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Baker Administration Introduces 'Modernization' Bill for Municipalities
Staff Reports, iBerkshires
10:51PM / Monday, December 07, 2015
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Lt. Gov. Karen Polito speaks at the State House on a municipal modernization bill with Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini and North Adams City Councilor Lisa Blackmer.

Gov. Charlie Baker is surrounded by local officials during the bill's introduction.

Polito with Fiorentino, head of the Mayors Association, and Blackmer, vice president of MMA.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a raft of legislative amendments on Monday designed to remove outdated obstacles to efficient local government.

Baker and Lt. Gov. Karen Politio introduced "An Act to Modernize Municipal Finance and Government" after months of meetings with municipal officials across the state. The measure is supported by, among others, the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the Massachusetts Mayors Association.

"As two former local officials, the lieutenant governor and I promised to make partnership with cities and towns a focus and priority of our administration," said Baker. "We were proud to establish a Community Compact Cabinet and keep our commitment to increase local aid by 75 percent of revenue growth in our first budget, the largest such boost in nearly a decade, and look forward to implementing greater independence and flexibility that empowers our local municipal officials to best serve their communities."

Surrounded by state and local officials on the Grand Staircase at the State House on Monday afternoon, the state's elected leaders said the amendments were the result of feedback solicited from hundreds of elected officials and municipal administrators. The Division of Local Services received more than 550 individual responses and more than 1,300 suggestions from over 215 municipalities and 20 regional school districts.

The MMA posted a summary of the legislation here.

Polito had also been querying officials about better ways to partners during her "Building Stronger Communities," visiting more than 130 municipalities since taking office last year.

"Over the past 11 months, I have traveled across the commonwealth meeting with and listening to local officials as chair of the Community Compact Cabinet," said Polito. "Signing over 70 commitments to promote best practices at the local level has afforded me the tremendous opportunity to connect with local officials and hear many great ideas that are reflected in this bill, including streamlining state oversight and eliminating obsolete laws."

According to the administration, four foundational themes for the proposed municipal modernization bill are: eliminating or updating obsolete laws; promoting local independence; streamlining state oversight; and providing municipalities with greater flexibility. It noted some of the laws have not been modified since the early 1900s.

Among the many changes being proposed by the Baker-Polito administration are lifting caps and other limits on the use of municipal funds in procurement and transfers; permit more flexibility in revolving and stabilization funds; allow the use of online postings for contracts; allow local advertising to fall under Open Meeting Law rules rather than bylaws or attorney general approval; allow selectmen, with the approval of a finance committee, to make certain end-of-year transfers rather than calling town meetings to meet the July 15 deadline; let municipalities impose liens for delinquent utility ratepayers in other districts; to combine tax collector and treasurer posts without having to go through a special act; allow the use of 10-year bond anticipation notes; and allow a chief administrator to approve deficit spending for snow and ice accounts.

The bill would also repeal a retiree health cost sharing measure passed in 2010 that allowed municipalities to seek reimbursement from other towns in which its  employees had worked. While supported by municipalities, a summary posted by the Massachusetts Municipal Association described the bill "as unworkable in practice."

It would also change the three-year property evaluation process to five years and reduce state-owned land evaluations from four years to two.

MMA President David Dunford, an Orleans selectman, said the bill "will remove unnecessary and obsolete barriers to efficient government and effective service delivery."

"These proposals will allow our communities to modernize their management systems, streamline their operations, and move faster than ever to grow our local economies."

North Adams City Council President Lisa Blackmer, MMA vice president, agreed.

"Taken together, these proposals will allow our communities to modernize their management systems, streamline their operations, and move faster than ever to grow our local economies," she said. "All of this will make our taxpayers happier, and our state stronger and more competitive than ever.  

"I applaud Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito for building a powerful partnership with cities and towns, and for standing with us to make Massachusetts a model for the rest of the nation."

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