Laws that allow for regionalization

There are several state laws and statutes that provide Massachusetts’ cities and towns with the authority to share or regionalize municipal services.

Intermunicipal Agreements & Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40, Section 4A

Intermunicipal agreements are the most commonly used form of contracts in regionalization projects and are often used to create mutual aid agreements, shared service agreements and agreements between municipalities and host agencies.  Intermunicipal agreements are governed by Chapter 40, Section 4A of the Massachusetts General Laws, or the “IMA law.” According to Chapter 40, Section 4A, the chief executive officer of a city or town “may, on behalf of the unit, enter into an agreement with another governmental unit to perform jointly or for that unit’s services, activities or undertakings which any of the contracting units is authorized by law to perform.” In other words, two or more municipalities may jointly do anything that a single municipality is authorized by law to do on its own.  The agreement must be approved by the city council and mayor in a city, or the board of selectmen in a town.  The law also sets forth some guidelines for municipal leaders using IMAs.  For example, an intermunicipal agreement may only be executed for a term up to twenty-five years and certain financial reporting and auditing concerns and provides limited guidance related to insurance and indemnification issues.  In addition, while a town’s board of selectmen may authorize an intermunicipal agreement, in many cases its town meeting must appropriate funding.  A town that has signed an intermunicipal agreement is liable for the agreement regardless of whether any anticipated budget appropriation to support the agreement is ultimately approved.  Local leaders must consider these issues prior to executing such an agreement and should seek legal counsel for assistance in drafting and reviewing the agreement.

The Joint Powers Act

Many states across the country have passed a joint powers act, legislation that allows two or more units of local government to jointly perform municipal services through the creation of a new regional entity. The breadth of authority granted in such statutes varies from state to state; however, all such laws allow municipalities to regionalize local services through the establishment of a new entity with the power to sue and be sued, make and execute contracts, receive and expend funds, and any other powers necessary to exercise its powers as an independent entity of government.

The Massachusetts Intermunicipal Agreement Law (IMA) does not contain specific language allowing units of local government to form new entities for the purpose of jointly providing goods or services. For this reason, many local and regional officials, as well as municipal attorneys, believe that the Massachusetts Legislature should pass a joint powers act to make it clear that cities and towns have the authority to fully consolidate any municipal service.

Special Legislation

As discussed above, municipal officials may also draft and seek approval of special legislation allowing for the creation of new regional entities. Such legislation must be introduced by a state legislator and passed by the Massachusetts Legislature.

Home rule petitions – creation of new regional entities through legislative action

The Massachusetts IMA law referenced above grants local units of government with the authority to jointly provide service but it does not specifically grant cities and towns the power to create new governmental entities.  When there are no statutes governing the consolidation of a particular municipal service, special legislation or a “home rule petition” can be pursued to obtain the authority from the Legislature.  Participating municipalities must first request the legislation by official vote of the appropriate authorities within each city or town.  The legislation must be introduced by a state legislator, enacted by the Massachusetts Legislature, and signed into law by the Governor.

Summary of MA Legislation Related to Regionalization

In 2009 the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services summarized many of the Massachusetts statutes that provide for regionalization.  While the DLS does not claim that this is an exhaustive summary, it is very comprehensive.  It has not been updated since 2009 so viewers should determine whether any of these statutes have been subsequently amended.  View the chart at http://www.mass.gov/dor/docs/dls/mdmstuf/technical-assistance/region-resource/enabling-statutes.pdf.