Three local politicians will be in the hot seat at tonight’s selectmen’s meeting as they answer questions and hear what legislative reform proposals town officials say are a top priority.
Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and Rep. Harold Naughton Jr., D-Clinton, have been sent a letter from Town Administrator John Coderre outlining how the town feels its economic burdens can be eased through legislative reform.
The letter lists six priorities and 10 secondary priorities town officials say they want its delegation to support.
“We’re asking for some relief,” said Coderre. “To look at waste and ways to save money.”
The top issue is the town’s desire for greater control over employee health insurance outside of collective bargaining. Towns must negotiate with unions to make insurance changes, however the state has exempted itself from doing the same.
Northborough could save about $400,000 in its fiscal 2010 budget if a bill filed on plan changes outside of collective bargaining is passed.
“This one reform is the most effective way to bring immediate fiscal relief to all cities and towns and is urgently overdue,” the letter states.
Officials also are seeking an update to purchasing and procurement laws, which they feel are overly restricted and outdated. At a minimum, the requirements should be standardized for projects under $100,000.
“The labyrinth of requirements for even the smallest of projects makes it impossible for public officials to use common sense and good business practices,” the letter says.
Officials are also requesting legislation that would exempt construction projects less than $100,000 from prevailing wage laws, because often prevailing wage is far greater than what local contractors pay.
The letter cites an example of market research done by the Recreation Department on replacing the gym’s floor, and determined a budget of $55,000 was necessary.
That cost jumped to $82,000 after the procurement regulations dictated a need to inform bidders that the project was subject to prevailing wage.
In another example, local contractors did not want to bid on painting at the police station because of the amount of paperwork required by procurement law, and indicated workers wouldn’t be happy with pay from private sector work after such high prevailing wages for the job, the letter says.
The town is also seeking modification of the library aid penalty. Communities can now only make library cuts comparable to those made in other departments, or they lose a portion of their local aid.
“This penalty is draconian,” the letter says. “In no other service area is a community penalized in this nature for prioritizing its services.”
In 2010 the Northborough Library will need to take a disproportionate budget cut because it did not in years past while other departments suffered those cuts.
The town could lose $15,998 in state funds and the ability for residents to access regional library lending, the letter says.
“This one-year view does not take into consideration that the library has seen significant local support over the years, including the completion of a newly renovated and expanded building,” it says. “A multiyear budget perspective should be employed.”
Officials are also attacking a 1915 telecommunications property tax law designed to bring telephone to the state.
“That goal was achieved,” the letter says. “Now it is time for telecommunication companies to pay their fair share of the property tax.”
Doing so could generate $154,893 for town, and an estimated $78 million in property taxes for the state.
The last priority is a request for the development of a fair system of assessing the cost of new developments on municipalities. Modifying the constitution would allow the town to plan for the impacts of development based on state-wide standards.
The town also would like lawmakers to look at issues regarding departmental revolving funds, motor vehicle excise tax, property tax overlay accounts, personal property taxes and general and special purpose funds.
Also, the Community Preservation Act, employee benefits, capital project funds, health regionalization and pandemic flu preparedness.
Coderre said the town plans to invite Chandler, Eldridge and Naughton back at a later date to find out how they voted on issues relating to the town’s priority list.