MMA letter to conference committee outlines strong support for ‘municipal modernization’ bill

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The Honorable Ronald Mariano, House Chair
The Honorable Barbara L’Italien, Senate Chair
The Honorable Paul Donato, House Vice Chair
The Honorable Michael Rodrigues, Senate Vice Chair
The Honorable Jay Barrows, Ranking House Member
The Honorable Patrick M. O’Connor, Ranking Senate Member
Conference Committee on the Municipal Modernization Act
State House, Boston
 
Dear Representative Mariano, Senator L’Italien, Representative Donato, Senator Rodrigues, Representative Barrows, and Senator O’Connor:
 
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to offer our strong support for the great work done by the House and Senate to shepherd a complex municipal modernization bill through both branches to a Conference Committee. This bill is a top priority for municipal officials across the Commonwealth in the remaining days of this legislative session.
 
There are a great many areas of agreement in the House bill (H. 4419) and the Senate bill (S. 2430) that cover a wide range of subjects. The House bill includes 234 sections and the Senate bill 241 sections. This comprehensive legislation contains provisions intended to improve the effectiveness of local government by removing obsolete state laws and updating existing statutes to allow for greater efficiency at the local level. From procurement, human resources, finance and administration to economic development and public safety, this legislation makes a substantial range of statutory updates and refinements to benefit cities and towns. Taken together, these proposals will allow our communities to enhance their management systems and streamline many operations.
 
We applaud the chairs and members of the six legislative committees that devoted many hours to studying the dozens and dozens of issues encompassed in the two bills, and appreciate the commitment of House and Senate leadership to moving this legislation forward.
 
We have reviewed the provisions of the two bills and will focus our comments mainly on where the House and Senate versions are different. We have also highlighted some provisions that are common to both bills.
 
Please SUPPORT the following provisions:
We support sections 32 and 112 in the House bill that would allow cities and towns to adopt and implement a workforce housing special tax assessment plan (WH-STA) that would provide local government with a new way to facilitate the development of “middle income” housing.
 
We support sections 212, 212A and related sections in the Senate bill that would allow cities and towns to determine the number of liquor licenses that may be issued by the local licensing authority for “on premises” establishments such as bars and restaurants. Reform of the archaic liquor license statutes is a priority for cities and towns, and would facilitate economic development and provide new jobs across the Commonwealth. This is a top priority issue.
 
We support section 79 in the House bill and section 78 in the Senate bill that would increase from $20,000 to $150,000 the amount recovered from property insurance that could be used for the replacement of damaged or destroyed property without the need for a vote of Town Meeting. This is an important update that better reflects the current cost of replacing out-of-service equipment such as public works and firefighting equipment, and these sections would allow timely replacements of critical property and equipment by allowing immediate action rather than waiting months for a Town Meeting.
 
We support section 4A in the Senate bill that would require state agencies to notify the Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) and other state agencies that work with cities and towns of the impact on local government of any proposed changes to state regulations or other actions. This would facilitate early detection of unaffordable or impractical state mandates.
 
We support sections 222 and 233 in the House bill and sections 176A and 176B in the Senate bill that would allow cities and towns to establish special speed limits in “thickly settled and business districts” and in designated safety zones, allowing for enhanced public safety in communities.
 
We support sections 21-23 and 232-234 in the House bill and sections 22-26 in the Senate bill that would allow parking revenues to be used for transportation expenses.
 
We support section 229 in the House bill and section 216B in the Senate bill that would clarify certain provisions in the police cadet program.
 
We support section 223A and related sections in the Senate bill that would provide cities and towns with a measure of authority to impose a fine on a telephone or distribution company for delays in replacing unsafe and unsightly “double poles.” This moderate language represents a good compromise to resolve an issue that has plagued communities for many years.
 
Please OPPOSE the following amendments:
We strongly oppose section 12B in the Senate bill that would require Civil Service municipalities to exhaust a reserve list of police and fire candidates before requesting additional candidates from the Commission. This amendment would interfere with local management authority in making hiring decisions that are in the best interests of their particular municipalities. Forcing communities to exhaust reserve lists would certainly lead to state-mandated hiring decisions that pass over more qualified candidates. Additionally, the MMA is actively engaged in conversations with state leaders and key stakeholders about providing better options for hiring and promoting public safety employees, and we ask that no action be taken that would undermine this effort.
 
We strongly oppose sections 210 and 211 in the House bill and sections 234A and 234B in the Senate bill that would establish in statute a preference in state grant programs for regional projects and programs. Special statutory preferences would disadvantage worthy projects in cities and towns, particularly larger municipalities – including Gateway Cities, where there might be significant economic need. State agencies are not prohibited from adding weight to regional projects as they evaluate grant applications, and these agencies should be given discretion to weigh all applications on their merits. Establishing a mandated statutory bias for using state funds for regional applications as a first priority would create a one-size-fits-all approach that would likely undermine a large number of otherwise strong municipal initiatives that deserve adequate consideration.
 
We strongly oppose the provision in section 18 of the House bill (lines 311-313) that would restrict the ability of cities and towns to use joint powers authority to improve and enhance the quality of local services to veterans. This language would remove an effective tool that could be used to improve veterans programs among multiple communities.
 
We strongly oppose section 21B in the Senate bill that would provide for the establishment of special funds for special education costs. There are adequate measures under current law that cities, towns and school districts can use to fund unexpected costs. The addition of another special fund would add unnecessary complexity to local government finance and reduce transparency.
 
We strongly oppose the provisions in section 158B that would expand the waiver of the roll-back property tax under section 13 of Chapter 61A of the General Laws related to agricultural and horticultural land when a tax-benefited property is converted to use for renewable energy purposes. While exemption from the roll-back tax may make sense in some instances, the decision to forgo the local revenue to support a particular project should be made locally, as is the case with almost all other local tax incentive programs.
 
We have strong reservations about the Senate proposal in section 161A to authorize regional transportation ballot initiatives. We are particularly concerned about the membership of the important “local transportation committee” and the “regional transportation committee” (lines 2382-2407) that would include members from state agencies and specifically provide that “representatives of the municipality (or region) shall not constitute a majority of the local transportation committee.” It is our view that this provision needs additional work and should not be included in the Conference Committee report.
 
Municipalities across the Commonwealth eagerly look forward to a wide-ranging Conference Committee report, and to using the provisions to update and enhance municipal practices, and we extend our deep appreciation for your support and consideration of this key legislation.
 
Please do not hesitate to contact me or John Robertson of the MMA staff if you have any questions regarding any of these or other issues in the Municipal Modernization Act.
 
Thank you very much.
 
Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO

cc: The Honorable Robert A. DeLeo, Speaker of the House
The Honorable Stanley C. Rosenberg, Senate President