Summer Projects and Working Groups

(from Maine Townsman, April 2010)
By Jeffrey Austin, Legislative Advocate, MMA

Many Opportunities for Municipal Officials to Participate

During the hiatus between now and January 2011 when the 125th Legislature assembles, there will be several working groups or stakeholder groups discussing various policy issues and developing recommendations for the next Legislature to consider. What follows is a list of those working group efforts for which municipal participation is important.

MMA will be corresponding to municipal officials in the near future seeking volunteers for each of these groups. Anyone interested in participating, however, does not need to wait for that correspondence to let us know of your interest. Unless alternative contact information is provided below, if you would like to be included in any of the following “summer-of-2010” working group efforts, or even if you would simply like to be placed on an “interested parties” list so as to be kept informed of the activities of working group(s), please contact Laura Veilleux at 1-800-452-8786 or lveilleux@memun.org.

Culverts: The Legislature directed the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to review the issue of culverts and fish-passage/natural stream flow again. The DEP is obligated to go through the rulemaking process and specifically take into account the fiscal impact on municipalities.

Municipal officials and public works personnel are strongly encouraged to participate in these rulemaking activities.

Industrial Stormwater Permits: The DEP issues 5-year stormwater permits to industries whose operations pose a threat to surface water quality. The current 5-year permit expires in October, 2010 and the DEP is intending on issuing a new permit by that date.

The DEP further intends on expanding the industries required to get these stormwater permits to include many municipal garages that perform vehicle maintenance activities (fueling, painting, washing, etc.). Not all municipal garages will be required to get a permit, but all are potentially required.

Municipal officials and public works personnel are strongly encouraged to participate in the DEP process to reissue the permit.

Waste & Recycling: Three significant changes in the landscape of waste management have occurred in the past year. First, the Hampden commercial landfill closed. Second, Casella Waste Systems, which operates the state-owned Old Town landfill, applied for a permit to expand. Third, a solid waste disposal company called Waste Management pursued a legislative change that would allow it to expand the Norridgewock landfill it owns and operates.

These activities, along with other waste-related concerns, prompted the Natural Resources Committee to seek permission (which was granted) to meet four times during this interim period to discuss waste and recycling issues.

Municipal officials and public works officials are invited to attend these Committee meetings.

Ocean Energy: As enacted, LD 1810 seeks to encourage and to some degree expedite the development of ocean-based windmills. One issue associated with this legislation is the degree of municipal regulatory jurisdiction, particularly with respect to the “submerged lands” below the tidal low water line.

The Legislature has given municipal officials an opportunity to meet with staff from the State Planning Office to discuss the scope and extent of any municipal regulation of these projects.

Municipal officials, planning board members and planners from coastal communities are invited to participate.

P.A.C.E.: LD 1717 as enacted creates a modified ‘Property Assessed Clean Energy’ program. This program is intended to allow the state to implement a revolving loan fund program that will be used to assist homeowners to make energy efficiency improvements. The funding is to be provided by federal grants.

The Legislature would like to see if it is possible for municipalities to similarly offer a municipally-funded weatherization program. The terms of such a program, in particular the priority funding status of such weatherization loans and the repayment mechanisms, need to be discussed with representatives of the banking community.

Municipal officials, treasurers, tax collectors, and economic development directors are encouraged to participate.

Tree Growth: By means of a letter from the Tax Committee chairs, Maine Revenue Services (MRS) has been directed to put together a working group to address certain issues identified as problems in the Tree Growth program. Specifically, the MRS working group has been asked to review three issues: (1) possible changes to the penalties that are imposed when a landowner fails to comply in a timely manner with his or her 10-year plan-update and plan-compliance recertification obligations; (2) possible changes to the law regarding how much land should be excluded from classification with respect to developed properties in the shoreland areas; and (3) possible changes to the law that would better balance the need for providing municipal officials with sufficient information to ensure parcels are properly enrolled in the program.

Municipal officials wishing to participate or provide information regarding this working group effort should contact Geoff Herman at 1-800-452-8786 or gherman@memun.org.

Telecommunications Taxation: A description of LD 1823, Resolve, To Review and Update the Telecommunications Taxation Laws, can be found in the “Taxation” section of the New Laws article in this edition of the Townsman. In summary, the Resolve directs Maine Revenue Services to convene a working group to review the state’s system of taxing the providers of telecommunications services (i.e., both landline and wireless telephone, television, and Internet companies). The Legislature has been working on this project without success for a decade. Any restructuring will likely affect municipalities because certain types of telecommunications personal property is subject to the local property tax. It does not appear that this process envisions a large working group made up of many representatives, but if there are some municipal assessors or other officials who believe they have some information or ideas about how to penetrate this conundrum, their participation or input is warmly encouraged.

PSAP Consolidation: LD 1828 endorses the so-called Kimball Report commissioned by the Public Utilities Commission to review the E-9-1-1 system in Maine. LD 1828 directs the PUC to develop a plan to reduce the number of Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) in Maine from the current number of 26 to between 15 and 17. The PUC is directed to examine the issues raised in the Kimball report, including issues relating to system fragmentation and the separation of E-9-1-1 call processing and dispatch functions; the transfer of E-9-1-1 calls and the absence of key E-9-1-1 features at dispatch-only facilities; the routing of E-9-1-1 wireless telephone calls; rate shopping and cost shifting; and the alleged lack of collaboration among state, county and local agencies. The plan must address how consolidation studies should be conducted and funded, how appropriate consolidation incentives may be designed and implemented and how consolidation may be coordinated with the development of a so-called “Next Generation 911” as identified in the Kimball report. The PUC is obligated to work with interested parties as it develops this plan. Municipalities operate 9 of the existing 26 PSAPs and all municipalities rely on PSAPs in one fashion or another.

Municipal officials are encouraged to participate in this plan development.

Seats on PSAP Policy Board: In a related bill, LD 1813 implements some of the changes proposed for the PSAP system by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA). One of the changes is to relocate the review process for the rates charged by the Department of Public Safety to municipalities who receive their PSAP services from one of the four state-run PSAPs. The rate-review is being relocated from the Public Utilities Commission to the Maine Communications System Policy Board within the Department of Public Safety.

Municipalities have three seats on this Policy Board, but those seats have been vacant for some time. The Legislature has now changed the statute’s restrictive appointing process in such a way that there is now greater flexibility. These seats are in addition to one seat that is reserved for a police chief and one seat that is reserved for a fire chief. The three municipal representatives should represent the interests of the board of municipal officers.

Municipalities, particularly those who still receive their PSAP services from state-run facilities, are strongly encouraged to nominate officials to fill these seats. Please direct those nominations to Jeff Austin at 1-800-452-8786 or jaustin@memun.org.

Dig Safe: The Public Utilities Commission is reviewing the Dig Safe program and is accepting comments on whether public entities, such as water and sewer districts, should be obligated to participate in the Dig Safe system. The next meeting of interested parties is at the PUC headquarters in Hallowell on April 28.

Municipal officials are encouraged to participate in this review.

Documenting Impacts of Truck Weight-Limit Changes: With the help of Maine’s Congressional Delegation, Congress enacted a law last December that allows for a truck weight limit increase on the section of Interstate 95 north of Augusta from 80,000 pounds to 100,000 pounds. The increase was enacted on a trial basis, and a study must be done to demonstrate the impacts of increasing the truck weight limit over the course of this year. To conform to the newly-created allowance at the federal level, LD 1736 was enacted by the Legislature. LD 1736 parallels the federal law by allowing vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of up to 100,000 pounds to operate on the entire Interstate system for as long as the federal exemption applies.

Maine’s entire Congressional Delegation is very interested in obtaining information about the impacts of this change, in terms of reduced wear and tear on Maine’s smaller roads, improved fuel efficiencies, and improvements to public safety.

Over the next several months, MMA will be contacting municipal officials from impacted communities in order to provide whatever assistance we can to collect this important information. Without adequate documentation both at state and local level, our Congressional Delegation is concerned that the weight limit could revert to the 80,000 pound limit at the conclusion of the one-year trial period, which is December 16, 2010. If you have any questions or have information and data to share, please contact Kate Dufour at 1-800-452-8786 or kdufour@memun.org.

Statewide Building Code: The State’s Technical Building and Standards Board is obligated by statute to adopt the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code by June 1, 2010. The manner for adopting the code is the state’s rulemaking process. The Board has been working for several months making adjustments to the model codes upon which the Maine code will be based.

Municipal officials and code enforcement officers are encouraged to participate in this rulemaking process.