Dukes County Commission Meeting Minutes
Friday, February 15, 2008
County Administration Building
Call to Order
Chairman Les Leland called the special meeting of the County Commissioners to order at 12:05p.m. Commissioners Lenny Jason, Tristan Israel, and Carlene Gatting were present.
Also present was Acting County Manager Noreen Mavro Flanders, Sheriff Michael McCormack, Charter Study Commissioner and Health Council member Tad Crawford, Emergency Management Director Chuck Cotnoir, county employees Carol Grant and TJ Hegarty and MVTV volunteer Joanie Ames.
Sheriff McCormack informed the commissioners of the background of the proposed “Sheriff’s Bill-House 4498” in which the State would take over the remaining seven County Sheriffs’ departments. The Sheriff stated that this is state’s answer to the County Sheriffs’ request to have adequate funding to run their departments and plan for the future. The amount in the line item for County Sheriffs’ funding from the state has been cut.
As it is now, the County Sheriffs do not get a budget figure from the state until 2 or 3 months after the fiscal year has begun so they operate on a month to month basis, with a budget amount of 1/12 of what they spent the previous year. When they are given a figure it is known that it will be insufficient to run the department for the entire fiscal year. The Sheriff has had to request additional funds in a supplemental budget in the spring with the appropriations coming some time close to the end of the fiscal year(or sometimes in the following fiscal year) to carry, carrying the department through the end of the year. This process puts restraints on the Sheriff’s department, not enabling them to look to the future since they are concerned with their day-to-day
Sheriff McCormack stressed that this is a budget crisis, NOT a funding issue. The funds are available. The Governor’s proposed bill (House Bill 4498) seems to mean, if you want to solve this budget crisis we can do so by making the current County Sheriff departments part of the Commonwealth’s Sheriffs departments which are state agencies, taking all operations and employees of the current County Sheriffs to the state. The way that H4498 is currently written leaves many questions unanswered. The sheriffs are meeting to try to get answers to their questions.
Commissioner Gatting asked, “What happens with the Communications Center?” Sheriff McCormack answered that all of the duties and responsibilities will become that of the state. The functions that are provided to the towns and county will, in effect, not change.
Commissioner Gatting asked, “How the budgeting process would affect the County’s budget?” The Sheriff responded that if this bill is passed the state would take over the budget and budget process.
Commissioner Israel asked, “How ownership of land would be handled and what happens to deeds excise tax?” The Sheriff answered that he was told by the attorney at Administration & Finance (A&F) that they contemplate taking the County property as part of the transfer. The Sheriff’s share of deeds excise tax that has been staying in the county and allocated to the Sheriff’s department would now go to directly the state. The County’s & Registry of Deeds’ shares will stay as they are currently.
Acting County Manager/County Treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders asked about the unfunded liability of Sheriff Department employees who have retired. The way that the H4498 currently reads is that retired employees will not be transferred so their liability will stay in the county. The Sheriff responded that the burden of current retirees will stay here as this bill does not abolish the county.
Chairman Leland asked about the communications center building and the jail. The Sheriff answered that the airport owns communications building; the operations will be still run by his department. Chairman Leland feels this bill is being rushed.
Commissioner Gatting asked if the County is Sheriff’s office compensates the airport for use of the communications center office. Noreen answered that the County did have to pay rent to the airport for the land where the center is located. The Sheriff responded to the Chairman’s questions by stating that the General Counsel for A&F said they would take the property, and it would be doubtful that the County would be compensated for that takeover.
Commissioner Israel asked what facilities the Sheriff currently has. Sheriff McCormack responded that they currently have 4 facilities; the office for the Sheriff at the Courthouse, the communications center, community corrections center, and the jail. He believes the State would have to pay the County rent for use of the space at the courthouse.
Commissioner Jason asked how sure the County Sheriffs were that the Bill will be passed. Sheriff McCormack answered that it has to go the House for approval, amendments, then the Senate, at which point it would go to the Governor for signing if it makes it that far. Commissioner Jason asked how much time there is to prepare a list of concerns regarding this bill’s takeover of county property. The Sheriff suggested starting today to gather that list.
Commissioner Gatting asked if there are other counties that have valuable pieces of property that are gong to be taken over by the state. The Sheriff thinks that Dukes County may be the only county owned property; other Counties have state owned buildings.
Commissioner Israel asked Sheriff McCormack what his position was on this bill and what the impact would be on the deeds excise tax. The Sheriff stated that he is in favor of the preservation of county government; he thinks that the Sheriff’s Department should be a county office. His position on this particular bill goes to the need to fix the current budget crisis; however, he thinks there are alternatives. One of the alternatives would be to have a line item in the state budget to reform MGL Chapter 64D (deeds excise) so that the maintenance of effort and deeds excise tax go to the Commonwealth. He would like to see the State leave MGL Chapter 34B alone and give the sheriffs a separate line item in the Commonwealth’s budget. This would also leave the
counties alone. Another thought is to reform MGL 64D, in return for a pool in the Budget’s Line Item 8910-0000 to fund 100% of the county sheriffs’ operations; then distribute the amount in that pool on a county by county basis. Commissioner Jason asked how much support the Sheriff has with those suggestions. Sheriff McCormack stated there are some sheriffs want to go to the State.
Tad Crawford stated that he understands that about $125,000 comes to the County from the communications center from the services they provide for private alarm fees. Would that fee no longer come to the county and go to the state? The Sheriff answered he does believe this will continue to be income for the county. Mr. Crawford asked about the money that is put toward the treasurer’s office as a processing fee for the sheriff’s department, will that money be transferred to the state? The Sheriff responded if the current legislation is passed as it is written, all processing for the Sheriff’s bills and payroll will be handled by the state, so they would not pay an allocation to the County for the treasurer’s services. Mr. Crawford stated that in
the dissolution of counties, assets were credited and un-funded liabilities were debited, so if there was a net liability would the towns assume that? Ms. Flanders stated the assets are credited at only 75% of the assessed value. If there was a net liability it would go to the towns. The sheriff’s department is about one half of the county employees, so if the county’s share of the retirement system’s un-funded liability is about 3.7 million dollars; about half of that would need to be debited against the asset amount. Commissioner Gatting asked if Mr. Crawford is asking that, if in the event there is dissolution of the county, the county would be losing their assets such as this property. Mr. Crawford stated yes, as sees this bill as a partial dissolution of the county. He thinks this is an argument for the county to say you can’t take over the assets without compensation and stick the county with the liabilities.
Ms. Flanders referred Mr. Crawford to H4498 Section 1, which references paragraphs 2, 4 and 5, in Section 18 of Chapter 34B. These paragraphs describe the process when retirement system liabilities exceed assets pursuant to section 8 of MGL 34B. Section 8 is “Plan to recover amounts paid by the commonwealth for liabilities and debts of abolished counties.” Commissioner Gatting stated that there would be a calculation and the property would be a credit against liabilities and not an actual payment to the county.
Commissioner Israel stated that he feels that all of this information needs to be heard directly from the legislators, the county’s voice needs to be heard, and very soon.
Ms. Flanders would like to address a few issues she has with the bill. Some would directly impact current sheriff department employees. An example is health insurance. The employees would pay a higher share and have fewer benefits. Another is life insurance. State employees are offered life insurance at a higher price but the benefit is one quarter the amount the county offers.
Assistant County Treasurer Carol Grant asked if the Sheriff’s department does go to the state, the communications center might be able to be run locally by the towns and police departments under the county. The Sheriff answered the bill’s language, as it exists, takes over all responsibilities of the sheriffs’ departments. Although the employees will be state employees the functions of the sheriff’s department and how it is run would still be a function of the Sheriff. Sheriff McCormack reiterated that the services that are offered to the members of the community will not in anyway change if this bill passes.
Commissioner Jason asked where the legislators stand on this Bill. The Sheriff answered he has not had direct contact with Senator O’Leary or the Representative Turkington. Could a Bill be filed with the Sheriffs’ alternative idea? The Sheriff answered that he thinks it is an option and he will speak with the other Sheriffs to see if they feel it is an option. Ms. Flanders has spoken with Representative Turkington who stated that at this time he has no opinion on the bill either way; he is waiting to hear from the people. She also contacted Senator O’Leary’s office and his assistant stated the Senator felt he needed to vote for it to help the towns.
Mr. Crawford stated that he is still concerned about the Communications Center. If it were eliminated from the sheriff’s budget, it would be a losing battle for the towns. He is troubled about the long-term rationalization of the services. The Sheriff responded that the Sheriff of Berkshire County runs a Communication Center and it is locally run by his department and not the State. The Sheriff maintains his belief is it will continue to be run by the sheriff’s department.
Commissioner Israel asked the Sheriff about how he would like to change State Budget Line 8910-0000. The Sheriff answered that if line 8910-0000 were deeds excise tax money and maintenance of effort and the line also stated how much money each sheriff department would receive, he believes that the funding would be enough for one year. The Sheriffs of Massachusetts never asked to have the state take over the money, but they are asking the state to increase its contribution.
Commissioner Gatting understood that Governor Patrick is regionalizing departments. How is the state going to take on Communications Center and how is it going to be paid for? The Sheriff answered the state revenue comes from all taxpayers; the savings to the towns that is currently built into this bill is the fact that their county assessment would be lower.
Chairman Leland would like the counties to bring a bill before the state. Sheriff McCormack does think there is a benefit to keeping the sheriff’s department county run. He does applaud Governor Patrick’s effort but he thinks there are some things that are not being considered. Commissioner Israel said he would like to see the numbers put together and file a bill with the help of the Sheriff as quickly as possibility. Commissioner Jason added that the assets and liabilities need to be looked into also. Commissioner Gatting stated that she is interested to see how the savings compare for the towns to the potential liabilities of other departments. The Sheriff stated that the Barnstable County Sheriff is in support of this bill passing.
Mr. Crawford said that he sees the value of Sheriff McCormack’s plan B, but wondered if it is politically achievable. Commissioner Israel stated that he felt that if the Commissioners, along with the help of Sheriff McCormack, submit a bill illustrating other options, we might have a chance. Ms. Flanders asked if a letter of support from the Commissioners would be helpful for Sheriff McCormack’s next meeting to discuss this bill.
Tristan Israel makes a Motion to write a letter of support of…
(thought never finished, new motion put forward)
Commissioner Gatting asked how Commissioner Israel could be ready to write a letter of support without having the numbers for the towns. Commissioner Israel said he felt that if the Sheriff is going to a meeting it might give the people present at the meeting thoughts of another direction to go to.
Lenny Jason made a Motion to make a statement that they are skeptical about the current bill and that they feel reforming 64D might be a better solution, Tristan Israel seconded.
Ms. Flanders and Sheriff McCormack have been in contact every step of the way throughout this bill process. Commissioner Gatting asked to see a copy of the letter prior to it going out. The Commissioners all thanked the Sheriff for his information and his time.
With no further business, the Commissioners adjourned the meeting at 1:25 p.m.
Respectfully Submitted by:
JOSEPH E. SOLLITTO JR., Clerk of the Courts