Timilty Bill Supporting Public Safety Buildings Wins Strong Support From First Responders at State House Hearing
(Boston, MA) – State Senator Walter F. Timilty (D-Milton), Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, testified Wednesday [09/13/23] on a bill he filed that will create the Massachusetts Public Safety Building Authority. The bill would reform the process of funding capital improvement projects here in the Commonwealth.
“Across the Commonwealth, buildings that house our first responders and critical public safety equipment have become dilapidated, unhealthy, and unsafe. Subsequently, there is no single authority to where our local municipalities can turn, to advocate for state funding in order to improve, repair, or replace these crucial buildings,” said Timilty.
Testifying in favor of Timilty’s bill were Southbridge Fire Chief Paul Normandin, Chief Bill Scoble (retired) from the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, Auburn Fire Chief Steven Coleman, Brockton Fire Chief Brian Nardelli, Westborough Fire Chief Patrick Purcell, Stoughton Fire Chief Mike Carroll, Foxboro Fire Chief Mike Kelleher, Randolph Fire Chief Ronald Cassford, Easton Town Administrator Connor Read, and Town of Bridgewater Town Manager Mike Dutton.
The legislation, Bill S.2125, An Act relative to the creation of the Massachusetts Board of Public Safety Building Authority, will create an authority that would be comprised of both public and private entities. Timilty testified before the committee he chairs, seeking a favorable report.
The Massachusetts Public Safety Building Authority will mirror the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Specifically, it would be overseen and chaired by the Massachusetts State Treasurer, and include the Secretary of Administration and Finance, along with the Secretary of Public Safety and Security.
“Municipalities across the Senate District that I proudly serve, and communities across the Commonwealth are facing a serious pressing challenge – the construction and maintenance of public safety buildings and Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) that are aging out,” Timilty said.
“Unlike school buildings and libraries, which benefit from dedicated building authorities like the Massachusetts School Building Authority and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, there is no such support system for public safety infrastructure. This gap places a significant burden on municipalities and taxpayers, particularly those with limited resources,” added Timilty.
The Timilty Bill, S.1599, addresses this critical issue by establishing the Public Safety Building Authority (PSBA) as a state agency. The PSBA will be funded through a portion of the state sales tax and will provide grants to municipalities for the construction or renovation of public safety buildings and EOCs. These grants will be distributed based on competitive criteria, including project need, cost, and the financial capacity of the municipality.
Benefits of the PSBA:
Widespread Need Across the Commonwealth: The need for the PSBA is widespread and evident throughout Massachusetts. The State Auditor’s 2021 report on public infrastructure in Western Massachusetts highlighted and recommended the urgent need for the creation of a Municipal and Public Safety Building Authority. Findings make it clear this issue impacts both urban and rural communities alike.
Economic Stimulus and Efficiency: The creation of the PSBA would provide a direct economic stimulus, enhancing local economic productivity and efficiency. Failing to invest in infrastructure, as indicated by the American Society of Civil Engineers, could cost the national economy trillions of dollars. By addressing this need, the PSBA promotes economic growth and stability within Massachusetts.
Funding Model Success: The PSBA’s funding model, similar to MSBA, demonstrates a proven track record of success. This dedicated revenue stream, derived from a portion of the sales tax, has consistently supported educational infrastructure, showing its potential to effectively fund public safety buildings.
Critical Infrastructure Deficits: The 2021 State Auditor’s report on Western Massachusetts public safety buildings reveals the alarming state of these facilities:
- 29% of fire stations are in poor or very poor condition.
- 27% of police stations are in poor or very poor condition.
- 25% of emergency communication centers are in poor or very poor condition.
- These structures face issues such as being grossly undersized, energy-inefficient, and incapable of supporting modern public safety programming.
Expert Assistance, Regionalization, and Building Trades: The proposed agency under S.1599 would not only fund new construction but also support substantial repairs and improvements. Additionally, it could offer planning and engineering expertise to local communities, encouraging fair geographic dispersion of resources and regionalization of facilities. This initiative would also work closely with building trades to ensure the highest quality construction and renovation, creating jobs and fostering the growth of skilled labor within our communities.
Clean Energy and Green Building Standards: The PSBA could incorporate the use of clean energy sources and promote uniform green building standards. This ensures that public safety buildings align with environmental goals and sets an example for sustainable infrastructure across the state.
Cost Savings and Infrastructure Investment: The bill provides a dedicated source of funding, streamlining the planning and financing process for municipalities. Timely payments through the PSBA could save municipalities millions in avoided local interest costs, as experienced with MSBA’s efficient funding process.
Expert Assistance and Regionalization: The PSBA would not only fund new construction but also support substantial repairs and improvements. Additionally, it could offer planning and engineering expertise to local communities, encouraging fair geographic dispersion of resources.
Safety, Economic Development, and Public Well-being: Well-maintained public safety buildings are essential for the safety of residents and businesses. They also play a pivotal role in promoting economic development and overall public well-being. S.1599, will address a pressing need across the Commonwealth by establishing the Public Safety Building Authority. This initiative provides a sound and efficient framework to ensure the proper funding, maintenance, and development of public safety infrastructure. It not only enhances safety and quality of life, but it also stimulates economic growth and efficiency, contributing to a stronger and more resilient state.
“This bill will reform the process for funding capital improvement projects in the Commonwealth’s fire and police stations, which, quite frankly, are falling apart,” Timilty added. “So many stations, within the district that I serve, were built more than 100 years ago. Equipment and health concerns have radically changed since then.”
In addition, many police stations continue to operate well past their planned lifespans. Changes in technology, current building code requirements, security issues, as well as outdated building systems, such as heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and electrical, all require significant expenditures to update.
Many existing public safety structures are believed to have a life span of between 20-50 years. This bill will allow towns to help prepare for these inevitable new or renovation projects for their facilities.
“The aging stations do not fit in the 21st century of public safety, and in some cases, were built to fit horse-drawn wagons,” said Timilty.
Carcinogen exposure is at the forefront of many fire station improvements. Firefighters go out on a fire call where they spend hours immersed in toxic chemicals, which seep into their protective gear, trucks, and equipment. Then, they bring this contaminated gear back to the station where it off-gases into the air and onto the surfaces where firefighters eat, sleep, live, and work.
As towns consider building new fire stations, the designs will include larger spaces, as well as equipment decontamination spaces to mitigate exposure to toxins.
“Our first responders deserve first-class equipment and facilities to perform what they do best, protecting the lives of every one of us, every day. Quite simply, this authority will serve as a mechanism for local municipalities to advocate and apply for state funding to improve their facilities,” Timilty said.
“Should this legislation be adopted, it would allow for our local town officials to reach out to this authority to help navigate through the process of securing these monies. This is sound legislation that will lead to better governance here in the Commonwealth,” Timilty stated.
Timilty’s bill can be found here at this link: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/193/S1599.