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The Download: Time to regionalize


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In Massachusetts, 911 calls are handled by 262 different facilities, or one for every 24,000 residents. Maryland, a state comparable to Massachusetts in population and land size, uses just 24 public safety call centers, one for every 233,000 residents.

It’s a striking comparison, one of several featured in a special regionalization issue of Municipal Advocate, a subscription-only publication of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. The disparity sums up why Massachusetts needs to embrace regionalization: There are simply too many cities and towns with too many redundant services at a time when state and local revenues are shrinking.

Massachusetts is also overstocked in public health departments. Texas has 107 of them, while Massachusetts has 351, more than any other state in the country. The Advocate reports that regionalization isn’t just for tiny towns. It highlights the integration of Louisville and Jefferson County in Kentucky. The two entities first regionalized their park operations, then their schools, and eventually everything.

Regionalization is starting to happen in Massachusetts. Eastham, Orleans, and Wellfleet are exploring a merger of their police departments and a regional 911 call center is being planned in Middleton. Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon says his community will save $300,000 a year by regionalizing the public safety service.

What’s missing from the Advocate’s coverage is a willingness to criticize municipal officials. If regionalization makes so much sense, why is it happening at such a snail’s pace in so many Massachusetts communities? And why does it seem like the state has to encourage cities and towns to regionalize (the Middleton dispatch center is getting $7 million in state funds so participating communities will only have to pay its operating costs)? If regionalization is such a good idea, as the Advocate’s special issue suggests, maybe the state should start withholding local aid from communities that fail to get on board.

Salaries

How much is too much? The Boston Globe reports that Massport is holding off boosting its executive director’s salary by $22,000 to $317,000 because of the state of the economy. The Eagle-Tribune says the Andover town manager’s contract, which boosts his salary $13,000 to $144,546, is still too generous.

Medicine

There’s a school of thought that one way to cut down on the costs of protracted malpractice suits and their settlements is if doctors merely acknowledged their error and apologized, a path often thwarted by lawyers worried about culpability. The New England Journal of Medicine carries an article by Dr. David Ring of Massachusetts General Hospital about how he erroneously performed carpal tunnel surgery on a 65-year-old woman instead of corrective surgery on her left hand ring finger. It’s a fascinating read and admission about what went wrong, how he informed the patient, and hospital procedures that were in place and will change to prevent future problems. Via Paul Levy’s Running a Hospital blog. For more on saying sorry for medical mistakes, check out CommonWealth’s recent report on a Michigan program.

Energy and the environment

Some developers are raising alarm at a plan for Boston to adopt more stringent energy-efficiency rules for new construction, reports the Globe.

Michelle Malkin argues in the National Review that energy czar Carol Browner needs to be thrown under a fossil-fueled bus like former green-jobs honcho Van Jones because she shares the same anti-capitalist agenda.

Operation of a Nantucket wind turbine has been reduced to allay noise and safety concerns, reports the Inquirer & Mirror.

Residents of Brimfield are not keen on seeing a 30-megawatt wind farm in their backyard, reports the Boston Business Journal. The project depends on a zoning change only residents can approve.

A $20 million settlement from 1992 for a trust fund with a corporate polluter who dumped PCBs into New Bedford harbor gave out its final $6 million in grants this week. But none of it went to the city of New Bedford, which received about a third of the settlement money over the years even though the company had been located in the city, reports South Coast Today.

In its own version of a pub crawl, the New Bedford City Council will take to the road tonight to check out the noise levels at the city’s bars, according to the Standard-Times.

The Enterprise reports that Middleboro officials will wait until next year to begin collecting a voter-approved surcharge for community preservation in order to save $20,000 in administrative fees.

Media

 The interview by CommonWealth’s Gabrielle Gurley with new Boston Herald editor Joe Sciacca gets some attention from Dan Kennedy and Universal Hub, among others.

The Enterprise is outraged, as should be all proponents of open records, at a $2,100 estimate West Bridgewater officials sent for redacted transcripts of closed-door sessions for a settlement with a cop accused of misconduct.

State officials have backed off an earlier threat to a muckraking website that posted data on food stamp use that the state mistakenly released under a public information request, according to the Globe.

Economics and economic development

Despite his insistence he finds the concept of a state-owned bank intriguing, Gov. Deval Patrick missed a legislatively imposed deadline to create a study commission to look into the idea, according to The Patriot Ledger.

WBUR reports flexible spending accounts get less flexible.

Complicated legal machinations are giving some people who lost homes to foreclosure a second chance at getting their house back, reports the Globe.

The Sentinel & Enterprise ponders when the right time is to cash in those rainy day accounts

CommonWealth’s Paul McMorrow, writing on the Globe’s op-ed page, looks at the looming Congressional fight over one of the signature elements of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, a ban on proprietary trading by banks; the likely successor to Barney Frank’s committee chairmanship wants to let big banks keep acting like hedge funds, because of jobs. 

National

Mona Charen, in the National Review, uses the Massachusetts medical device industry as an example of how the most vulnerable – veterans and babies – will be hurt by the pending tax on medical devices unless the national health care reform law is repealed. Oh, yeah, she’s against “Obamacare.”

Keller@Large dissects the pros and cons of Sarah Palin’s name recognition and the impact it will have on her presidential aspirations in 2012.

Why do liberals hate the deficit commission so? The Atlantic explains.

2012 will be the year we’re all finally, mercifully rid of Joe Lieberman. For real this time, says Salon.

In the Senate, so much hangs on the political desires of under-educated Alaskans, says Slate.

The Wall Street Journal explains how the deficit panel’s chairs boxed in all their opponents: By calling their bluffs.

A slew of federally-funded Bay State projects could take big hits as Washington prepares to get serious about the long-criticized practice of “earmarking,” reports the Globe.  Among the projects on the chopping block: the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, which was slated to receive $10 million.

Contrarian thinking: the Brookings Institution’s William Galston argues on The New Republic site why the midterm thumping taken by Dems could be good for President Obama.

Politics

David Bernstein, in the Phoenix, thinks the Boston City Council is not quite the pit of do-nothingness is used to be.

The Newton Tab editor wasn’t happy about the Setti Warren for Senate rumors, so she tracked down the mayor to get some tepid reassurances that he plans to serve out his term.

The Salem News reports that GOP state senators have no one to lead but get paid as if they do.

Eagle-Tribune reports a Methuen cop will accuse the city’s mayor of threats.

Bottle bill backers eye the 2012 ballot, according to the State House News Service via the Cambridge Chronicle.

No dice? House Speaker Robert DeLeo says expanded gambling is not at the top of his legislative agenda for the new session beginning in January, according to the Globe.

Criminal justice

 In its “Department on Probation” editorial, the Berkshire Eagle says the state Probation Department needs a thorough scrubbing after Berkshire Superior Court Probation Chief Clifford J. Nilan is reprimanded for “mishandling the case” of Angelo Stracuzzi, the former Greylock Federal Credit Union CEO.

The Boston Herald reports that state Sen. Robert Hedlund wants to tighten up the anti-drunk driving Melanie’s Law before the end of the year

The Herald also reports that the family of a Washington state couple brutally murdered in 2007 by a Bay State ex-con sprung early from prison has filed a federal lawsuit against several Massachusetts law enforcement officials, alleging their missteps led to the horrific killings.

Transportation

The Sentinel & Enterprise ponders when the right time is to cash in those rainy day accounts

Green Line extension puts industrial stretch in crosshairs, according to the Somerville Journal.

New England Cable News has video of MBTA employee and customer in fight.

Towns along the proposed South Coast commuter rail line are showing their optimism by using grants to begin planning for the long-awaited commuter train’s arrival, according to the Herald News

Education

What do we know about incoming New York City schools chancellor Cathleen Black’s views on education?  Not much, reports Education Week.  We do know the appointment of the former publisher of USA Today and president of Hearst Magazines to replace Joel Klein continues Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s practice of reaching outside traditional education circles in his effort to shake up the country’s largest school system.

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