Recreational pot a hot issue in area communities

By Stephen Peterson; December 20, 2017; Sun Chronicle

Attleboro area communities back medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana, not so much.

Several towns have voted to ban recreational marijuana businesses from opening up shop in their communities, or at least implementing moratoriums until the state comes out with regulations for such businesses. Other communities are considering taking one of the two actions, including Attleboro, North Attleboro and Plainville.

Residents at town meetings in Norton, Mansfield, Rehoboth and Seekonk have supported moratoriums on recreational marijuana businesses.

But in Foxboro, Wrentham and Norfolk, residents decided to outlaw recreational pot establishments.

“It would prevent the sale of marijuana in convenience stores and other establishments,” Wrentham Selectman Charles Kennedy said.

Only sale, distribution or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes would be allowed.

That is also the case in Norfolk as voters there also voted a ban on recreational marijuana businesses, residents worried about the effect on youths and tarnishing downtown, among other concerns.

“We’re in the middle of an opioid crisis. This will put fuel on the fire,” said state Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk.

Wrentham, Foxboro and Norfolk voters narrowly had opposed legalization of pot at the November 2016 election. Communities that voted against legalization can vote to ban recreational marijuana busineses at town meetings, but those whose voters backed legalization have to go again to the ballot box to stop the businesses. The latter hasn’t had to be the case for area communities so far.

Personal recreational marijuana use is another matter and was legalized by 54 percent of state voters approving the ballot question. That was about the backing in the Attleboro area as well.

As a result, it is legal for people 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of pot on their person and up to 10 ounces at home. In addition, people are able to cultivate up to six marijuana plants for their own use.

So for towns and cities that ban sales, residents in those communities can use pot legally but would have to buy it elsewhere.
Attleboro city councilors plan to tackle the recreational marijuana issue but have not yet.

Meanwhile, medicinal marijuana operations seem to be being proposed left and right in the city. Medicinal pot businesses were authorized by voters before last November.

City councilors have approved a special permit for Bristol County Wellness Center to open a retail shop and growing facility in a former jewelry factory in Attleboro Industrial Park. Attleboro could reap about $1 million in revenue for the first three years of the business’s operation, and that doesn’t include property taxes.

Also, the city council has voted to give preliminary support for another such business, an indoor medical marijuana growing facility that would be located in a warehouse, also in the industrial park. It would not include a retail store.

Yet a third registered marijuana dispensary is also looking for city backing.

Sales of marijuana can be a boon for cities and towns and the state. Sales of pot would be taxed at the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax rate, plus a 10.75 percent excise tax. Local communities can add another 3 percent and extract an additional 3 percent of sales through user agreements with retailers.

In North Attleboro, an article up for the Jan. 22 town meeting would establish a temporary moratorium on recreational marijuana establishments.

Town officials have said they’re seeking the moratorium not to halt the will of the voters, as North Attleboro voters approved the ballot question legalizing marijuana last year, but because there are still several questions about the regulation of recreational marijuana that have not been explored. This will allow the town to set its own regulations such as zoning restrictions after the state regulations come out. The moratorium would be in effect until Dec. 31, 2018.

Over in neighboring Plainville, selectmen have discussed recreational marijuana at their last few meetings and have opted to wait until the state regulations come out, tentatively in March, before making any decisions, Town Administrator Jennifer Thompson said.

The town has a moratorium in place for recreational marijuana facilities until June 30, 2018 that was voted at the June annual town meeting. Selectmen had been considering taking more action at the next annual town meeting, possibly to extend the moratorium to the end of next December.

However, decisions coming from the state Cannabis Control Commission last week have disrupted those plans.

“By allowing establishments such as bars, restaurants, yoga studios and massage parlors being allowed licenses to dispense marijuana, it really changes the dynamic in my opinion,” Selectmen Chairman Rob Rose said. “We may be going in a different direction due to this new liberalization. People who may have been more inclined to allow recreational marijuana, may not anymore.”

 

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WATER, SEWER CITED AS IMPEDIMENTS TO HOUSING GROWTH

By Andy Metzger; December 19, 2017; State House News Service

While the state’s largest city has nearly doubled the statutory goal for affordable housing stock, officials from smaller communities argued Tuesday that their hometowns’ rural character makes it harder to accommodate new housing developments.

The lack of a public sewer makes growth challenging in Norfolk, the town’s affordable housing director said. The only lots left in Winchester are undesirable for building, according to a member of the town’s planning board. Dover lacks the public water supplies and road infrastructure needed to handle the type of growth promoted by a 1969 state law, a health official told lawmakers.

Supporters and critics of the Chapter 40B law squared off before the Housing Committee on Tuesday, where affordable housing advocates said laggard housing production has made mortgage and rent payments skyrocket in the state.

The law allows developers in certain communities to skirt local zoning rules if at least 20 to 25 percent of the units include long-term affordability restrictions, according to Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), which credited the law with creating more than 71,000 homes, of which 36,000 are income-restricted. The more flexible rules under 40B apply to cities and towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is deemed affordable. Local officials often complain that the law impedes control over local development.

In Boston, whose population numbers more than 670,000 people, about 19 percent of the housing stock is deemed affordable, according to City Hall.

In Norfolk, a town of about 11,000 about 11 miles southwest of Boston, it is “much more difficult” to reach that 10 percent threshold, Susan Jacobson, the affordable housing director, told the committee on Tuesday. She told the News Service it is harder to accommodate housing growth because the town has no public sewer system.

Rep. Kevin Honan, a Boston Democrat and co-chairman of the Housing Committee, said members heard concerns about the lack of water supplies outside of Boston “loud and clear,” suggesting that environmental officials should work on solutions to that problem.

Gov. Charlie Baker last April filed a $1.3 billion five-year bill (H 3925) to finance housing production and renovation around the state. Last week the governor proposed legislation to make it easier for municipalities to adopt pro-growth policies.

The housing bond bill will likely hit the House floor in January and the Housing Committee will likely hold a hearing on the governor’s zoning bill around the same time, said Honan, who said, “We as a committee are excited that he has put forth that proposal.”

Norfolk Rep. Shawn Dooley asked the Housing Committee to allow workforce housing with higher income thresholds to count toward the 10 percent affordable housing goal. Dooley said firefighters and police officers can’t afford to live in towns he represents but they make too much money to qualify for the subsidized housing created by 40B.

Most affordable housing created by 40B is restricted to households at or below area median income – meaning a four-member 40B household in the Boston area could make up to about $78,150 while a four-member family around Springfield could make no more than about $64,000 to qualify, according to MassHousing.

Under Dooley’s bill (H 3010), families could qualify for subsidized 40B housing if they make up to 150 percent of median income.

Milford Rep. Brian Murray asked his colleagues to expand the definition of low or moderate income housing under 40B to include single-family homes and condos valued at $200,000 or less. Home prices vary around the state. The median price in October was $360,000 for a single-family home in Massachusetts, according to the Warren Group. Murray said his bill would yield a more “accurate count” of the affordable housing in a city or town.

There is a “lot of anger” towards 40B because local officials are often unaware of other legal tools at their disposal to manage development, such as designating an area in town for growth, Rachel Heller, the CEO of CHAPA told the committee.

The 1969 law was “largely the result of a civil rights movement” to make cities and towns more open to new residents, said Ben Fierro, a lobbyist for the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts. He said local officials in some towns continue to make it difficult to build homes and “children seem to be toxic” in some communities where officials are worried about the cost of schooling. Using a term that former Sen. David Magnani employed years ago, Fierro said “vasectomy zoning” – requiring large lots and enacting restrictions on septic systems – is used to make towns unwelcoming to young families.

“We do not use exclusionary zoning,” said Gerald Clarke, chairman of the Dover Board of Health. Dover roads are single-lane and residents are on private wells, which can be adulterated by nearby developments, Clarke told the committee.

While Winchester lacks the density of closer-in suburbs, Maureen Meister, who is on the town’s Planning Board, said the town is “built out” and 40B developments are proposed for “land that is undeveloped for a good reason.”

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Five Students Complete Internships with Representative Dooley

Fall 2017 Intern Photo 2BOSTON—During the fall semester Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) was pleased to have five area students complete internships in his office:

  • Katherine Chung (White Plains, NY)—Boston College, 2020
  • Madeleine Nichols (Bloomfield Hills, MI)—Boston College, 2020
  • Carolann Schoenbaum (Newport Beach, CA)—Boston College, 2019
  • Upahar Shah (Kathmandu, Nepal)—Bridgewater State University, Masters Program 2018
  • Nate Wolf (Boston)—Holy Cross, 2022

Dooley’s interns get the opportunity to learn about politics in a hands-on fashion. From campaign life in the district to policy work in the State House, they are exposed to all sides of state and local politics. “It’s a trite expression, but my office truly could not function without our interns” said Dooley. “This particular group of interns was one of the most intelligent, dedicated, and hard-working groups I’ve had. Their service in my office undoubtedly helped me be a better Representative of my constituents. While the work can be challenging, I hope this was a rewarding and fun experience for them all. I know unflinchingly that they will be an asset and a success in anything they choose to pursue in the future. I thank them all for their service to me and all the citizens of the 9th Norfolk District.”

Any high school and college students interested in applying for an internship in Dooley’s office are encouraged to reach out to his Chief of Staff, William Rigdon, at William.Rigdon@mahouse.gov.

 

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Officials break ground for $51M Millis school

By Scott Calzolaio; December 8, 2017; Milford Daily News

Dooley Clyde Brown 1 Dooley Clyde Brown 2After seven years of paperwork and some legal trouble, officials broke ground Friday for the new Clyde Brown School, the mark of a promising future in Millis, said Superintendent Nancy Gustafson.
“The outcome truly exceeds my dreams,” she said. “We will have a building that not only brings the fifth grade back into a more developmentally appropriate setting but also alleviates the crowding in the middle-high school.”
Every student from Clyde Brown came outside to watch the ceremony and to sing “This Land is Your Land” to a crowd of parents, supporters, and faculty members.
Speakers boasted that the new school building is a testament to Millis’ dedication to education in the 21st century. State Rep. Shawn Dooley, D-Norfolk, expressed his gratitude for the public’s vote to move forward with the project and thanked the Massachusetts School Building Association (MSBA) for its support.
“This school is going to be a beautiful thing for generations to come,” Dooley said. “It says to everyone that we put our children first and we put the future first.”
Executive director of the MSBA, Jack McCarthy, agreed, adding that the agency will be there to guide Millis every step of the way. “Benjamin Franklin once said ‘an investment in education pays the best interest.’ And we at the MSBA are proud to be your investing partners,” he said.
MSBA will put $20.95 million toward the project, leaving the town to account for $30.9 million, totaling about $51 million. Construction is estimated to be completed in 2019.
The annual increases to tax bills for the average home ($359,864) range from a high of $865 and a low of $377 (higher in the early years), although those increases won’t begin right away. During the first two years of the project the burden to taxpayers will be $100 to $200 for the average household. Average yearly increase rates will begin in 2020.
For more information on the project, visit www.millisschoolproject.org.

 

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Solar energy industry targeted

Bu Heather Gillis Michnoski; December 7, 2017; Wicked Local Walpole

State Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) has filed a bill with the State House of Representatives to create a commission to investigate the advertising practices of the solar energy industry.

According to a press release from Dooley, the purpose of the bill, filed last month, is to crack down on deceptive advertising and trade practices in the industry.

If the bill passes, a seven-member commission will be created, composed both of members of the Legislature and industry experts to investigate the practices of major players in the solar energy industry and issue a report on the findings, including recommendations for any necessary legislative changes.

“I have had report after report telling me that we need to look into the promises solar energy companies are making to customers” said Dooley. “I have a lot of constituents telling me that when they looked into installing solar panels they were told exactly what they wanted to hear, but once they installed the panels the reality turned out to be very different.”

Dooley said despite being a small state in a meteorologicaly inconsistent region, Massachusetts actually ranks in the top 10 for cumulative solar energy production.

The state’s success in solar energy production comes mainly from the state’s goal to produce 1,600 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. There are incentive programs in place, including sales and property tax exemptions as well as net metering, to help meet this goal.

Net metering allows those producing solar energy to sell back any unused energy created by their solar facilities to electric companies for a financial credit.

In an effort to live more sustainably and environmentally friendly, Dooley said he recently outfitted his entire home with solar panels.

“After over a year of research, I realized there was a huge disparity between the facts and what some sales people would try to tell me. I found that the cost for the same size system could swing by nearly 50 percent depending on the company, and some of the payback and output projections were downright absurd,” Dooley said.

Some who have installed solar panels report experiencing system breakdowns, a lack of promised cost saving and even home damage from solar panel installation. Other customers who installed solar panels on a leasing basis discovered, only after they entered into the agreement, that it often prevented them from receiving important federal loans, including mortgages and reverse mortgages.

Dooley said he is happy to take the initiative to protect consumers.

“This legislation is only a first step in the process” he said. “Solar energy is no doubt a vital piece to our energy infrastructure and its importance as both a renewable and cost saving energy source will only continue to grow, but as with all new up and coming industries, we need to take a closer look. There are some great companies out there, but we need to protect consumers who are trying to do a good thing by going green from predatory companies whose only goal is to make a quick buck.”

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Region’s Selectmen Convene

By Mike Gleason; December 7, 2017; MetroWest Daily News

Dooley Millis 40b MeetingLocal officials from several towns led a discussion Thursday on the deficiencies and possible reform of affordable housing rules.
Selectmen from Medway, Ashland, Hopkinton, Holliston, Medfield and Millis – convened in Millis to discuss a number of issues of regional importance, such as stormwater management, retail marijuana regulation and the voting process at town meetings. The towns have met several times over the past year.
Medway Town Administrator Michael Boynton noted that the “40B” affordable housing legislation – which allows developers to circumvent certain local zoning bylaws if their project has an affordable housing component and the town falls below a 10 percent affordable housing threshold – first went into effect in 1969.
“It’s not going anywhere,” he said, noting that a ballot initiative to repeal the rule in 2010 had failed. He added that many towns, when they reach the 10 percent threshold, lose interest in reform.
Boynton said the town had experienced – in the last 18 months – both friendly and unfriendly 40B developments.
Medway Selectman Glenn Trindade said the legislation, as currently written, does not solve the affordable housing problem in the most efficient way. He said apartments are most in demand, but developers want to build houses. With apartments, he noted, the residents’ incomes are reviewed after a period of time to ensure they still quality; the same does not occur with houses or condos.
“What we’ve got with this system is someone hits the lottery (and is awarded an affordable house or condo), and you help one person,” he said.
Fellow Selectman Dennis Crowley said he was concerned about what happened to affordable housing units. He said the town had seen instances in which condo owners had bought their units, refinanced at the market value of the condo, pocketed the difference and left. He also cited incidents in which people owned the units, but moved out and rented them to other people.
“Nobody’s monitoring these units,” he said.
Boynton suggested several reforms to the law. One change would allow towns to prioritize senior housing, while another would tie developments to a municipality’s master plan.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, noted the difficulty of changing the legislation. He said he was pursuing reforms that would allow a slightly higher-priced unit to count as a percentage of an affordable housing unity. He pointed at his hometown of Norfolk as an example of where such housing is needed.
“We’re losing teachers, firefighters and police officers – they can’t afford to live in town,” he said. “We have (affordable housing) at $130,000, and the next house up is $500,000.”

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Norfolk rep requests audit of Boston Public Schools

By Jim Hand; December 4, 2017; The Sun Chronicle

NORFOLK — State Rep. Shawn Dooley has requested a state audit of Boston Public School spending, but the auditor’ office says only Boston can ask for the probe.

Dooley, R-Norfolk, and state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, wrote to Auditor Suzanne Bump requesting an investigation.

They pointed to recent news reports that the schools were fined $1 million for using student activity fees to pay for after school services without reporting the payments to the federal Internal Revenue Service.

“I may not represent the City of Boston, but it is the collective responsibility of all legislators to watch out for all taxpayers” Dooley said.

“For the taxpayers and students to have to bear the brunt of this folly is an unmitigated outrage. Many legislators often become enraged when constituents oppose tax increases, however, it is precisely incidents like these that cause the general public to lose confidence in our system and become distrustful of our public officials with their money.”

He and O’Connell said many of the details of the payments and failure to report them have not been disclosed by the school department.

Dooley said he was told the auditor could not investigate without a request from the Boston School Department.

He called the response one of the most nonsensical he had ever heard.

But, Michael Wessler, a spokesman for Bump, said the auditor is prohibited by law from looking into municipal governments unless they specifically request it.

The city or town governing body would have to vote to ask for an audit and then pay for it themselves, according to the statute.

As state auditor, Bump is allowed by law to audit any state agency without a request, Wessler said.

 

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House Republicans call on state auditor to investigate Boston student activity accounts

By James Vaznis; December 1, 2017; The Boston Globe

Two Massachusetts House Republicans on Friday urged the state auditor to launch a thorough investigation into the Boston Public Schools’ student activity accounts — and all other school budget matters — after an IRS audit found a dozen schools had mishandled funds.

In a letter they sent to Auditor Suzanne Bump Friday, state Representatives Shawn Dooley of Norfolk and Shaunna O’Connell of Taunton said the investigation is needed because many details about the IRS audit are vague, including who is responsible and how long the funds have been misused. They also expressed frustration that school and city leadership have engaged in “shameless political games” since the audit findings became public Monday.

“News reports detail how Boston Public Schools officials covered up their knowledge of the misuse of funds for several months, how the issue was swept under the rug and released to the public only after the municipal election in Boston, and now how everyone with a stake in the issue is pointing their finger at someone else,” they wrote.

The representatives were referring to news reports that indicated Superintendent Tommy Chang had known about the IRS findings since June, but did not inform the School Committee about them until a reporter began asking questions about two weeks ago.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh accused Chang of keeping him in the dark about the findings, even though Walsh’s financial team was dealing directly with the IRS since the audit began more than a year ago.

Chang defended his handling of the IRS findings Friday, noting that he had informed principals about them in June and provided training to them in August on proper procedures for spending student activity funds.

“That is a far cry from sweeping anything under the rug,” he said in a statement. Chang also sent a letter to families Friday evening informing them of the IRS findings and actions taken by the school system to fix them.

A spokesman for Bump said that under state law her office can only pursue a review if it is requested from the leadership of the municipality. The office issued the same response Tuesday when the right-leaning Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance asked her to audit the student activity accounts.

It appears unlikely that Walsh will request a review from Bump. On Thursday, he announced that he had tapped accounting firm Ernst & Young to conduct an independent audit of all student activity accounts across the school system.

“Mayor Walsh is confident we will receive the information we need to correct these issues, achieve complete transparency, and continue to earn the trust of the public we serve,” said Nicole Caravella, a spokeswoman for the mayor, on Friday.

Walsh said he is hoping to have the audit done as soon as possible, but at this point neither he nor school officials know how many accounts actually exist and how much money is in them.

In an interview, Dooley expressed disappointment that Bump won’t investigate. “That makes no sense that an independent auditing office can only do something if the group that did something wrong asks for a review,” he said. “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

The IRS, which initiated an audit of Boston finances in the summer of 2016, examined student activity accounts at 16 schools and discovered problems at three-quarters of them, including sloppy bookkeeping, missing receipts, stipends being paid under the table, and expenditures on items unrelated to student activities.

Under state and federal rules, student activity accounts can only be used on items that enhance a student’s education outside the classroom, such as field trips and student clubs. State and federal rules stress the money is for students, and not adults or the institutions. Money generated for the accounts comes from fund-raisers, unsolicited donations, or proceeds from student events, such as proms.

The IRS also uncovered problems with the city’s payroll: failing to deduct Medicare withholdings and other taxes for some groups of employees and overtaxing some employees who are not US citizens.  The findings resulted in nearly $1 million in penalties, most of it to cover back taxes for 2014 and 2015, which were the years scrutinized by the IRS. The city issued a check to the IRS on Nov. 7, which was Election Day.

Walsh said the problems with the city’s payroll, due mostly to miscoding and misinterpretation of rules, have been corrected.  But he contends the city needs to get a better handle on any other problems that may exist with the dozens of student activity accounts that were not examined by the IRS, prompting the independent audit. Walsh said most of the city’s 125 schools have student activity accounts.

 

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