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Town Asks Legislators, "Make Our Priorities Your Priority"

State representatives visited the Board of Selectmen to discuss the town's annual priority list. Money for special education and roads tops this year's list.

To avoid having important issues get bogged down in a sea of requests, Northborough has taken to—for the past four years or so—creating a

During the budgeting season each year, the and administration fine tunes a list of what they deem the most important for the town in order. They compile a detailed letter, mail it off to the town's representatives and senators, and organize a sit-down, which happened at the board meeting on Monday night.

Sens. Jamie Eldridge and Harriette Chandler joined soon-to-be Northborough's state Rep. Steven Levy and Chief of Staff Susan Templeton, who sat in for Harold Naughton (presently serving in Afghanistan).

This year, as with previous years, restoring the Circuit Breaker funding as well as Chapter 90 Funds tops the list.

Circuit Breaker funding is money used for special education services in a school district—special education services (including everything from teachers to transporation) that are mandated by the federal government. The funding was cut, while Northborough's enrollment of those needing special education continues to escalate.

Chapter 90 funds pertain to road and bridge maintenance. Last year, while the Chapter 90 money was increased from $150 million to $200 million, it fell short of the $300 million requested. "Cities and towns maintain 90 percent of the roadways in Massachusetts," reads the letter. "Northborough relies almost exclusively on Chapter 90 allocation to fund its annual road maintenance."

From 2007 to 2010, Northborough received, on average, $363,000 per year for repair and maintenance of 93 miles of roads. In April 2011, the authorization increased from $102,362 to $462,732 for fiscal 2012. The increase was not enough to handle the backlog that is due to rising costs of labor and materials.

Sen. Eldridge agreed that the state's priorities were in line with Northborough's, as did Sen. Chandler. 

"On your priorities, we don't differ that much," said Chandler. "You have level funding in local aid. The best month is April, when the senate should be in a better position of knowing what funding we have coming in. If it’s a strong month we could see an increase in regional transportation. We support you for regional transportation, and not just for special education."

While not among the top two priorities, modernizing procurement and public construction laws made the bulleted list that selectmen say they have been pointing to for years. Chairman Jeff Amberson remarked, "One of the ones that drives me nuts is the procurement laws. This isn’t something that just came up this year. Every year we get the same rhetoric. At one point can we go from 'let’s think about this' to getting an answer?"

The procurement and construction laws put towns in a position of dealing with outdating purchasing regulations, often, as Town Administrator John Coderre pointed out, unable to use local contractors because the town is required to pay "prevailing wages." It creates reams of unncessary paperwork, and makes even small jobs very costly, argued Coderre.

The subject sparked irritation from the board members, as they pointed out that the priority has been on every letter that has been submitted year after year.

"I don’t have a position on it so I’d like to take a closer look and see what the wages are," said Sen. Eldridge. "I am hoping to sit down with John and see what local contractors wages are."

Coderre rattled off tangible examples of how the procurement laws have affected the town directly. Last year, a relatively small heating system repair at the town hall resulted in having to hire a large firm from Rhode Island to do the job. 

"We contacted every vendor in Northborough and the area," said Coderre, "and because of the hoops they had to go through and prevailing wage we ended up getting a really large firm from Rhode Island. I literally couldn’t get anyone from the area to bid on it. It wasn’t worth it to anyone. We had folks come in to look at putting in a new gym floor, and the job was about $50,000. It came back 30 percent higher. These are actual increases and quotes. We’re realistic— if we’re building a school or senior center, we know we’ll pay prevailing wage, but the paperwork for a $30,000 project is as much paperwork as a 70 million project."

Other concerns on Northborough's priority list include establishing one or more revolving funds for individual municipal departments, to amend the capital project funds and to develop a fair system of assessing the cost of new developments on municipalities. As Chief Mark Leahy, who attended the meeting, confirmed that the process for insurance proceeds from public safety IOD claims must be amended, which is another item on the priority list.

"One of the things that you should be aware of is the fact that we have some structural problems in our budget this year," said Sen. Chandler, "one being the fact that we have been required by the Supreme Court to pay $150,000 million in healthcare for illegal immigrants. That’s a bit of a probem. It’s more than a bit. We have other financial issues. We’re starting to stall a bit in terms of economy. I look upon northborough as kind of a boom area, I think it’s been wise planning, and you’ve had many years of wise planning, but we are going to have problems giving you all you’re asking for. We’re going to be about a billion and a half dollars short, and that’s going to make a difference. If we had the money the one area we would do is Chapter 70."

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