Legislature Seeks Municipal Involvement

(from Maine Townsman, May 2008)

By its actions during the 2008 Legislative session, the Legislature is requesting that municipal representatives be involved in the following boards, stakeholder groups and rulemakings.

1. Model Cable TV Franchise Agreement Working Group [LD 2133 (PL 2007, c. 548)].

The Office of Information Technology has been charged with developing a model cable TV franchise agreement.  Municipal officials interested in the franchising process are encouraged to participate.

Currently, municipalities are obligated to enter into these franchise agreements or contracts with any entity that would like to provide cable television services in the municipality.  The negotiation of these contracts can be difficult and take a great deal of time.  The hope is that a well-developed model agreement will streamline the process for both the municipalities and the service providers.

The model franchise is to be completed by December 15, 2008.  For more information, please contact Jeff Austin at MMA (jaustin@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786) or Phil Lindley of the Office of Information Technology at 207-624-8800.

2. PUC Rulemaking re: Local Zoning Preemption [LD 2255 (PL 2007, c. 656)].

An issue that emerged late in the session is the designation of "energy corridors" by the federal government.  An energy corridor is an area of land through which energy transmitting infrastructure (pipelines, transmission wires, etc.) is placed.  If the federal government designates an energy corridor, state and local control over the construction of the energy infrastructure is preempted.

In this context, the Legislature decided to establish procedures that would allow the Public Utilities Commission to establish energy corridors in Maine.  The hope is that if the state has a process to create these corridors, the federal government might respect the state process and not preempt local authority.  Part of the PUC's authority to establish corridors includes the power to preempt municipal land use ordinances that might thwart the construction of energy infrastructure. 

The Legislature conditioned the PUC's ability to nullify local land use authority on the PUC's adoption of rules regarding the process of PUC preemption.  While not required by the legislation, it is believed that PUC will undertake this rulemaking in the near future.  Municipal officials interested in zoning and the potential of PUC preemption of municipal authority to regulate utility development projects are encouraged to contact Jeff Austin at MMA (jaustin@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786).

3. State Building Code Board Member [LD 2257 (PL 2007, c. 699)].

The state has proposed adopting a uniform building, energy, ventilation and radon code to govern construction statewide.  The Legislature has created a "Technical Building Codes and Standards Board" to adopt, amend and maintain the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code, to resolve conflicts between the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code and the fire and life safety codes and to provide training for municipal building officials, local code enforcement officers and 3rd-party inspectors. 

The Board has 11 members including two code enforcement officers, one from a service center community and one from a non-service center community.  The non-service center code enforcement officer appointment will be based upon a recommendation of the Maine Municipal Association.  The appointment will be made no later than November, 2008.  The term of the appointment is four-years.  The initial code-adoption work of the board is due to be completed by January 1, 2010.

Municipal officials who would like to nominate their code enforcement officer for service on this important board should contact Jeff Austin at MMA (jaustin@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786).

4. Informed Growth Act Discussion [LD 1962].

The so-called "Informed Growth Act" was passed by the Legislature in 2007.  This law requires a new and untested review process by planning boards for any large-scale retail construction project.  The law contains a vague exemption provision for a municipality that has a locally adopted project review process that is somehow similar to the extensive economic impact review process established in the law.

During the legislative session just completed, the Legislature rejected LD 1962 which would have allowed a municipality to simply opt-out of the law if it chose to do so.  In the course of rejecting this legislation the Committee decided to send a letter to the State Planning Office directing SPO to attempt to clarify what a town or city would need to do to qualify for the exemption.  SPO is required to consult with "stakeholders" and report back to the Legislature SPO's findings by January 15, 2009.

Municipal officials interested determining the standards for being exempted from the provisions in the Informed Growth Act should contact Kate Dufour (kdufour@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786) at MMA or contact the State Planning Office.

5. Jail Authority Board Member [LD 2080 (PL 2007, c. 653)].

One element of the landmark legislation restructuring the state-county corrections system is the creation of an important oversight board called "The State Board of Corrections."  The purpose of the board is to develop and implement a unified correctional system that demonstrates sound fiscal management, achieves efficiencies, reduces recidivism and ensures the safety and security of correctional staff, inmates, visitors, volunteers and surrounding communities.

One member of the board must be a municipal official selected from a list of three nominations submitted to the Governor by a statewide organization representing elected and appointed municipal officers and officials.  The term of the appointment is 3-years. 

To gather the names of interested municipal officials, we have sent out a "request for nominees" form to all municipal officers.   If you are interested in being considered for this appointment or know of a municipal official you believe should be considered, please contact MMA's Kate Dufour at kdufour@memun.org or 1800-452-8786. 

6. Service Charge Fees for Property Tax Exempt Institutions [LD  1413 (Resolve 2007, c. 146)].

The State Tax Assessor has been directed to convene a group of interested parties to review the current laws and constitutional requirements related to municipal service charges for tax-exempt property. The group must include representatives of municipal assessors; municipal officers, including a municipal officer from a "service center community"; private colleges and universities; hospitals; nonprofit medical institutions; an organization representing the interests of municipal governments; an organization representing a broad spectrum of nonprofit entities; and such persons as the assessor considers desirable.

This working group is supposed to review and develop recommendations regarding ways to structure the funding of municipal services directly provided to tax-exempt institutions and organizations that fairly allocate those costs to the users and beneficiaries of those institutions and organizations. The group must file its report back to the Legislature its findings no later than December 15, 2008.

Municipal officials interested in reviewing service fees for property tax exempt institutions should contact MMA's Geoff Herman (gherman@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786).

7. Tree Growth Review [LD  543 (Resolve 2007, Ch. 197)]

The Director of the Maine Forest Service is directed by the resolve to convene a task force of interested parties to review the following issues related to the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law:

1. The timing of determining the forest growth rate portion and whether the current method of determining stumpage values should be broadened to provide for larger regions;

2. Whether data supports the perception that some land is being classified under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law that does not meet statutory requirements or the purpose of the law as described in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 36, section 572.

3. The best methods for ensuring that municipalities and landowners are aware of the requirements of the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law and the availability of assistance from the Maine Forest Service in determining eligibility and meeting the ongoing requirements of the law.

The task force will have no more than 7 members including representatives of landowner groups, municipal government and conservation groups.  It is obligated to report back to the Legislature its findings by January 15, 2009.

Municipal officials interested in reviewing tree growth tax issues should contact MMA's Geoff Herman (gherman@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786).

8. E-911 Fees  [LD 2279 (PL 2007, c. 622)]

A late-session bill was enacted that mandates that all municipalities enter into contracts with providers of E-911 dispatching services.  This law is in response to some municipalities temporarily not paying state-imposed fees for dispatching services.  In connection with this mandate, the Legislature has directed PUC to undertake an adjudicatory proceeding to establish the fees that must be paid by municipalities for public

In the proceeding, the PUC shall establish the revenue requirement for the department's relevant dispatch and public safety answering point services as well as an assessment methodology that both generates the department's revenue requirement and ensures the fees are equitably collected in proportion to the services provided.

9. Shellfish Advisory Council [LD 2038 (PL 2007, c. 606)]

This 13-member Shellfish Advisory Council was created in order to make recommendations to the commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources and the Legislature's Marine Resources Committee on issues related to the utilization of state agencies, municipal governments, the shellfish industry and citizen groups to make improvements to and maintain the quality of the State's coastal waters and to expedite the opening of closed shellfish flats and to shellfish resource management, public health protection and the activities and recommendations of a multistate organization that promotes shellfish sanitation.

The commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources will make all appointments to the Council.  The Council will have three members with municipal connections.  One member will represent the interests of municipalities with wastewater treatment systems.  Two members will be municipal shellfish wardens (these two members will be selected from up to 3 recommendations from associations representing the interests of persons who protect and help manage municipal shellfish resources.) 

Municipal officials interested in these appointments should contact the Department of Marine Resources at 624-6550.

10. Commission to Study the Protection of Farms and Farmland [LD 1684 (PL 2007, c. 649)]

This is an 11-member commission who's duty will be to develop policy initiatives to protect working farms from the impact of development and to maintain a base of commercially viable agricultural land for Maine's future. Towards this end, the commission shall:

A. Develop a system to classify farmland that is viable for agricultural production and establish statewide criteria for identifying farmland that warrants the highest order of protection;

B. Explore options and develop a proposal for designating agriculture protection areas;

C. Review eligibility criteria and participation by farmers in Maine's current use property tax programs and develop recommendations regarding tax policy; and,

D. Consider requiring an assessment of potential impacts on agricultural land prior to a governmental action such as a permitting decision or commencement of a public works project.

One member of the commission will represent municipal interests.  This appointment will be made by the Speaker of the House (287-1300).