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Brookline pushes other towns to secede from Norfolk County

Brookline officials are seeking other municipalities to join them in an attempt to secede from Norfolk County, despite objections by the county government.

Selectmen unanimously approved a resolution last week saying that the town is committed to pursue withdrawing from Norfolk County, or supporting changes that will eliminate inequitable county assessments.

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Brookline will send the resolution to the executive officers of the 27 other municipalities in Norfolk County asking them to sign on.

“I think it drives home the point we’re trying to make about the county,” said Selectman Ken Goldstein.

But officials in Needham and Franklin do not see the need to leave the county. And Norfolk County’s director, Dan Matthews, said the regional entity disagrees with Brookline’s efforts to secede.

He said the biggest service the county provides to its communities, including Brookline, is the management of postemployment benefits for employees. The cost of those benefits, mostly retiree health insurance, is also the county’s biggest expense.

Matthews said the county cannot agree with Brookline’s proposal to withdraw “because that basically means walking away from those liabilities and passing them on to the other towns.”

The Brookline resolution is the latest effort by the town to rid itself of more than $700,000 in taxes it pays to the county each year, based on property value assessments. Brookline pays the highest assessment in Norfolk County, but town officials say it makes little use of services offered by the county.

Brookline has already filed a home-rule petition with the Legislature seeking to secede from Norfolk County, after Town Meeting authorized the move last May. Now the town is asking other communities that feel burdened by county taxes to join them.

In addition to the resolution, information supporting the move will also be sent to the county’s other communities, Brookline Town Administrator Melvin Kleckner said.

Most county governments in Massachusetts were dissolved in the 1990s, and as a result most communities, such as those in Middlesex County, do not pay county taxes.

Brookline officials, including Goldstein, have said it is an inequity that the state and Norfolk County need to address, and there are some efforts underway in the state Legislature to solve the problem.

One proposal would allow Norfolk County to keep more revenue generated by its Registry of Deeds to offset the need for property-assessment taxes from the communities. Most of the money generated by the Registry of Deeds, from fees related to real estate transactions, now goes to the state.

Matthews said county officials agree with Brookline that the current funding system overly relies on the county assessment.

But Matthews said it is a matter of state law, and he believes the proposed legislation to provide more revenue to the county would be a good fix.

But even under the current system, some elected officials said, they have seen no reason to pull out of Norfolk County.

Needham Selectman Moe Handel said Brookline’s desire to withdraw from the county is well known, and his town’s officials would discuss any formal resolution it receives from Brookline selectmen.

However, he also noted Needham uses a number of services provided by the county, such as traffic-counting equipment and mosquito-control measures.

“I don’t see any desire in Needham to dissociate with the county,” Handel said.

Bob Vallee, chairman of Franklin’s Town Council, said he has never sensed any dissatisfaction with Norfolk County in his 28 years on the board.

“We have no reason to pull out of Norfolk County,” Vallee said.

Brock Parker can be reached at Brock.globe@gmail.com.
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