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Friday, May 22, 2015

Excerpt from the 5/5/15 Conservation Commission Minutes

Excerpt from the  5/5/15 Conservation Commission Minutes

4. Old and New Business TropicStar Development is to donate land on Storey Avenue to the City. The Essex County Greenbelt Association will hold a conservation restriction on the property. Andy Port has requested that the Commission hold the land and the conservation restriction while the language of the document is being finalized. However, the order signed by the City Council did not specify the Commission was to have a roll with regards to the property. In addition, there would be no restriction to be held until the document has been finalized. The Commission would be willing to be responsible for the policing of the property. Doug Muir moved to authorize the Chair to sign any and all documents necessary to accept the land to be under the custody and control of the Conservation Commission. Steve Moore seconded the motion. The motion was unanimously approved.

City Achieves Highest Credit Rating Possible—First Time in City History

Mayor Donna D. Holaday is pleased to announce that on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, the City was notified that it had achieved the highest possible municipal bond rating of Triple A (AAA) from the national rating agency, Standard & Poor’s (S&P). This rating represents an upgrade from the rating of AA+, issued to the City in 2014 by S&P.  This new long-term rating increase places Newburyport among the ranks of the top communities across the country for credit worthiness and financial management.   The upgraded credit quality of Newburyport will allow the City to issue debt at lower interest rates, saving the City in future borrowing costs.
According to the S&P report, assigning the City of Newburyport the highest possible bond rating is based on the City’s, “…very strong management as well as stronger wealth and income indicators.”  They cited the following favorable factors for the City in making their determination:
  • Very strong economy, with access to a broad and diverse metropolitan statistical area (MSA);
  • Very strong management, with "strong" financial policies;
  • Strong budgetary performance, with a slight operating surplus in the general fund and balanced operating results at the total governmental fund level;
  • Strong budgetary flexibility, with an available fund balance in fiscal 2014 of 11% of operating expenditures;
  • Very strong liquidity, with total government available cash of 29.1% of total governmental fund expenditures and 5.4x governmental debt service, and access to external liquidity we consider strong;
  • Strong debt and contingent liability position, with debt service carrying charges of 5.4% and net direct debt that is 74.3% of total governmental fund revenue and low overall net debt at less than 3% of market value; and
  • Strong institutional framework score.
In learning of the news from S&P, Mayor Holaday stated, “I am delighted to receive such great news for our City at this particular time as we’re working out our FY16 budget.  Since taking office, I committed the City to a multi-year financial management strategy intended to move us in this very direction—and now we have realized one of our ultimate goals—to achieve the highest bond rating possible .  The support of the City Council over the past five years in aligning with the Executive Office’s overall budgetary strategy has played a crucial role in getting us to this point.  I thank them for their continued commitment to these sound fiscal policies which have clearly paid off with our newly-deemed credit status.”
According to the City’s Financial Advisor, FirstSouthwest , there are roughly 58 communities out of 351 in Massachusetts that have a AAA bond rating—the majority of which are towns. 
As for the future, S&P reported that, Newburyport’s financial outlook appears to be stable.  In their report they note, “The stable outlook reflects our opinion that the city will maintain its at least strong financial position through balanced operations. The city’s very strong wealth and income levels and the diverse and dynamic local and regional economies support the rating. We further expect the Newburyport’s debt profile to remain strong as its future capital needs are limited and that management's policies will support long-term stability. We are unlikely to revise the rating during our two-year horizon as we believe the capable management team will maintain the city’s strong financial performance and preserve at least strong reserves. While unlikely, a sustained or substantial weakening of reserves and liquidity could put downward pressure on the rating.”
S&P’s full report is expected to be made publicly available by the end of this week. 

SENATE PASSES $38.1B FY 2016 STATE BUDGET THAT INCLUDES FUNDING FOR KEY MUNICIPAL AND SCHOOL AID PROGRAMS


 
BUDGET AND LOCAL AID ACTION NOW GOES TO A HOUSE-SENATE CONFERENCE COMMITTEE

Shortly after midnight on Friday morning, after 3 full days of deliberation on 942 amendments, the members of the Massachusetts Senate unanimously adopted a trim $38.1 billion fiscal 2016 state budget plan that is generally similar to the budget passed by the House, at least in the treatment of the major local aid accounts and the total amount expended.

The Senate-passed budget would increase overall state expenditures by approximately 3 percent, as the state seeks to close a projected $1.8 billion structural budget deficit by restraining spending and eliminating up to 5,000 state jobs through an early retirement program.

The budget action will now shift to a House-Senate conference committee, as legislative leaders will need to iron out differences on a number of major budget matters, including disagreements on state tax policy and the strength of MBTA reform measures. The conference committee process is expected to take several weeks.

Senators voted to expand the earned income tax credit for low-income workers, increase personal deductions for all taxpayers, and freeze the state income tax at 5.15 percent. House leaders are objecting to including this language in the state budget, based on constitutional language stating that tax measures must originate in the House. This may become an area of significant contention during the conference process.

In addition, MBTA reform will also require further compromise between the branches. The Senate approved an amendment to create a Fiscal and Management Control Board to oversee the agency, and the House budget includes a provision exempting the MBTA from the so-called Pacheco anti-outsourcing law. Legislative leaders will need to agree on a final MBTA reform package, either as part of the budget or in separate legislation.

In terms of local aid, the Senate budget provides strong progress on many important municipal priorities, although the House and Senate have adopted different appropriation amounts for several local aid accounts and programs, and it will be important for local officials to talk to their legislators and urge the conference committee to agree on the highest possible funding levels.

 Here is a summary and status of the key municipal and school funding issues in the fiscal 2016 state budget as adopted by Senate on Thursday:
 SENATE, HOUSE AND GOVERNOR ALL AGREE ON $34 MILLION INCREASE IN UNRESTRICTED MUNICIPAL AID
In a major win for cities and towns, the Senate, House and Governor’s budgets all support $979.8 million for UGGA, a $34 million increase over current funding, which means local officials can count on this level of funding for fiscal 2016.  This will be the largest increase in discretionary municipal aid in nearly a decade.  Every city and town will see their UGGA funding increase by 3.6 percent.

 SENATE EMBRACES $18.2 MILLION INCREASE TO FULLY FUND SPECIAL EDUCATION CIRCUIT BREAKER
In another victory for cities and towns, Senators voted to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker program.  The Senate budget plan would provide $271.6 million, an $18.2 million increase above fiscal 2015, and $9.9 million more than the House budget.  House leaders have also stated their intention to fully funding the account and appropriated $261.7 million, an increase of $8.3 million, but Senate leaders predict that full funding would require an $18.2 million increase for next year, not the $8.3 million increase voted by the House.  The Governor’s budget would level-fund the program at $253.4 million.  This is a vital program that every city, town and school district relies on to fund state-mandated services.  Please ask your legislators to support the $271.6 million proposed by the Senate.

 SENATE BUDGET UNDERFUNDS KINDERGARTEN DEVELOPMENT GRANTS BY PROVIDING ONLY $1 MILLION
The Senate budget would fund Kindergarten Development Grants at $1 million in fiscal 2016, which would translate into a painful $17.6 million cut for the 117 communities and school districts that depend on these funds.  The House budget would level fund the program at $18.6 million.  The Governor’s budget would have eliminated all funding, This is an important account, because reducing or eliminating the $18.6 million would jeopardize expanded kindergarten programs all throughout the state.  Please ask your legislators to support the House appropriation of $18.6 million.

 SENATE ADDS ANOTHER $2.5 MILLION FOR REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION REIMBURSEMENTS
During the budget debate, Senators voted to add another $2.5 million for regional school transportation reimbursements, on top of the $5 million increase proposed by the Senate Ways & Means Committee.  Last November, former Gov. Patrick used his 9C budget powers to reduce this important program down to $51.5 million.  The Governor’s fiscal 2016 budget proposed level funding at $51.5 million.  Recognizing the importance of this funding, the final House budget would restore $5 million to bring regional transportation reimbursements up to $56.5 million, and the Senate budget is proposing $59 million.  Please ask your legislators to support the $59 million proposed by the Senate.

 SENATE BACKS CHAPTER 70 MINIMUM AID OF $25 PER STUDENT
The Senate budget is proposing a $111.2 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid, with a provision providing every city, town and school district an increase of at least $25 per student.  The House also adopted minimum aid at $25 per student, which means both the House and Senate leaders support higher minimum aid than the $20-per-student amount proposed by the Governor.  The SW&M appropriation is $3 million more than the House budget and $5.9 million more than the recommendation in the Governor’s budget submission.  The Senate’s increase over the House proposal would be used to slightly accelerate the implementation of the target share provisions enacted in 2007, which is why several districts would see a somewhat higher Chapter 70 aid level in the Senate’s proposal.  Because most cities and towns only receive minimum aid (245 operating districts in cities, towns and regions would only receive minimum aid), the MMA will advocate for the Senate’s $111.2 million increase, and will work to build on this progress and continue to call for higher minimum aid funding in the future.   Please ask you legislators to support the Senate’s $111.2 million appropriation.

 SENATE WOULD INCREASE CHARTER SCHOOL REIMBURSEMENTS BY $7.7 MILLION, ACCOUNT REMAINS UNDERFUNDED
Under state law, cities and towns that host or send students to charter schools are entitled to be reimbursed for a portion of their lost Chapter 70 aid.  The state fully funded the reimbursement program in fiscal 2013 and 2014, but is underfunding reimbursements by approximately $34 million this year (fiscal 2015).  The Governor and House have proposed fiscal 2016 budgets that would level-fund charter school reimbursements at $76.8 million, which would guarantee another major shortfall in fiscal 2016, and result in cutbacks for the majority of students who remain in the traditional school setting.  The Senate Ways & Means Committee proposed a $3.2 million increase up to $80 million, and on Thursday, Senators voted to add another $4.5 million to bring the Senate’s proposal up to $84.5 million, which is $7.7 million more than the House and Governor’s budgets.  The Senate’s strong action to increase funding by 10 percent is deeply appreciated, yet it is important to remember that the account is still significantly underfunded.  Please call on your legislators to support the Senate budget level during the conference committee’s deliberations.

 SENATE ADOPTS AMENDMENT TO ADD $1 MILLION TO McKINNEY-VENTO REIMBURSEMENTS
The final Senate and House budgets would add $1 million to increase fiscal 2016 reimbursements for the transportation of homeless students to $8.35 million, the same funding level proposed by the Governor.  While the account remains below the full reimbursement called for under the state’s unfunded mandate law, it would be the first increase since fiscal 2013.  Because the House and Senate budgets are identical, it is expected that the Legislature’s final budget will provide $8.35 million.

 PAYMENTS-IN-LIEU-OF-TAXES (PILOT), LIBRARY AID ACCOUNTS, METCO, AND SHANNON ANTI-GANG GRANTS
PILOT PAYMENTS: The Senate budget would level-fund PILOT payments at $26.77 million (the same funding proposed by the House and Governor).
LIBRARY AID: The Senate would fund library grant programs at $18.7 million ($200 thousand more than the House and Governor).
METCO: The Senate would fund METCO at $19.9 million ($250 thousand less than the House’s $20.15 million, and $800 thousand more than the Governor’s $19.1 million).
SHANNON GRANTS: During debate, Senators added $2 million to Shannon anti-gang grants to bring proposed funding up to $8 million (the Governor is proposing $7 million, and the House is proposing $6 million).

 PROTECTION OF MUNICIPAL EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES
During the budget debate, Senators approved an amendment adding an outside section intended to prevent the practice of “pay the patient” by insurance companies, which undermines the ability of cities and towns to fund and operate effective and efficient ambulance services that are at the core of emergency medical response in Massachusetts. “Pay the patient” would force communities to pursue their own residents to recoup thousands of dollars in ambulance expenses, a system that is inefficient and subject to abuse.  The Senate amendment would give ultimate rate-setting authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, with language that the rates should not exceed the cost of the ambulance service.  The House also adopted an amendment to ban “pay the patient” practices, with language stating that municipalities would be authorized to set a fair rate for ambulance services, preventing insurance companies from shifting costs to local property taxpayers through below-cost reimbursements. The Governor’s budget did not address the issue.  Please ask your legislators to support final budget language that prevents “pay the patient” and ensures that cities and towns can set adequate rates to pay for emergency ambulance services.

 SENATE DOES NOT INCLUDE COMMUNITY PRESERVATION ACT FUNDING
During fiscal 2015, 156 cities and towns collected the local Community Preservation Act (CPA) surcharge and are eligible for state matching grants in fiscal 2016.  The Division of Local Services (DLS) estimates that the balance in the state trust fund will be sufficient to provide a first round match of only 18 percent of the surcharge levied by each city and town.  This would be the lowest state match in the program’s history.  Knowing this, House members voted to dedicate up to $10 million of any fiscal 2015 year-end state budget surplus to supplement the fiscal 2016 state match.  The Senate budget does not include CPA funding.  Please ask your legislators to support the House funding level.

No Trash Pick Up or Recycling on Memorial Day

Newburyport-  Please be reminded that on Monday, May 25th there will be no trash or recycling pick-up. Monday’s collection and all remaining collections for the week will be delayed one day, Friday collection will be on Saturday except for the downtown area which remains on Friday.
There is no change to our monthly drop-off at the Crow Lane Recycling Center for electronics, tires, oil and metal which will be held on June 6 from 8-12 pm. 
For additional questions please call the Recycing Office at 978-499-0413.   

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

SENATE BUDGET COMMITTEE OFFERS $38B FY 2016 STATE BUDGET THAT MAKES KEY INVESTMENTS IN MUNICIPAL AND SCHOOL AID

 Tuesday, May 12, 2015

 SENATE BUDGET COMMITTEE OFFERS $38B FY 2016 STATE BUDGET THAT MAKES KEY INVESTMENTS IN MUNICIPAL AND SCHOOL AID
• INCLUDES THE FULL $34M INCREASE IN UNRESTRICTED MUNICIPAL AID (UGGA)
• ADDS $18.2M TO FULLY FUND SPECIAL EDUCATION CIRCUIT BREAKER
• INCREASES REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION BY $5M
• PROVIDES CHAPTER 70 MINIMUM AID OF $25 PER STUDENT
• LEVEL-FUNDS MOST OTHER MUNICIPAL AND SCHOOL ACCOUNTS
• HOWEVER, KINDERGARTEN DEVELOPMENT GRANTS FACE A SIGNIFICANT CUT

Earlier today, the Senate Ways and Means Committee reported out a $38 billion fiscal 2016 state budget plan to increase overall state expenditures by about 3 percent, as the state seeks to close a projected $1.8 billion structural budget deficit by restraining spending and eliminating as many as 5,000 state jobs through an early retirement program. The bottom line of the Senate Ways and Means budget is very close to the overall budget filed by Governor Baker in March and passed by the House in April. The full Senate will debate the fiscal 2016 state budget beginning on May 19th.

S. 3, the Senate Ways and Means budget, provides strong progress on many important local aid priorities, including the full $34 million increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid that the Governor and House have supported and communities are counting on. The Senate W&M Committee would funding for several major aid programs, by adding $18.2 million to the Special Education Circuit Breaker, restoring $5 million to Regional School Transportation, and providing Chapter 70 minimum aid of $25 per student.

 PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SEE THE UNRESTRICTED GENERAL GOVERNMENT AID AND CHAPTER 70 AID AMOUNTS FOR YOUR COMMUNITY AS PROPOSED IN THE SENATE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE BUDGET [ https://malegislature.gov/Content/Documents/Budget/Senate/FY2016/LocalAid.pdf ]

  $34 MILLION INCREASE IN UNRESTRICTED MUNICIPAL AID
In a major victory for cities and towns, S. 3 (the SW&M fiscal 2016 budget plan) would provide $979.8 million for UGGA, a $34 million increase over current funding – the same increase proposed by Governor Baker and voted by the House.  The $34 million would increase UGGA funding by 3.6 percent, which is 75 percent of the projected 4.8 percent increase in state tax collections next year.  This would be the largest increase in discretionary municipal aid in nearly a decade.  Every city and town would see their UGGA funding increase by 3.6 percent.

 $18.2 MILLION INCREASE TO FULLY FUND SPECIAL EDUCATION CIRCUIT BREAKER
In another victory for cities and towns, Senate leaders have announced that they support full funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program.  Their budget plan would provide $271.6 million, an $18.2 million increase above fiscal 2015, and $9.9 million more than the House budget.  House leaders have also stated their intention to fully funding the account, but Senate leaders predict that full funding would require an $18.2 million increase for next year, not the $8.3 million increase voted by the House.  This is a vital program that every city, town and school district relies on to fund state-mandated services.

 RESTORES $5 MILLION TO REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION
Last November, former Gov. Patrick used his 9C budget powers to eliminate the $18.7 million increase in regional school transportation reimbursements that the Legislature originally enacted for fiscal 2015, reducing the final amount to $51.5 million.  The Governor proposed level funding at $51.5 million.  Recognizing the importance of this funding, the SW&M budget would restore $5 million to bring regional transportation reimbursements up to $56.5 million, the same amount passed in the House budget.  The MMA will work to continue building on this welcome increase.

 CHAPTER 70 MINIMUM AID WOULD INCREASE TO $25 PER STUDENT AND ACCELERATE THE PHASE IN OF TARGET SHARE EQUITY PROVISIONS
The Senate budget committee is proposing a $111.2 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid, with a provision providing every city, town and school district an increase of at least $25 per student.  The House also adopted minimum aid at $25 per student, which means both the House and Senate leaders support higher minimum aid than the $20-per-student amount proposed by the Governor.  The SW&M appropriation is $3 million more than the House budget and $5.9 million more than the recommendation in the Governor’s budget submission.  The increase over the House proposal would be used to slightly accelerate the implementation of the target share provisions enacted in 2007, which is why several districts may see a somewhat higher Chapter 70 aid level in the Senate’s proposal.  Because most cities and towns only receive minimum aid (245 operating districts in cities, towns and regions would only receive minimum aid), the MMA will work to build on this progress and will continue to advocate for higher funding.

 McKINNEY-VENTO REIMBURSEMENTS LEVEL FUNDED
The Senate Ways and Means Committee budget would level fund reimbursements for the transportation of homeless students at $7.4 million.  This is $1 million less than the funding proposed in the Governor’s and House budget.  The state auditor recently released a report calling on the state to fully fund this unfunded mandate at close to $20 million.  The MMA will advocate for additional funding during the Senate budget debate.

 KINDERGARTEN DEVELOPMENT GRANTS WOULD BE SIGNIFICANTLY UNDERFUNDED WITH ONLY $1 MILLION
The Senate Ways & Means budget would provide only $1 million for the Kindergarten Development Grant program, far below the current funding level of $18.6 million.  The Governor’s budget would have eliminated all funding, and the Senate proposal would eliminate nearly all grant funds.  The House level-funded the program at $18.6 million, recognizing that ending the program with no warning would present major problems for those communities that depend on the grants to maintain their full-day kindergarten programs.  Restoring these funds will be a top priority during the Senate budget debate, and local officials who rely on Kindergarten Development Grants should contact their Senators immediately.

 CHARTER SCHOOL REIMBURSEMENTS INCREASED BY $3.2 MILLION, BUT STILL UNDERFUNDED
Under state law, cities and towns that host or send students to charter schools are entitled to be reimbursed for a portion of their lost Chapter 70 aid.  The state fully funded the reimbursement program in fiscal 2013 and 2014, but is underfunding reimbursements by approximately $34 million this year (fiscal 2015).  The Governor and House have proposed fiscal 2016 budgets that would level-fund charter school reimbursements at $76.8 million, which would guarantee another major shortfall in fiscal 2016, and result in cutbacks for the majority of students who remain in the traditional school setting.  The Senate budget committee is supporting a $3.2 million increase up to $80 million, which is appreciated, but the account is still dramatically underfunded.  Increasing charter school reimbursements will be a top priority during the budget debate.

 PAYMENTS-IN-LIEU-OF-TAXES (PILOT), LIBRARY AID ACCOUNTS, METCO, AND SHANNON ANTI-GANG GRANTS
The Senate budget committee’s proposal would level fund PILOT payments at $26.77 million, fund library grant programs at $18.7 million ($200K more than the House), fund METCO at $17.9 million ($2.25M less than the House), and provide $6 million for Shannon Anti-Gang Grants (the same as the House).

U.S. Lowers Recommended Fluoride Levels in Drinking Water- US NEWS & World Report

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter
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MONDAY, April 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. government has decreased its recommended level of fluoride in drinking water for the first time in a half-century, to prevent staining of tooth enamel caused by overexposure to fluoride.
The optimal fluoride level in drinking water to prevent tooth decay should be 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Monday.
The new level falls at the bottom end of the previously recommended fluoridation range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter, which was issued in 1962.
Health experts recommended the change because Americans now have access to more sources of fluoride, including toothpaste and mouth rinses, than they did when municipal officials first began adding the mineral to water supplies across the United States, according to the HHS.
As a result, more people are exposed to too much fluoride and suffering from fluorosis -- white stains in the enamel of their teeth caused by too much fluoride.
Mild fluorosis takes the appearance of scattered white flecks, frosty edges or lacy chalk-like lines on teeth. The white spots become larger with severe fluorosis, and in extreme cases the surface of teeth become rough and pitted, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Federal health officials say the new recommended level will maintain the protective benefits of water fluoridation and reduce the occurrence of dental fluorosis.
"While additional sources of fluoride are more widely used than they were in 1962, the need for community water fluoridation still continues," said U.S. Deputy Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak. "Community water fluoridation continues to reduce tooth decay in children and adults beyond that provided by using only toothpaste and other fluoride-containing products."
About three out of every four Americans served by public water systems receive fluoridated water, the CDC says.
The decision to lower fluoride recommendations for drinking water is "not a big deal," said Dr. Ronald Burakoff, chair of dental medicine for North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y.
"It's a reasonable step to take because there was an increased observation of fluorosis," Burakoff said. "They [federal officials] have just reduced the amount they're putting in, but they haven't changed the rationale that fluoride is good for you."
The new recommendation reflects all the accumulated data regarding the best level of fluoridation for drinking water, said Dr. Gretchen Henson, program director of advanced education in pediatric dentistry at the Interfaith Medical Center Department of Dental Medicine in New York City.
"The public should not take this news as a recommendation to avoid fluoridated water," Henson said. "Fluoride in the right amount is very important for dental health. We see significantly more cavities among children who only drink bottled water or live in areas where water is not fluoridated."
Gary Slade, a professor of dental ecology at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, said dental experts and public health officials might nitpick slight differences in the recommendation, but it reflects a consensus based on the available evidence.
"This is common sense public health in practice," Slade said. "We do need to have pragmatic guidelines, and here they are and I think they are reasonable."
The benefits of fluoride were first observed in the 1930s, when dental scientists found that tooth decay was less frequent and less severe among people whose water supplies contained higher levels of natural fluoride, the CDC says. Extensive follow-up research determined that fluoride can become concentrated in dental plaque and saliva, helping to prevent the breakdown of tooth enamel.
Grand Rapids, Mich., became in 1945 the first American city to add fluoride to its municipal water system, according to the CDC.
Fluoride occurs naturally in most water systems, but often at levels too low to prevent tooth decay, so the practice of adding fluoride to a community's water system has grown steadily over the years.
The fluoridation of water -- while opposed by some for perceived health risks -- has led to significant declines in both the prevalence and severity of tooth decay, according to the CDC. The agency named it one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
More information
For more on fluoride, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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