Month: August 2016

Muni Modernization bill signed

An important new bill has been signed into law by Gov. Baker that will, in the apt words of one local mayor, fix the “boring stuff” that helps local government run more efficiently and effectively. I was pleased to attend this bill signing and cast my vote in support of the legislation. As a former selectman and planning board member I really appreciate the importance of these nuts and bolts kinds of reforms.

There’s a lot to this Municipal Modernization bill, but broadly speaking it is designed to streamline state oversight over local government, eliminate obsolete laws and reduce bureaucratic hurdles, update procurement practices, modernize outdated paperwork practices and generally increase flexibility for cities and towns to self-govern.

For example, the new law will allow cities and towns to implement reduced speed limits in certain areas, allow parking revenues to be used for transportation-related activities, eliminate statutory caps on stabilization funds & reserve funds and expands a town’s ability to make year-end budget adjustments which could help reduce the need for extra special Town Meetings in the fall of each year. Those are just a few of the helpful changes this bill now allows for. It certainly sounds very boring but it’s truly the nitty-gritty stuff that impacts local government in many ways. The goal is to free up our local officials to be better able to focus on their primary goal of providing services to their residents.

Here is a summary of many of the sections of the new law

An Act modernizing municipal finance and government (H. 4565)

Eliminate/Update Obsolete Laws

  • Eliminates required reports on county government matters – Repeals provisions of the county finance statute that require DLS to review various aspects of county government finance.
  • Electronic issuance of Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction (CMVI) – Adopts the necessary changes to the civil motor vehicle infraction law to allow cities and towns to issue citations electronically
  • Updates OPEB Trust Fund Statue GASB compliant – This change clarifies current language to makes it easier for governmental units to create an OPEB trust fund that complies with the legal requirements for trusts with GASB.
  • Creates a uniform and consistent deadline for taxpayers seeking personal exemptions – Sets April 1 as the deadline for personal exemption applications in all communities.

Promote Local Independence

  • Eliminates Statutory Caps on Stabilization funds, reserve funds, revolving funds—Amends current law by permitting appropriations into the fund by majority vote and permits the municipality, without appropriation, to dedicate all or a portion of particular revenue streams to the fund.
  • Expands a municipality’s ability to make year-end budget adjustments.
  • Liberalizes use of stabilization funds, reserve funds, revolving funds – Broadens the revolving funds statutes to permit more flexibility in the use of such funds and to eliminate all caps.
  • Increases threshold for payment of court judgments without appropriation and eliminate DLS approval – Amends current law to reflect the current operating environment where obligations to make immediate payments based on various legal claims now are just as likely to result from decisions of administrative agencies rather than just court judgments
  • Eliminates certain reporting requirements to DLS.
  •  Allow communities to implement reduced speed limits in certain areas

Streamline State Oversight

  • Extends the certification review of local assessing practices from three to five years.
  • Eliminates the four year state valuation and replaces it with a formula for the distribution of PILOT’s (state-owned land).
  • Updates statutes that dictate DLS duties to reflect changes in Division’s mission over past 30 years.
  • Eliminates DLS approval for things such as abatement of taxes on low-valued land and abatement of taxes on properties being made available for affordable housing.
  • Eliminates requirements to print and distribute certain forms and approve use of electronic forms.

Provide Municipalities with Greater Flexibility

  • Simplifies, clarifies and increases state and municipal procurement thresholds – Various reforms designed to give municipalities more flexibility in how they procure construction contracts.
  • Simplifies and updates debt statutes – Increases short-term borrowing max from 5 to 10 years, allows borrowing for a reimbursable state grant, and increases the de minimis surplus bond balance that may be used to pay debt service.
  • Raises the ceiling on the residential exemption from 20 to 35%.—This change will greatly benefit cities and towns with large seasonal populations.
  • Allows municipal committees to designate one of its own members, or a town manager/administrator, to review and approve bills and warrants.

Muni Modernization bill signed

An important new bill has been signed into law by Gov. Baker that will, in the apt words of one local mayor, fix the “boring stuff” that helps local government run more efficiently and effectively. I was pleased to attend this bill signing and cast my vote in support of the legislation. As a former selectman and planning board member I really appreciate the importance of these nuts and bolts kinds of reforms.

There’s a lot to this Municipal Modernization bill, but broadly speaking it is designed to streamline state oversight over local government, eliminate obsolete laws and reduce bureaucratic hurdles, update procurement practices, modernize outdated paperwork practices and generally increase flexibility for cities and towns to self-govern.

For example, the new law will allow cities and towns to implement reduced speed limits in certain areas, allow parking revenues to be used for transportation-related activities, eliminate statutory caps on stabilization funds & reserve funds and expands a town’s ability to make year-end budget adjustments which could help reduce the need for extra special Town Meetings in the fall of each year. Those are just a few of the helpful changes this bill now allows for. It certainly sounds very boring but it’s truly the nitty-gritty stuff that impacts local government in many ways. The goal is to free up our local officials to be better able to focus on their primary goal of providing services to their residents.

Here is a summary of many of the sections of the new law

An Act modernizing municipal finance and government (H. 4565)

Eliminate/Update Obsolete Laws

  • Eliminates required reports on county government matters – Repeals provisions of the county finance statute that require DLS to review various aspects of county government finance.
  • Electronic issuance of Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction (CMVI) – Adopts the necessary changes to the civil motor vehicle infraction law to allow cities and towns to issue citations electronically
  • Updates OPEB Trust Fund Statue GASB compliant – This change clarifies current language to makes it easier for governmental units to create an OPEB trust fund that complies with the legal requirements for trusts with GASB.
  • Creates a uniform and consistent deadline for taxpayers seeking personal exemptions – Sets April 1 as the deadline for personal exemption applications in all communities.

Promote Local Independence

  • Eliminates Statutory Caps on Stabilization funds, reserve funds, revolving funds—Amends current law by permitting appropriations into the fund by majority vote and permits the municipality, without appropriation, to dedicate all or a portion of particular revenue streams to the fund.
  • Expands a municipality’s ability to make year-end budget adjustments.
  • Liberalizes use of stabilization funds, reserve funds, revolving funds – Broadens the revolving funds statutes to permit more flexibility in the use of such funds and to eliminate all caps.
  • Increases threshold for payment of court judgments without appropriation and eliminate DLS approval – Amends current law to reflect the current operating environment where obligations to make immediate payments based on various legal claims now are just as likely to result from decisions of administrative agencies rather than just court judgments
  • Eliminates certain reporting requirements to DLS.
  •  Allow communities to implement reduced speed limits in certain areas

Streamline State Oversight

  • Extends the certification review of local assessing practices from three to five years.
  • Eliminates the four year state valuation and replaces it with a formula for the distribution of PILOT’s (state-owned land).
  • Updates statutes that dictate DLS duties to reflect changes in Division’s mission over past 30 years.
  • Eliminates DLS approval for things such as abatement of taxes on low-valued land and abatement of taxes on properties being made available for affordable housing.
  • Eliminates requirements to print and distribute certain forms and approve use of electronic forms.

Provide Municipalities with Greater Flexibility

  • Simplifies, clarifies and increases state and municipal procurement thresholds – Various reforms designed to give municipalities more flexibility in how they procure construction contracts.
  • Simplifies and updates debt statutes – Increases short-term borrowing max from 5 to 10 years, allows borrowing for a reimbursable state grant, and increases the de minimis surplus bond balance that may be used to pay debt service.
  • Raises the ceiling on the residential exemption from 20 to 35%.—This change will greatly benefit cities and towns with large seasonal populations.
  • Allows municipal committees to designate one of its own members, or a town manager/administrator, to review and approve bills and warrants.

Gov. Baker signs Energy bill into law

STATE HOUSE – Rep. Josh Cutler joined his colleagues in the State Legislature to pass landmark energy legislation that seeks to protect the Commonwealth’s ratepayers and support clean energy.

The bipartisan bill, signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday afternoon, will require utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts (MWs) of deep offshore wind and a total of 2,800 MWs of clean energy overall, the largest amount the Legislature has included in any single bill.    To spur the timely infusion of reliable clean energy projects in Massachusetts, the bill will also require distribution companies to conduct solicitations for up to 9,450,000 MWhs of energy from either hydropower, or hydropower and Class I renewable resources.

“With the impending loss of coal and nuclear power, Massachusetts must develop new energy sources while at the same time diversify our energy portfolio,” said Rep. Cutler, a member of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utility and Energy. “The bill signed by Gov. Baker today does both. This is a tremendous step forward to help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and also protect ratepayers, while providing stability to the marketplace.”       “This legislation helps Massachusetts achieve two vital goals — a cleaner and greener environment and energy independence,” said Rep. Thomas A. Golden, Jr., chairman of the Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy Committee.

In his remarks on Monday, Gov. Baker said the new law “will set Massachusetts’ course for the future in a proper and appropriate way to ensure that we continue to reduce our carbon footprint and at the same time deliver reliable and competitively priced energy for the people of this region.”

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo also lauded the bill, calling it a “smart strategy that will bring stability to costs while expanding opportunities for offshore wind and hydro.”    Related provisions of the new law include:

  • All contract proposals must go through a competitive bidding process;
  • Contracts must be determined to be cost-effective for ratepayers to be approved;
  • Stipulates that eligible offshore wind developers must build projects in federally leased waters;
  • Solicitations may be coordinated with other states or state-designated entities, and may staggered over time;
  • The length of the contracts shall be for 15 to 20 years

By creating a framework that includes both offshore wind and hydropower this legislation promotes a diverse energy portfolio that will replace some of the power the Commonwealth is losing from older, dirtier sources scheduled to shut down. With a similarly forward-looking perspective, the focus on offshore wind will cultivate a new industry and create jobs here in Massachusetts.

The legislation includes a series of ratepayer protections including a requirement that the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and the Attorney General jointly-select an independent evaluator to assist the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to determine whether the procurement process is open, fair, and transparent.

The new law also contains language to promote gas leak repairs and development of energy storage technology. It also authorizes the Baker administration to establish a carbon reduction research center at UMass.

The new law also establishes a panel to monitor the decommissioning of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth. The panel will include 21 members who will review Entergy’s post-closure plans and work to ensure the plant is decommissioned quickly and safely after it shuts down as expected in June of 2019.