County Government Consensus March 2010
Is Plymouth County Government Sustainable in the 21st Century?
The Plymouth Area League of Women Voters believes that Plymouth County government is not sustainable in the twenty-first century. We believe the state can take over everything the county does and do it more efficiently. As we deal with the worst fiscal crisis in state history and witness unrealistic approaches to sustaining county government, it is time to dismantle this anachronistic entity.
Background-Other Counties: By the 1990s, most functions of county governments including operation of courts and road maintenance had been taken over by the state. As vestiges of colonial times, most county governments were seen as inefficient and outmoded. At the time of dissolution two counties were on the brink of bankruptcy Middlesex and Worcester.
Abolished counties exist only on maps and deed descriptions. It has been stated that the abolition of the county governments have saved property taxpayers in those counties hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded pension liability and the elimination of county spending.
The government of Nantucket County, which is geographically coterminous with the Town of Nantucket, is operated like the town– the town selectmen (executive branch) act as the county commissioners. The government of Middlesex County was officially abolished on July 11, 1997. Later that year, the Franklin County Commission voted itself out of existence. The law abolishing Middlesex County also provided for the elimination of Hampden County and Worcester County on July 1, 1998. This law was later amended to abolish Hampshire County on January 1, 1999; Essex County on July 1 of that same year; and Berkshire County on July 1, 2000. Chapter 34B of the Massachusetts General Laws allows other counties either to abolish themselves, or to reorganize as a “regional council of governments”, as Hampshire and Franklin Counties have done. Barnstable and Dukes Counties have adopted modern county charters, enabling them to act as efficient regional governments.
Issues of Concern in Plymouth County: Plymouth County has been funding recurring expenses with the sale of assets; County Farm Agricultural Restriction 2008, Plymouth Registry of Deeds fiscal 2009, Plymouth Court House fiscal 2010 and other proposals for land sales and land development.
The 2010 budget is balanced with two income items that appear to be overstated: the sale of the courthouse property at $1,150,000 although it was sold at $850,000 and the development of assets (sale of gravel, leases etc.) at $750,000. The sale of gravel bids have not yet been awarded although there is less than ½ year left to realize the income.
Planned development of the 103 acre Plymouth woodlot for an energy complex will need millions of dollars in development costs.
As of January 1, 2010 the Sheriff’s Department has become an operation of the state.
The County Commission runs a parking program that has been in operation since 1982. It is a service, for a fee, provided to 40 towns, educational institutions or governmental agencies. The operation continues to lose money annually: fiscal 2007 -$88,618; fiscal 2008-$48,455; fiscal 2009-$44,312 and fiscal 2010 projection $17,714. Plymouth County Towns are underwriting losses for non-county operations.
Budget reductions have reduced the personnel at the Registry of Deeds by 25%. The Registry is the largest income generator for the county.
Direct service to residents is fairly limited with the exception of the Registry of Deeds. A review of the budget shows direct service by the co-operative extension service, the parking department, building maintenance and the fire control airplane. There is also a county cemetery in Carver, but we were unable to gather any additional information. Other than the Registry of Deeds, only the building department appears to have rent income to offset their expenses.
Note: The League of Women Voters is committed to study and decision making by the consensus of our membership. Our study committee met with county officials, attended county commissioners’ meetings, visited county facilities and did extensive research. The information gathered was presented to our membership and this consensus was reached.
RESPONSE FROM ANTHONY O’BRIEN, PLYMOUTH COUNTY COMMISSIONER
From: Anthony Obrien
Sent: Mar 18, 2010 9:25 PM
To: Linda Benezra
Subject: Re: Plymouth League Consensus report
Thank you Linda for this report and to Mary and her study group. As you know we have been informally discussing this for years. Your excellent report is consistent with what seems like Commissioner Riordan’s intent in recently initiating formal discussions on the subject. Two years ago in my campaign, I was asked about disestablishing county government and I said I had an open mind about it. Since Riordan started the discussion and although surrounded by county employees, including very highly paid elected officials who do not want to lose their jobs, I committed to keeping an open mind and remain so.
In the weeks since, and especially with this very professional report, the much greater evidence tends toward the opposition of continuing county government that your League and Riordan share. I remain open to that option and open to formally supporting it if I believe it is the right thng to do if and when it is brought to a formal vote.
Please thank Mary and your League for your leadership in caring about government and holding government leaders accountable. In that spirit, our interactions have usually been inspiring for me and often educational for me. For that I am grateful. Please keep me informed of any other views you have on our deliberations since I value your views. Sincerely, Tony
P.S. Your report is marked “press release”, does that mean you are actually releasing it to the media? If so, I support you doing so and would be happy to comment favorably on your report to any media source or feel free to quote me in any portion of this email. Again thank you for your service to the Plymouth Area and our democracy.
Anthony O’Brien, Lieut. Cdr., US Navy Seals (Ret.)
Plymouth County Commissioner
P.O. Box 4012, Plymouth MA 02361
Facebook: Anthony O’Brien Navy Seal