MMA Priorities for 2009

(from Maine Townsman, January 2009)

Galen Larrabee

By Galen Larrabee, MMA President, Chair of Selectmen, Town of Knox

I look forward to serving as MMA President this year. We face many challenges given the tough state of the economy, but as municipal officials we know how to be resourceful and work together to get the job done. MMA is committed to assist you in meeting these challenges by maintaining the quality of our on-going services and focusing on particular areas deserving attention. Here’s a brief recap:

Advocacy

MMA will be actively engaged with the newly elected Legislature and the Governor on a broad range of issues affecting Maine and our citizens. MMA’s 70 member Legislative Policy Committee has adopted a nine plank legislative platform including bills on taxation, education and municipal administration issues. In addition, MMA will assist municipal officials in understanding and communicating the potential impacts of proposed citizen initiatives including a revised version of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR II) and a proposal to reduce Motor Vehicle Excise Tax revenues by over 40%.

At the federal level, MMA advanced the timetable for preparation of our annual Federal Issues Paper to provide some ideas to the members of the Maine Congressional Delegation as they considered the major federal stimulus package. We will follow-up with the Delegation on these and other federal issues during our meetings in March being held in conjunction with the annual National League of Cities Congressional City Conference.

MMA Building Project

The MMA Executive Committee voted unanimously on December 18 to move forward with the proposed building project in 2009, subject to final ratification at the January 29, 2009 Executive Committee meeting. In making this decision, the Executive Committee thought carefully about the financial constraints facing MMA’s members and tried very hard to get input from municipal officials regarding the timing and need for the proposed project. Most of the municipal officials who provided their thoughts on the project indicated support for MMA to move forward.

As noted in the November Townsman, MMA has been preparing for a potential building project for a number of years by creating a reserve fund to help absorb the project’s costs. In the funding plan presented to the Executive Committee, this reserve fund will be drawn upon during the 2010-2019 period to limit the impact on dues every year the project is being paid for. In accepting this plan, which will be reviewed annually, the Executive Committee indicated its intent that the building project will not add more than 1% per year to the annual dues adjustment over the next ten years.

Given this funding plan, and recognizing the need for the project, the Executive Committee determined this would be a good time to proceed. The Maine based Design/Build team of Hebert Construction and Foreside Architects will be working with subcontractors from Maine who have sharpened their cost estimates as the design process has progressed. The geothermal mechanical system for the addition will have an estimated five-six year payback, providing long term energy cost savings. MMA is also going through a competitive bid process for banking services and project financing. The results of that process will be presented to the Executive Committee on January 29.

We anticipate construction will begin in April, with completion by early 2010. We appreciate your support and look forward to restoring the meeting room capacity of the MMA building and regaining the regular and valuable interaction between municipal officials and MMA staff members. One of my personal hopes is that this building addition will also provide a convenient location for municipal officials to occasionally meet with their legislators when the Legislature is in session. I have seen the value of having the Governor visit the MMA office to meet with the Executive Committee. It’s not something that you can say for certain makes a difference, but I honestly believe that the dynamics of a meeting can be influenced for the good by having state officials meet in a municipal setting.

Training

MMA will provide additional training programs, particularly related to municipal financial management. Recognizing that time and budget constraints make it increasingly difficult for municipal officials to attend training programs, MMA will also explore “distance learning” and other options to make training programs easier to take in. As an example, MMA’s Risk Management Services department began offering online safety training programs four years ago. During that time period employees from 429 of our member organizations have completed over 37,000 courses - fulfilling required training with the convenience of completing the training on their own schedules without the need to travel.

Citizen Education

As municipal officials, we know how difficult it can be for the citizens in our communities to understand the workings of municipal government and how local government fits in with county, state and federal government. During the past year, MMA has been working on a fresh approach to citizen education using new communication strategies. MMA will work with a group of 5-10 communities on a pilot basis in 2009 to further refine and develop a “toolkit” for use by individual municipalities to improve citizens’ understanding of, participation in and appreciation for local government.

As you might expect, there are many other areas in which MMA will be working during 2009, but I hope you find this brief recap helpful. Thank you for your support and participation in the Maine Municipal Association. MMA is your organization and we are dedicated to providing trusted programs and services. As I said at the MMA annual banquet in October, the phone lines do still reach the Town of Knox, so please contact me, members of the Executive Committee, or MMA Executive Director Chris Lockwood if you have any questions or would like additional information on any of these items.