Members of the US House of Representatives on Friday reached a tentative compromise on a flood-insurance bill that would benefit thousands of South Shore homeowners, and floor vote is expected in early March, two Massachusetts legislators said.
“We made great progress this week,” said US Representative Stephen Lynch, a South Boston Democrat. “It’s how Congress is supposed to work. We had a proposal on the Republican side that had some gaps in it, we felt, but we went back to them with a counter proposal and a request for some time.”
“The plan should be coming out soon and floor action could be as early as next Tuesday,” US Representative William Keating, a Bourne Democrat, said in a statement.
Lawmakers had planned to vote on Wednesday or Thursday of this week, but the vote was postponed as Democratic groups worked through several amendments.
Though the House version looks very different than the one approved in the Senate in late January, Lynch said he is acting in lock step with US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
“We would not be signing off on something that we felt our Senate colleagues would be opposed to or offended by,” Lynch said.
The bill looks to augment the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which imposed high flood-insurance premiums for anyone in a flood zone. Legislators said the act was intended to better reflect the cost of coastal flooding and to make the National Flood Insurance Program solvent.
Biggert-Waters was coupled with new Federal Emergency Management Agency maps that expanded the flood zone and raised projected flood levels. The result sharply increased insurance rates for thousands of coastal homeowners in Massachusetts.
Even the owners of some homes miles from the coast saw steep increases in their premiums.
State and federal legislators have since taken up the mantle to effect changes to the law.
Though House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, initially said he would not take up a relief bill, an augmented proposal was brought to the floor in late February.
Lynch didn’t have all the specifics of the revised proposal, but said gaps that excluded some homeowners or business owners has been closed.
The structuring of rate increases was also revised.
Previously, legislators sought to have FEMA take the average of rate increases for a group of homes believed to be at the same risk. That average increase could be no lower than 5 percent, and no higher than 15 percent.
“That was very difficult for us to envision,” Lynch said. “We couldn’t predict what the increases would be, and that’s one of the problems. We proposed a per-policy or per-home increase when we’re trying to gauge what the increases might be.”
Increase limits were kept at a maximum of 15 percent annually; however, the five percent floor limit is still under discussion, Lynch said.
One of the larger changes also includes a provision requiring notification to Congress of potential map changes 60 days before maps are made public.
Lynch said that would allow representatives to walk constituents through changes and also give residents an opportunity for a meaningful appeal of maps.
“In some of my cases, they redrew the maps before they indicated there would be any increase,” Lynch said. “People were sitting back. There was no impetus to file an appeal. It didn’t indicate that rates were going up dramatically. When they did the rate piece, their opportunity for appeal had expired. We have to be better at this in terms of giving people their full rights under the statute.”
Such a problem occurred in Hingham, which voted to file a map appeal Thursday night though the town already voted the new maps into effect two years ago.
Keating added in a phone interview that draft language seeks to give communities a time period where they can check the accuracy of the maps without going through an appeal.
"The major part of the problem was the mapping process. [The bill] will allow the communities to have a period where they can look at the maps and have a period to react to that," Keating said. "They won't have to go through an expensive appeals process unnecessarily."
Grandfathering would also be added back in, Keating said.
Keating noted that the draft language could change even overnight, and nothing was solidified until the bill was in a complete form.
If the full House approves a bill that differs from the Senate’s, the two bills would go to conference committee to iron out the differences. Both chambers would then vote the bill up or down to be sent to the president.
Hingham officials say they have pared back a proposed noise ordinance that earlier caused an outcry among Hingham residents.
The revised ordinance removes any mention of decibel levels, but keeps proposed fines of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $300 for a third and subsequent offenses. Certain activities, such as construction or landscaping, or use of power tools and dumpsters would be prohibited at certain times.
“The public commentary was such, that taking a pragmatic view, we didn’t think the continued inclusion of the objective decibel provision made sense politically,” said Dennis King, a member of the Noise Bylaw Study Committee. "…There was a point of resistance that we didn’t think it made sense to pursue."
King said the biggest concerns about the original proposal was that community policing would change, which wasn’t the bylaw’s intent. As a result, clarifying language was added that the standards for issuing noise complaints are the same as they were before.
Instead of objective decibel levels, police will continue to be guided by the subjective standard of prohibiting noise that "disburbed the peace."
Under the new ordinance, however. Hingham police would no longer have to place someone under arrest for “disturbing the peace,” but could issue a citation accompanied by a fine, King said.
“You will not be cited criminally and will be cited civilly if you do breach the peace,” King said.
Hingham Police Chief Michael Peraino said he’s happy to finally have a bylaw that enables his officers to deal with noise complaints in a practical manner.
“Three weeks ago we had an incident with a contractor…we will finally have a time period. It’s right there in a bylaw that you can't start before 7 a.m., dumpsters can’t be emptying. So when people call and complain…we can act on it.”
The new ordinance still requires approval from selectmen, who said they will take a vote when they open the Town Meeting warrant at a meeting next week.
The Advisory Committee will also have to vote on the recommendation, though final approval will go to a Town Meeting vote.
Bylaw Committee members have been working through bylaw language since October, analyzing other communities’ noise restrictions and discussing how Hingham might adopt a policy.
A draft presented to selectmen in early January was received with alarm, as residents expressed concerns that the proposed decibel limits would prevent them from doing everyday outdoor activities.
The Hingham Sports Partnership also took a stance against the bylaw, fearing that outdoor sports activities would suddenly become restricted.
The bylaw still lists several exceptions even to its subjective criteria. Law enforcement and public safety vehicles, PA systems at sanctioned events, events that receive the support of town boards, permitted events, parades, religious bells or chimes, snow- removal operations, permitted construction activity, and public transportation all can operate in excess of the bylaw's standards.
The bylaw would restrict construction and landscaping from 7 p.m. to 6:59 a.m. or 7:59 a.m. on weekends; use of power tools from 8 p.m. to 7:59 a.m.; and the emptying of dumpsters from 8 p.m. to 6:59 a.m. on weekdays and 7:59 a.m. on weekends. Time guidelines were modified only slightly from the original proposal.
Loud engine-braking devices are not permitted at any time except for vehicles on Route 3 and if they are required for safety.
This week's meeting was much calmer than previous discussions over the bylaw, which King joked was akin to angry townspeople with pitchforks and torches.
The one resident who did speak at the meeting said he supported the changes.
“I thought it was a joke to begin with,” said John Hersey. “I’m glad to see the outcome is what it is today.”
Hiigh-speed chase through three towns
A 55-year-old woman from Hingham was arrested on Feb. 21 after allegedly driving under the influence and leading police on a high-speed chase through Scituate, Cohasset and Hingham.
Police said an officer was doing a routine patrol of Scituate streets when he saw a light-colored Subaru in the middle of the Route 3A rotary with its hazard lights flashing.
The officer approached the driver’s side door and asked if the car was broken down or if the woman needed help. Police said the driver, Kimberly S. Davis, did not respond to the officer, and instead put the vehicle into "drive" and drove off.
“I then jumped backwards to avoid being run over by the motor vehicle,” Officer Taylor Billings said in his report. “I then observed Davis run over the traffic island and then bounce over to the other side of the road and drive over the sidewalk (which is elevated very high) and proceed onto Route 3A northbound.”
The officer said he tried to catch up with the vehicle but couldn’t. He radioed to dispatch the vehicle description and a license plate number.
An officer in the area said he had spotted the vehicle and tried to pull the car over, but the driver wouldn’t stop.
Scituate Police notified Cohasset police as the vehicle continued north on Route 3A, followed by several police cars.
“Several motor vehicle violations were committed in our town as well as speeds in excess of 100+ mph/posted 50 mph,” officers said in the report.
Once the suspect crossed into Cohasset, two Cohasset cruisers were waiting at the town line. Police said more violations occurred in Cohasset and kept going into Hingham.
The car was eventually stopped in Hingham, with Hingham Police deploying “spike strips” to flatten the vehicle’s front tires. The vehicle ultimately came to a stop in the middle of the roadway at the intersection of Fottler Road and Beal Street.
Hingham police took the suspect into custody. One Hingham officer said there was an open, half-empty bottle of Malbec wine on the center console.
Scituate police gained custody of the suspect and had a tow truck bring the suspect’s car back to Scituate.
Police said the suspect failed sobriety tests at Scituate Police Station.
Davis was charged with a marked lanes violation, speeding, operating under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, driving with an open container of alcohol, failure to stop for police, and assault with a dangerous weapon (motor vehicle).
She will face charges in Cohasset and Hingham, police said.
Man arrested for alleged assault with gun
A 37-year-old Scituate man was charged with assault after allegedly attacking his roommate with a gun.
Police said a man walked into the Scituate Police Department lobby at 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 21 bleeding from his face and arms.
The victim said his roommate and he had been drinking heavily, and eventually the victim went to bed. At some point, the victim heard the suspect calling his wife names and screaming at her.
According to police, the victim said he went downstairs to ask the suspect to be quiet and discovered the suspect holding a knife in a threatening manner.
The victim told police he feared for his life so he retrieved a Mossberg Pump Action Shotgun from his room and went down the stairs.
The victim and suspect started to struggle and the suspect was able to overpower the victim and grab hold of the shotgun. Police said the victim reported he was then struck in the head with the butt end of the shotgun.
The victim said he ran away from the suspect and to his car, driving to the Scituate Police Department.
The victim said though the gun wasn’t loaded, the suspect might know where the ammunition was.
Several officers subsequently went to the Clifton Avenue house, with one officer calling the house telephone to speak with the woman. Police said the suspect answered and would not put the woman on the phone.
Police said they forced their way into the house with guns drawn as they feared for the second victim’s safety.
The suspect was arrested and taken into custody. Police found the shotgun under several pillows on a couch.
According to police, the suspect was uncooperative and combative. He was later transported to South Shore Hospital after screaming that he was ill and needed medical assistance, police said.
Adam J. Coty, 37, from Scituate was charged with assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on someone over the age of 60, and two counts of carrying a dangerous weapon (the knife and the gun).
A 21-year-old Hingham woman was arrested Thursday and charged with reckless endangerment to a child after she allegedly left her 2 1/2-month-old infant in the car while drinking in a restaurant.
Hingham police said officers were dispatched to Stars on Hingham Harbor, a restaurant on Otis Street, at 9:48 a.m. after receiving a call from a customer.
The caller, an off-duty Boston police detective, told police he saw the woman sitting at the bar drinking with an infant. The woman ordered another drink, but the bartender refused to serve it to her, the caller said.
Police said the woman then walked out with the infant. She came back 10 minutes later without the baby and was again refused another drink, police said.
Police said the off-duty detective met officers in the parking lot at the woman’s car. The car wasn’t running and was locked. The officers could see a fleece blanket covering a child seat in the back seat, police said.
The woman approached the officers and said it was her car. Officers asked for the woman's keys and checked on the infant, who was awake and appeared to be in good condition. Police said the infant had probably been alone in the car for about 20 minutes.
Officers said the mother smelled of alcohol and her eyes were red, glassy, and bloodshot. Police said she questioned why officers were there, and became loud and combative as officers tried to obtain information. She was placed under arrest.
Hingham Fire Department paramedics were called to evaluate the infant, and they took the child to South Shore Hospital for examination. The state Department of Children and Families responded to the hospital, and police said they have filed paperwork with the agency on behalf of the infant.
Police did not release the name of the woman to protect the identity of the infant. She was charged with reckless endangerment to a child and disturbing the peace, and her car was towed from the scene.
The infant was picked up from the hospital by its father and DCF escorted them back to their house to ensure it was fit for the child’s care, Hingham Police Chief Michael Peraino said.
The parents live with the mother’s grandmother in Hingham, Peraino said.
The woman was taken to Hingham District Court for arraignment. The woman was released on $500 cash bail and is due to return to court on March 3.
A Rockland man not only won the lottery Thursday morning, but also used the winning ticket to help him avoid a speeding ticket in Hingham.
According to Hingham police Sergeant Steven Dearth, a man was driving on Sharp Street around 11 a.m. when he was pulled over for going 49 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone.
“[The officer] stopped the car, and when he walked up to the car he could see the driver was shaking … at first he didn’t know what was the issue,” Dearth said.
The driver told the officer he had just won the lottery for $50,000, and was on his way to Braintree to cash the ticket, Dearth said.
The officer was skeptical, Dearth said, until the driver showed him the winning ticket.
Lottery officials couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday evening. WCVB reported that 22-year-old Scott Lowe from Rockland had won $50,000 on a $2 scratch he purchased in Hanover. He did go to Braintree and cashed the ticket, the TV station said.
Dearth said the officer never asked for the driver's license, but gave him a spoken warning and cautioned him about getting to Braintree safely.
“He said, ‘You've got to get there slow, otherwise you won’t be able to use your winnings’,” Dearth said.
A four-year legal battle between developer Thomas Hastings and the Town of Hingham appears to have reached its end, with town officials saying a judge has dismissed the latest appeal.
“We’re thankful to have this matter behind us,” said Selectmen Chairman Bruce Rabuffo in a statement. “We were confident in our position and that position has been strongly supported by both courts’ decisions in the case.”
Neither of Hastings’ attorneys was immediately available for comment.
In the ruling, released on Dec. 10, an appeals court judge upheld a 2011 Superior Court determination that favored the town.
In a phone interview, Hingham Town Administrator Ted Alexiades said the town waited until the appeal period to the latest ruling expired before releasing news of the decision.
TH Claims, formed by Hastings to consolidate his claims against Hingham, initially alleged in 2010 that a slew of town officials, boards, and residents had acted unfairly and in a biased manner against several of his projects, including those at the Harbor Dream development, with boat slips in Hingham Harbor, and at BackRiver development.
The $10 million lawsuit and allegations of breaches of contract and fraud were dismissed a year later. In a 29-page decision, the judge said the claims were not made in a timely manner.
Hastings appealed the ruling to Appeals Court shortly thereafter. Despite Hastings’ confidence at the time of the appeal that a judge would rule in his favor, a judge recently sided with the town.
In the most recent decision, court officials reiterated that more than half of the 39 counts against the town were dismissed because of the statute of limitations.
For several of the projects, problems should have initially been taken up with the Conservation Commission that issued disputed orders. In others, appeals should have been made under the town’s Zoning Act, court officials said.
Allegations that town boards purposely interfered with contractual agreements were also dismissed.
“If the town defendants decide to take discretionary action to enforce zoning bylaws, wetlands protection laws, or licensing standards, they are acting in a regulatory (not a proprietary) capacity,” court officials said.
On an individual basis, court officials said there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that town officers and employees interfered with contractual relations, or that fraud existed.
“TH failed to alleged facts plausibly showing actual malice,” the document stated.
Officials also dismissed tax-abatement claims as having skipped administrative remedies within the town, and said civil rights allegations don’t meet the standard for claims.
“What that means, and what is most satisfying about the decision, is that the court reaffirmed the lower court’s ruling that this case must be dismissed in its entirety,” Alexiades said in a statement.
In the interview, Alexiades said, "It’s a shame this case dragged on as long as it did, not just for the town but for all of the 18 individuals named in some capacity as defendants who were simply fulfilling their civic responsibility, just doing their jobs."
Hingham Police are asking locals to be on the lookout for a man who had been to Derby Street Shoppes, but not because he’s suspected of a crime, but because he left behind an envelope of cash.
Hingham Police said the man entered White’s Bakery inside the Derby Street Shoppes on Friday at 3:11 p.m. The man walked in, picked out item to purchase, and while at the counter removed a folded envelope from his pocket.
Police said in the course of talking with the clerk and pointing out his intended purchase, he left the envelope on the display counter. Police said he did not discuss the envelope or money with the clerk, and paid for his items and then left.
Police said the man had walked toward the Apple Store and out of sight when another clerk saw the envelope and picked it up. Seeing it was full of cash, she turned the envelope over to the manager for safekeeping.
Police said no one came back to the bakery to claim the money, and so the bakery contacted the police. Hingham Police said it has had no inquiries about the cash.
Police described the man as white, with thick, dark hair. He is 40-50 years old, and was wearing dark pants, a dark jacket, and tan boots or shoes.
Police said the envelope had no writing or markings on it, and contains a large amount of cash.
“We are hoping to return the money to the man if it was accidentally left behind,” Police said in a release. “If you recognize the man in the video, please have him contact the Hingham Police.”
Those with knowledge of the person should call Officer Eric Chessler at 781-749-1212.
As Hingham prepares to demolish the Middle School, officials say they plan to sell or donate the six-year-old modular units to another entity or town.
School Committee members on Monday voted to declare the units as “surplus,” a step that allows members to start the process of getting rid of them.
“We’re just beginning the process. This was step one that opens up a number of options,” said School Committee Chairman Ray Estes.
The units will either be sold through a Request for Proposal process to an outside company, or be given to another municipality. Several towns have expressed an interest, Estes said.
Estes said the value of the units, which fit together like a puzzle to create five classrooms, is hard to tell.
“In terms of an intrinsic value, they don’t have the same value that we paid for them six years ago,” Estes said. “They certainly have significant value that they allowed us to get from 2008 to now in a much better situation than would have been without them, but it’s hard to put a dollar value on them.”
Hingham school officials purchased the modular classrooms in 2008 for $700,000 as part of a temporary solution to a growing student population and an aging facility.
The $58.5 million school now being built next door, will provide the long-term solution residents have been looking for.
The school is in the final stretch of construction and will be substantially complete by March. Meanwhile, demolition plans are under way.
The units cannot stand by themselves, Estes said. The cost might be as little as whatever it would take to decommission and remove the units from the site, but that would still be tens of thousands of dollars, he said.
Hingham school officials say that even after shaving a quarter-million dollars off the proposed budget for next fiscal year, they may be asked to cut more.
School Committee members voted on the reduced budget at their meeting Monday night, bringing the proposed budget from $43.89 million to $43.64 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
While the proposed number is still higher than intended - officials say they were aiming at a 4 percent budget increase rather than 4.3 percent over the fiscal 2014 budget - officials say the proposal is an improvement.
“We’re not insensitive to the concerns of folks [about] increased budgets. We certainly understand the need to prioritize and we think we’ve done that,” said School Committee Chairman Ray Estes. “What we’ve presented and voted on is a responsible budget.”
The Advisory Committee will look at the budget along with selectmen and vote on the proposal in upcoming weeks. Estes said there is a possibility that school officials will be asked to reduce the numbers further.
“It depends how the numbers fall with the rest of the budgets,” he said.
Estes said cuts to the proposed budget came in the form of personnel changes – factoring in new extended leaves of absence, retirements, and resignations.
Better pricing through the South Shore Collaborative on natural gas pricing, changes to a fire alarm-monitoring program that the town has delayed a year, and revenues from revolving accounts also helped offset some newly proposed increases.
New staffing needs were also prioritized. High school clubs that were not well established weren’t given requested advisory stipends, and half of a kindergarten position was left unfunded under the assumption that the attendance numbers won’t require it.
A new maintenance position was left off the table as well.
The budget retains many newer additions, including teachers, councilors, and support staff; increased support hours for language labs and tutor hours; more technology professional development; and more custodians to deal with the new Middle School.
Though those positions have not been funded in previous budgets, Estes said they should not be considered new initiatives.
“It may be justified – increase enrollment, increased demographics, the varied needs of kids. In order to keep up with that, sometimes you need to add staffing,” Estes said. “But we still ultimately voted last night [a budget that] was over a quarter-million reduced from what had been proposed just two weeks ago.”
Members initially anticipated a lower budget number by cutting some new adjustment councilor positions, but decided against it during their Monday meeting.
In 2009, each of the four elementary schools had an adjustment councilor, but budgetary problems forced the school to cut two of the positions.
Estes said the need for the councilors has only increased since then, not only due to an increase in student enrollment, but also an increase of students requiring services and a greater complexity to emotional and social issues facing students.
“We find ourselves not able to keep up with the level of services we think these kids need,” Estes said. “Last night at our meeting, one of our adjustment councilors made an impassioned plea, and it was well received.”
Estes said in its totality, the budget is “needs-based,” and looked at areas of enrollment, student services, and building and maintenance needs.
The budget increase would be greater than this year -- the budget went up 3.13 percent from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2014.
Though the budgetary increase may be higher than last year and higher than other departments, Estes said the School Department should be looked at and handled differently. Administrators oversee thousands of employees and students, 10 buildings, a fleet of trucks and buses, and utility costs.
“We’ve tried to get folks to look at us differently and understand the complexity in our budget,” Estes said.
An independent credit rating agency has given Hingham high marks in money management, saying the town is doing well and being managed wisely.
In a Standard & Poor’s Rating review, posted to the town’s website, analysts affirmed Hingham’s AAA credit rating, the highest rating possible, and said that rating was likely to remain for the next two years.
“The stable outlook reflects our opinion of Hingham’s very strong budgetary flexibility and liquidity, supported by good financial management policies, as well as a very strong underlying economy,” analysts wrote in the report.
For the average taxpayer, the report should come as good news, said Town Administrator Ted Alexiades.
“S&P thinks the town of Hingham is extremely well run and in a strong financial position, capable of meeting its ongoing obligations and providing a quality level of public services,” Alexiades said.
Additionally, taxpayers have paid less on projects the town borrows money for, thanks to Hingham's low interest rates tied to good credit. Last year, some debt issued with interest rates as low as .19 percent.
“These days, people are looking for safety and security, and they know if they buy debt from Hingham, they are getting an instrument of quality,” Alexiades said.
Part of the high rating stems from Hingham’s demographics – unemployment is low, and assessed value has remained steady at $5.5 billion.
The report also cites many management practices as the reason for the strong financial outlook. The town keeps at least 16 percent of its budget in reserves, and has a strong liquidity.
The percent of debt to the town’s budget is also manageable at 7 percent.
“We view the town’s management conditions as strong, with good policies that exist in most key areas although not all might be formalized or regularly monitored by governance officials,” analysts said.
Alexiades said the success stems from a fiscally conservative approach when working with the budget. More recently, officials have focused on unpaid liabilities, such as pension costs and Other Post Employment Benefits, often referred to as “OPEB”.
“It’s not just pushing things off to be dealt with by … another generation,” he said.
Though the report mentions those costs as being a potential pitfall, Alexiades said Hingham was way ahead of other towns in grappling with the liabilities. Future budgets also factor in appropriations for those needs, Alexiades said.
“We have a long way to go, but if you stack us up to our peers, we’re heads and shoulders above any community in the commonwealth by starting this [earlier] and moving forward with this,” Alexiades said.
To read the full report, click here.