Senate boosts deeds fees to fund CPA

By Colin A. Young, State House News Service
The Senate on Tuesday night adopted an amendment more than doubling the Registry of Deeds fee that funds the Community Preservation Act Trust Fund, a step aimed at rejuvenating the collapsing partnership.

When Gov. Paul Cellucci signed the Community Preservation Act into law in 2000, it was with the promise of state matching funds from the CPA Trust Fund to preserve open space, renovate historic buildings and parks, and build new playgrounds, affordable housing and athletic fields. During the first six years, the state matched 100 percent of what each municipality raised by its property tax surcharge, but state matching funds have fallen or remained flat in eight of the last nine years.

The state match for next year is projected to be 15 percent, a record low, Sen. Cynthia Creem said. "What was billed as a state-local partnership is no longer that," she said.

The Senate Tuesday adopted a Creem amendment (# 286) to raise the deeds fee from the $20 it has been since 2000 to $45, which she said would allow municipalities that have adopted the CPA to receive a state match of roughly 30 percent in 2018 and "hopefully for years after that."

Since the CPA took effect, 172 cities and towns have adopted it (49 percent of municipalities and 60 percent of the state's population), raising $1.75 billion to create and support more than 10,600 affordable housing units, 4,440 historic preservation projects, almost 1,750 local parks and recreation projects, and conservation of 26,200 acres of open space, according to the Community Preservation Coalition.

Hull voters approved the CPA last year.

Nursing homes at 'crisis point' due to state underpayments

By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

One out of every seven direct care staff positions in Massachusetts nursing homes is vacant, the number of deficiency-free homes has dropped since 2013, and half of the facilities have less than four days of cash on hand, according to advocates seeking more state support for nursing homes.

"We are seeing an erosion of financial support for nursing facility care that is beginning to impact staffing as well as quality resident care," said Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.

Gregorio, whose organization represents 417 nursing homes that care for an average 40,000 residents on a given day, said strained finances have brought the industry to a "crisis point." Around two-thirds of nursing home residents have their care paid for by MassHealth, leaving nursing homes dependent on state funds, she said.

The gap between the cost of care and the MassHealth reimbursement rate is $37 per day, according to the association, which is backing bills (S 336/H 2072) that would bump up rates based on the size of a facility's MassHealth population. The bills, sponsored by Sen. Harriette Chandler and Rep. Thomas Golden, also fund leadership training and scholarship programs for nursing home staff.

The effort comes as the state is facing a $462 million revenue shortfall so far this fiscal year, and as Gov. Charlie Baker and lawmakers are seeking to rein in rising MassHealth costs – the largest spending area in the state budget – that crowd out other priorities.

"We sink and swim together, and the state hasn't been able to make the investments needed to really ensure investments in staff as well as resident care programs," Gregorio told the News Service. "It's been a difficult fiscal recession for Massachusetts and so during that time we were either cut or level-funded, yet at the same time costs went up for nursing facilities, and we weren't able to make investments in staff wages."

The vacancy rate among registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants in the state's nursing homes has more than doubled in the past seven years, rising from 6.4 percent in 2010 to 15.8 percent in 2016, according to a senior care association survey.

Gregorio said funding and staff levels affect the quality of care a facility can provide, pointing to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data that show 32 percent of Massachusetts nursing homes scoring deficiency-free on annual inspections. That number has since fallen to 16 percent, she said.

According to an analysis by the association, 18 percent of Massachusetts nursing homes have enough cash on hand to cover more than a month of operating expenses, while 43 percent have enough cash for two days of expenses, and 7 percent have between two and four days worth.

"If they suddenly cease to have any payments from government, they have no more than four days of cash on hand. That's an indication of a distressed system," said Gregorio, who said an "optimal number" for cash on hand is anywhere from 60 to 90 days or more.

An outside section in the Senate's fiscal 2018 budget, teed up for debate this week, calls for the Center of Health Information and Analysis to "examine the cost trends and financial performance" of nursing homes in the state, including revenues, costs, trends in payer mix, and operating margin.

Both Baker's and the Senate's budget fund the nursing facility Medicaid rates account at $345.1 million. The House spending plan raises it to $362.9 million, and an amendment filed by Sen. Thomas McGee would boost the Senate's appropriation to match that number.

Coast Guard stations Scituate, Block Island, East Moriches to open for season

BOSTON — Seasonal Coast Guard stations Scituate, Block Island and East Moriches are scheduled to open at the end of May and remain open through Labor Day.

The stations’ crews will perform several missions, including search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, and recreational boating safety. The stations are each equipped with 29-foot response boats and crews that are available to respond 24 hours a day.

The stations will open on the following dates: Station Scituate, today (May 22); Station Block Island, May 26; Station East Moriches, currently open.

Chief Warrant Officer Robert Canepa, commanding officer of Station Point Allerton in Hull,  is also the commanding officer of the seasonal station in Scituate.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Steven Beasley, commanding officer of Station Point Judith in Point Judith, Rhode Island, is also the commanding officer of the seasonal station in Block Island.

Chief Warrant Officer Richard Berg, commanding officer of Station Shinnecock in Hampton Bays, New York, is also the commanding officer of the seasonal station in East Moriches.

Hull's on sale – Stem to Stern – this weekend

More than 100 yard sales are going on all over town this weekend as part of the Chamber of Commerce's fifth annual Stem to Stern.

Check out page 5 of this week's Times for a list of participating addresses and featured items up for grabs. Then plan your route. 

If you catch a great bargain, feel free to crow about it in the Comments below.

Enjoy the weekend, and please be careful of other people's kids, dogs, and properties while motoring – and, particularly – parking. 

WATER LINE TO BE REPAIRED TONIGHT

Beginning at 8 p.m. tonight [Wednesday], Aquarion Water will conduct a scheduled repair at 1066 Nantasket Ave.

During the repair, a water-main shutdown may be necessary. As a result, there may be a period of discolored water, poor water pressure, or no water pressure for homes located from the intersection of Nantasket Avenue and Fitzpatrick Way, all the way to the end of the peninsula at Pemberton.

In the event that a shutdown is necessary, Aquarion will alert residents with a Code Red phone call at around 10 pm. In preparation for a potential shutdown after 10 p.m., company spokesmen advise customers in the affected area to store water for drinking and other essential needs.

For additional information, visit <http://www.aquarionwater.com> or contact Customer Service at 800-928-3734.