LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — It is difficult for small towns to bring in special expertise so the state is stepping in to help.
Lanesborough wants to focus more on economic development and that long-range planning is significantly helped along by a professional economic development planner.
In Windsor, town officials want to secure long-term financial stability but don't have the professional expertise and time to craft a careful strategy.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Thursday joined officials both towns to sign Community Compact agreements that will bring in consultants to help those towns take on large planning projects.
The agreements, which are being signed by communities throughout the state, provides resources to implement best management practices and the towns involved with the program get bonus points toward future grants.
"Once you have the plans then you have a foundation, a baseline, of which to work to then seek perhaps grants from the state, MassWork grant, PARC grant, Complete Streets grant. When you bring in state dollars, you can also attract private dollars to help you develop underutilized area of the community and expand your tax base," Polito said.
Polito joined the Boards of Selectmen from each town in the signing at Town Hall. And she also announced that Lanesborough has been awarded a Regionalization and Efficiency Grant.
That supports expanding the role of Bill Compton, an economic development specialist working with Lanesborough, Clarksburg, Great Barrington, and Hinsdale. The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission headed the effort to bring Compton in for the shared job, with each town pitching in to cover the cost of his services. Now the grant will help expand his role, providing more time in all four of the towns. In Lanesborough, he is helping the town craft an economic development plan, which is hoped to set the stage for tax-base growth.
The Community Compact further supports the town's efforts with not only economic planning but also with stormwater management and capital planning.
Windsor Selectman Doug McNally says the Community Compact agreement will help bring assistance to long-term budgeting in his town.
"We noticed Windsor's budgeting was an annual reaction to needs. Stabilization funds were not adequately supported, the ying and yangs of vocational tuition in a small community like ours, we need to buy a new fire truck eventually, we just had to buy a new school bus to transport vocational kids to McCann [Technical School], we are at risk of having to do overrides if we had an off year," McNally said.
Windsor has changed its focus on the development of five-year budgets and not just for the upcoming year and the development of a long-term capital plan. But the town has limited staff and the Selectmen receive just a modest stipend.
"We didn't have the technical expertise among the three of us on the select board, we have no town manager, to do this alone," McNally said.
Polito said the Community Compact program stems from her and Gov. Charlie Baker's past experience as members of boards of selectmen. She said the state administration understands the struggles of municipal government and wanted to provide tools to assist in management.
"We wanted a program that reached all of the communities. Yes, a lot of attention is placed on our Gateway Cities and that's important but we need to make sure we are reaching rural communities, urban communities, and all the communities from one end of the commonwealth to the other," Polito said.
She said two major points of the program are that it had to be voluntary, that a town could pick what areas of focus it wanted, and that it was funded. The program comes with funding to implement the practices. The towns have a menu of focus areas to choose from when it comes to best management practices.
Not only did the administration start the Community Compact program but also pushed for the massive Municipal Modernization bill that provides a number of tools for local communities.
"If we can strengthen local government in all 351 cities and towns we will make together a stronger commonwealth," Polito said.
Lanesborough and Windsor represent the 263rd and 264th municipality to sign compacts with the state. Polito said she hopes the state government can do more to helps towns including increasing local aid, Chapter 90 road funding, and school funding.
"You are doing your end of the deal and we need to continue to do our part," Polito said.
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