Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Storey Avenue Rezoning Update

Last night, the rezoning ordinance was removed from the Planning and Development Committee and brought before the whole Council.

Per City ordinances, the Council must act on a zoning ordinance within 90 days of the public hearing on that ordinance.  Because a zoning change requires two votes of the City Council and because this particular zoning ordinance was running up against a deadline of June 5, Councillor Connell made a motion to waive the rules so that this ordinance could be voted on in one reading.

The motion to waive the rules requires a 2/3rds vote or 8 votes of the 11 Councillors.

7 voting in favor of the motion to waive the rules were: Councillors Connell, Derrivan, Earls, Heartquist, Herzog, Ives, and Jones.
4 voting against the motion were: Council President O'Brien, Councillors Cameron, Cronin, and Sullivan.

The motion failed.

I voted against the motion to waive the rules for two primary reasons:

  • this matter could have been voted starting in either of the last two Council meetings
  • the ordinance should have been included in the Council packet for the May 29th meeting (per Council rules) and it was not.  Because this item was not on the agenda, the public and the press could not have known this matter was going to be addressed in the full Council.
Once this motion failed, there was no attempt to bring up the ordinance for a vote.

Had the ordinance been brought to a vote I would have voted against.

Although there are aspects that provide general benefits to the community, I remain opposed to the ordinance because public safety would be at risk with a very intense use (a drug store with a drive through) in a location that currently can be entered/exited only on Storey Ave.  The amount of in-and-out traffic that would be generated would be dangerous particularly during busy morning and evening commuter traffic and weekend tourist traffic and especially for westbound drivers attempting to take a left across traffic into the location and drivers attempting to exit the location by taking a left onto Storey Ave.

I have written about this issue before:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rezoning 81 and 83 Storey Avenue 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rezoning: CVS Storey Continued

Thursday, March 15, 2012

March 2012: Updates from City Councillor Ed Cameron, City of Newburyport

Ed Cameron

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

We who are left how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?
~Wilfred Wilson Gibson

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why Newburyport Needs a Senior Center

In the City Council, I am one of 11 people who gets to vote on matters important to all citizens.  On June 5th, I'll be one of 13,000 voters who gets to vote on three questions which have important implications to our future.

I will be voting Yes-Yes-Yes for a new Bresnahan School, a rehabilitated Nock-Molin School, and Newburyport's first Senior Community Center.  More information at

We have good quality senior services provided in a very cost-effective manner by the City's Council on Aging Director Roseann Robillard, a couple of staff, and a lot of volunteers.  These services are a very small part of the City operating budget.  We are one of a handful of municipalities in Massachusetts that does not have a central location for these basic services.

There's a simple reason why it's a good idea to put these services in one spot: it's easier for the customers/seniors/elders to use.  And here's another good reason: it's more efficient for the limited number of staff to operate these programs when they are not begging/borrowing/renting scattered spaces.

Bill Plante in the Daily News does a great job of reminding us that the push for better services for elders has been a long struggle in Newburyport

He's right on:

I don't want to make a case for the supernatural here, but a week ago, I came across an old photograph of my late mother, Bertha M. Plante, and that of the mother of Newburyport's late Mayor Albert H. Zabriskie, together with the Rev. Bertrand H. Steeves, minister emeritus of the First Religious Society, who is still very much with us. It was taken because they were leaders in the pioneer efforts to let the voices of the elderly be heard. Senior citizens were so with the times that they were invited to appear on Boston television.

Generations of other local voices continued taking up their cry, and it was heard and responded to in a great many communities, most of which built senior centers. Newburyport hasn't, and this is another attempt, because the mean age of Americans is growing older every day.

Here's a recap of the services and where they are provided:

Services currently provided by the Council on Aging and what could be done in a suitable space:

                                    Current                        Future 

Nutrition           Meals on Wheels                                Cooking for One’ classes 
                                Congregate meals                             Eating with Diabetes program
                                Brown Bag program                          ‘Men’s Meeting’ Breakfast program

Fitness               Exercise to Music                               Yoga
                                Line Dance                                          Tai Chi / Reiki
                                                                                               Ball Room /Tap Dance / Square Dance
                                                                                               Weight training
                                                                                               Stationary equipment – bikes/treadmills

Health                 Podiatry                                                                
                                Blood Pressure checks                   Chronic Disease Self-Management Program
                                Hearing loss evaluations                Chair Massage
                                Info Seminars                                     Walking club
                                Durable Equipment loan

Support          Low Vision                                        Weight Management
                                Grief/Bereavement                          Panic/Anxiety/Depression support
                                                                                            AA –Sober after Sixty / Gamblers Anon
                                                                                            Care Giver support / Alzheimer support
                                                                                            Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
Outreach          Telephone Reassurance               Friendly Visiting Program

Creative         Knitting for Newborns                     Teddy Bear Workshop
                                Watercolor Painting Class             Art exhibits
                                                                                             Memoirs workshop
                                                                                             Quilting - Bunka
                                                                                             Woodcarving / Model Ship building

Social                 Bridge                                                 Poker/Whist/Cribbage/Scrabble                      
                                Retired Readers                              Golden Age meetings
                                Bingo                                                  Red Hat meetings
                                Day Trips                                           Birthday parties – Holiday parties
                                Mah Jongg                                        Sports Fan Club
Community     TRIAD    (safety programs)            Ask A Cop
                                COA Board meetings                    State Rep/Senator office hours
                                Property Tax Work program          'News & Views’ meetings
                                Snow Shoveling program             FRIENDS of COA
                                                                                           Veterans services
                                                                                           Volunteer/Job Bank

Education        Health Insurance Counseling                          
                                Monthly Newsletter                         Investments Club
                                Tax Filing Assistance                     Computer classes
                                Housing Options                            Retirement planning
                                Information & Referral

Transport         NEET – out of town transport
                                Evening Meal Van service
                                Medical transport
                                Food shopping

The mission of the COA is matching the Needs of Elders with the Resources in the Community

The focus of a senior center is providing services/programs that fulfill significant needs in the lives of the community’s elders. The number, types and frequency of programs is dependent upon the availability of space, staff and funding.

Adult transition to a new phase of life (retirement) can be helped by the availability of services and programs designed to anticipate the challenges they may face. 
  • Health/Fitness,
  •  Information/Education,
  • Outreach/Support,
  • Social/Recreation.

Many COA programs are social/recreational/entertaining by design because the need for new opportunities for socialization increases as family and other long-held supports decrease.

Two common tracts of aging: (Bad/Good)
 Isolation, Loneliness, Depression, Fatigue, No appetite, Illness,
Complications, Drain on community services
Socialization, Stimulation, Affirmation, Self Esteem, Self-care,
Community Involvement, Ability to give back to community through volunteerism

The availability of a Senior/Community Center is an enhancement to a Healthy Community where adults have more opportunities to age well, be involved in and give back to the community

COA Service/Program Locations
  • Salvation Army building
  • People’s United Methodist church
  •  Elks Hall
  •  Newburyport Public Library
  • Emma Andrews Library
  • City Hall
  • Anna Jaques Hospital
  • Atria Merrimack Place
  •  Salisbury Hilton Center
  • Sullivan Building
  • Heritage House
  • James Steam Mill


2010 census info
Total Nbpt Residents = 17,416      Age 60+ = 4,261 (24%)
Babyboomers: born between 1946 – 1964 comprise 35% of the population (6,113 residents)
Demographic projections predict increase in aging until the year 2050.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Budget Workshop Schedule

Below is the schedule (with apologies to Councillor Herzog for pinching the formatting from his blog).  All meetings are at City Hall in the Council Chambers and are open to the public...please please someone come!

Thursday, May 17

6:15 Public Comment
6:30 Information Technology Department
6:45 Assessor Department
7:00 Auditor Department
7:30 Treasurer Department
8:00 Council on Aging Department
8:15 Newburyport Public Library
8:30 Veterans Services Department
8:45 Parks Commission

Saturday, May 19

10:30 Public Comment
10:45 Collective Bargaining, Longevity, Vehicles, Other
11:30 Mayor’s Office / General Administration
12:00 Legal Services
12:15 Human Resources / Health Benefits
12:45 City Clerk Department
1:15 City Council
1:30 Board of Registrars
1:45 Paid Parking

Tuesday, May 22

6:30 Public Comment
6:45 Health Department
7:15 Harbormaster Department
7:45 Fire Department
8:30 Police Department
9:15 Emergency Management Department

Thursday, May 24

6:30 Public Comment
6:45 Whittier Vocational Technical School
7:15 Newburyport Public Schools
8:00 Planning & Development Department, Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Historical Commission, ZBA
8:45 License Commission
9:00 Youth Services
9:15 Building Department

Wednesday, June 6

6:30 Public Comment
6:45 Water Department
7:15 Sewer Department
7:45 Highway Department
8:15 Snow & Ice
8:30 Final Reviews

Monday, May 7, 2012

Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center - Demystifying General Local Aid in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center - Demystifying General Local Aid in Massachusetts

Demystifying General Local Aid in Massachusetts

By Luc Schuster, January 20, 2012
To accompany this report, we have created an interactive tool that allows you to track the amount of general local aid going to each municipality in the Commonwealth.
The term "local aid" refers to money that flows from the state budget to city and town budgets, helping them fund vital local services such as schools, police and fire protection, parks, and public works. Massachusetts is made up of 351 separate cities and town governments, whose levels of wealth range widely—from low-income gateway cities to high-wealth residential suburbs—and, yet, each of them is charged with providing similar levels of vital public services. State government in Massachusetts uses general local aid as a mechanism for helping offset inequality of local services that would otherwise exist if these cities and towns primarily funded their budgets with local property tax revenue.
Massachusetts limits the ability of cities and town to raise local revenue more than many other states.1 Proposition 2½ dramatically constrains the ability of cities and towns to raise revenue through local property taxes.2 Additionally, various provisions in the Massachusetts State Constitution restrict or prohibit cities and towns from levying local taxes such as sales, income, hotels, and meals taxes. State-granted permission to levy these local taxes has been rare, although recently, in FY 2010, the Legislature passed a law allowing localities to adopt a small local option meal tax and to raise hotel taxes from 4 to 6 percent.
Cities and towns in Massachusetts end up relying heavily on local aid from the state, with roughly 20 percent of municipal general fund revenue in FY 2011 coming from all forms of local aid combined (including Chapter 70 education aid). In FY 2011, local aid comprised more than one-third of municipal revenues for 39 predominantly lower-wealth municipalities in Massachusetts.3
In Massachusetts, local aid that flows from the state to local governments falls into three basic categories:
  • General Local Aid. Cities and towns use general local aid for funding general government services, with broad leeway to distribute this money for programs across their local budgets. For many years, general local aid came in two forms, Lottery Aid (revenue from state lottery profits) and Additional Assistance. In FY 2010, these two programs were combined and became Unrestricted General Government Aid. Some cities and towns receive other forms of unrestricted general aid—including payments in lieu of taxes to communities with state-owned land that is not subject to local property taxes and payments to a few communities with race tracks—but these represent much smaller total amounts and only go to a subset of qualifying cities and towns.
  • Chapter 70 Education Aid. Chapter 70 aid is by far the largest portion of local aid—$3.99 billion in FY 2012—and instead of going to city or town budgets, this money flows directly from the state to each of the 328 individual operating school districts. Districts' individual Chapter 70 aid amounts are determined using a uniform set of standards that factor in student need and local capacity to raise revenue, ultimately getting distributed in a progressive manner, meaning that districts with a greater gap between student need and local resources receive greater aid.4
  • Categorical Local Aid. Cities and towns also receive financial support through a variety of smaller programs that are targeted to specific uses, such as libraries and veterans programs.
This Facts-At-A-Glance focuses just on general local aid. Please see the Education research section of MassBudget's website, available here, for extensive resources on the state's Chapter 70 education aid program.
Over the last three decades, the state has used a few different formulas for distributing pots of general local aid. During the 1980's and early 1990's the state distributed Chapter 70 aid, Lottery Aid (although lottery profits were smaller during these decades), and Additional Assistance. Originally, Chapter 70 education aid amounts were considered when distributing general local aid, but the Education Reform Act of 1993 dramatically changed the Chapter 70 program and mostly separated it from general local aid calculations. Starting in FY 2010 the Lottery Aid and Additional Assistance were merged into one Unrestricted General Government Aid program. Each of these programs is described below.
Lottery Aid
Since property taxes are the primary source of local revenue in Massachusetts, and since property wealth varies widely across communities, the Lottery Aid formula was designed to have an equalizing effect, with lower property wealth cities and towns receiving more state aid (in per capita terms).
With its simple structure, the lottery formula is generally progressive in that lower-property wealth communities receive more aid. By only considering property wealth, however, it accounts for neither other sources of wealth nor local variations in the cost of providing services.
Additional Assistance
In the early 1980's the state created a needs-based local aid formula whereby the state calculated each city and town's need (the estimated cost of providing local services) and contrasted this with the community's revenue capacity (the ability to raise local tax revenue to meet its needs). Since this program predated the comprehensive Chapter 70 formula created in FY 1993, the formula included school costs among its need factors.5 Additional Assistance was initially a residual aid program, designed to help fill the gap between the state's calculation of total local aid for a community and its Chapter 70 aid amount.
Additional Assistance has been mired with problems over the past couple of decades. In FY 1992, the state stopped using the needs-based formula for allocating Additional Assistance and instead either level-funded city and town appropriations (in nominal terms) or cut them. This meant that during the intervening 18 years, the state never reevaluated underlying community-level data, such as local property values, in order to adjust for local demographic and fiscal changes. Furthermore, the needs-based formula itself may never have captured an accurate range of true cost and capacity differences. The relative merits of variables included in the formula have always been disputed.
Unrestricted General Government Aid
Acknowledging that whatever underlying logic Additional Assistance once reflected has long since been lost, the Legislature in FY 2010 merged it with Lottery Aid and created the new Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) program. It is important to note that the move to a single UGGA appropriation did not reflect a substantive reform of general local aid; UGGA has never had a formula of its own, since previous years' aid amounts have either been cut across the board (FY 2010 and FY 2011) or level funded (FY 2012).6 These previous year amounts originate from the sum total of each individual community's FY 2009 Lottery Aid and Additional Assistance allocations.
A series of state-level tax cuts during the 1990's and 2000's combined with the onset of the Great Recession in 2007 to create ongoing budget deficits in Massachusetts, with revenues well below the cost of providing baseline state services. These deficits have forced deep cuts across state government. As a discretionary program that funds local services not administered directly by state government, statewide general local aid has been cut severely during this ongoing state fiscal crisis. Adjusted for inflation, general local aid was cut 36 percent from the end of FY 2008 through FY 2012, more deeply than many other state programs. It is worth noting that since local aid is just one source of revenue for cities and town, cutting this one source of revenue by 36 percent results in a smaller total percent reduction to overall municipal budgets.
With a few small exceptions in FY 2010, city and town general local aid allocations were cut by uniform percentages for FY 2009, FY 2010, and FY 2011.7 UGGA was level funded (in nominal terms) for FY 2012. The combined effect of this is an inflation-adjusted cut of 36 percent for most cities and towns over the last four years.
The FY 2012 budget actually cut the statewide UGGA appropriation by $65 million from nominal FY 2011 levels ($899 million to $834 million), but it then directed 50 percent of all unexpended FY 2011 balances from general fund spending (up to $65 million) as of June 30, 2011 to be distributed to cities and towns proportionally to their individual cuts. Unexpended FY 2011 fund balances proved sufficient to reverse the full $65 million cut amount, so that after the dust settles, cities and towns in FY 2012 will receive the same total UGGA appropriation of $899 million that they received in FY 2011. The FY 2012 budget is clear, however, that the $65 million distributed from unexpended FY 2011 balances towards the $899 million total is to be considered one-time grants, and should not be considered part of baseline aid used for determining future local aid allocations.
On January 20, 2012 the Governor announced his FY 2013 budget proposal for Unrestricted General Government Aid, and it mirrors the approach adopted for FY 2012; UGGA would be funded at a baseline level of $834 million, with a likely $65 million addition pending sufficient FY 2012 unexpended fund balances. It should be noted that even if UGGA is funded at the full $899 million in FY 2013, this nominal level funding is tantamount to a cut since no inflation adjustment would have been made to keep up with rising costs.
Due to the progressive nature of general local aid in Massachusetts, across-the-board cuts of 36 percent have resulted in much larger dollar cuts for lower-wealth communities. The least wealthy 20% of cities and towns, for example, have experienced cuts of $114 per capita, whereas cities and towns in the highest 20% have seen cuts of less than half that amount at $40 per capita. Because Boston traditionally received large amounts of Additional Assistance, and because remnants of these allocations are built into their current Unrestricted General Government Aid, across-the-board percent cuts have led to especially large general local aid cuts for Boston—$142 per capita since FY 2008.
Combined Effort Yield is a combined measure of a city or town's local property wealth and incomes used primarily by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; it is a measure of a local community's overall ability to raise local tax revenue. The graph above clusters all 351 cities and towns into five wealth quintiles, with the least wealthy communities in the "Lowest 20%" grouping and the wealthiest communities in the "Highest 20%" grouping. We separate out Boston for this analysis since its large size skews summary data for any quintile that would otherwise include it. Boston is also a notable anomaly because it received significantly more Additional Assistance aid than most other cities and towns in Massachusetts. The remnants of Boston's larger Additional Assistance allocations are still built into its UGGA appropriation today.
Larger per capita cuts to lower-wealth cities and towns are further challenging for these communities since general local aid tends to compose a larger proportion of their total municipal budgets. The interactive tool below allows you to identify per capita cut amounts by city or town.
Discussions of changes to local aid distributions have generally assumed that in adjusting the relative amounts of cities and towns no community's distribution should be cut in order to increase another's. This "hold harmless" principle helps ensure budgeting predictability for all cities and towns and helps ensure that no community experiences disproportionately large cuts in any given year. An important downside to this hold harmless approach, however, is that all reforms to relative aid distributions can occur only when new revenue is available.
If new revenue does become available over the next few years, either as the result of policy changes or strong economic growth, the Legislature would finally have new money to help increase communities' general local aid amounts above their current depressed levels. If new money does become available, an affirmative decision will have to be made about how to distribute it.
Once casino licenses have been sold and facilities are up and running, the November 2011 casino law is expected to generate new general local aid revenue. While legalized casino gambling facilities will provide some new tax revenue, the state also expects lottery revenues to decrease somewhat as some gambling activity shifts from lottery sales to casinos. For both of these reasons, the new gambling law distributes a portion of future gambling tax revenue to cities and towns in the form of new general local aid. All tax revenue from the slots-only facility and 20 percent of tax revenue from the three full-scale casinos will go into a new Gaming Local Aid Fund and into a related Local Aid Stabilization Fund. Revenue distributed from these funds will be distributed to cities and towns as Unrestricted General Government Aid, but since UGGA funds have never been distributed using a formula, a policy decision will need to be made for distributing any of this new aid.
A few options for distributing new local aid above current baseline amounts include:
  1. Restore cuts since FY 2008. Since general local aid has been cut 36 percent across-the-board, the Legislature could distribute new aid in direct proportion to individual amounts cut. This strategy would be reasonably progressive since it would mirror the progressivity of the system prior to cuts. One downside to simply restoring recent cuts, however, is that this approach would bring communities back towards their specific pre-fiscal crisis levels, which include the remnants of problematic Additional Assistance allocations.
    Additionally, restoring cuts would not include a recalculation of local capacity (and/or need), missing out on an opportunity to ensure that the state's aid distributions best reflect changing local circumstances.
  2. Use the existing Lottery Aid formula. The state could distribute all lottery revenue directly through the Lottery Aid formula, which distributes aid based on local property values, giving more aid to communities with less property wealth. Since the lottery formula is already written into state law it could be used quite easily. Furthermore, the formula is quite simple and would give the state an opportunity to use updated property assessments to help reflect current local conditions. If the Legislature identified new revenue for general local aid in addition to revenue from lottery profits, that additional money could be distributed through some new mechanism, such as a formula that considers capacity and need (see option #3 below). Alternatively, the Legislature might consider using the Lottery Aid formula, but with one important adjustment: using a combined measure of property values and income levels, similar to the Combined Effort Yield measure used by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in determining required local contributions for K-12 education.
  3. Create a new formula that considers local capacity and need. The state has not used a formula that considers current differences in local need since the early 1990's. If the state determines that the cost of providing a baseline level of local services varies not just based upon population but also based on other local conditions, such as poverty and unemployment, then it could opt for including within the formula variables that capture local need. Bo Zhao, Senior Economist at the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, has proposed a new gap-based formula, which contrasts a calculation of local costs with local capacity for every city and town and distributes new aid in proportion to the size of a community's gap.8 Specific variables and weights included in Zhao's model are based upon detailed regression analyses that attempt to isolate true baseline costs. It is unclear whether such an analysis can adequately distinguish between cost differences among communities that are driven by objective factors that reflect true needs and those that are the result of policy choices. Some factors included in Zhao's model, such as poverty and unemployment, seem intuitively appropriate for identifying higher municipal costs; others, such as density, seem to merit further investigation. It could be, for example, that a few of the larger, denser communities in Massachusetts have simply chosen to spend more than other communities. The state would want to be make certain that any regression model used for reforming local aid adequately controls for these sorts of preferences and, alternatively, doesn't penalize communities that provide services more inexpensively.
    Rather than relying strictly on a statistical model for creating a new gap-based formula, the state could take a model like Zhao's and use that not as an end in of itself, but as the basis for an expert analysis of what cost drivers truly are and how they vary across the state.
Ultimately, prior to implementation of any new local aid approach, it will be important to analyze its effects on a community-by-community basis in order to identify clearly their consequences for different types of cities and towns. In a future Facts-At-A-Glance MassBudget expects to conduct a more in-depth analysis of leading proposals for distributing new aid.

1 For a comparison of Boston's legal powers to those of several other American cities, see The Boston Foundation's report Boston Bound, by Gerald Frug and David Barron, February 2007, available online at:
2 For more information on Proposition 2½ see the Property Tax section of MassBudget's Understanding Our Tax System: A Primer for Active Citizens, by Kurt Wise and Noah Berger, available online at:
3 This summary data on all local aid as a percent of municipal revenues comes from the Department of Revenue's Municipal Budgeted Revenues by Source spreadsheet available online at:
4 For more information on how the Chapter 70 formula works, please see MassBudget's Facts-At-A-Glance, Demystifying the Chapter 70 Formula—How the Massachusetts Education Funding System Works, available online at:
Additionally, MassBudget recently released a paper comparing foundation budget allocations to actual spending in all 328 Massachusetts school districts. This paper, Cutting Class: Underfunding the Foundation Budget's Core Education Program is available online at:
5 According to the Department of Revenue's FY 1989 Cherry Sheet Manual, cost factors included in the needs-based formula were: weighted full-time/equivalent students, population density, local road mileage, manufacturing employment, non-manufacturing employment, percent of persons in poverty, percent of housing built before 1940, and service level group. Capacity factors used were: property tax capacity, available reserves, motor vehicle excise tax, cherry sheet aid, hotel/motel tax capacity.
6 The FY 2012 budget funded Unrestricted General Government Local Aid at $834.0 million, a decrease of $65.0 million from FY 2011. Importantly, however, the budget included language directing 50 percent of all unexpended FY 2011 balances from general fund spending (up to $65.0 million) as of June 30, 2011 to be distributed to cities and towns, offsetting proposed cuts in local aid for FY 2012. Unexpended fund balances turned out to be large enough to fully offset the original $65 million cut, ultimately resulting in level-funding. It is important to note, however, that local aid distributions made from unexpended FY 2011 balances are considered one-time grants, and will not necessarily count towards baseline aid used for determining future local aid allocations.
7 While the vast majority of cities and towns received an across-the-board cut of 29% in FY 2010, the Legislature did consider other new sources of local tax capacity that were simultaneously approved through the FY 2009 budget. The Legislature reduced somewhat the size of cuts for smaller, more rural communities that were deemed unable to raise significant revenue from the newly approved local option meals tax, the increase in the local option lodging tax, and the elimination of a property tax exemption for telecommunications poles and wires.
8 For detail on this proposed formula, see Does Springfield Receive Its Fair Share of Municipal Aid? Implications for Aid Formula Reform in Massachusetts, by Bo Zhao, New England Public Policy Center Working Paper No. 10-4 available online at:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

DOR-Community Comparison Report

From the MA Department of Revenue....

Unveiling the Community Comparison Report
Municipal Data Management and Technical Assistance Bureau

With the introduction of a new application, local officials and others will now have the ability to create customized community comparison reports directly from the DLS website. Developed by Lisa Juszkiewicz and Mike Briggs of the Municipal Databank, the application is an easy-to-use means of extracting comparative municipal finance and demographic data for multiple communities. Unlike previous sources, the application draws data by direct query of the information that resides in DLS’ Gateway system. As a result, users will have ready access to the most current data available. 

Among the strengths of this reporting tool, users can quickly collect and view data for any number of cities and towns they select or regard as peer communities. These selections can be based on traditional peer communities, proximity, county boundaries, or the search can be narrowed by selecting minimum and maximum data ranges for certain criteria.  For example, a search can identify all communities with a population between 10,000 and 20,000 people and with an annual budget between $30 million and $50 million. In addition, other available criteria include average single-family tax bill, EQV per capita and DOR income per capita. The user can set data ranges in one or all criteria.  
The community comparison application automatically extracts extensive pre-selected information for each city and town identified by the search. Eliminated is the often frustrating exercise of opening numerous spreadsheets and sorting, cutting and pasting data from each into a single spreadsheet. With over 65 data elements, the report includes data on assessed valuations, levies and tax rates by class, revenues by source, actual spending, receivables, reserves, debt levels and bond ratings. After the report is generated, the user can export it to Excel with the click of a button. There, it can be refined, sorted and analyzed or the information can be displayed in charts or graphs and pasted into documents or other spreadsheets for presentation. 
For local leaders, the community comparison application can be valuable tool for identifying peer communities, measuring performance and establishing benchmarks. For DLS, the ability to directly query Gateway data will eliminate regular, labor intensive updates to static Excel spreadsheets. Looking ahead, DLS hopes to use the underlying community comparison programming as a foundation to produce additional web-based data reporting tools for the benefit of internal and external customers.  
Click here to access the Community Comparison Report application on the DLS website. If you have any questions or comments, please contact the Municipal Databank at

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

NHS Class of 1953 Donates $8,000 for Newburyport High School Library Technology

 P.O. Box 1002
Newburyport, MA 01950
Immediate Release May 2, 2012
For more information, contact Marcia Samuelson at

NHS Class of 1953 Donates $8,000 for Newburyport High School Library Technology
NEWBURYPORT-MA -- The NHS Class of 1953 announced it will donate $8,000 to the Newburyport High School to support the efforts of the Newburyport Education Foundation (NEF) to bring new technology to the library for 21st Century learning. This gift was announced by the class to follow the lead of the Institution for Savings’ recent donation of $100,000 to the NEF for the library.

The class of 1953 will purchase a Bretford Mobility Media Cart (Apple iPad Learning Lab) for the storage and charging of MacBooks and iPads. The cost of this media cart with 10 iPads, along with Apple Care protection, is approximately $7,859.

“We are proud to support the effort to make the library a state-of-the art learning facility,” said Carl Beal, NHS Class of 1953 President and 2011 Ed Award Recipient. “This mobile media cart is a high priority for the library to secure, charge, and transport media devices, and we are happy to contribute the funds to purchase this piece of equipment and iPads for the library.”

The Class of 1953 has been an active and generous class supporting the high school library and the Newburyport Public Schools for the past nine years.

“We are thrilled with the continued support of the Class of 1953,” said Lynne Cote, Library Media Specialist at the high school. “The teachers, students and community will be overjoyed with this opportunity for our students to access the power of technology within the school walls.”

Through the NEF, the Class of 1953 has donated more than $18,000 to the Newburyport Public Schools, named the Circulation Desk in the library in honor of Virginia Bilmazes Bernard, a former NHS Librarian, and named over 60 seats in the High School auditorium in honor of classmates. The class conducts an annual fundraiser from classmates and has been doing so since their 50th class reunion in 2003. Carl Beal describes the class of ’53 as a “special class with great class spirit and dedication still making a difference at our Alma Mater.”

“The Class of 1953 continues to be a testament to the generosity of NHS graduates,” said Dr. Marc Kerble, Superintendent of Schools.” Our library is on its way to becoming a premier library-media center thanks to the generous gifts of the Institution for Savings and the Class of 1953.”

About the Newburyport Education Foundation (NEF) The Mission of the Newburyport Education Foundation is to bring philanthropy into the Newburyport Public Schools and generate financial resources that will enhance the quality of public education throughout the school system. Formed to enhance educational opportunities for the city’s public school children, the goal of the Newburyport Education Foundation is to supplement funding for programs which are already supported by public financing at a basic level, but which can be substantially improved by additional private sector financing, and to finance programs that might not receive funding from traditional sources such as the district budget or state aid.
For more information about the Newburyport Education Foundation or email, or  visit