More than 50 officials from all six New England states gathered last month at the Lincoln Institute to review the region’s economic outlook, discuss property tax trends, learn about financing best practices and challenges, and explore research-driven efforts to help small industrial cities prosper.
The seminar, Critical Issues for the Fiscal Health of New England Cities and Towns, is part of the Lincoln Institute’s effort to promote municipal fiscal health, and was co-sponsored by the New England Public Policy Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The presentations can be viewed on the Lincoln Institute’s SlideShare page by clicking on the name of each speaker.
Robert Triest, vice president and director of the New England Public Policy Center, compared the economies of the New England states, reporting that Massachusetts had the region’s most robust increase in state revenue and healthiest employment growth since the Great Recession. Susanne Greschner, chief of the Rhode Island Department of Revenue Division of Municipal Finance, described her state’s Fiscal Stability Act and innovative fiscal transparency portal. Mary Murphy, manager of state and local fiscal health for the Pew Charitable Trusts, spoke about her latest research, which found that only 22 states monitor local fiscal health.
Catherine Collins, associate director and senior research associate of the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, discussed property tax issues including tax base erosion and green property tax incentives. Adam Langley, senior research analyst at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, explored a potential role for nonprofit payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) in addressing fiscal stress and suggested that localities approach PILOTs in a collaborative way marked by respectful dialogue, careful use of terminology, and justification for PILOT requests.
John Robertson, Legislative Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, shared best practices for New England cities and towns including budgeting for snow and ice removal based on average actual expenditures over time. Ari Sky, CFO of New Bedford Massachusetts, described how his city has reformed its retirements and benefits funding. From 2006-16 the city increased its funding for pensions and benefits by 60 percent and is now on track to achieve full funding by 2034. Michael Ward, director of municipal services for the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management, shed light on how municipalities can identify and address organizational, operational, and financial challenges, for example, by using technology to make payroll processes more efficient.
Finally, Yolanda Kodrzycki, emeritus director of the New England Public Policy Center, summarized her research on resurgent cities including the importance of cross-sectoral and regional cooperation. Her research led to the creation of the Working Cities initiative of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which was the subject of Tamar Kotelchuck’s presentation. Kotelchuck shared experiences from the Working Cities Challenge, including case studies of Lawrence, Massachusetts, which established a school-based hiring initiative and Fitchburg, Massachusetts, which sought to transform a struggling neighborhood with investment and the involvement of Fitchburg State College.