Plymouth selectmen sign on to state’s Community Compact

By Frank Mand | Wicked Local – Plymouth | July 29, 2015

PLYMOUTH – The selectmen signed a “Community Compact” with the state last week, with the hope it will translate directly into cash for important infrastructure projects.

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito was in Plymouth earlier this month, pitching the new compact and explaining the benefits of the Community Compact Cabinet that she will chair.

The Baker-Polito Administration points out that both the governor and Polito served for a time as selectmen in their hometowns and, they say, understand the challenges facing municipalities.

The compact, the administration states, will give those municipalities access to the governor’s office and allow for the establishment of “clear, mutual standards, expectations and accountability for both the state and municipalities.”

The mutual standards they refer to take the form of a series of best practices that communities signing a compact with state must select and then implement over a two-year period.

An immediate benefit the commonwealth promises towns will receive by their participation is priority consideration for technical assistance to help implement their chosen best practices.

But the biggest incentive for towns to participate may be the promise that communities that have signed on to the program could receive “extra points on certain grants, and a grant program specifically for Compact communities.”

Plymouth is in the midst of a five-year $50 million dollar public works plan that includes the $15 million Water Street Promenade project that officials say they hope will be partially funded through Mass Works and completed in time for 2020.

They have applied for these state funds several times in recent years but have been rejected each time.

Now, with time running out (if the work is to be completed in time for 2020), the Compact could be just what the doctor ordered.

First, though, the town must select and implement at least one item from the state’s Best Practices list.

Jessica Casey, the town’s new economic development director, told selectmen that the town was actually choosing three from the state’s list: “Preparing for Success,” “Job Creation and Retention” and “Sustainable Development and Land Protection.”

Casey explained that department heads had been given the state’s best practice list and asked to select their favorites. Then, at a meeting of those department heads they had finalized their selections.

Preparing for Success

Best practice: There is a demonstrated ability to partner with the private sector, nonprofits, and public sector organizations in order to advance the housing and economic development vision and goals of the community as evidenced by the successful completion of public/private/nonprofit projects.

Job Creation and Retention

Best practice: There is a documented economic development plan that leverages local economic sector strengths and regional assets, encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, and demonstrates collaboration with educational institutions for the development of a workforce plan.

Sustainable Development and Land Protection

Best practice: There is a Master, Open Space and Recreation, or other plan to guide future land conservation and development; smart growth consistent zoning has been adopted (e.g. techniques in the MA Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit); investments in infrastructure and land conservation are consistent with the MA Sustainable Development Principles.

Casey noted that for the first best practice selected, Preparing for Success, the town can already claim a number of successes.

“The opportunity here,” Casey explained, “is to strengthen the partnerships we already have.”

Casey also said that the best practice “Job Creation and Retention” also fits in well with the town’s recent commitment to the EDSAT program, a tool developed by the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University that will evaluate the town’s readiness to attract new businesses and retain existing businesses.

Selectman Tony Provenzano said it was “time to hit that one hard,” reflecting on the recently completed UMASS-Amherst report that warned that once the Pilgrim nuclear plant closed it would be very difficult to replace the well paying jobs (and the contribution to the town’s financial stability) that the plant represents.

And while the town already has a Master Plan and a commitment to open space – two goals of the “Sustainable Development and Land Protection” best practice – Casey thinks the town should update those plans and add new goals as well.

It should be noted that the Compact Committee could reject the town’s choices. “In a Community Compact,” the legislation states, “a community will agree to implement at least one best practice that they select from across a variety of areas.

“The community’s chosen best practice(s) will be reviewed between the Commonwealth and the municipality to ensure that the best practice(s) chosen are unique to the municipality and reflect needed areas of improvement,” according to the Compact’s contract.

“Once approved, the written agreement will be generated and signed by both the municipality and the Commonwealth,” the compact legislation states.

Assuming the town’s best practices are accepted, another important aspect of the agreement is the clear promise that the concerns of community leaders across the Commonwealth – most notably in regards to unfunded mandates and other financial burdens placed on those communities by the state – will be heard unfiltered at the highest levels.

To that end Selectman John Mahoney questioned Casey as to whether town officials would be able to have their concerns about the failings of the 40B legislation – the affordable housing mandate – heard in the governor’s office?

Town Manager Melissa Arrighi answered that question, adding her own criticisms of state procurement laws, in the affirmative. If the state signs on to the compact, Arrighi said, “affordable housing will be part of that discussion.”

 

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