Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Municipal Relief Takes Center Stage

Among the most important priorities that the legislature should address in this session is the provision of tools and mechanisms for cities and towns to streamline operations, capture savings and reduce costs. This week the Senate will act on this priority. On Monday, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means released S. 2424, “An Act Relative to Municipal Relief”. You can read a summary of this bill by clicking here.

While the bill does have some valuable components, it does not go far enough to assist cities and towns in these extremely challenging fiscal times. Therefore I will offer or co-sponsor several amendments to give communities even more potent ways to save money and reduce or control tax burdens. They include:

- GIC Local Alternatives. Allows municipalities to offer any health plans with costs no higher than the most expensive Group Insurance Commission plan without collectively bargaining.

- GIC Discretion. Allows municipalities to join the GIC without union sign-off.

- Municipal economic development. Requires the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development to develop a plan to help municipalities facilitate economic development.

- Community Preservation Act. Allows municipalities that have accepted the Community Preservation Act to provide a $100,000 commercial property tax exemption to mirror the residential exemption.

- Municipal Gas Tax. Eliminates the tax on fuel bought and used for municipal government purposes. Rejected.

- Privatization limit increase. Exempts projects under $5 million from the Pacheco Law.

- Increasing SPED reimbursement. Orders the Office of Medicaid to start billing CMS at a higher rate of reimbursement for SPED services, potentially resulting in over $50 million more a year.

- Energy efficiency betterments. Allows municipalities to enter into betterment agreements with property owners for renewable energy projects.

- Municipal building low-interest loans. Directs MDFA to prepare legislative recommendations for a low-interest loan program for the construction of municipal buildings such as police and fire stations.

Debate on this bill is scheduled for Thursday. I’ll try to post information on the bill again after debate concludes.