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Mitchell signals interest in curbing mandates.

The "devolution" of responsibilities by the federal government onto the backs of cities and towns is "very dispiriting - not just to me, but to our constituents," Portland, Maine Mayor Ann Pringle told Senate Majority Leader George Mithell (D-Maine).

In response, Mitchell invited municipal leaders to work through the National League of Cities to provide him with recommendations on how to reduce the burden and inflexibility of existing mandates and said he would immediately call the White House to insure that NLC is at the table as the administration drafts an executive order on federal regulations affecting state and local governments.

Pringle made her remarks at a special meeting on unfunded federal mandates in Mitchell's district office in Portland last week. She requested Mitchell's leadership in joining with city and town leaders to break the vicious cycle and make government work better and more affordably for all citizens.

Mitchell noted that Congress and municipal elected officials serve the same constituents, so that constructive engagement is critical to addressing complex health and safety issues, rather than jurisdictional and defensive strugles between different levels of government.

Michael McGovern, President of the Maine Municipal Association and Town Manager of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, opened the meeting by thanking the Majority Leader for agreeing to follow up on earlier concerns expressed by Maine's municipal leadership about the impact of federal mandates on local dollars, taxes, and local control. McGovern cited specific examples of provisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act which have impacted the citizens of Cape Elizabeth, driven up local taxes and fees, and cut into the town's ability to provide the public services, such as police and fire, most sought after by citizens and taxpayers.

Chris Lackwood, the Executive Director of the Maine Municipal Association, expressed appreciation for Mitchell's willingness to meet to follow up specific concerns about the cost of unfunded federal mandates raised by Maine municipal leaders at the Congressional City Conference with Mitchell in Washington last March. Lockwood noted that personnel and environmental rules imposed by the federal government without any input from or participation by local officials at a time of severe fiscal stress or local governments made for unworkable, inflexible requirements that ill-serve the nation's citizens:

"Our responsibility is to offer specific proposals to reduce the cost and burden of federal mandates, and we pledge, working through NLC, to do that."

Lockwood told the Senator that the Town of Bar Harbor, for instance, was spending $90,000 more annually for emergency response in order to come into compliance with federal safety standards, but those standards were not only providing no additional response capacity, but also were cutting into the town's overall safety budget - a high priority to local taxpayers.

Maine Municipal Association Vice President David Cole, City Manager of Old Town, told Mitchell that the EMT drivers in his community were suing the city under the FISA for time-and-a-half overtime pay for training courses mandated by the State of Maine. His city had received two, independent legal opinions from outside law firms supporting the city's position, but neither firm could provide assurances the city would prevail in federal court, in effect guaranteeing thousands of dollars of associated costs to the city no matter what the outcome because of the uncertainty of the federal FLSA.

Cole joined Lockwood in noting the absurdity of a rigid federal law and regulations limiting the ability of municipal employees to volunteer to help a city or town out because of the potential FLSA liability to such a municipality.

Bob Mulready, City Administration of Lewiston and an NLC representative on an EPA advisory task force, told Mitchell that Lewiston's budget is smaller than it was three years ago, but a greater and greater portion of it is now forced to go to pay for federal mandates:

"This means, each year, we have less local control and less choice about serving our citizens, and we are forced to dedicate more and more local tax dollars to meet federal mandates."

Mulready provided specific examples of some of the costs of compliance with provisions in the Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, and Solid Waste laws that impose harsh burdens on Lewiston's citizens while providing little protection to their health, reminding Mitchell of the specific data on mandated costs assembled by his city.

But Mulready noted that the Clean Water bill proposed by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mon) and Ranking Republican John Chafee R-R.I.), S1114 - on which NLC President Don Fraser testified last month, would provide significant and positive changes for cities and urged Mitchell's leadership is assuring the earliest possible action in the Congress.

Mitchell responded, saying:

"Bob's comments reflect the impact of input I have received from you."

He assured the leadership group that he would be pushing the bill when Congress returns next month and hinted there might be further positive surprises for cities and towns. In addition, he said, in recognition of the costs, he specifically intended to seek additional funds - both for compliance with the Clean Water mandates and to help pay for a more workable and flexible Safe Drinking Water program:

"We would have to be dense not to be aware of your concerns," he said.

Crispin Connery, selectman of Woolwich, and Candy Guerette, Town Manager of Orrington, members of the Maine Municipal Association Executive Committee, rounded out the leadership team pledged to work with Mitchell and NLC to build a more constructive relationship.
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Title Annotation:Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell
Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 16, 1993
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