams said they would like to collaborate and work on a bigger project with the money, perhaps setting money back for a few years to identify, design and build out a new field for all of the teams to use.
“Part of the money maybe could do bigger projects,” said a representative of Metro Lacrosse. “On eh sports side, maybe finding field space and building it out for all of us. Right now we pull our hair out trying to schedule the fields for all the kids.”
Jack Schievink of girls softball and Al Carrier of the Little League and Youth Hockey both said they would like to see some of the money go to employing a professional grant writer to have on staff and ready to assist those applying for the Wynn money, or for that matter, any other grants that could be available.
“We’re going for the same pot of money corporations are going for,” said Schievink. “They have grant writers and they have the tim and I don’t have the time to sit down at a computer and fill out these applications. I’m raising children and grandchildren. So, I throw my hands up and charge the parents more and we go out and beg.”
Said Carrier, “I’m filling out these forms on mornings, nights and weekends. We’re volunteers. A grant writer would be a huge benefit to have on staff to serve any of us. Beyond this money, there are grants out there from Major League Baseball for the Little League that we might be able to get, but I don’t have time. There are all kinds of those grants out there that might be available for all of our organizations.”
Terry Kennedy of the Kennedy Center said it is critical for the Town to look at all the needs and make sure that they are addressed. He said there is a great need for daycare and infant care in the Town, but he has no room at his facility, and no one is filling that gap.
“We should really take a holistic view of what the needs are,” he said. “I agree with others here that $1 million isn’t going to go far, but it can have a big impact if we plan correctly.”
He and others alluded to performing a needs assessment with the initial money, and also clarifying terms and eligibility – such as who qualifies and what is a non-profit. Some were worried that if such terms weren’t clarified beforehand, there could be a flood of new non-profits moving into Charlestown to try to get a piece of the Wynn money.
LaMattina said they hoped to have their first distributions by the end of this spring for the $1 million from Wynn.