Brookline considers secession

Wicked Local Brookline reports town leaders are tired of paying assessments to the county for services it doesn't use, such as road surveying.

In addition to saving the town money, the move, which would require approval by the state legislature, would remove a geographical oddity - Brookline is one of two towns in Norfolk County that are isolated from the rest of the county (quick, can you name the other?).



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      Best quote

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      “We are paying for services we do not use in the face of 70 percent of Massachusetts resident are not,” she said. “That makes no sense.”

      I agree. That sentence doesn't make any sense at all.


      is the other one. Also in Norfolk Cty I believe (without google)


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      Cohasset is the other isolated part of Norfolk County. It is indeed an oddity since it's always been separated from the rest of the county.

      Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park, and West Roxbury (including Jamaica Plain and Roslindale) all used to be part of Norfolk County until they were annexed into Boston and became part of Suffolk County.

      Well apparently it wasn't always isolated

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      This state website claims otherwise although it was still only attached for a brief period. When Norfolk County was first created in 1793, Hull and Hingham were a part of it, but for whatever reason they jumped over to Plymouth County a mere ten years later. Not as dramatic a story as the annexation of Roxbury and Dorchester, of course.

      Hull and Hingham

      Folks in Hull and Hingham probably found it easier to get to the county seat in Plymouth by water to transact government business than to get to the county seat in Dedham by land. As coastal communities whose economy was dependent on fishing and seafaring they probably also had more in common with the communities of Plymouth County than they did with Norfolk County, most of whose towns were located inland.

      Looks like when Hull and Hingham switched counties, that's what turned Cohasset into an exclave of Norfolk County.

      Roxbury - and probably

      Roxbury - and probably Dorchester - were part of Suffolk county before the creation of Norfolk county in the 1790s.


      Back when I lived in Brookline and paid attention to selectmen and town meetings this topic came up. Representatives from Norfolk said the reason to stay in Norfolk was that the county would provide the services to move people between courts whereas Brookline PD would otherwise have to send officers themselves. Brookline also gets access to an agricultural school as I recall.

      Based on this the town decided to stay in Norfolk.

      Having grown up and lived in states where the county government is normally powerless it's strange to travel to states where people identify themselves based on their county and not town.

      I think this begs a bigger question

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      Why does Norfolk County, or any county in Massachusetts for that matter, still exist as a political entity? Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk, Worcester, Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties were all abolished in the 1990s. Nantucket County has long been coterminous with the Town of Nantucket, making its existence more or less moot. Unless there is a function that can't be handled by the state or towns, individually or in compact, within them, it's probably time to abolish the remaining county governments.

      I agree

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      Counties should be done with except for legal jurisdiction. Get rid of Sheriffs and county jails and have a single state entity deal with criminal defendants and the jails.

      Turning to the ever infallible Wikipedia…

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      Surprisingly interesting Wikipedia material:

      This is a list of the 14 counties in Massachusetts. Massachusetts has abolished eight[1] of its fourteen county governments, leaving five counties with county-level local government (Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Norfolk, Plymouth) and one, Nantucket County, with combined county/city government.[2][3] Vestigial judicial and law enforcement districts still follow the old county boundaries in the counties where county-level government has been disestablished, and the counties are still generally recognized as geographic entities if not political ones.[4] Three counties have formed new county regional compacts to serve as a form of regional governance, and these include: Hampshire, Barnstable, and Franklin Counties.

      Jurisdictional areas for District Attorneys are created by state law and while some follow traditional county boundaries, names and geographic areas covered are often different.

      Criminal matters in Essex County are handled by the District Attorney for the Eastern District; in Middlesex County by the District Attorney for the Northern District; in Worcester County by the District Attorney for the Middle District; in Dukes, Barnstable and Nantucket counties by the District Attorney for the Cape and Islands District and in Franklin and Hampshire counties by the District Attorney for the Northwestern District. The districts for the counties of Berkshire, Bristol, Hamden, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk are the same in geography and nomenclature as the respective counties.[5]

      Interesting that the post-90s status quo, with a mix of counties, vestigal remains of counties, etc, seems to be so hodge-podge. Apparently, having any sort of consistency about what agencies are delegated authority for various local & regional matters is either not all that important, or nobody has stepped back to notice how crazy this approach is in the aggregate.

      Why should the aggregate

      Why should the aggregate matter? Cities and towns probably know what is better for them than the Lord of Consistency. Norfolk County provides my town with courts, a registry of probate and a registry of deeds. How would a state takeover improve those services? The deed and probate records would still sit on the same shelves in the same buildings. The trials would still be heard in the same court rooms. Counties divide the state into manageable chunks. You don't want a courthouse in every town, and you don't want to go to Boston from North Adams to see your deed.

      You are conflating two

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      You are conflating two things. Yes, we need local courts and registries. It doesn't follow that there has to be some county entity to run them. The courts and probation are run by the state, why cannot the registry of deeds be run by the state? Why continue to have some elected official that nobody knows run things when a single state entity should, in theory, be more efficcient.

      The RMV is a state entity, but you don't have to go to Boston from North Adams to get your license.

      Counties in Massachusetts are an anachronism. Keep them for jurisdiction, but have the state run things.

      Strenuous agreement?

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      You're sort of making the same point I was, I think.

      The lack of consistency is a little weird, but it suggests that state-wide consistency isn't necessary to have more or less competent, functional local & regional government. As you say, there's no reason to duplicate services all over the place, and the needs of the dense eastern end of the state aren't going to be the same as the rural western end of the state.

      And Massachusetts is a small state. If other states are more “consistent” — I can only assume that we have to be the anomaly here — then are they making a mistake?


      That Middlesex county is not a functioning entity. I still fill it out on as my county when I fill out forms though. They reference at the Registry of Deeds as well so I always assumed it existed.

      The County Schools....

      Norfolk Aggie, Blue Hills, Minuteman, etc, do serve a purpose for many students who don't fit into a regular school setting. I believe we need schools like those for our kids.

      Whether counties should pay and run them is another question.

      Vo Techs

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      Vocational schools are not organized by county, they are organized by region. The towns contribute to the vo techs on an individual basis (not through the county).

      Brookline is making a dumb, pointless argument. Massachusetts contributes more to the federal coffers than we receive back in services. Does that mean we should break away from the United States?

      With the budget crunch that we're in it would make more sense to strengthen our counties rather than demolish them. I never understood why every piddly town of 20,000 residents needs their own police chief, fire chief, school superintendent, etc. Why threaten to raise the state income tax by 19% when regionalizing some of these fiefdoms would literally save millions of dollars a year?

      So you're saying make towns

      So you're saying make towns bigger. When one town's school enrollment goes down, do the people in the rest of the towns decide too shut their schools down and bus the kids to anther town? How many towns do you think want their school system to resemble Boston's, with neighborhood schools constantly being closed? Bigger is not better.

      No, I'm not arguing that we

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      No, I'm not arguing that we make towns bigger, I am arguing that we regionalize some of these services. Fire departments, for example, routinely call in neighboring towns when faced with an actual fire (whether it's because they're short on man-power or because they're just so darned excited to see an actual fire I don't know). If they're going to call in 5 towns to fight a fire, why bother with 5 different fire chiefs, 15 different lieutenants, etc. Regionalize the brass, cut out the overhead, and save the tax payers some money.

      This type collaboration happens all the time. We have county jails because having individual town jails just seems absurd. Why not take that mentality and expand it across other municipal services?

      Maybe it's just the ag school then.

      Either way brokkline pays 700k a year for basically a golf course in Quincy, the Agg school and prisoner transport to one courthouse.

      They would still stay in the Norfolk county court system, just not pay the 700k a year for the other stuff.

      Aren't those regional vocational schools?

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      As far as I know, they are not county owned or operated. Minuteman in Lexington certainly is not, as there is no Middlesex County government. Most vocational schools are run by a committee elected by the towns that form their district. For example Shawsheen Tech is owned by the towns of Bedford, Billerica, Burlington, Tewksbury and Wilmington and each town pays an assessment to the school for its operation and elects members to its governing committee.

      Ag school

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      Back in the day, when I actually cared professionally about Norfolk County, it ran an agricultural school in Walpole. Also a golf course in Quincy, for some reason (then again, Middlesex County used to run Walden Pond, at least until it messed it up so much the state finally took it over).

      Some Vo-Techs a dumping ground for sped students

      Just as Boston public schools and other urban school systems have the highest percentage of (expensive) special education students, so too do vocational schools, especially when small towns are part of the district and old agreements didn't foresee skyrocketing sped costs in the past couple decades.

      Arlington, for example pays the largest chunk for Minuteman Tech. A small town like Dover probably can't cover all the various specialties needed by their special needs kids. Sending them to Minuteman then becomes a very attractive option where per student tuition costs are all averaged out per student, no matter the cost of individual services. Rules don't change because each town gets a vote no matter how many students they enroll, and the small towns like their current deal just fine!

      I'm going to bet that Dover does just fine...

      in terms of covering special needs costs for their children compared to a town like Arlington.

      A town like Millis or Ashland on the other hand might be a different story.

      I think the point of this example is that Brookline taxpayers are paying more than other towns for services they don't use. If each town got charged the same amount, it might be a different story.

      Not a dumping ground

      A place where somebody can work around certain learning disabilities and make a decent living.

      My old landlord was nearly illiterate because he was seriously dyslexic. He owned the house we rented in free and clear from money saved from his plumbing jobs by the time he was 25. He renovated an expanded the place with mostly sweat equity, and then bought more houses such that he was close to a millionaire by the time he was 35.

      Like a friend's son who is now learning a trade at Minuteman despite dyslexia, he wasn't "dumped" there - he belonged there, where he could learn to do something he liked to do and was good at and do it well.

      That is what I call "appropriate placement" not "dumping".

      So who would get Brookline...

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      Suffolk or Middlesex? I feel like Suffolk makes more sense but that Brookline is a better fit for Middlesex.

      Well! I never!

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      Brookline to merge with Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop and Revere? Surely you jest? I mean, isn't this political boundary gerrymandering in metro Boston and Massachusetts all about you know what?

      Massachusetts has abolished

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      Massachusetts has abolished eight of its fourteen county governments. I'm sure the deeds will be just fine.