Report on the Massachusetts Municipal Association Annual Meeting

Annually I attend the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s annual meeting in January to get new ideas on how to make Medfield a better place.  These were my notes from that meeting this year.

Massachusetts Municipal Association 1/23/10 – 1/24/10

I always find my attendance at the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s annual meeting to be one of the most useful and productive things for me, as I learn about both what is going on at the state level and also how other towns are operating and what those towns are finding effective and productive.  Medfield faces most of the same issues and dilemmas as all the other 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, so it is exceedingly helpful to find out what all the other selectmen in the state are doing to resolve their towns’ problems and which solutions have worked best.  I was sorry that I was the only member of our Medfield Board of Selectmen able to attend this year.

The following is my report to the Town of Medfield on the major points that I picked up at this year’s meeting:

1.    State Finances

a.    DOR Commissioner and Governor’s budget director reported:
i.    FY10 budget was balanced only after many interim year reductions, plus the use of $1.9 billion of federal stimulus monies and $1.7 billion of the state’s $2.3 billion rainy day fund
ii.    FY11 budget will have available at best only half that amount of federal stimulus money and there is now less than $600 million remaining in the state rainy day fund.  For the past several months, state revenues have exceeded expectations, however, there is still a $3 billion gap in the state budget for FY11 that needs to be filled.
iii.    The governor announced on Thursday his intention in his FY11 budget to hold state support for education and local aid harmless, by level funding them at last year’s levels.
iv.    The governor will announce this coming Wednesday his complete budget, and tell us how he plans to solve that $3 billion gap in te FY11 budget.

b.    House Ways and Means Committee Chair, Charles Murray, seemed to minimize the governor’s involvement in the budget process, when he stated that the budget would be done by the House Ways and Means Committee with the approval of the speaker, the Senate produces its own version of the budget, that there would be a reconciliation between the Senate and House versions, and that the governor would then be to veto whatever sections he chose.  In commenting on the governor’s intention to level fund state funding for education and local aid, Rep. Murray derisively stated “good luck.”  Murray indicated that with a $3 billion dollar gap in the FY11 budget, it is unlikely that the state will be able to fully fund education and local aid at last year’s levels.

2.    Succession planning

a.    Mentor and train successors

b.    Plan for backup and depth at each employee position

c.    Create a personal improvement program for each employee, as is ordinarily done in the private sector.

d.    Share employees with adjoining towns.

3.    Regionalization of municipal services

a.    Lieut. Gov., Tim Murray, encouraged Selectmen to engage in greater regionalization by sharing similar services with surrounding towns. He pointed out that Maryland has a similar population to Massachusetts and yet Maryland has only about 25 emergency call centers for police and fire compared to about 250 in Massachusetts. He also suggested that Massachusetts does not need a board of health in each town.

b.    Jeff Nutting, Franklin’s town administrator, recommended that towns share pieces of DPW equipment with one another, especially given the high price of that equipment.

4.    Attitudes towards government –

a.    Demos studies people’s attitudes towards government
i.    Demos asked individuals “what do you think of the government?”  People responded by shaking their heads and rolling their eyes.  People tend to think of government as a collection of bickering individuals and as an entity that just takes their money endlessly
ii.    However, when those same people are asked “what do you think of the public services?” or  “what do you think of the public systems?” people are uniformly positive. People actually really like and rely on the government services that they use, such as the schools, the library, the parks, and the transfer station, and will acknowledge that fact when asked specifically about each.
iii.    Demos found that people did not want to pay taxes and often looked at the town government as a vending machine, wanting only to pay for those services they actually used. Demos, however, suggests that towns both emphasize that towns are a shared enterprise (similar to living in a condominium) and make the process transparent.  They gave the example of one town which succeeded by allowing resident participation in meetings via telephone hook ups and allowed residents to express opinions via survey responses.  In that same vane, a Bedford selectman recounted how often and how proudly Bedford residents have voted to spend their Community Preservation Act funds for new projects in town.

5.    Review of the town administrator

a.    Only employee reviewed by the Board of Selectmen

b.    Annual review resommended

c.    Recommend a five point span of choices on which to rate administrator

d.    Question of what parts to make public.

e.    Options
i.    Direct review by selectmen
ii.    360 reviews, where many constituencies are asked to participate.
(1)    Done on-line with each question having a five point range, plus an  opportunity for comments

6.    Medfield State Hospital

a.    Danvers State Hospital
i.    Danvers town administrator for past 31 years consulted re Danvers State Hospital project
ii.    Done by Avalon Bay – town was very happy with them and with results
iii.    Over 500 units of rental and age restricted condominiums
iv.    They only have 50 school children in whole project

b.    Rutland State Hospital
i.    Selectman consulted
ii.    Created a business center and park
iii.    They have been very pleased with results of their state hospital project
iv.    Still not completed

7.    Massachusetts DEP – on Pay as You Throw and Single Stream Recycling

a.    Based on experience of other towns, DEP says to expect to see a 30-50% decline in trash volumes if Pay As You Throw is adopted

b.    Expect single stream recycling to reduce trash volumes by 10%

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