Monthly Archives: May 2011

Right Building? – Is the Proposed New DPW Garage Properly Conceived, Sized, and Priced for Medfield’s Needs?

Right Building? –
Is the Proposed New DPW Garage Properly Conceived, Sized, and Priced for Medfield’s Needs?
By Osler L. Peterson

There is no question the current DPW Garage is not adequate and that an answer is needed.  The issue is instead whether the building as proposed is the proper building, at the proper cost, at the proper size, with the proper fittings to fill the town’s need.  Too date too many questions remain.

At town meeting, the Warrant Committee clearly stated that they were not making a call about whether the proposed building was the correct answer, rather they said they were relying on  others for that determination of appropriateness.

To my mind the proposed DPW Garage was neither fully vetted, nor completely explained to the town, with the result that there still remain too many unanswered questions about its size, scope, and propriety.  I cannot tell, nor have I felt sufficiently reassured, from what I have seen and heard, whether what has been proposed is the strictly utilitarian garage storage structure with connected offices for the employees needs that the town should construct.  So to date I still do not know whether we are getting the right building or not.

I am happy to be convinced that we need a building that is this big and this expensive, but I have yet to see those answers – and it is not for want of asking.  I started asking over a month before town meeting, the day Town Administrator,  Mike Sullivan, called to tell me that the night before the Warrant Committee decided to turn a place holder article into a funded article.  As a selectman, I usually get information I need when I ask for it, but not this time.  By town meeting I had not gotten enough explanation, and what explanation I got only raised more questions than it answered for me.

To assist others determine whether this is the proper structure to build, I have listed my current unanswered questions about the DPW Garage as proposed:

●    I will start with a quibble about the actual cost.  The DPW garage is presented as a $10 m. building, but since the DPW will be doing the site work (which would otherwise cost almost $1 m.) and since the town has already spent over $500,000 on the construction drawings, the garage is really a $11.5 m. building, without assigning any value to the land on which it will sit.  If the DPW were not doing the site work at the garage they would be doing other projects to improve/benefit the town, so their doing the site work for the garage is still a cost to the town, a lost opportunity cost – imagine how many sidewalks or parks could get built with $1 m.
●    The cost of the building is mainly determined by its size.  So one big question is whether the size of the building is justified?  The building is a central office core with two opposing garage wings.
○    The offices portion of the building is larger than two floors of the town house combined.  Does the DPW need that much office space?
○    The plan shows forty vehicles being garaged.  Are there really 40 vehicles that need to be stored out of the weather?  If so, can the town see the list of vehicles proposed to be garaged, so the town can decide if it wants to pay to garage them all?
○    On the plan there are two rooms labeled “spare room” – are those rooms necessary?  Or only being build for future needs?  Or can they be deleted?
○    The superintendent has an office in the building, to use during emergencies (snow storms), yet the superintendent will keep and primarily workout of his current office at the Town House.
–    Does the superintendent need two offices?  Or is there a way to provide a  smaller space for the superintendent in the garage to use during the 10-15 days we have snow storms a year without dedicating a room to this use year round?
–    Or have the superintendent cede his town house office for use by others?
○    Do we need three repair bays?  Do we not employ just two mechanics?
○    Do we need to build two bays just for “Plow Storage”?
–    Do the snow plows need to be inside year round?
–    What is the anticipated cost savings from storing the plows indoors versus the cost to build and heat the extra two bays on the building?
○    One room is labeled “Tire St.” and one “Storage Gen.” – what will these be used for and are they really necessary?
○    Are the rooms necessary that are labeled:
–    School Dept.
–    Cem. Dept.
–    Water Dept.
–    Hwy Dept.
–    Are these intended as offices for workers?
○    One room is labeled for “Reception” – will there be a receptionist there?
○    For what purpose do we need a “Conference/Operations” room?
–    Could the larger “Crew Room,” which is shown with eight tables and thirty-two chairs, double as the conference room?
○    Do we really need men’s and women’s locker rooms?
–    Would it make sense to let the workers return home at the end of their work days to shower and change at home?
–    There are no women employees, and yet we are building a room for seven “Women Lockers” – is there a better way to create equal facilities for possible future women employees than to build a facility with no current use?
●    Different configuration
○    Should the building’s twin garage wings be wider so that each bay can park three to four or more vehicles end to end instead of the propose two to three, to save on the cost of the thirty-nine garage doors?  What are the cost trade offs from saving on garage doors versus increased structural cost of a wider building?
●    Should the garage bays be heated?  Most residents’ garages are not heated.
○    What is the increase in the efficient use of the heated equipment versus the increase in cost to heat the bays, both the cost to construct the heaters and the ongoing cost to operate the heaters?
○    Could plug in electrical engine block heaters get one the increased efficiencies of faster starting of the diesel engines in the winter at a much lower cost to build and run?
○    Vehicles corrode faster if kept in heater garages
●    Should the building be constructed entirely of masonry block, as proposed, or to save money, should it be masonry block on the bottom with a metal building sitting on top of those masonry blocks or all metal?
○    What are the trade offs and what are the costs of each?
○    I am told that the cost difference is small (2%), thus militating against use of a metal building, but I would like to see a greater discussion of the details.
○    Masonry building last longer, but will things change so much in the 40 years that we might get from a metal building that whatever we build will no longer be serviceable.  Note that the town is currently looking at replacing 40 year old masonry block public safety buildings because they no longer meet the current needs of police and fire.
●    Would it be cheaper for the town to enter into a design, build, and operate agreement with a private developer to build the garage, or a sale and lease back of a completed garage on a long term basis?
○    Could such arrangements avoid the added construction costs the town faces when it does construction on its own – those costs are said to increase municipal construction costs by upwards of 25% (i.e. – could we save $2.5 m.)?
●    Can we repair the existing garage and build additions onto that structure?  What would be the costs, the savings, and the compromises?

The size and many choices make this building as expensive as it is, so the town must be certain that it needs all the things that are in the building.  To paraphrase Senator Everett Dirkson, “a million here, a million there, pretty soon you are talking real money.”  Let’s together make sure we are buying the right size, right building.

Weekly Political Report – Week Ending April 29, 2011

Week Ending April 29, 2011

House Passes $30.51 Billion Budget

This week the House voted 157-1 to approve its $30.51 billion FY2012 budget bill after a week of debate on the 758 amendments filed. While the budget included no new taxes or fees, it contained cuts across almost all line items.  The budget now moves to the Senate, which will release its version of the budget in mid-May with floor debate to follow.

Municipal Health Reform included in House budget

In one of the most closely watched votes of the budget debate, on Tuesday night the House voted 111-42 in favor of an amendment that would give municipalities more autonomy to design health insurance plans, including the setting of co-payments and deductibles –exclusive from collective bargaining. The House passed proposal establishes that if an agreement between labor and management cannot be met on health care issues, then a committee is set up to continue negotiations.  If after thirty days there is still no agreement, then the management proposal is automatically adopted but 20% of the avoided health care costs are used to reduce insurance costs for employees.

Public employee unions were enraged at the House passed plan, arguing that it restricted collective bargaining of public employees. The unions vowed that there would be political consequences to Democratic members who voted for the plan. Passage of the amendment was praised by business and statewide groups such the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The fact that the House took action on municipal health insurance reform, a topic that remains controversial, received praise from the Governor and Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth).  However the Senate President said she has not yet decided whether the Senate will address municipal health care reform in a stand-alone bill or as part of the Senate budget process.

Senate Releases Government Reform Bill

The Senate President filed government reform legislation (SB1900) this Thursday. The wide ranging bill would create a commission to find efficiencies in government operations, expand electronic reporting by state agencies and make more stringent financial reporting requirements. Under SB1900, the state’s debt limit would be increased to $1.7 billion at the start of the next fiscal year and local aid to cities and towns would be paid in monthly allotments, as opposed to the quarterly payments currently in place. A hearing on Senate President Murray’s bill has been scheduled before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight for Tuesday, May 3rd at 11am.

Hearing Set for Court Management Bill

Speaker DeLeo filed a court management and government hiring reform bill last week in response to the probation scandals over the last years. The bill, which aims to reduce patronage in the Probation Department and create additional accountability in the Trial Courts, would reorganize the Massachusetts Trial Court, creating a new Office of Court Management. The bill would also put the Probation Department under the Judiciary and establish an objective entrance exam for probation officer applicants. Speaker DeLeo has said that probation reform is one of his top priorities and had requested an expedited hearing schedule. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing for HB 3395 for Tuesday, May 3rd at 1pm.

 

Governor’s Comments on Gambling

With the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies set to hear expanded gaming bills next week, the Governor said that the issue of gambling was much higher on Speaker DeLeo’s agenda than on his own. Although the House and Senate and Governor were generally in agreement about authorizing casinos in the state before the end of last session, the issue of whether slot machines should be allowed at the state racetracks ultimately derailed the bill’s final passage.

John Nunnari, Assoc AIA
Executive Director, AIA MA
jnunnari@architects.org
617-951-1433 x263
617-951-0845 (fax)

MA Chapter of American Institute of Architects
The Architects Building
52 Broad Street, Boston MA 02109-4301
www.architects.org

Email to James Timilty today re municipal health insurance reform

5/04/2011  1:06PM
Please support the reform of municipal health insurance that has already passed the House
James Timiltyjames.timilty@masenate.gov; James Timilty <matthew.moran@masenate.gov>, Michael Sullivan <mikes@medfield.net>;Kristine Trierweiler <kristinet@medfield.net>,
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Jim and Matt,

As a Town of Medfield selectman I write to ask that you support the reform of municipal health insurance that has already passed the House.  Attached is the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s letter with the detailed explanation of why it is so important to Town of Medfield, however I think you already know the reasons.  Thanks in advance.
=============================================================
Dear Senator,

Skyrocketing health insurance costs have been crushing local budgets and forcing cuts in essential municipal and school services. Fortunately, relief is on the way, if you vote to support the municipal health insurance reform proposal passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives last week. We commend 113 representatives for recognizing the need for true reform and voting for a plan that offers powerful relief for local taxpayers and all communities.

The House plan is a strong, balanced, meaningful, and fair reform that will make a major difference for every community across the state, and we respectfully ask for your support. There are three major objectives central to reform: meaningful savings for taxpayers, speed to allow implementation in fiscal 2012, and a role (but not a veto) for labor. The House plan clearly meets all three objectives.

The reform in the House budget would simply give cities and towns the same power the state has to update co-pays and deductibles in municipal health insurance plans, saving local taxpayers $100 million in avoided health costs. As you know from your own health plans, the Commonwealth has used its authority to make unilateral adjustments in co-pays and deductibles to hold down the state’s overall costs. Communities, however, are blocked from making the same changes unless they receive permission from their municipal unions. As a recent MTF/Boston Foundation report documents, this has caused municipal health insurance costs to spiral out of control, forcing cuts in education, public safety and other vital programs and forcing the elimination of teachers, firefighters, police officers and other key employees from local budgets. The House plan would save and protect municipal union jobs, and preserve vital and essential services for the citizens of the Commonwealth, all while guaranteeing equity with state employee health benefits.

In spite of the over-the-top rhetoric from union lobbyists, the plan creates a process that would continue to give municipal unions more bargaining power over health insurance than state unions. In fact, municipal employees would benefit from the legislation in five ways: Union jobs would be protected; employee premiums would be lower; communities would establish health reimbursement accounts to offset a portion of the costs for those employees who are heavy users of the health care system; they would be guaranteed health plans at least as good or better than state employees; and their bargaining over premium contributions would be preserved.

THE SENATE VOTED FOR STRONGER PROVISIONS IN 2009
Two weeks ago, the Commonwealth won a Superior Court ruling upholding the Senate vote in the 2009 Transportation Reform Law that removed all health insurance matters from collective bargaining for state MBTA workers. In enacting the Transportation Reform Law, the Senate voted to end all bargaining over the plan design or premium share for MBTA unions and thousands of employees. In spite of loud union protests that the reform “subverts collective bargaining rights,” the Legislature and governor enacted the provision in order to save an estimated $30 million a year while giving T employees health plans that matched all other state workers. The Senate’s action in 2009 was made in the interests of all taxpayers, and was necessary to allow the MBTA to provide core services to the public. This is further proof that legislation to address the cost of employee health insurance is totally unrelated to the unfortunate developments in Wisconsin and Ohio. While the House-passed municipal health insurance provision is a powerful reform plan for cities and towns, it is much more modest than what the Senate voted for in 2009 in the transportation bill. The reform principle that benefited the state in 2009 is just as valid for cities and towns in 2011.

WHY STRONG REFORM IS NECESSARY
Total municipal aid is $416 million lower than what it was three years ago, and the Senate has already indicated that the fiscal 2012 budget will cut another $65 million. Communities are in fiscal crisis, and health insurance reform offers meaningful relief that taxpayers deserve. We cannot afford to keep the unique and special veto power that municipal unions hold over health plan features; this veto power is costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year, forcing cuts in essential municipal and school services that are crowded out by soaring health costs, and forcing the elimination of teachers, firefighters, police officers and other key employees. Without real reform, taxpayers will continue to pay millions more for health insurance than they should, which will force even more service cuts and layoffs.

The state has been able to moderate the cost of employee health benefits by implementing increases in co-pays and deductibles outside of collective bargaining, just as the federal government and private employers have done. But communities have been blocked by the Chapter 32B bargaining mandate, and are trapped in outdated plans that are too costly. When municipal leaders ask for plan design authority, the purpose is to preserve services, protect local taxpayers and prevent the elimination of more police officers, teachers, firefighters and other key workers from local budgets.

A December 2010 study by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and The Boston Foundation revealed that all of the $700 million in new Chapter 70 school aid from 2000 to 2007 was consumed by rising health insurance costs, concluding that “controlling the overall cost of health care in Massachusetts is now the ultimate education issue,” because without reform every penny of new Chapter 70 aid will go to local health plans, not into the classroom.

An April 2011 report by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and The Boston Foundation concluded that municipal health plans cost taxpayers millions more than state, federal or private insurance plans because municipal unions can veto any change in the plans. The average family premium for city and town employees is 37 percent higher than the typical private-sector policy and 21 percent higher than that of state employees. The report said that the Legislature must give local officials the authority to adjust insurance plans outside of collective bargaining, and without this action “communities will be forced to make even more painful and severe cuts to education and other basic services.”

WHAT THE HOUSE PLAN WOULD DO
The House-passed plan would eliminate the double standard in state law, and give cities and towns the same power the state has to implement necessary cost savings in municipal health insurance plans, up to a point. This is a very focused and moderate proposal, offered in a spirit of compromise to find meaningful middle ground while achieving meaningful reform.

Under the bill, municipalities would notify unions of their desire to change co-pays or deductibles, or enroll in the Group Insurance Commission, and would then meet with a committee representing all municipal and school unions and retirees to discuss and review the changes. If the community and the committee reach agreement, the municipality would implement the agreed-upon plan changes and share 10 percent of the projected first-year cost savings with the employees, based on the agreement. If there is no agreement after 30 days, the municipality can move forward with the planned change, and would share 20 percent of the projected savings/avoided costs with employees and retirees in a health reimbursement account to assist heavy users of the health care system. Collective bargaining would still govern any change in the employee-employer premium share, giving municipal unions more bargaining authority than state unions. Municipalities would be able to modernize the health plan design, with a guarantee that all municipal and school employees would still have health plans that are the same or better than what state employees receive, meaning no municipal plan would have higher co-pays or deductibles than the state. Any higher co-pays or deductibles would have to be approved in collective bargaining. The bill simply gives plan design parity to cities and towns.

In short, the legislation saves taxpayers money, protects municipal union jobs, guarantees equity with state employee health benefits, and still leaves municipal unions with more bargaining power than state unions.

THE LABOR “ALTERNATIVE” IS NOT REFORM
During the House debate, labor offered an “alternative” plan that was the opposite of reform; it would actually strengthen union leverage and control over health benefits, offer taxpayers virtually no relief, and do nothing to protect municipal services and jobs. The amendment would have subjected any plan design change to coalition bargaining; required mandatory binding arbitration if an impasse is reached; guaranteed only 25 percent of the “savings” to go to communities, with 25 percent going to employees, and the remaining 50 percent subject to bargaining; blocked all further plan design changes until 2014; and placed all future negotiations over health insurance changes (any future plan design changes or any change in the employee-employer contribution share) in permanent Section 19 coalition bargaining.

In contrast to the clear reform and transparency of the House proposal, the labor-backed “alternative” and framework they announced in March and floated to House members is deficient in almost every way, and is so flawed that it would be even worse than no action at all. We ask you to oppose any language or provisions that would do the following:

• Prevent any change in municipal co-pays or deductibles in fiscal 2012 (or any other plan design feature) unless 70 percent of municipal unions agree, impose a three-year moratorium on any further health plan changes unless unions agree otherwise, or permanently impose the deeply flawed Section 19 coalition bargaining process on communities, which would allow one or two unions in a community to permanently control all health insurance matters including plan design and the premium share (Section 19 is now a local-option statute that has not worked – communities in Section 19 are pursuing home rule petitions to get out);

• Limit the guaranteed savings for taxpayers – the unions have stated that they seek 50 percent of the savings, but the entire purpose of reform is to preserve municipal and school services and protect jobs, and this provision would totally undermine reform by far too much into other employee benefit costs. Importantly, the state has shared 0 percent (none) of its plan design changes with state unions, and the House plan sets the shared savings at 10 percent to 20 percent. The problem with continuing the current system is that communities must give unaffordable concessions to get unions to agree to even modest changes – history and the facts have demonstrated this clearly;

• Impose mandatory binding arbitration over health insurance matters – mandatory binding arbitration was REPEALED BY THE VOTERS as a key part of Proposition 2½ because it is unaffordable for taxpayers (an example is the arbitrator’s decision in the Boston Fire Department case last year, granting extremely high salary increases in exchange for what should be routine drug testing). Labor would expand mandatory binding arbitration in unprecedented ways (historically, it only existed for police and fire contracts), and would give an unaccountable, unelected outside person the power to set all co-pays, deductibles, contribution percentages, health reimbursement accounts, and other benefits, essentially empowering the arbitrator to control up to 15 percent or more of a municipality’s budget.

THE CHOICE IS CLEAR
This is the time to pass a real reform plan to save taxpayers $100 million in avoided health insurance costs. The House plan protects municipal union jobs and essential services, while guaranteeing equity with state employee health benefits, and leaving municipal unions with more bargaining power than state unions. Any money that communities save through plan design will be used to preserve services and prevent more layoffs. Job protection is the ultimate benefit of plan design reform. This is a strong, balanced, meaningful, and fair reform that will make a major difference for every community across the state, and we respectfully ask for your support. The communities and taxpayers you represent are counting on strong and real reform this year. Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director, MMA
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Best,
Pete
Osler L. Peterson, Attorney at Law
PETERSON | Law
580 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02458
66 North St, PO Box 358, Medfield, MA 02052
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