The conference opened with a legislative panel featuring (from l-r) ​​Rep. Natalie Blais, Rep. Daniel Carey and Sen. Joanne Comerford.

The Massachusetts Select Board Association’s second Western Massachusetts Municipal Conference, held on Saturday, April 9, in Easthampton, focused on some of the unique challenges facing the region.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and the Rural Policy Advisory Commission.

The conference kicked off with a legislative panel featuring ​​Rep. Natalie Blais of the 1st Franklin District, Rep. Daniel Carey of the 2nd Hampshire District, and Sen. Joanne Comerford of the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District.

The legislators discussed priorities for the remainder of the legislative session, including the state’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funding, mental health care in schools, privacy and security of personal data, and exploring the impact that unpaved roads have on small towns.

Following the panel, a number of workshops covered topics such as police reform and its impact on small towns, ARPA funding and economic recovery from the pandemic, the impacts of post-COVID population shifts on housing affordability, and the state of public infrastructure in western Massachusetts.

Discussing police reform, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn and Deerfield Police Chief John Paciorek provided an overview of Chapter 253 of the Acts of 2020 (generally known as the policing reform law), the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, and the impact that the new standards will have on local police departments. Wynn serves on the POST Commission.

Heath Fahle, assistant secretary for federal funds at the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, gave an update on funds provided to state and local governments through the ARPA.

Following Fahle’s overview, Holyoke Community Development Director Alicia Zoeller discussed how her city is managing its ARPA funding, including planning and community engagement, allocation of funds, and tracking and reporting on the funding.

Alyssa Larose, real estate project manager/housing development director for the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and Jessica Atwood, economic development program manager for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, gave an overview of regional population trends and development challenges, including a deep dive into COVID-19 impacts on development.

Great Barrington Assistant Town Manager and Planning Director Christopher Rembold discussed how population shifts and development challenges have affected his town. He also gave an overview of some immediate and near-term strategies his town is implementing to address the challenges.

Ben Tafoya, director of the Division of Local Mandates, discussed a recent study by the Office of the State Auditor, Public Infrastructure in Western Massachusetts: A Critical Need for Regional Investment and Revitalization. The study examined multiple aspects of public infrastructure in western Massachusetts and called for a Rural Rescue Plan that would increase funding for the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program by 50%, to $300 million annually; create a public infrastructure agency; and continue investments in expanding access to broadband internet.

Sen. Comerford discussed what is being done through legislation to address some of the challenges identified in the report, including roads, bridges, and culverts; water and sewer infrastructure; municipal and public safety buildings; green and healthy public schools; PILOT funding; and regional rail.

Nearly 100 municipal officials and key stakeholders attended the conference.

COVID-Related Federal Aid in Massachusetts – Executive Office for Administration & Finance (2M PDF)
The Rural Rescue Plan: Public Infrastructure in Western Mass. – Auditor of the Commonwealth (2M PDF)
Impact of Post-COVID Population Shifts on Housing Affordability presentation (1M PDF)
Approach to Management of 2021 American Rescue Plan Act Funds – City of Holyoke (2.7M PDF)
Rural Infrastructure – Sen. Comerford (250K PDF)
An Act Relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth – STAM (183K PDF)

Written by