Berkshire leaders discuss challenges of regionalization


ADAMS >> Though its status as a buzzword in local government is firmly entrenched, officials agree it won't come easily.

Local leaders gathered at the Adams Free Library on Tuesday to discuss the challenges and potential benefits of regionalization in the Northern Berkshires.

One thing is for sure: The process will take time.

The public debate and talk on the topic, which has sprouted up in meeting rooms across the county in recent years, was hosted by the nonprofit Adams-Anthony Center.

Speakers included North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, Adams Selectman Richard Blanchard, and John Hockridge, a North Adams School Committee member who also serves as chairman of the Berkshire County Education Task Force.

Although pressure to share municipal services is felt by town and city leaders, all agreed that it shouldn't be done at the expense of quality.

"Cannot be strictly about money. If we're talking about the idea of how much money we're going to save, and that's all we bring to the room, for me it's a total nonstarter," Alcombright said. "Those conversations have to include how these efforts make us more healthy, more viable, more sustainable as communities, and most importantly as school districts."

County government is an institution of the past in the Berkshires, and Blanchard suggested it may have offered services that are candidates for regionalization.

While it may not be able to design an interstate highway, Blanchard suggested that, for example, a county engineering office could be shared by towns and handle smaller capital projects.

Cariddi mirrored Blanchard's sentiments, suggesting that perhaps Berkshire County could have a council of governments. Neighboring local governments in Franklin County share power on a Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Cariddi noted.

Efforts to streamline services across borders tend to gain steam when, like now, town budgets get tight, Cariddi said. The area does have a long history of sharing services, and Cariddi offered McCann Technical School as proof.

"It's one of the showpieces of our region," Cariddi said.

And though the financial benefits of sharing services are universally acknowledged, Cariddi said that the practice should be used to enhance services. While the Berkshires do share a regional planning agency in the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Cariddi proposed that that approach be expanded.

Rome wasn't built in a day, nor were its shared services. The local leaders acknowledged that there is a long road ahead in discussions on regionalization.

Alcombright recognized that an obstacle to regionalization could be the parochial nature of towns.

"How to get there, and how do we start? I think conversations like this ... it's going to take some time and work," Blanchard said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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