Testimony of Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine in support of LD 328 “An Act to Provide Funds to the Local Government Fund to Encourage Regional Planning and Reorganization”
March 1, 2017
Senator David, Representative Martin and members of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government.
My apologies for not being able to attend today’s Public Hearing in person. GrowSmart Maine is a statewide non-partisan, membership-based organization whose mission is to create lasting prosperity without sacrificing the quality of life that defines Maine. In our advocacy, we support legislation that improves Maine’s economy, protects its distinctive character, strengthens communities and enhances our state’s quality places. In short, we support proposals that bring long term solutions over short term fixes.
We believe this bill makes significant headway in achieving these goals. While $25 million is a bold ask, it certainly makes a powerful starting point for discussion of how to facilitate regional collaboration among Maine communities. It is noteworthy that the Governor’s budget proposes $5 million for this Fund in each year of the upcoming biennium. As I was advised years ago, “proposals rarely become bolder as they work their way through the legislative process!” The greater the funding, the greater the opportunities. As success builds on success, early local efforts at regional collaboration and efficiencies will be models for other communities and other regions across the state.
Empowering communities to find their own solutions has lasting impact. While the budget is outside the scope of this bill, there are components worth consideration by this committee as they risk reducing the effectiveness of this proposal. In my experience, municipalities are not opposed to finding efficiency through regional efforts. The greatest challenge is in doing this work on top of managing the day to day operations of each town.
For that reason, it is important to ensure towns have adequate technical support for the work ahead along with the funding.It is important to note that, while there is support for recapitalizing this fund, there is also continued reduction in state support for the very agencies with the expertise to help towns develop and implement efficiencies. The proposed budget will zero out nearly $160,000 in grants to the Regional Planning Commissions that work in just this sort of effort. In addition, the current biennial budget proposal cuts in half the staffing at the Municipal Planning Assistance Program, (formerly the Land Use Planning Program within State Planning Office) now housed in the Dept of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Both the MPAP and the RPCs should be supported in order to guide municipalities through the process to be funded with this legislation.
Finally, regional planning and reorganization takes time. It is detrimental to Maine communities to significantly cut Municipal General Revenue Sharing in this same budget because significant savings will not be realized immediately.
In closing, I thank the committee for their time in working through these important issues and would be pleased to assist in any way that is helpful.