After a series of meetings between the Merrimack Valley Mayors and Managers coalition and local lawmakers a legislative package of items that would bring non-monetary relief to municipalities has been agreed to and will be submitted by our legislative partners. The Tribune offered some coverage of this package today. Some elements of the package were cited by the Tribune.
Allow cities and towns to conduct so-called “reverse auctions,” with contractors bidding for jobs online. It is an auction in reverse, Tarr said, because rather than bidding up the price, contractors bid it down. Cities and towns would also be allowed to issue contracts worth less than $5,000 without bids.
r Make it harder for unions to block cities and towns from joining the state Group Insurance Commission. Last year, the Legislature allowed municipalities to join GIS to save money on health care, but local leaders say it is too easy for unions to veto the move.
r Strip school committees of their ability to veto cost-saving consolidations of city or town departments.
r Give city and town leaders the right to reach agreements to share the cost of services or purchases they can’t afford alone without Town Meeting or city council approval.
r Allow the state to obtain more Medicaid money from the federal government for caring for special education students. Tarr said the state currently is shortchanged by $50 million a year.
r Give cities and towns grants totaling $1 million a year to hire consultants or acquire software that would help them find ways to squeeze savings out of the way they currently do business. Tucker said many communities “don’t have the resources or the time to think of these long-term management practices.”
While the GIC legislation would only study the possibility of removing the union 70 percent threshold I believe the failure of so many cities to sign up for the GIC has pushed the legislature to the point where it will eliminate the union veto. House Speaker Dimasi has indicated support for that removal, although the governor has not. The other components of this agreement do not provide additional money, but do provide a starting point for additional management rights for strapped municipalities. The agreement was described as a “marginal effort” by Mayor Kirk of Gloucester.
But Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who was not involved in developing the plan, called the proposals “small gestures.”
Gloucester, she said, needs more money from the state.
“Help me close my (budget) gap,” Kirk said. “This is marginal stuff and it’s interesting, but I have to balance my budget.”
I am hard pressed to disagree with Mayor Kirk on the need for more money, but my sense is that whatever financial relief may come will be very limited due to the difficult problems facing the State of Massachusetts. Our goal in this effort was to immediately open a dialogue with our legislators, and find out what we agree on. We have done that, and while it is true that there are still areas of disagreement our ability to work cooperatively has been enhanced through this process.
Methuen Mayor William Manzi said the legislation would make a difference.
Manzi, whose city faces a $2 million deficit in the fiscal year that starts in July, said if Beacon Hill lawmakers won’t send more money to cities and towns, they should at least help them save money.
“Give us more management rights and reduce our costs so we don’t have to ask (lawmakers) for more money,” said Manzi, who worked with Tarr and Tucker on the proposal.
We will continue to work with our delegation to find areas of agreement. My thanks to Dennis DiZoglio, who as the E.D. of the Merrimack Valley Planning Agency has been a driving force in regional cooperation. Senator Bruce Tarr really pulled things together legislatively, and we owe him a debt of gratitude. Senators Sue Tucker of Andover and Steve Baddour of Methuen have worked very hard to find consensus and build solutions. On the House side Reps Dempsey and Campbell, L’Italien and Torrisi, as well as Rep Costello of Amesbury and Reps Finegold, Stanley, Verga and Lantigua worked with us on this effort. Read the Tribune article at this link.