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  • Acts
  • 1997
  • Chapter 48 AN ACT ABOLISHING CERTAIN COUNTIES AND FOR THE PAYMENT BY THE COMMONWEALTH OF CERTAIN DEBTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF MIDDLESEX COUNTY.

Whereas , The deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is to provide immediately for the abolition of Middlesex county which is currently in a fiscal emergency and for the transfer of its functions to the commonwealth, and to prepare immediately for the similar abolition and transfer of Hampden and Worcester counties, therefore it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public safety and convenience.


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:


SECTION 1. The government of each of the following counties, in this act called an "abolished county", is hereby abolished as provided in this act as of the following date, in this act called the "transfer date": (a) Middlesex county, as of the effective date of this act; (b) Hampden and Worcester counties, as of July 1, 1998, or on such earlier date 30 days after the commissioner of revenue certifies in writing that the county has failed to make a required payment on an outstanding bond or note.

NO SECTION 2.

SECTION 2A. To provide for the expenses necessitated by the abolishment of Middlesex county and to provide for payment of outstanding debt owed by said Middlesex county and for certain unanticipated obligations of the commonwealth, and to meet certain requirements of law, the sums set forth herein shall be appropriated from the funds designated, and shall be for the several purposes and subject to the conditions specified herein and subject to the provisions of law regulating the disbursement of public funds, and the conditions pertaining to appropriations in the general appropriation act or other appropriations acts for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1997. The sums so appropriated shall be in addition to any amounts available for said purposes.

EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR ADMINISTRATION AND FINANCE.

Reserves.

1599-9711
For the payment of certain costs and liabilities of Middlesex county including, but not limited to, payments owed to vendors of Middlesex county hospital, and for interest and principal on bonds and notes issued by said county that are either overdue or about to become due; provided, however, that said funds that shall not be expended for the payment of vendors unless and until the commonwealth obtains a release of obligation executed by each such vendor which shall be in complete satisfaction of any claim by said vendor against said county and the commonwealth; provided, further, that not more than $18,574,204 of the amount appropriated shall be expended for the purposes of said vendor payments
..................................$24,604,204
Local Aid Fund...................................100.0%

1599-9712
For the expenses of the county assets and liabilities valuation task force established in section 19 of this act; provided, however, that the funds appropriated herein shall only be expended for the expenses of an independent audit and valuation of the total liabilities and assets of each county in the commonwealth pursuant to said section 19
..................................$1,000,000
Local Aid Fund...................................100.0%

NO SECTION 2B.

SECTION 2C. For the purpose of making available in fiscal year 1998 balances of appropriations which would otherwise revert on June 30, 1997, the unexpended balances of the maintenance appropriations listed below, not to exceed the amount specified below for each item, are hereby reappropriated for the purpose of and subject to the conditions stated for the corresponding item in section 2A. Amounts in this section are reappropriated from the fund or funds designated for the corresponding item in said section 2A. The sums reappropriated herein shall be in addition to any amounts available for said purposes.


1599-9711..................................$24,604,204

1599-9712..................................$1,000,000

SECTION 3. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, the government of each abolished county, except the office of county treasurer, is hereby abolished as of the transfer date for all purposes, including, but not limited to, the purposes established pursuant to chapters 34, 34A, 35 and 36 of the General Laws or as otherwise authorized by this act. The office of an abolished county's treasurer shall expire on December 31, 2002. Nothing in this act shall affect the existing county boundaries.

SECTION 4. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, the terms of an abolished county's commissioners shall expire upon the transfer date. There shall be no increase in the salaries of any abolished county's elected official. An abolished county's advisory board shall be eliminated upon the transfer date.

SECTION 5. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, all functions, duties and responsibilities of an abolished county pursuant to this act including, but not limited to, the operation and management of the county jail and house of correction, the registry of deeds and the courthouses are hereby transferred from said county to the commonwealth on the transfer date, subject to the provisions of this act.

SECTION 6. All valid liabilities and debts of an abolished county which are in force immediately before the transfer date shall be obligations of the commonwealth as of the transfer date, except as may be otherwise provided in this act. All assets, including revenue received pursuant to chapter 64D of the General Laws and such other revenue said county receives as of immediately before the transfer date shall become assets and revenue of the commonwealth.

SECTION 7. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, all rights, title and interest in real and personal property owned or held by an abolished county immediately before the transfer date, including without limitation, all courthouses, registries of deeds, registries of probate, and all other county buildings, and the land on which they are situated and any parking facilities, fixtures and improvements located thereon or appurtenant thereto, shall be transferred to the commonwealth, except as otherwise provided in this act. Such transfer and all buildings, lands, parking facilities, fixtures and improvements shall be subject to the provisions of chapter 7 of the General Laws and the jurisdiction of the commissioner of capital planning and operations as provided therein, except as otherwise provided in this act; and provided, however, that the buildings and land of the county courthouses so transferred shall be controlled by said commissioner on behalf of the commonwealth and shall be operated and maintained by the office of the chief justice for administration and management of the trial court subject to the general superintendence of the supreme judicial court.

The transfer under this section shall be effective and shall bind all persons, with or without notice, without any further action or documentation. Without derogating from the foregoing, the commissioner of capital planning and operations may, from time to time, execute and record and file for registration with any registry of deeds or the land court, a certificate confirming the commonwealth's ownership of any interest in real property formerly held by an abolished county pursuant to the provisions of this section.

SECTION 8. All valid leases and contracts of an abolished county which are in force immediately before the transfer date shall be obligations of the commonwealth and the commonwealth shall have authority to exercise all rights and enjoy all interests conferred upon the county by said leases and contracts except as may be otherwise provided in this act.

SECTION 9. For the purpose of recovering amounts expended by the commonwealth for the liabilities and other debts assumed and paid by the commonwealth on behalf of an abolished county, the secretary of administration and finance shall establish a plan to recover said amounts, which may include refinancing the indebtedness of said county, and shall include, but not be limited to, recovering amounts paid pursuant to item 1599-9711 of section 2A of this act, the salary of the county treasurer until the expiration of such treasurer's office pursuant to section 3, and the unfunded pension liabilities of said county. Said secretary shall establish an amortization schedule to recover any amounts so expended by the commonwealth which shall be filed with the clerks of the house of representatives and the senate not later than two months after the transfer date. Unless the general court changes said plan or schedule by law, said secretary shall proceed with implementation of said plan and schedule beginning one year after the transfer date; provided, however, that nothing herein shall preclude said assessment from being collected during the year prior to said implementation. For the duration of said schedule, the state treasurer shall, pursuant to section 20 of chapter 59 of the General Laws, assess upon each city and town within the former jurisdiction of an abolished county an amount equal to the county tax paid by each such city and town as assessed pursuant to the provisions of chapter 35 of the General Laws for the fiscal year beginning July 1 of the year immediately before the transfer date. The amount of the assessment shall be paid annually by each city or town to the treasurer of the commonwealth and shall remain in effect for the duration of said amortization schedule, which shall not exceed 25 years.

In addition to the amortization assessment made upon the cities and towns pursuant to this section, said cities and towns of Hampden, Middlesex, and Worcester counties shall not be precluded from assuming an additional assessment, subject to section 21C of chapter 59 of the General Laws, in order to organize and administer in said county or a portion of said county a cooperative entity or regional form of government to provide, purchase or otherwise make available services on a regionalized basis.

SECTION 10. The treasurer of an abolished county shall cooperate with the secretary of administration and finance in effecting the orderly transfer of assets, liabilities, personnel, functions, duties and responsibilities from said county to the commonwealth. For the duration of his term, said treasurer shall continue to occupy at no cost the office space occupied by the office of the county treasurer immediately before the transfer date.

SECTION 11. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, an abolished county's registers of deeds holding office immediately before the transfer date shall become employees of the commonwealth under the supervision of the secretary of the commonwealth. The registers shall remain elected officials retaining local administrative control under the general direction of said secretary. The operational procedures of the registries shall be uniform as prescribed by said secretary. Said secretary shall determine the budget of each registry, subject to appropriation.

Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, this section shall facilitate the orderly transfer of the employees, proceedings, rules and regulations, property and legal obligations of the registry of deeds functions of an abolished county's government to the commonwealth, as hereby defined as of the transfer date:

(a) The functions of the registries of deeds, hereinafter called the transferor agencies, shall be transferred to the office of the secretary of state, which is hereinafter called the transferee agency.

(b) All employees of the transferor agencies, including those who immediately prior to the effective date of this act hold permanent appointment in positions classified under chapter 31 of the General Laws or have tenure in their positions by reason of section 9A of chapter 30 of the General Laws or do not hold such tenure, are hereby transferred to said transferee agency, without interruption of service within the meaning of said section 9A or said chapter 31, and without reduction in compensation or salary grade. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, all such employees of the transferor agency shall continue to retain their right to collectively bargain pursuant to chapter 150E of the General Laws, and shall be considered employees for the purposes of said chapter 150E.

(c) All petitions, requests, investigations and other proceedings approximately and duly brought before said transferor agencies, or duly begun by said transferor agencies and pending before said transferor agencies prior to the transfer date, shall continue unabated and remain in force, but shall be assumed and completed by said transferee agency.

(d) All orders, rules and regulations duly made and all approvals duly granted by said transferor agencies which are in force immediately prior to the transfer date, shall continue in force and the provisions thereof shall thereafter be enforced, until superseded, revised, rescinded or canceled in accordance with law by said transferee agency.

(e) All books, papers, records, documents, and equipment, which immediately prior to the transfer date are in the custody of said transferor agencies shall be transferred to said transferee agency.

(f) All duly existing contracts, leases and obligations of said transferor agencies, shall continue in effect and shall be assumed by said transferee agency. No existing right or remedy of any character shall be lost, or affected by the provisions of this act.

SECTION 12. The rights of all employees of each registry of deeds of an abolished county shall continue to be governed by the terms of collective bargaining agreements, as applicable, including employees transferred to the office of the secretary of the commonwealth.

SECTION 13. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, the sheriff of an abolished county in office immediately before the transfer date shall become an employee of the commonwealth with salary to be paid by the commonwealth. The sheriff shall remain an elected official under the provisions of section 159 of chapter 54 of the General Laws. Said sheriff shall operate pursuant to the provisions of chapter 37 of the General Laws. Such sheriff shall retain administrative and operational control over the office of the sheriff, the jail, and the house of correction upon the effective date of this act.

SECTION 14. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, the sheriff of an abolished county shall be considered an "employer" as said term is defined in section 1 of chapter 150E of the General Laws for the purposes of said chapter 150E.

SECTION 15. Chapter 37 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 21 the following section:-

Section 21A. For the purposes of paying the salary and travel expenses of a sheriff pursuant to sections 17 and 21, the commonwealth shall pay said salary and travel expenses whenever the sheriff is an employee of the commonwealth; provided, that said travel expenses shall be reimbursed only upon the submission of travel vouchers or other verification of travel expenses to the comptroller.

SECTION 16. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law or rule or regulation to the contrary, the sheriff, all deputies, jailers, superintendents, keepers, officers, assistants and other employees of the sheriff of an abolished county, employed immediately before the transfer date in the discharge of their responsibilities set forth in section 24 of chapter 37 and section 16 of chapter 126 of the General Laws, shall be transferred to the commonwealth with no impairment of employment rights held immediately before the transfer date, without interruption of service, without impairment of seniority, retirement or other rights of employees, without reduction in compensation or salary grade and without change in union representation. Any collective bargaining agreement in effect immediately before the transfer date shall continue in effect and the terms and conditions of employment therein shall continue as if the employees had not been so transferred. Nothing in this section shall be construed to confer upon any employee any right not held immediately before the date of said transfer, or to prohibit any reduction of salary grade, transfer, reassignment, suspension, discharge layoff or abolition of position not prohibited before such date.

All demands, notices, citations, writs, precepts and all other notices given by the sheriff, deputies, jailers, superintendents, keepers, officers, assistants or other employees of a sheriff of an abolished county, as the case may be, on or before the transfer date shall be valid and effective for all purposes unless otherwise revoked, suspended, rescinded, canceled or terminated in accordance with law.

Any enforcement activity imposed by the sheriff, any deputies, jailers, superintendents, keepers, officers, assistants or other employees of the sheriff of an abolished county, before the transfer date, shall be valid, effective and continuing in force according to the terms thereof for all purpose unless superseded, revised, rescinded or canceled in accordance with law.

All petitions, hearings appeals, suits and other proceedings duly brought against, and all petitions, hearings, appeals, suits, prosecutions and other legal proceedings begun by the sheriff, deputies, jailers, superintendents, keepers, officers, assistants or the employees of the sheriff of an abolished county, as the case may be, which are pending before the transfer date shall continue unabated and remain in force notwithstanding the passage of this act.

All records maintained by the sheriff, deputies, jailers, superintendents, keepers, officers, assistants and other employees of the sheriff of an abolished county before the transfer date shall continue to enjoy the same status in any court or administrative proceeding, whether pending on said transfer date or commenced thereafter, as they would have enjoyed in the absence of the passage of this act.

SECTION 17. All officers and employees of an abolished county transferred to the service of the commonwealth shall be transferred with no impairment of seniority, retirement or other rights of employees, without reduction in compensation or salary grade and without change in union representation, except as otherwise provided in this act. Any collective bargaining agreement in effect for such transferred employees immediately before the transfer date shall continue as if the employees had not been so transferred, until the expiration date of such collective bargaining agreement. Nothing in this section shall be construed to confer upon any employee any right not held immediately prior to the date of said transfer, or to prohibit any reduction of salary or grade, transfer, reassignment, suspension, discharge, layoff or abolition of position not prohibited prior to such date.

SECTION 18. (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, employees of an abolished county who become state employees under this act and who are eligible for group insurance coverage as provided under chapter 32B of the General Laws or who are insured under said chapter 32B, shall have said eligibility and coverage transferred to the jurisdiction of the group insurance commission effective four months after the transfer date, and said employees shall cease to be eligible or insured under the provisions of said chapter 32B. The group insurance commission shall provide uninterrupted coverage for group life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance and group general or blanket insurance providing hospital, surgical, medical, dental and other health insurance benefits to the extent authorized under the provisions of chapter 32A of the General Laws; provided, however, that county employees who were covered by a collective bargaining agreement on the date of said transfer to said jurisdiction shall continue to receive the group insurance benefits required by their respective collective bargaining agreements until the expiration date of said agreements. All questions relating to group insurance rights, obligations, costs and payments shall be determined by the group insurance commission, and shall include the manner and method for the payment of all required premiums applicable to all such coverage.

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, retired employees of an abolished county and the surviving spouses of active or retired county employees who are eligible for group insurance coverage as provided under chapter 32B of the General Laws or who are insured under said chapter shall have said eligibility and coverage transferred to the jurisdiction of the group insurance commission effective four months after the transfer date and said persons shall cease to be eligible or insured under the provisions of said chapter 32B. The group insurance commission shall provide uninterrupted coverage for group life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance and group general or blanket insurance providing hospital, surgical, medical, dental and other health insurance benefits to the extent authorized under the provisions of chapter 32A of the General Laws. All questions relating to group insurance rights, obligations, costs and payments shall be determined by the group insurance commission, and shall include the manner and method for the payment of all required premiums applicable to all such coverage.

(c) The human resources division of the executive office for administration and finance shall assume the obligations of an abolished county to employees who become state employees and who are covered under a health and welfare trust fund agreement established under section 15 of chapter 32B of the General Laws pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement until the expiration date of the collective bargaining agreement.

(d) Any monies in the an abolished county's employees' group insurance trust fund established pursuant to section 8A of said chapter 32B three months after the transfer date shall be transferred to the Group Insurance Commission Trust Fund established pursuant to section 9 of said chapter 32A.

(e) Any monies in a claims trust fund established pursuant to section 3A of said chapter 32B are hereby transferred to the group insurance commission as of the transfer date; provided, however, that any city, town or district that participates in the county's group insurance plans pursuant to section 11 of said chapter 32B or jointly purchased insurance with an abolished county pursuant to section 12 of said chapter 32B, the pro rata share of the excess shall be returned to the participating city, town or district. The abolished county's treasurer shall provide the group insurance commission with an accounting of the Claims Trust Fund which shall be for the one year period immediately preceding the transfer date and shall include a calculation of the employee, retiree and surviving spouse contributions that are in excess of the claims costs and expenses of the plans for which the contributions were made. Said treasurer shall routinely forward to the group insurance commission any claims for health insurance claims made on behalf of the active employees and retirees of the abolished county.

SECTION 19. Notwithstanding the provisions of chapter 32 of the General Laws or the provisions of any other general or special laws to the contrary, an abolished county's retirement system shall continue pursuant to this section and shall be managed by the retirement board as provided in this section beginning on the transfer date. An abolished county's employees who retired on or before the transfer date shall be members of the county retirement system, which shall pay the cost of benefits annually to such retired county employees and their survivors. The retirement assets of an abolished county's employees who become state employees pursuant to this act shall be transferred from said county retirement system to the state retirement system, which shall thereafter be responsible for said employees, subject to the provisions of law applicable to employees whose transfer from one governmental unit to another results in the transfer from one retirement system to another. Cities, towns, districts and other governmental units belonging to an abolished county's retirement system shall remain members of said retirement system.

Provisions governing an abolished county's retirement system shall be as follows:

(a) The retirement board shall have the general powers and duties set forth in subdivision (5) of section 20 of chapter 32 of the General Laws. Said board shall consist of five members as follows: one member of the retirement board advisory council who shall be selected by a majority of those present and voting at a public meeting of said council, properly posted, called specifically for such election pursuant to paragraphs (c) and (f) who shall serve as chairman; a second member selected by the Middlesex retirement board advisory council by a majority of those present and voting at a public meeting of said council, properly posted; a third and fourth member hereinafter referred to as the elected members; and a fifth member who shall not be an employee, a retiree or official of a governmental unit the employees of which are members of the system. The fifth member shall be chosen by the other four for a term of three years. If the fifth member is not chosen by the other four members within 30 days after the expiration of the term of the fifth member, the public employee retirement administration commission shall appoint the fifth member. The election of the elected members shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (f).

(b) The members of the retirement board shall serve without compensation, but they shall be reimbursed for any expense or loss of salary or wages which they may incur through service on such board from the expense fund of the system. Nothing in this paragraph shall prevent the chairman of said retirement board from being compensated for services rendered in the active administration of the system in his capacity as treasurer-custodian, as provided in paragraph (d), but not as a member of the board; provided, however, that such compensation shall not exceed $3,000 per annum.

(c) The retirement board may employ such clerical and other assistants as may be required to transact the business of the retirement system. All permanent employees employed pursuant to this paragraph shall be members of the retirement system, but shall not be eligible to be a member or candidate for election to the retirement board.

(d) The chairman of the retirement board shall act as treasurer-custodian of the retirement system with respect to the employees of any town or district who became members of said system as provided for in paragraph (b) or (c) of subdivision (3) or paragraph (b) of subdivision (4) of section 28 of said chapter 32 of the General Laws or under corresponding provisions of earlier laws. The treasurer or other disbursing officer of any such town or district, as the case may be, shall act as liaison officer between the employees thereof and the board of the retirement system.

(e) There shall be a retirement board advisory council consisting of all the treasurers, elected or appointed, of each town, unit, or district belonging to the prior county retirement system and remaining in the retirement system established by this section. The members of said advisory council shall elect a chairman from among the members. Said council shall meet at the call of the chairman, but in no event less than twice in each year. Said council shall supervise and certify the procedures involved in the election of the elected members of the retirement board, as provided in paragraphs (a) and (f). Upon certification by the retirement board and the council, the actuary shall be furnished with an estimate of the expenses and costs of administration of the system for the ensuing year. The actuary shall determine the costs attributable to the payment of benefits to or on behalf of county employees who retired on or before the transfer date. At a meeting called specifically for that purpose, the retirement board advisory council shall elect one of its members as a member of the county retirement board at the expiration of the current appointed member's term, as provided in paragraph (a).

(f) The retirement board advisory council, which shall serve as the election board, shall supervise the election of the elected members of the retirement board. The council shall make available nomination papers to any member in or retired from service so requesting and shall require that such nomination papers be signed by the candidate, and returned to the office of the retirement board for safekeeping until the election board shall meet. The chairman of the council shall give a duplicate receipt for such nomination papers to each candidate. Completed nomination papers shall contain the signatures and addresses of at least five active or retired members of said retirement system. The election board shall determine whether each candidate has filed nomination papers containing the requisite signatures and addresses, and shall notify candidates whose nomination papers its deems invalid. If more than one candidate has obtained the requisite number of valid signatures, the election board shall notify the candidates of its determination and shall immediately prepare election ballots, and set the date for an election to be held within 40 days. The election board shall thereupon follow the provisions of the second and third paragraphs of subdivision (h) of subsection (3) of section 20 of chapter 32 of the General Laws. The abolished county's retirement board and retirement board advisory council shall continue to serve until such time as the members of the new retirement board and the new retirement board advisory council pursuant to this section have been duly elected, selected, or appointed, as the case may be.

Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the treasurer of an abolished county shall serve as chairman of said retirement board, at the same salary said treasurer received immediately before the transfer date, until the expiration of the treasurer's office pursuant to section 3 of this act, after which the provisions of this paragraph shall take effect with respect to the election of a chairman of said board.

SECTION 20. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, the actuary, as defined by section 1 of chapter 32 of the General Laws, shall determine the amount to be paid by each member of an abolished county's retirement system into the pension fund of said system which is attributable to costs associated with or attributable to: (i) the payment of retirement benefits to county employees who retired on or before the transfer date; (ii) payments to other retirement systems pertaining to the portion of the benefits to retired former county employees and beneficiaries of retired former county employees determined pursuant to paragraph (c) of subdivision (8) of section 3 of said chapter 32; and (iii) amounts to be contributed to said retirement system in accordance with the unfunded pension liability funding schedule established pursuant to this section. Not later than the third Wednesday of January each year, the retirement board established pursuant to section 19 shall notify each such member of the amount or amounts owed pursuant to clauses (i), (ii) and (iii) by each such member to said pension fund for the subsequent fiscal year.

Said actuary shall establish the funding schedule established pursuant to clause (iii) that shall be designed to reduce to zero not later than twenty-five years after the transfer date the unfunded liability attributable to the benefits earned by county employees prior to the transfer of said employees to the state retirement system pursuant to this act. Said actuary shall make an initial determination of the amount of said unfunded pension liability not later than five and one-half months after the transfer date and shall specify in a written notice to said retirement board the amount required to be paid by each such member. Said schedule shall be revalued and adjusted not less than every three years. Amounts payable by each such member shall be determined by applying the percentage used in determining the county assessment of each such member in fiscal year 1996 pursuant to the provisions of section 31 of chapter 35 of the General Laws to the total of said amounts. In addition to the amounts determined hereunder. The actuary shall establish appropriations pursuant to paragraph (c) of subdivision (7) of section 22 of chapter 32 of the General Laws; provided, however, that the actuary shall make such adjustments in establishing appropriations as are necessitated by the provisions of this act.

SECTION 21. There is hereby established a special task force on the valuation of county assets and liabilities that shall compile an inventory and provide for the valuation of all real and personal property, assets, liabilities and debts of all counties of the commonwealth for the purposes of considering the abolition of county government and the transfer of its critical functions, assets and liabilities to the commonwealth. The task force shall consist of 11 members including four members of the house of representatives appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives one of whom shall be the house chairman of the joint committee on counties, one of whom shall be the chairman of the house committee on ways and means, and one of whom shall be a member of the minority party, four members of the senate appointed by the senate president one of whom shall be the senate chairman of the joint committee on counties, one of whom shall be the chairman of the senate committee on ways and means, and one of whom shall be a member of the minority party, and the secretary of administration and finance, the inspector general and the state auditor. The chairmen of the joint committees on counties shall serve as the co-chairmen of said task force.

The task force is hereby authorized and directed to contract for an independent audit and valuation of the total assets and liabilities of each county in the commonwealth; provided, however, that no such audit and valuation shall be conducted for the former Franklin county. The task force shall establish uniform criteria for conducting said audits and evaluations and shall require that the valuation of assets shall distinguish between disposable, fungible assets and assets necessary to the ongoing core functions of county government which cannot be practicably conveyed. Amounts appropriated in item 1599-9712 of section 2A of this act shall be available for the expenses of said audit and valuation but shall not be available for the expenses of said task force. Said task force shall file with the house and senate committees on ways and means a spending plan for amounts appropriated in said item 1599-9712 not later than September 15, 1997.

Real and personal property to be examined by said task force shall include, but shall not be limited to, the Dukes county airport, the Norfolk county recreational facility, and hospitals, roads, beaches and courthouses owned by said counties, including courthouses of historic or architectural significance the primary tenant of which is not the trial court. Said task force is hereby authorized and directed to report to the clerks of the house of representatives and the senate on the finances, operations, personnel and management structure of each county registry of deeds and the office of each county sheriff. Said report shall include, but not be limited to, the following: an audit for fiscal year 1997 that details revenues, expenditures, assets and liabilities in accordance with statutory accounting principles and, where possible, generally accepted accounting principles; operating budgets by expenditure type for the prior three years; revenues for the prior three years; fee structures in effect in fiscal year 1997; instrument counts for the prior three fiscal years; property and equipment leases in effect for fiscal year 1997 and fiscal year 1998, including lease terms, conditions, expiration dates and payment rates; contracts in effect for fiscal year 1997 and fiscal year 1998, including contract terms, conditions, expiration dates and rates; fiscal year 1997 facility operating costs; and a current equipment inventory.

Said report shall include an inventory of county roads so-called and an analysis of the system of care and maintenance of such roads as of the effective date of this act with an emphasis on determining whether the care and maintenance of such roads is being provided by municipalities. Municipalities that are determined to have been providing for the care and maintenance of such roads shall continue to provide such care and maintenance. The department of highways and the executive office of transportation and construction shall cooperate with the task force in conducting said inventory and analysis. For the purpose of this analysis, the task force shall consult with the state auditor's division of local mandates.

Said report shall include an organizational chart for each such registry and sheriff's office and shall establish a personnel profile for each current employee that shall include, but not be limited to, the following information as of the date said information is compiled: an actual and functional job title; compensation rate; collective bargaining status; accrued sick, vacation and personal days, vesting status for retirement purposes and length of service. Said report shall include the status of any collective bargaining agreements in effect as of the date said information is compiled, including contractually binding commitments not funded in fiscal year 1998 and any obligation required to be funded in fiscal year 1999. Said report shall project the likely costs to be incurred by the commonwealth in converting each such registry and sheriff's office to the personnel classification system established by chapter 31 of the General Laws.

Said report shall include an analysis of the pension funding status for each such registry and sheriff's office, including any unfunded liabilities, the funding sources for current and future pension liabilities and a projection of the cost or savings, if any, of transferring said pension liabilities to the commonwealth, including the commonwealth's pension defined benefit plan.

Said report shall include any recommendations, including legislation necessary to effectuate the orderly and cost-effective transfer to the commonwealth of the operations of any county registry or sheriff's office.

Representatives of the division of capital planning and operations, the group insurance commission and the public employee retirement administration commission shall be nonvoting members of said task force and shall make available resources as necessary to meet its purposes.

Said report shall be filed with the clerks of the house of representatives and the senate on or before February 1, 1998.

The task force shall further make recommendations to the governor and the general court concerning the disposition of county functions not subject to the control or management of the county sheriffs or the registers of deeds, including but not limited to their consolidation, elimination, privatization in conformity with sections 52 to 55, inclusive, of chapter 7 of the General Laws, or transfer to the commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions. All county officers and employees shall cooperate with the task force by providing information necessary to the performance of its duties, including, but not limited to, providing inventories and lists of properties owned by the county as of the effective date of this act and acquisitions and dispositions of such property subsequent thereto. The task force shall establish objective criteria for the disposition or reuse of properties in possession of counties and transferred to the commonwealth by this act, and for the disposition of county functions or programs, gathering pertinent information with respect to each of the properties, functions and programs being reviewed, holding public hearings as it deems appropriate, and taking such other actions as it determines necessary. The task force shall prepare a specific plan for the disposition or reuse of properties and county functions or programs. Such a plan shall be included in the report to be filed on or before February 1, 1998.

The task force shall further report on the feasibility of retaining the registers of deeds as elected officials in each county, or retaining said registers as appointed officials subject to the general control of the state secretary.

SECTION 22. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, the comptroller of the commonwealth is hereby directed to deposit to the Local Aid Fund any monies received from assessments made pursuant to the amortization schedule established by section 9.

SECTION 23. (a) In each county, other than the Franklin regional council of governments, Barnstable county or a county that has adopted a charter under chapter 34A of the General Laws, there shall be a county charter commission. The commission shall consist of one representative, appointed by the mayor, city manager or selectmen, of each city or town in the county, or contiguous to the county, if the city council or town meeting, respectively decides to join the county charter commission. Voting in the commission shall be weighted according to the population of each city or town. The county commissioners shall convene the first meeting of the commission not later than December 31, 1997.

(b) A county charter commission established under this section shall have all the powers and duties of a county charter commission under chapter 34A of the General Laws. Said chapter 34A shall apply except to the extent inconsistent with the provisions of this section.

(c) In each county to which this section applies, including only those cities and towns which joined the county charter commission pursuant to subsection (a), the state secretary shall cause to be printed the question of adopting the proposed county charter on the official ballots for a biennial state election, pursuant to section 13 of chapter 34A of the General Laws. If the majority of votes cast on the question is in the affirmative the charter shall be adopted and shall thereafter govern said county, as constituted to include only said cities and towns. Whether such county shall control registries of deeds, correctional facilities and courthouses located therein shall depend upon legislative action following the report of the task force provided by section 21. Otherwise, or if no charter has been proposed for adoption of such charter at an election, as of December 31, 2000, said county may be subject to abolition pursuant to the provisions of this act.

SECTION 24. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 567 of chapter 151 of the acts of 1996, this section shall apply to the sheriff of Franklin county. Said sheriff shall remain an elected official under the provisions of section 159 of chapter 54 of the General Laws and shall be known as the Franklin sheriff. Said sheriff shall operate pursuant to the provisions of chapter 37 of the General Laws. Said sheriff shall retain administrative and operational control over the office of the sheriff, the jail and the house of correction.

SECTION 25. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, as of the effective date of this act, no board, commission, officer or department of Hampden or Worcester county shall enter into any collective bargaining agreement applicable to employees of a registry of deeds, a sheriff's department, or courthouse without the approval of the secretary of administration and finance.

SECTION 26. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, Hampden and Worcester counties shall not sell or dispose of any assets, except as this act provides for transferring county assets to the commonwealth. Any obligation under a lease or contract entered into by said counties after June 30, 1997 shall be binding on the commonwealth only if and to the extent that the secretary of administration and finance approves the assumption of such obligation and if the county treasurer has certified to the secretary that sufficient funds are available for such obligation.

SECTION 27. The provisions of section 2A of this act shall take effect as of June 30, 1997.

Approved July 11, 1997.