The Honorable Carole A. Fiola, House Chair
The Honorable Jacob R. Oliveira, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government
State House, Boston

Delivered electronically

Dear Chair Fiola, Chair Oliveira, and Distinguished Members of the Committee,

On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association would like to offer strong support for S. 2571, An Act Empowering Municipalities and Local Governments. This wide-ranging legislation updates, modernizes and streamlines local governments, helping municipal officials do their jobs of serving residents even better.

We appreciate the swift action your committee has taken in holding a hearing on the bill, and we write today to share some municipal priorities as they relate to S. 2571:

Support Remote/Hybrid Public Meeting Options; Add Remote Flexibility for Town Meetings
We are pleased to see a number of provisions first made during the COVID emergency now codified in S. 2571. This includes the remote meeting flexibilities for public bodies made permanent in Sections 2-6 of this legislation. Much of the work to modernize and transition core municipal government functions into this new era has been highly successful, creating increased access, engagement and transparency in local government. However, one size does not fit all. Each municipality has different capabilities, needs, and preferences.

Codifying the current authorizations through Section 2-6 ensures that municipalities can make the best determinations for their public meetings while taking into account capacity and public interest, as well as available resources such as technology, staff and space. Each city and town has dozens of boards, councils and commissions which hold numerous meetings a year and often simultaneously. In total, there are more than 10,000 across the Commonwealth. These municipalities continue to find the meeting mechanisms that work best for their residents, and making these flexibilities permanent will help ensure they continue to do so. We urge the Committee to support the Sections as proposed and avoid any unworkable mandates for hybrid public meetings.

We also urge the Committee to add provisions related to remote participation for town meetings and caucuses as well. There are a number of municipalities already successfully utilizing remote participation, which is temporarily authorized for representative town meetings. We strongly support changes for towns to have a permanent option to conduct remote town meetings, and that this authority also be extended to open town meeting communities.

Codify Restaurant-related authorizations – Outdoor Dining and To-Go Cocktails
We strongly support provisions of S. 2571 providing important administrative flexibilities for municipalities and how they support the local dining industry. Restaurants are an economic force in cities and towns, and we are pleased to see the inclusion of provisions that will help strengthen them.

We strongly support codifying the current flexibilities for outdoor dining service in Section 21, which allows a local licensing authority to grant expedited approval for purposes of permitting outdoor alcohol service. While we are extremely supportive of this concept, we support amending the language to place these changes in M.G.L. Chapter 138 instead. We believe this provision would be better served in Chapter 138, which addresses alcoholic liquors, rather than Chapter 40A, which is a zoning provision.

We are also supportive of Section 76, which codifies the ability of restaurants to sell to-go cocktails with take out orders. These extensions, with an April 1 deadline, have been and continue to be successful mechanisms for Main Street economic recovery. Municipal administrators and local law enforcement officials have also touted the success of these flexibilities and have not raised complaints about abuse or mismanagement by local businesses or residents. Allowing these flexibilities to become permanent will help local economies all across the Commonwealth.

Add Important Municipal Control of Liquor Licenses
Local control of liquor licenses is a key priority for local officials and the MMA, and we would applaud its inclusion in this bill. Under current law, a municipality that has reached the statutory cap on liquor licenses may issue no further liquor licenses without going through a home rule petition process requiring state legislative approval. This process is both time-consuming and cumbersome at both the local and state levels, and often proves incapable of moving swiftly enough to meet local demand.

By lifting statutory caps, a municipality, at local discretion, would be able to create a plan for the number of liquor licenses that it deems appropriate. This would allow municipalities to have greater control over local economic development, allowing each municipality to consider the scale and scope of the needs of its population, its tourism sector, and its future development plans.

We would support language that amends Chapter 138 of the General Laws to allow municipalities to determine the number of liquor licenses it issues. H. 367, An Act Returning Liquor License Control to Municipalities contains such language, and we would support its inclusion.

Support Various Needed Procurement Efficiencies; Add Snow Hauling Exemption
There are a number of important procurement changes in the bill that will help streamline what is often an overly cumbersome process. We are pleased to support these provisions and appreciate that they acknowledge the economic realities of inflationary budget pressures and the current use of technology to provide notices and RFPs. We support Sections 8 and 10-13, which would bring all municipal purchases in line with the School Operational Efficiency Act passed in 2022. This increases the cap for municipal purchases that fall under Ch. 30B from $50,000 to $100,000. Many municipalities have a single procurement officer for all purchases, and the 2022 change to only school purchases has added unnecessary burden in its implementation. An updated threshold for all municipal purchases will help prevent unintentional errors and reflects the impact on costs from inflation.

We are also supportive of Section 9 of the bill, which eliminates the requirement to publish notice of invitations for competitive bids on COMMBUYS. This aligns with current technological practice, where such notices via COMMBUYS are unnecessary, and information may be easier to identify on other websites or pushed out via email.

Section 14 would streamline cooperative purchasing agreements by allowing both the procurement of goods and services. Many municipalities engage in these types of agreements, and allowing both goods and services to be procured as such will further alleviate unnecessary administrative burden. The MMA applauds the inclusion of this provision.

We also support Section 23 of the bill, which allows for the streamlined procurement of electric school buses and charging infrastructure. Allowing these as a single procurement under Ch. 30B is a common sense approach that will help speed up this often lengthy process.

We also encourage inclusion of a provision addressing snow hauling and removal, similar to language found in H. 3039, An Act relative to snow hauling and removal. The routine snow and ice programs of most local jurisdictions include both the plowing of snow during an emergency event and the removal and hauling away of snow after the event. However, the Office of the Inspector General has determined M.G.L. Ch. 30B, Section 1(b)(17), applies to only snow plowing, but not snow hauling. The result of this interpretation is that jurisdictions must now publicly bid snow hauling services, and those contractors who are involved with plowing are not permitted to perform snow hauling services unless they are the successful bidder for snow hauling.

Because snow hauling is the more lucrative aspect of the snow and ice removal process, fewer vendors are willing to contract with communities for plowing services if they do not have the snow hauling contract. The primary mission for cities and towns with respect to snow and ice is to clear streets and parking lots in a safe and timely manner. Given the tight economic climate, many municipalities are experiencing a shortage of plow contractors because they are migrating to other communities where they are allowed to participate in a hauling program. This bill would make the necessary change to clearly exempt snow hauling from the procurement process as well.

Codify Effective Tools to Enforce the Removal of Double Poles
The accumulation of double poles is an issue in every community across the Commonwealth — creating safety and accessibility risks, delaying construction projects, and reducing confidence in government. Double poles cause numerous safety and accessibility issues that municipalities currently have no authority to address. These poles can add significant delays to construction projects, adding costs and extending disruption in the community and traffic flow. Double poles are known to block safe passage in the road and sidewalks, including affecting ADA compliance of sidewalks.

By fining pole owners up to $1,000 per pole, Section 79 would allow communities to enforce the 90-day deadline for removal of double poles already reflected in state law (M.G.L. Ch. 164, Sec. 34B). This section is a forward-looking provision that will address a longstanding, pervasive issue that is poised to exacerbate if not addressed by the Commonwealth.

Increase Borrowing Terms for School Projects
We are supportive of Section 31 of the bill, which increases the borrowing term for school buildings from 30 years to 40 years. This flexibility allows these significant costs to be spread out in a timeline that is more in-line with the longer lifespan of such a project. Given the school infrastructure needs in many municipalities, this longer bond term may also make such an investment more realistic and attainable.

Support the Amortization of Emergency Spending Deficit
Section 35 of this legislation gives municipalities the ability to amortize emergency-related deficit spending over three subsequent fiscal years. This increased flexibility is particularly important as the impacts of extreme weather make emergency budgeting difficult. Having the ability to amortize this deficit over the course of several years rather than one fiscal year can help prevent municipalities from suddenly cutting other services in years when they are already being hit hard by an unforeseen emergency. The MMA strongly supports the inclusion of Section 35.

Provide Needed Flexibility for Municipal Critical Workforce Shortages
All municipalities can point to critical staffing shortages as demands on the local workforce expand and many seasoned workers retire. Section 16 of the legislation establishes a process by which municipalities and executive departments may apply to the Executive Office for Administration and Finance for a “critical shortage” exemption from certain post-retirement limitations on employment for specific job titles or classes. This mirrors a similar approach for teacher shortages with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. We strongly support Section 16 as an important measure to support retirees while helping address the unique short-term workforce needs at the municipal level.

Study Impacts and Recommend Reform of Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB)
We are supportive of Section 81, which establishes an OPEB Commission to take a fresh look at opportunities to address unfunded liabilities from non-pension employee benefits. Local officials across Massachusetts strongly support providing excellent health benefits for employees and retirees. But without reform, skyrocketing OPEB costs will threaten reductions in the municipal workforce, potentially eliminating jobs for thousands and thousands of dedicated teachers, police officers, firefighters, DPW workers, and other vital employees.

The municipal unfunded OPEB liability totals more than $34 billion, which is much higher than the Commonwealth’s total liability. Reform is needed to protect local taxpayers, support retirees, and ensure that cities and towns can provide the municipal and school services that citizens deserve. We support Section 81 to create a Commission to identify legislative solutions to address the overwhelming and costly OPEB liability for municipalities all across Massachusetts.

Add Provisions to Modernize Legal Advertisements and Municipal Posting
Eliminating rigid requirements for publishing can be an important way for municipalities to save time and protect limited public resources. The MMA strongly encourages the Committee to include a provision eliminating the need for municipalities to publish legal notices in print newspapers. While we understand the importance of local journalism, such publication has become a significant expense for municipalities, with limited public benefit. H. 2098 and H. 1723 both contain language that seeks to offer logistical relief to cities and towns for these burdensome and costly posting requirements. Being mindful of an impact on small, local papers, we would be supportive of language that would substitute online posting in cases where larger papers have no local coverage. We would also support language that would allow for the current requirement to be satisfied through online-only local newspapers.

S. 2571 presents a unique and important opportunity for the Commonwealth to further its support for all 351 cities and towns. The provisions highlighted above will arm municipalities with greater tools, create efficiencies in government, and make it easier for communities to provide the essential local services for their residents. We look forward to working with you and your staff on these important priorities in this integral bill.

Thank you for your leadership and for your swift action on these important issues. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Ali DiMatteo, at, at any time. We are grateful for your support of local government in the Commonwealth and deeply appreciate your consideration of this legislation.


Adam Chapdelaine
MMA Executive Director and CEO