Friday, December 19, 2008
Downsizing and deficit are keywords at MAGIC meeting
State Senator Pam Resor received a standing farewell at the MAGIC (Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination) legislative breakfast on Monday, December 8. As she departed from the last meeting she would attend as a state senator, the group rose in spontaneous applause. Earlier words of appreciation by Senator Susan Fargo singled out Resor for leadership in energy and environmental issues. Resor has served on Beacon Hill since 1999
Apart from the Resor tribute, which was spontaneous, the meeting could have been entitled “All things fiscal considered,” with topics ranging from cutting costs, downsizing and economizing, grant award monetary carrots, local aid, taxes, and “a 20 billion dollar deficit that has to be dealt with at some point in the next 90-120 days.”
Intermunicipal cooperation an emerging trend
MAPC (Metropolitan Area Planning Council) is interested in saving money through regional collaboration, such as safety, public health and collective purchasing. Thirty percent of their grant funds have been designated for regional applications such as joint procurement or emergency management. The carrot at the end of MAPC’s stick is simply the availability of funds for municipalities that agree to work together on a given project. Their message is that the money has a greater chance of coming a town’s way if it plans and operates as a unit with another town. Some communities seek savings by going it alone; Lexington is refiling a bill to provide its own electric service and lighting.
Town planners are also thinking about regionalization as a possible solution to their 40B worries. The state’s 40B law stipulates that 10% of the town’s housing be affordable, a requirement that has plagued Carlisle for years both because of the scarcity of available acreage and the prohibitive cost of that which is available. Also, as Elizabeth Barnett, Carlisle Administrative Coordinator, said at the MAGIC breakfast, the “one-size-fits-all 40B” hits smaller towns (and their lower budgets) particularly hard. Implementation of 40B at the local level has been difficult, if not impossible, and the possibility of regionalizing a response to 40B demands could be a way out of the dilemma.
Local voice in decision making needed
One of the oldest refrains in the MAGIC chorus is the need to have local participation in the Metropolitan Planning Office (MPO) and to give cities and towns more influence in decisions. While the power has tended to stay in the urban hub of Massachusetts, several of the planners at the meeting expected that anticipated changes in the Federal Authorization Act would create enough flux in the system to allow changes in the selection, funding and processing of MPO activities. Examples of this would be President-elect Obama’s direction of federal funds into infrastructure and green development, with federal as opposed to state guidelines.
Towns like Carlisle have felt the need for a local voice, particularly in trying to cope with reduced state funds to towns and in the consequent sharp pinch to property-tax-based revenue. Virginia McIntyre, a Concord selectman, told the group that Concord is looking at a local income tax. The average Concord tax bill is now $10,000 and with the decrease in economic diversity in the town the Selectmen are seeking an income- rather than a property-based tax. With legal and constitutional issues still to be resolved, this “will be at least a ten-year project” according to McIntyre, but it does represent one strong local initiative in the effort to cope with the present economic situation. ∆
© 2008 The