An important new bill has been signed into law by Gov. Baker that will, in the apt words of one local mayor, fix the "boring stuff" that helps local government run more efficiently and effectively. I was pleased to attend this bill signing and cast my vote in support of the legislation. As a former selectman and planning board member I really appreciate the importance of these nuts and bolts kinds of reforms.
There's a lot to this Municipal Modernization bill, but broadly speaking it is designed to streamline state oversight over local government, eliminate obsolete laws and reduce bureaucratic hurdles, update procurement practices, modernize outdated paperwork practices and generally increase flexibility for cities and towns to self-govern.
For example, the new law will allow cities and towns to implement reduced speed limits in certain areas, allow parking revenues to be used for transportation-related activities, eliminate statutory caps on stabilization funds & reserve funds and expands a town’s ability to make year-end budget adjustments which could help reduce the need for extra special Town Meetings in the fall of each year. Those are just a few of the helpful changes this bill now allows for. It certainly sounds very boring but it's truly the nitty-gritty stuff that impacts local government in many ways. The goal is to free up our local officials to be better able to focus on their primary goal of providing services to their residents.
Here is a summary of many of the sections of the new law
An Act modernizing municipal finance and government (H. 4565)
Eliminate/Update Obsolete Laws
- Eliminates required reports on county government matters - Repeals provisions of the county finance statute that require DLS to review various aspects of county government finance.
- 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
- Updates OPEB Trust Fund Statue GASB compliant – This change clarifies current language to makes it easier for governmental units to create an OPEB trust fund that complies with the legal requirements for trusts with GASB.
- Creates a uniform and consistent deadline for taxpayers seeking personal exemptions – Sets April 1 as the deadline for personal exemption applications in all communities.
Promote Local Independence
- Eliminates Statutory Caps on Stabilization funds, reserve funds, revolving funds—Amends current law by permitting appropriations into the fund by majority vote and permits the municipality, without appropriation, to dedicate all or a portion of particular revenue streams to the fund.
- Expands a municipality’s ability to make year-end budget adjustments.
- Liberalizes use of stabilization funds, reserve funds, revolving funds – Broadens the revolving funds statutes to permit more flexibility in the use of such funds and to eliminate all caps.
- Increases threshold for payment of court judgments without appropriation and eliminate DLS approval – Amends current law to reflect the current operating environment where obligations to make immediate payments based on various legal claims now are just as likely to result from decisions of administrative agencies rather than just court judgments
- Eliminates certain reporting requirements to DLS.
- Allow communities to implement reduced speed limits in certain areas
Streamline State Oversight
- Extends the certification review of local assessing practices from three to five years.
- Eliminates the four year state valuation and replaces it with a formula for the distribution of PILOT’s (state-owned land).
- Updates statutes that dictate DLS duties to reflect changes in Division’s mission over past 30 years.
- Eliminates DLS approval for things such as abatement of taxes on low-valued land and abatement of taxes on properties being made available for affordable housing.
- Eliminates requirements to print and distribute certain forms and approve use of electronic forms.
Provide Municipalities with Greater Flexibility
- Simplifies, clarifies and increases state and municipal procurement thresholds – Various reforms designed to give municipalities more flexibility in how they procure construction contracts.
- Simplifies and updates debt statutes - Increases short-term borrowing max from 5 to 10 years, allows borrowing for a reimbursable state grant, and increases the de minimis surplus bond balance that may be used to pay debt service.
- Raises the ceiling on the residential exemption from 20 to 35%.—This change will greatly benefit cities and towns with large seasonal populations.
- Allows municipal committees to designate one of its own members, or a town manager/administrator, to review and approve bills and warrants.