Municipal reform legislation proposed

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The Baker-Polito administration has propose legislation that includes the following changes in the ways towns operate (this is from its press release today) –

The four foundational themes for the proposed municipal modernization bill are: eliminating or updating obsolete laws; promoting local independence; streamlining state oversight; and providing municipalities with greater flexibility. The need for modernization is further reflected by the fact that the proposed bill includes amending laws that haven’t been modified since the early 1900’s.

Eliminate or Update Obsolete Laws

  • County Government Reporting: Repeals provisions of the county finance statute that require DLS to review various aspects of county government finance.
  • Electronic Advertising for Required Notices: Modifies the public notice requirement for town warrants and other required notices, including procurement, to permit municipalities to post notice in any manner prescribed or approved under the Open Meeting Law.
  • 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.
  • Accrual of Interest on Unpaid Taxes: Makes the charging of interest on overdue property taxes more equitable in terms of semi-annual versus quarterly billing.

Promote Local Independence

  • Stabilization and Revolving Funds: Broadens the revolving funds statutes to permit more flexibility in the use of such funds and to eliminate all caps.
  • Insurance Proceeds: Allows up to $150,000 of insurance proceeds that a city or town receives in payment of a claim to be used without appropriation to repair or replace damaged real and personal property.
  • Right of First Refusal for Non-Profit Property: Gives a municipality a right of first refusal if property owned by a charitable organization or a church is being sold or developed for a non-exempt purpose.
  • Liquor Licenses: Allow municipalities, except Boston, to set the quotas for liquor licenses issued to facilities (such as restaurants) permitting on-premises drinking.

Streamline State Oversight

  • Boat excise reform – The Environmental Police will provide more up-to-date boat registration and documentation to local assessors that will ensure a more efficient process for the collection of the excise tax.
  • Local Property Assessments: Decreases the frequency with which Department of Revenue (DOR) must certify that local property assessments reflect fair cash valuation from every three years to every five years.
  • State-Owned Land Valuation: Eliminates the current procedure under which the DOR values state-owned land every four years, replacing that process with a statutory formula for determining the valuation every two years after the 2017 valuation required by current law.
  • Remove DLS approval on certain abatements: Eliminate the need to have DLS approve abatement of taxes on low-valued land and abatement of taxes on properties being made available for affordable housing.

Provide Municipalities with Greater Flexibility

  • “Double poles” Enforcement Power: Allows cities and towns to enforce the statutory prohibition on keeping double poles up after ninety days, after passing a local ordinance authorizing them to do so.
  • State and Municipal Procurement Thresholds: Simplifies, clarifies and increases state and municipal procurement thresholds with various reforms designed to give municipalities more flexibility in how they procure construction contracts.
  • Debt Statutes: Increase the short-term borrowing maximum from 5 to 10 years, allow borrowing for a reimbursable federal or state grant, and increases the de minimis surplus bond balance that may be used to pay debt service.
  • Unemployment Insurance: Extends the “reasonable assurance” standard to school employees paid through the municipal budget and addresses the issue of retirees collecting unemployment.

The legislation also proposes changes that would modernize procurement at the local level and allow municipalities to use Operational Services Division contracts for construction contracts under $50,000. Once passed, this legislation will also allow cities, towns, or districts to adopt a local option that would require direct deposit of municipal employee compensation; will permit mayors and selectmen to initiate movement to optional forms of municipal administration or charter commission; will allow municipalities to exempt positions from civil service by vote of the governing body rather than through special legislation; and will enable cities and town to invest in CD’s for more than one year.


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