GREAT BARRINGTON — A Who's Who of South Berkshire officials have inked an agreement that could foster collaborations of shared services, personnel and equipment among the 17 towns and six school systems represented by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli.
Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito led the signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon at Great Barrington Town Hall, in what they hailed as an historic occasion for Pignatelli's 4th Berkshire District and the commonwealth.
"When you come into a building like this and all these people are in place, you feel the will of people who want to get things done," Polito said.
Since the Baker-Polito administration took office in January, more than 100 cities and towns have entered into a Community Compact. They are designed in part to improve how state government works with and assists municipalities and school districts in being more efficient with financial resources.
"We need to peel away what makes it difficult for local officials to work with us," Baker said. "There is nothing more we want to do than put a smile on the faces of local officials."
South County officials were beaming about the more than $100,000 in state money and in-kind services awarded through the compact to the six school districts of the Southern Berkshire Shared Services Project. The educational partnership will receive $75,000, with the state spending at least $30,000 to help the six school districts streamline their information technology systems so they all can work as one, according to state officials.
In addition, several banks and philanthropic organizations have pledged thousands of dollars in grants to augment the state award, Pignatelli said.
Lee and Lenox public schools, Richmond Consolidated and the Berkshire Hills Southern Berkshire and Farmington River regional school districts formed the Shared Services Project in the fall of 2014.
The collaborative has spawned several potential joint ventures, such as Lee sharing a superintendent with a neighboring school system and Southern Berkshire and Farmington River exploring a merger. It will also explore partnerships involving, but not be limited to, curriculum director, special education, food service and grant writing.
The Shared Services Project was the impetus for the 4th Berkshire District Community Compact, which municipal officials expect will spur discussions among two or more towns regarding shared personnel and/or equipment. The goal is financial efficiency, according to Great Barrington Selectmen Chairman Sean Stanton.
"Cooperation can lead to long-term savings, but it won't happen overnight," he said. "We've talked with Sheffield about shared services, now this [compact] will take us on our way."
Egremont Selectmen Chairman Bruce Turner wants all aspects of town government examined as possible shared ventures.
"Police, fire, highway, should all be on the table," he said.
Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen noted Sheffield and New Marlborough, two of the largest Massachusetts communities in terms of square miles, may end up sharing highway equipment in order to keep their public works budgets in check.
Before the compact was formalized Tuesday, Lee and Lenox have already united their building departments, with Lenox Building Commissioner Don Fitzgerald also taking on the Lee commissioner duties. The two towns are looking to hire a single building inspector to assist Fitzgerald. The collaboration officially takes effect Jan. 1.
The Baker-Polito administration's approach to working with the state's 351 cities and towns doesn't surprise Pignatelli. Both the governor and lieutenant governor are former selectmen, and many of Baker's administrative staff have worked in municipal government.
"These guys understand us," he said. "They have walked the walk and talked the talk."