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State legislators give selectmen their annual update


SHIRLEY — Legislators representing the local district — Sen. James Eldridge and state Rep. Jennifer Benson — paid their annual visit to selectmen Monday night to update the board on the Statehouse budget process and to answer questions.

In a five-page letter, four pages of which consisted of line-item budget figures, Eldridge outlined his priorities as the state budget is discussed in the Senate.

The four top issues he’ll be advocating for are protecting local aid, including Chapter 70 (education aid) lottery, regional school transportation and special-education circuit breaker funding; maintaining funding for safety-net services, such as programs to assist at-risk children, disabled and homeless citizens, low-income families and the elderly; a fair, adequate and stable tax system to support state goals and significant infrastructure investment, including transportation, water projects, higher education, libraries and public schools.

Eldridge said he was seeking community feedback to ensure adequate funding for those items.

Most of what Eldridge came to say was laid out in the letter. Benson had more to say.

Starting off, she said she serves on different committees now than last year but still works with them all, and one of the biggest accomplishments she cited was an amendment to remove the new state local contribution (RLC) formula for public schools that upped assessments for the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District this year. As a result, the RLC was downsized by $80,000. Split between the two member towns, relief for Shirley comes to half that amount.

“I listened to what you all had to say,” she said, addressing Finance Committee members in the room, with whom she met several weeks ago to discuss the RLC problem. “It’s not in the house budget,” Benson said, and the Senate is expected to follow suit.

Prison mitigation funding, waylaid by the Department of Corrections this year, is another big deal for Shirley, as well as other towns in her district, Benson said, and she’s been working to restore it.

The effort succeeded at the House level, but even if the Senate supports it, the governor’s mid-year budget cuts can still derail the funding, which goes to communities that host correctional facilities via prior agreements with the state. Traditionally, that line item loses out to DOC budget constraints, she explained.

Finance Committee member Mike Swanton asked if the state could cut a check earlier to avoid mid-year cuts, while Selectmen Chairman David Swain sought to have payments made direct to the town, bypassing the DOC.

Benson didn’t seem too hopeful about changing the route MCI funding takes, but said she’s seeking “help in a campaign to protect that money” and a sit-down with the governor, when grass-roots clout might make a big difference.

In general, the two lawmakers agreed when Swain posited that the state is better off this year financially and should give some of that money back to the cities and towns.

Benson said that could happen when a supplemental budget is framed and, in the meantime, some items previously cut such as regional school transportation aid, Chapter 90 highway funding and special-education circuit-breaker funding will be restored.

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