This from the Massachusetts Municipal Association this week with its agenda items:
|January 30, 2017|
This from the Massachusetts Municipal Association this week with its agenda items:
|January 30, 2017|
MMA alert today –
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
STATE BUDGET WOES DEEPEN, STATE FACING FISCAL 2017 REVENUE GAP OF UP TO $950 MILLION
PLEASE CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS TODAY TO ENSURE THAT CITIES AND TOWNS ARE PROTECTED AS LAWMAKERS SEEK TO CLOSE WIDENING FISCAL 2017 DEFICIT
Brexit Vote Destabilizes World Economy, State Leaders Predict Further Loss of Tax Revenue for Fiscal 2017
As we reported in an MMA Action Alert yesterday (Monday), deliberations on the fiscal 2017 state budget have been thrown into disarray by a major slump in state tax collections. Unfortunately, the state’s fiscal picture has darkened even more.
Late yesterday afternoon, Governor Baker announced that the revenue shortfall for fiscal 2017 is likely to be $200 million worse than the gloomy projections made less than two weeks ago, mostly as a result of widespread unrest and financial volatility stemming from the Brexit vote, combined with lower-than-expected tax collections as the state closes fiscal year 2016.
The new estimate is that fiscal 2017 tax revenues will be $650 million to $950 million lower than originally thought.
This is bad news, because a revenue loss of this magnitude will force deep cuts across all aspects of the new state budget. The three separate fiscal 2017 budgets set by the Governor, House and Senate were all based on the original, higher revenue projection, which means all of the plans are out of balance.
The Legislature has passed a temporary 1-month budget to cover state obligations through the end of July and provide some breathing room for legislators while they dramatically scale back their fiscal 2017 budget.
It is imperative to remind your legislators that cities and towns have already set their budgets based on reasonable estimates of local aid and education funding. Any cuts to municipal or school accounts would trigger major budget problems in all 351 cities and towns. Any local aid reductions at this point would be incredibly disruptive, and would force communities to reopen their already-passed budgets and impose mid-year cuts.
Please call your legislators today to oppose cuts to Cherry Sheet Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70 school aid and other municipal and school aid accounts that are included in your local spending plans. Reliance on the property tax to fund municipal and school services is at a 30-year high, and it is too late to pursue tax overrides to replace lost local aid. Any local aid reduction would translate into cuts in essential services and programs that are necessary for our economic growth and stability.
Please Call Your Legislators Today and Ask Them to Protect Local Aid
The Massachusetts Municipal Association today asked me to lobby our legislators about pending items, and in response I sent our Senator and Representatives the email below:
Dear Senator Timilty, and Representatives Garlick and Dooley,
I have generally come to have great faith in the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and therefore when the MMA asks me to support things, I usually believe that doing so is the right thing to do.
For your information, I have inserted below the MMA’s agenda for the remainder of your legislative session:
June 27, 2016
PLEASE CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES AND SENATORS TODAY TO ENSURE THAT CITIES AND TOWNS ARE PROTECTED DURING THE LEGISLATURE’S END OF SESSION SPRINT
With Just 5 Weeks Remaining in the Session, Now is the Time to Ask Legislators to Address Municipal Concerns and Priorities
With the end of the formal legislative sessions just a few weeks away (the two-year legislative session will end on July 31), the House and Senate are looking at a long list of bills, large and small, that will need final approval by July 31 or have to start anew next January. Many of these bills would significantly impact cities and towns.
Please talk with your legislators this week and ask them to prioritize cities and towns during the end-of-session rush. The major issues in play include the following:
Balancing the Fiscal 2017 State Budget without Harming Cities and Towns
The House and Senate have each approved $39.5 billion state budget proposals for fiscal year 2017 (H. 4201 and S. 2305), and are now negotiating a final consensus bill. However, this process has been thrown into disarray by a major slump in state tax collections. The Governor has announced that fiscal 2017 revenues will certainly come in far below earlier predictions, saying that the shortfall is at least $450 million and as much as $750 million.
The Legislature has passed a temporary 1-month budget to cover state obligations through the end of July and provide some breathing room for legislators while they dramatically scale back their fiscal 2017 budget. It is imperative to remind your legislators that cities and towns have already set their budgets based on reasonable estimates of local aid and education funding. Any cuts to municipal or school accounts would trigger major budget problems in all 351 cities and towns. Any cuts at this point would be incredibly disruptive.
Ask your legislators to oppose cuts to Cherry Sheet Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70 school aid and other municipal and school aid accounts that are included in your local sending plans. Also ask your legislators to oppose Section 46 of the Senate budget (S. 2305), which would strip cities and towns of their ability to change contribution ratios for retiree health insurance, and make it extremely difficult to address runaway OPEB costs.
Now is the Time for the Senate to Pass the Municipal Modernization Act
The Municipal Modernization bill filed by the Governor last December has moved through a long process, and has received unanimous approval by the House. H. 4419 includes over 200 sections to streamline and update state laws and regulations that interfere with the administration of local government. Although some of the stronger reforms in the original bill have been taken out, the Municipal Modernization Act still includes a wide array of long-overdue and very welcome updates to municipal finance and administrative laws.
Please ask your Senators to promise swift and timely action on H. 4419 to make sure that the bill makes it to the Governor’s Desk. This must be a key priority for legislators – there is absolutely no reason to delay action on this long-overdue legislation.
Ask Your Senators and Representatives to Oppose the New Unfunded Mandates in the Municipal Solid Waste/Recycling Bill (S. 2308)
This week, the Senate is expected to take up legislation to require cities and towns to reduce municipal solid waste to a maximum of 600 pounds per capita by 2018 and 450 pounds per capita by 2022. This bill (S. 2308) would provide NO financial support, meaningful technical assistance or effective pathway to achieve these mandated limits. In effect, S. 2308 is the classic example of an unfunded environmental mandate. The bill is well-intentioned, but completely fails to recognize the financial limitations that exist in cities and towns, and makes no effort to have the state assume any responsibility for providing any funding or resources. Please ask your legislative delegation to oppose this bill. The Senate could vote as early as Tuesday, June 28, so it is important that your Senators hear from you as soon as possible.
Click here to download a copy of MMA’s letter to the Senate outlining the problems the legislation would cause.
Ask Your Representatives to Reject the Intrusions on Local Zoning Passed by the Senate
On June 9, the Senate approved a surprisingly broad and intrusive housing and zoning bill (S. 4419) that completely overrode an earlier planning bill that had been in the works for years. The Senate-voted bill would override important features of local zoning bylaws and ordinances and expose cities and towns to lawsuits. The bill would require cities and towns across the state to make zoning changes to create “as-of-right” multi-family housing districts or face legal action brought by either the attorney general or builders and land developers seeking permits. S. 4419 would also require accessory apartments to be permitted as-of-right and would override the dozens and dozens of accessory apartment bylaws currently in place based on special permits. In effect, the bill would grant unprecedented new “as-of-right” powers to for-profit developers, with NO requirements that these developers produce any affordable units. Instead, developers would be incentivized to pursue high-end, luxury developments, making it harder for communities to meet their affordable housing goals. The bill also made significant changes to weaken the inclusionary zoning provision that local officials have been promoting for many years, and would provide only a limited authority to collect development impact fees. The bill would also subject municipal zoning codes to challenge under the state’s anti-discrimination statue.
Please ask your Representatives to hold and take no action on the Senate’s housing bill. It is too late in the year to try to finalize a bill of this importance and with such major differences between the original planning bill and the Senate re-write. Unfortunately, work on this this important issue must wait until next year. Rushing S. 4419 through at this time would have an extraordinary impact on municipal zoning, with very little understanding of the consequences for downtown development and the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the state.
Other Bills on the House and Senate Calendars
There are dozens of bills on the ongoing House and Senate calendars that would have an impact on local government, including many that have posted there for weeks or months awaiting action. There are more than 60 of these bills on the House calendar alone. Some would help cities and towns, but many would reduce local revenues or impose new unfunded mandates. As the legislative session draws to a close, there will be pressure brought to bear in both branches to quickly approve these long-held bills.
Ask your legislators to keep an eye on bills moving from the House and Senate calendars to make sure there are no burdensome special interest bills that make it to the Governor’s desk. Extra vigilance is needed at the end of session.
MMA Board Votes to Oppose Marijuana and Charter School Ballot Questions
As the final signatures are being submitted for the statewide ballot questions, we want to update you on the vote of the MMA Board of Directors earlier this month. On June 14, the Board voted unanimously to approve the recommendation of the Municipal and Regional Administration Policy Committee to oppose the marijuana ballot question (H. 3932). The Board also voted unanimously to support the recommendation of the Fiscal Policy Committee to oppose the charter school ballot question (H. 3928). The MMA will be providing more information on the ballot questions next month, after each receives final approval to appear on the ballot at the November 8, 2016 election.
If you have any questions on the issues highlighted above, or on any other measure, please contact MMA Legislative Director John Robertson or any member of the Legislative Division at 617-426-7272.
Osler L. Peterson, Esq.
The MMA sent this second alert this afternoon, on the public records law that has now come out of a conference committee. I find myself torn on this one, as i feel there should be easy access to all public records, but I have heard Goeff Beckwith, Executive Director of the MMA say that the House version was preferred due to the House including more reasonable payments to the towns for responding, and thereby avoiding potential costs for towns from unreasonable public records requests.
Monday, May 23, 2016
LEGISLATURE TO VOTE ON FINAL PUBLIC RECORDS BILL
Conference Committee Report Would Limit Fees and Expose Communities to Attorneys’ Fees & Court Costs in Litigation
House Vote Scheduled for Wednesday
At 4:00 p.m. on Monday, May 23, the six members of the House-Senate conference committee on legislation to update the public records law reached agreement on a compromise bill, and reported it out to the full Legislature for an up-or-down vote later this week.
The Conference Committee bill differs in many important respects from H. 3858, the measure passed by the House of Representatives in November, and appears generally closer to S. 2127, the bill passed by the Senate in February. The bill would limit or set conditions on the fees that cities and towns can charge, and would create a more litigious process that could require the courts to award attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs in many circumstances.
Local officials and the MMA are not opposed to passage of legislation updating the public records laws. Rather, we have been calling for balanced and realistic changes to prevent the imposition of unfunded mandates on cities and towns, and to ensure that local officials have enough time and flexibility to comply with the act without diverting resources and time from their other important public services and duties on behalf of local residents and taxpayers.
However, the MMA’s analysis concludes that the Conference Committee’s bill would limit the ability of cities and towns to be reimbursed for responding to records requests by requiring communities to receive special permission from the Supervisor of Records every time they wish to reimbursed for time spent segregating or redacting records. Further, communities would need to receive special permission to charge more than $25/hour, which is quite common when department heads and attorneys need to participate in the process. Thus, the MMA believes that the bill has the potential to impose significant new financial burdens on cities and towns.
The MMA is also concerned that the bill could expose public entities and taxpayers to threats of expensive litigation by creating a presumption that courts should award attorneys’ fees and court costs in all but a narrow list of circumstances if the plaintiff receives any relief through a judicial order, consent decree, or if the municipality provides any of the requested documents after the complaint is filed. This provision could create an incentive for plaintiff attorneys to excessively litigate.
In general, the bill creates a more detailed set of statutory requirements that must be fulfilled under the state’s public records act, including new timelines, fee structures, administrative and judicial appeals processes, and new requirements for the administration of the law at the local level. The major changes as they impact cities and towns are outlined below.
MAJOR PROVISIONS OF THE CONFERENCE COMMITTEE’S PUBLIC RECORDS BILL INCLUDE:
Limits on Fees:
Litigation and Enforcement:
Other New Requirements:
Please Call Your Legislators Today to Discuss the Public Records Legislation and Express Your Concerns.
Thank You Very Much.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
SENATE BUDGET COMMITTEE OFFERS $39.5B FY 2017 STATE BUDGET THAT MAKES KEY INVESTMENTS IN MUNICIPAL AND SCHOOL AID
• INCLUDES THE FULL $42M INCREASE IN UNRESTRICTED MUNICIPAL AID (UGGA)
• INCREASES CHAPTER 70 BY $44M ABOVE THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET TO PROVIDE MINIMUM AID OF $55 PER STUDENT, INCREASE TARGET SHARE FUNDING, AND HELP ADDRESS THE LOW-INCOME STUDENT FACTOR
• ADDS $9.3M TO FULLY FUND THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CIRCUIT BREAKER
• LEVEL-FUNDS MOST OTHER MUNICIPAL AND SCHOOL ACCOUNTS
• BUT THE SW&M BUDGET CUTS $16.6M FROM KINDERGARTEN DEVELOPMENT GRANTS, WHICH WOULD CREATE SHORTFALLS IN 164 SCHOOL DISTRICTS
Earlier today, the Senate Ways and Means Committee reported out a tight $39.5 billion fiscal 2017 state budget plan to increase overall state expenditures by approximately 3.5 percent. The Senate Ways and Means budget is slightly smaller than the budget passed by the House in April and the version filed by the Governor in March, yet it would offer the largest increase in Chapter 70 aid. The full Senate will debate the fiscal 2017 state budget beginning on Tuesday, May 24.
S. 4, the Senate Ways & Means budget, provides strong progress on many important local aid priorities, including the full $42 million increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid that the Governor and House have agreed on. The SW&M Committee would increase funding for several major aid programs, by adding $9.3 million to the Special Education Circuit Breaker, increasing Chapter 70 minimum aid to $55 per student, and by adding funds in the Chapter 70 distribution to help address the low-income student calculation (the House budget has a separate $10 million reserve account for this issue), and to accelerate implementation of the so-called target share provisions in Chapter 70.
$42 MILLION INCREASE IN UNRESTRICTED MUNICIPAL AID
In a major victory for cities and towns, S. 4 (the SW&M fiscal 2017 budget plan) would provide $1.021 billion for UGGA, a $42 million increase over current funding – the same increase proposed by Governor Baker and the House of Representatives. The $42 million would increase UGGA funding by 4.3 percent, which matches the growth in state tax collections next year. This would be the largest increase in discretionary municipal aid in nearly a decade. Every city and town would see their UGGA funding increase by 4.3 percent.
CHAPTER 70 MINIMUM AID WOULD INCREASE TO $55 PER STUDENT
The Senate budget committee is proposing a $116 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid above fiscal 2016 levels, providing every city, town and school district with an increase of at least $55 per student. In addition to the minimum aid increase, which matches the House-passed level, the SW&M Committee would add additional funds to aid communities impacted by changes in the calculations used to account for low-income students. (The House included a $10 million reserve account for this issue instead of incorporating the funds into the Chapter 70 distribution). Further, the SW&M budget would accelerate the implementation of the 2007 target share provisions (the Senate proposal is to fund 85% of the target share goal, compared to the House’s 70% funding level). Overall, the SW&M budget would provide $44 million more in direct Chapter 70 distributions than the Governor’s budget, and $20 million more than the House (or $10 million more after recognizing the House’s $10 million reserve for low-income students).
$9.3 MILLION INCREASE INTENDED TO FULLY FUND SPECIAL EDUCATION CIRCUIT BREAKER
In another victory for cities and towns, Senate leaders have announced that they support full funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program. Their budget plan would provide $281.1 million, a $9.3 million increase above fiscal 2016, with the intention of fully funding the account. The Governor level funded the circuit-breaker program, and the House provided a $5 million increase. This is a vital program that every city, town and school district relies on to fund state-mandated services.
BUT THE SW&M BUDGET WOULD CUT $16.6 MILLION FROM KINDERGARTEN DEVELOPMENT GRANTS, AN 89% REDUCTION THAT WOULD HIT 164 DISTRICTS
In a troubling development, S. 4 would cut $16.6 million from Kindergarten Development Grants, leaving only $2 million in this program that funds Kindergarten programs in 164 school districts. The Governor and House level-funded the program at $18.6 million. Restoring these funds will be a major priority during the budget debate, and local officials will want to talk with their Senators about this program right away. Please click here to see if your community is receiving these grants in fiscal 2016. These funds are in jeopardy if the S. 4 appropriation remains in place.
FUNDING FOR CHARTER SCHOOL REIMBURSEMENTS INCREASED BY $7 MILLION, BUT STILL UNDERFUNDED
Under state law, cities and towns that host or send students to charter schools are entitled to be reimbursed for a portion of their lost Chapter 70 aid. The state fully funded the reimbursement program in fiscal years 2013 and 2014, but is underfunding reimbursements by approximately $46.5 million this year. The Senate Ways and Means budget would increase funding for charter school reimbursements to $87.5 million, a $7 million boost. This is $2 million more than the House proposed and $15 million less than the amount recommended by Gov. Baker. The program is underfunded in all three budget proposals, and increasing this account will be a top priority during the Senate budget debate.
REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION, PAYMENTS-IN-LIEU-OF-TAXES (PILOT), LIBRARY AID ACCOUNTS, METCO, McKINNEY-VENTO, AND SHANNON ANTI-GANG GRANTS
The Senate budget committee’s proposal would level-fund Regional School Transportation Reimbursements at $59 million ($1 million less than the House budget), level fund PILOT payments at $26.77 million (the same as the House and Governor), level-fund METCO at $20.1 million, and level-fund McKinney-Vento reimbursements at $8.35 million. S. 4 would fund library grant programs at $18.9 million ($70K less than fiscal 2016 and $750K less than the House). The SW&M budget would reduce Shannon Anti-Gang Grants to $5 million (a $2 million reduction below fiscal 2016, and $1 million below the House).
Please Call Your Senators Today to Thank Them for the Strong Municipal Aid and Chapter 70 Investments in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Budget, Including the $42 Million Increase in Unrestricted Local Aid, Providing Chapter 70 Minimum Aid at $55 Per Student, and Full Funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker
Please Let Your Senators Know if You Are Affected by Underfunding in Charter School Reimbursements and Kindergarten Development Grants
Please Explain How the Senate Ways and Means Budget Impacts Your Community, and Ask Your Senators to Build on this Progress During Budget Debate in the Senate
The State Senate is now actively considering changes and reforms to the state land use statutes that have been under consideration for years, and it appears that action may happen soon. At the moment, the MMA ask the Senate to let us know what they intend to do, before they actually do it. However, last week, this was the MMA letter to the Senate that itemizes what the MMA suggests is needed.
May 11, 2016
The Honorable Karen Spilka, Chair
Senate Committee on Ways and Means
State House, Boston
Dear Senator Spilka and Distinguished Members of the Committee,
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association appreciates the opportunity to offer comments on S. 2144, An Act Promoting the Planning and Development of Sustainable Communities. The MMA’s Municipal and Regional Policy Committee completed a careful and extensive evaluation of the bill as written in its previous form (S. 122), with a focus on the impact that the proposed zoning and land use law changes would have on our cities and towns. We have also had a chance to review the issues raised by the Home Builders & Remodelers of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, NAIOP and others, and must express our grave concerns with their proposed changes to S. 2144.
Any amendments to existing zoning and land use law in Massachusetts will have profound and long-lasting effects on our communities and residents, and will impact the quality of life in cities and towns for generations to come. For this reason, any and all proposed changes demand very careful consideration.
The MMA’s comments and suggested language changes, presented below by topic, would strengthen and improve the bill by preserving local authority, grandfathering existing local practices, and, in the case of local options, employing an opt-in rather than an opt-out model. The MMA would have very serious reservations regarding S. 2144 if these comments and recommended improvements are not incorporated into the bill.
A. MMA COMMENTS ON S. 2144 AND RESPONSES TO THE DEVELOPER AND REAL ESTATE LOBBYISTS
Sections 6 through 12
The MMA supports the conceptual changes made in the sections pertaining to vested rights. The language should be clarified to indicate that the date of the first notice of a public hearing on proposed changes to zoning ordinances and bylaws is the time at which a property shall be subject to subsequently enacted zoning amendments. In practical terms, this language is necessary to prevent a flood of applications intended to avoid new zoning requirements and bylaws.
Special Permit Vote and Length
Sections 15 and 16
The MMA requests a language change in Section 15, pertaining to the vote required for issuance of a special permit, to make it a local-option decision (by a supermajority vote) as to whether the required vote is changed from a supermajority to a simple majority. As written, a municipality’s special permit granting authority would require only a simple majority vote to issue a special permit, unless a greater threshold is specified in a local ordinance or bylaw. The MMA does not support a state-mandated change in the threshold without express acceptance of that change at the local level, because many communities do not have specific language regarding the necessary vote in their local ordinances or bylaws, and thus they would have no voice in changing the vote threshold to a simple majority. The MMA requests a change the language in Section 16, regarding the term of special permits, to allow a special permit to be issued for a term of up to three years, not the three-year minimum currently written in the bill. Additionally, any extension of the permit should require notice and a public hearing. If the permit granting authority does not approve an extension within 65 days, the new permit should require a new application, notice, and public hearing.
Site Plan Review
The MMA can support this section, regarding site plan review, if modifications are made to avoid onerous evidentiary requirements and eliminate language triggering constructive approval of applications if time thresholds are not met. Constructive approval is a highly controversial process, especially when time periods are not adequate, such as the 95-day provision in S. 2144, as this may be too short for an appropriate and thorough review process. The language in this section should be clarified to indicate that an application will not be approved if submission requirements are not met. Mitigation for adverse impacts directly attributable to projects should extend to nearby properties, and not only those that are adjacent to the developments.
Development Impact Fees
The MMA supports the statutory authorization of development impact fees. We ask that the language be clarified to clearly authorize communities to use the impact fees to conduct mitigation impact studies on a project-by-project basis, including the use of consultants as needed and financed by the project applicant under section 53G of chapter 44. The language proposed in the bill appears to allow a project-responsive fee, but the language should be carefully reviewed to ensure that it does so.
The MMA strongly supports inclusionary zoning. It is critically important that the bill include language expressly allowing inclusionary zoning provisions in local ordinances and by-laws. Inclusionary zoning is a vital and powerful tool that will actually result in the construction of affordable housing. Zoning reform without inclusionary zoning will do nothing to address issues of profitability and availability of affordable housing. We know the for-profit development community does not support inclusionary zoning, but this is the only tangible way that cities and towns can ensure that housing remains or becomes more affordable at the local level. Inclusionary zoning will actually benefit developers because future projects will become more attractive if cities and towns can be assured that affordable units will result.
The MMA opposes the proposed language in section 23 regarding variances. Our members are deeply concerned that this section offers too much latitude in granting variances, specifically the language stipulating that “substantial hardship … financial or otherwise” would be an acceptable standard for a variance. This is not the case, as this overly broad, liberal and loose language would invite costly litigation and appeals, an undesirable result, to say the least. The MMA asks that this wording be removed.
The MMA supports language authorizing consolidated permitting, but the section must not be a mandate and should instead be a local option. Further, there should be no “constructive approval” provisions, and we strongly oppose the last sentence in Section 3 of the new Chapter 40X (in lines 684-686), as this would strip many local boards of their lawful review authority in the event of a scheduling conflict or last-minute absence from the consolidated hearing. The threshold for an “eligible project” must be appropriate for all municipalities, and the MMA supports a higher threshold or providing cities and towns with the ability to choose their own thresholds, as we believe the current language would trigger consolidated permitting on a routine basis, which would be impractical given the scheduling demands and conflict that would arise. In addition, consolidated permitting provisions should require that applications be fully complete in advance of the process. Further, the 45-day time period as written is too short to accommodate the difficulties involved in coordinating scheduling among multiple boards, almost all of which are served by volunteers. Thus the timeframe should be changed to 90 days (a timeframe that is shorter than the combined timeframes it would take to apply for each permit serially).
Planning Ahead for Growth
As drafted, the Planning Ahead for Growth section is a local option, but we believe that the programmatic objectives would be more broadly advanced by opening up some or all of the planning tools presented as incentives to those municipalities that adopt this section, to all municipalities statewide. Otherwise, municipalities that do not have the capacity to meet the requirements enumerated in this section would fall behind their neighbors in the areas of planning and economic development. The language should include a provision to fund local planning to promote the success of the objectives of this section.
This section would restructure local master plans, and should be carefully reviewed to ensure that the newly required master plan components would be realistic for municipalities to complete, otherwise the provisions would impose an undue burden on communities. The language in section 27 should be amended to indicate that any master plan in effect at the passage of this act shall remain in effect and would not be subject to this Act for up to 15 years. Adoption of a master plan, or extension or revision, should be by a two-thirds vote of the legislative body of the municipality. However, municipalities should have the option to change that threshold (via a two-thirds vote) to a range anywhere between a simple majority and a two-thirds majority, with any change taking effect 6 months after the vote is taken.
Approval Not Required (ANR)
The language of this section, as written, includes a presumption that requirements for travel lane widths in excess of 22 feet in a residential minor subdivision serve no valid purpose. The MMA opposes this restriction. That language should be removed from the bill, so that municipalities can continue to set travel lane width standards consistent with contextual design and local needs. These needs may vary from municipality to municipality and cannot be met by a width specified in state statute.
Subdivision Roadway Standards
This section, pertaining to subdivision roadway standards, includes language establishing a presumption that design and dimensional requirements for total travel lane widths no greater than 24 feet shall be presumed to be not excessive. The MMA requests that this language be removed from the bill because, as previously noted, municipalities must be able to set travel lane width standards based on local needs, and the section 32 language implies that widths greater than 24 feet could be considered excessive.
Parks and Playgrounds
The MMA supports the language regarding parks and playgrounds in subdivisions, as written. This section would allow municipalities to require the designation of up to 5 percent of the land in new subdivisions for park or playground use.
Sections 40 through 42
We do not understand the intent or impacts of sections 40, 41 and 42. These sections, which pertain to appeals of an approved subdivision plan, jurisdiction over appeals relating to the development of real property, and the transference of qualified cases to the permit session of the land court, should be clarified, and the impacts on municipalities should be explained before adoption of the language.
Master Planning Incentive/Presumption
The MMA strongly opposes language that would remove or alter the current legal presumption that existing zoning ordinances and bylaws are valid and “serve a public purpose.” Section 43 would allow courts to invalidate municipal ordinances or bylaws that are inconsistent with new master plans, even though these master plans could be adopted by a majority vote, and amendments to zoning ordinances and bylaws would require a two-thirds vote. Thus, it will be difficult for many communities to bring their master plan and their ordinances and bylaws into harmony, which would lead to significant confusion and uncertainty regarding the legal status of their local zoning provisions, and invite litigation and delays at the local level. As municipalities already have absolute presumption, section 43 would actually create a disincentive to adopt new, updated master plans. Section 43 should be amended to strike language that would allow courts to invalidate ordinances and bylaws that do not comply with master plans.
B. MMA COMMENTS IN OPPOSITION TO H. 4140
In addition to reviewing S. 2144, the MMA has had a chance the closely examine H. 4140, An Act to Expedite Multifamily Housing Construction and Cluster Development. The MMA strongly opposes allowing “by-right” development, as local zoning decisions should be carefully reviewed and made by local legislative bodies and the appropriate legal authorities and boards in municipalities. As many of these provisions would simply grant additional rights to developers without addressing many of the factors that have led to the scarcity of affordable housing in the Commonwealth, the MMA strongly opposes incorporating H. 4140 or any of its provisions into S. 2144. We have detailed some of our concerns below.
The MMA is gravely concerned by the “by-right” language in the bill. Eastern Massachusetts is one of the most densely populated areas in the United States, whose citizens care deeply about sustainable, environmentally friendly communities and land use, and this language is antithetical to many of those goals. Currently, zoning is controlled by the citizens of the municipality, not state-level bureaucrats or other officials. H. 4140 would take these decisions out of the hands of those who know their communities best. Additionally, “by-right” legislation does nothing to address actual affordable housing or the profit motivations that drive developers to build multi-million dollar condominiums and luxury apartments rather than increase the affordable housing stock. The MMA opposes zoning reform legislation that features “by-right” language. The negative impact on neighborhoods would be significant, and there are no provisions that would require or increase the amount of affordable housing in municipalities. Rather, we predict that H. 4140 would actually raise the overall cost of housing, as developers, incentivized by understandable profit motivations, would focus on high-end housing – this is exactly what we have been seeing in Massachusetts over the past several years.
The MMA believes local zoning decisions are best made by local officials, not state or federal agencies. H. 4140 would give the Department of Housing and Community Development approval authority over local multi-family zoning districts, and allow the agency to develop and impose further bureaucratic and programmatic requirements on cities and towns. This is highly inadvisable, as state agency control has the potential to politicize zoning policy and impose one-size-fits-all standards on communities, ignoring the diverse nature of localities across the Commonwealth.
Inclusionary Zoning is a Much Better Tool for Affordable Housing
The goal of increasing the supply of affordable housing in the Commonwealth is a laudable one, but we are forced to conclude that very little in H. 4140 would actually lead to affordable housing. The bill gives developers and land owners the ability to develop more land and at greater density, but does nothing to address the profit motives that lead to the development of multi-million dollar condos and luxury apartments over affordable multi-family housing. In our comments above, we strongly advocate for inclusionary zoning authority at the local level, as this would be a much more effective tool to address local housing needs.
C. ACCESSORY APARTMENTS
Following up on our discussion with Senate staff on May 10, we are also offering further input on the question of accessory apartments.
The MMA opposes a state mandate allowing accessory apartments “as of right,” as this would create significant building code and enforcement issues at the local level. Communities already have the authority to adopt accessory apartment provisions in their local zoning ordinances and bylaws, making these decisions based on local needs and conditions. Because of limited resources at the local level, there are likely thousands of unapproved accessory apartments throughout the state. There is no way that the Commonwealth could have enough information to know whether the legalization of these dwellings would be safe, advisable, or consistent with health, safety and building codes. We are very interested in working with you in the future to explore and advance possible frameworks or incentives that could lead to an increase in the number of legally acceptable accessory apartments. In the meantime, though, accessory apartments should continue to be a local option, not a mandate.
Once again, on behalf of cities and towns across the state, we thank you for your consideration of our comments and recommendations.
S. 2144 is far-reaching and complex, and proposes enormous changes that would have dramatic and widespread impacts on municipalities and local residents and businesses for generations to come. We strongly urge you to adopt the language changes identified above in order to preserve the local control of land use that must remain in place, and ensure that this legislation is balanced enough to protect the nature and quality of neighborhoods and communities throughout the state.
Local officials and the citizens of Massachusetts rightly expect all legislation to honor these important principles. We look forward to continuing to work with you throughout this important process. Thank you very much for devoting your time and energy to these vitally important policy matters. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your staff contact me, John Robertson or David Lakeman at (617) 426-7272 at any time.
Again, thank you.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO
CC: The Honorable Daniel Wolf, State Senator
Mr. David Sullivan, Office of the Senate President
The Massachusetts Municipal Association published in January a series of “best practices” for towns in Massachusetts, and I thought I would share them as I had time. This process is where we can share the collective knowledge of all the other towns, as we figure out how best to do things.
The first “best practice” is about how much we should have in reserves, and the MMA recommends more than 5% or two months of your operating funds. Our budget is about $60m./year, so I make that amount to be about $10m. I think that is about twice what we have.
MMA Fiscal Policy Committee
Best Practice Recommendation: Municipal Reserves
BEST PRACTICE: Adopt, as a set policy or practice, adequate funding of municipal reserve accounts to mitigate budget risks from extraordinary and unforeseen events and maintain fiscal stability over time. This could include the adoption of reserve funding targets of 5 percent or more, based on the size of the municipal budget and consideration of spending and revenues risks. This could also include the identification of specific year-end fund balances or revenues from other sources
to contribute to reserve accounts. A good policy or practice could also include rules for the use or draw down of reserves and for replenishment of depleted accounts.
It is widely recognized that those state and local governments that have established and funded reserve and stabilization accounts at sufficient levels have been well-served, because reserves allow states and localities to sustain services in times of economic and fiscal distress and limit the risk from extraordinary and unforeseen occurrences. Sound policies and practices, along with adequate levels of reserves, can also have a positive impact on credit ratings and can reduce the cost of borrowing and capital project spending.
The Division of Local Services advises that a good reserve policy will establish target balances for the local stabilization fund and other reserves and “develop a schedule of annual appropriations … designed to reach and sustain target balances gradually over time.”
A Best Practice adopted by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Executive Board recommends that “governments establish a formal policy on the level of unrestricted fund balance that should be maintained in the general fund.” The GFOA suggests that the balance be maintained at no less than two months of general operating fund revenues or expenditures, although the amount of the balance and the measurement depend on the specific circumstances of the municipality. The GFOA also recommends that the purpose of various parts of the fund balance be specified, including, for example, “a portion for working capital, one for budgetary stabilization, and one for responding to extreme events.”
References from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA):