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Endorsement for County Commissioner: Michael Soter

October 22, 2014

180 is endorsing today in the race for Norfolk County Commissioner. Endorsements for governor and state representative will be published next week.

The race for County Commissioner has largely stayed under the radar in this year’s election, and the incumbent Commissioner on the ballot would probably prefer it that way. After all, if people knew we had a County Commission in the first place, and understood what it does, they probably would not be too happy with the incumbent’s failure to do much of anything productive or meaningful for the county’s residents. The town of Walpole pays almost $200,000 per year in a county assessment, to keep the county government running. Yet can anyone point to any tangible benefits to our town from paying that?

The County Commission, made up of three members, is the chief executive body of our county government. They oversee a $26 million budget, including the Norfolk County Agricultural School in Walpole, the Norfolk Registry of Deeds, an Engineering Department, and even a golf course.

The problem with the county government, of course, is that, in its current form, it is just an unnecessary level of government that each town in the county must pay for yet gets little out of. Most other county governments in the state have long been abolished. Even the Norfolk County Sheriff and county courts, two of the most visible county-wide functions, are funded and operated by the state, rather than by the county itself.

In 2012, the town of Brookline actually voted, through their Town Meeting, to file a home rule petition in the state legislature to secede from Norfolk County because they were paying more than $700,000 in annual county assessments, more than any other town in the county, but were getting little in return. So far, the petition has not succeeded and they are still in the county, but they are recruiting support from other county Selectmen to secede.

Bellingham Selectman Michael Soter, who is running as a Republican against incumbent five-term Commissioner Peter Collins, recognizes that Norfolk county government needs reform if we are to have it at all. Either it should provide government services at a regional level, just as county governments in most other states do, or it should not exist at all. County governments in most other parts of the country provide regional services such as Assessors, Planning, Engineering, Public Works, Personnel, and even law enforcement through county sheriffs.

This regionalization, of course, reduces the cost to cities and towns, and in turn reduces the property tax burden. If Norfolk County government is going to have an Engineering Department, for example, the cities and towns that make up the county should be able to use it to reduce the costs of running their own Engineering Departments.

Mr. Soter will advocate for efficiencies for cities and towns at the county level to ensure that towns like Walpole will get some benefit out of the money they pay to the county. He knows that regionalization is important, because he recognizes the reality of municipal budgets from his work on Bellingham’s Board of Selectmen.

During his term as Selectman, Bellingham has introduced zero-based budgeting which has produced several years in a row of budget surpluses, designed and started work on a new police station without an override, increased staffing in its police and fire departments, and all the while kept taxes and water rates low. Mr. Soter knows how to cut spending and taxes, and knows the pressures that cities and towns face. Mr. Soter also has extensive business experience, working in sales.

Due to its low visibility, the Commissioner position isn’t exactly a launchpad to higher office. So Mr. Soter isn’t running to boost his own political prospects. He just wants to see a county government that is more responsive to the needs of its 28 cities and towns.

Do you even know what your money is being used for in the county government? If you are struggling to find an answer, you know it is time for a change. Vote for Mike Soter for County Commissioner on November 4.

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