Our Opinion: Baker puts bucks behind shared services

There is a certain economic inevitability to the shared services movement among Berkshire communities, but a check from the state should help move the process along. Grant money released last week to Berkshire towns, school districts and organizations provide concrete examples.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito announced the awarding of more than $850,000 in Community Compact Cabinet grants to explore and ideally enact shared services or regionalization programs or increase efficiency (Eagle, March 11). Lee and Lenox received $86,000, the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District was granted $28,000, and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) received $22,375.

The large award granted to Lee and Lenox reflects how far those communities have come in sharing an administrator and a human resources specialist. Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, who would become the chief administrative officer for the two towns, and Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason, who is set to retire on June 30, applied jointly for the grant to begin the transition if the agreement is approved by both towns this spring. The towns may still win $110,000 for enhanced technological services to further expedite the shared services.

Lieutenant Governor Polito acknowledged to The Eagle that residents' concerns about a loss of identity and control when positions are shared are legitimate, and can best be addressed by carefully vetting candidates and hiring the right person for the job. It should be added that the identifies of Berkshire towns have been established since the 1800s if not earlier and won't be readily blurred. Concerns must also be balanced against the reality that towns with stagnant or declining populations must find ways to lower the burden felt by taxpayers, which is the fundamental argument for shared services.

The financial struggles of the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District were brought home last week by the School Committee's painful decision to close Cheshire Elementary School next year. The $28,000 grant will help the district explore further consolidation, which would lead to further pain, and The Eagle again urges the district and its counterpart in North Adams to explore ways to share services and/or investigate consolidation to help avoid cutbacks and closings.

The grant to the BRPC will go toward economic development measures in Clarksburg, Great Barrington, Hinsdale and Lanesborough. Great Barrington's Board of Selectmen is one 12 South Berkshire boards exploring shared services and working together on business and jobs issues is certainly a key way to build a tax base.

Sean Cronin, the senior deputy commissioner for local services at the state Department of Revenue, complimented state Representative "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, for his strong advocacy of shared services, and local and state officials from North Berkshire to South Berkshire are urged to do the same. We further encourage residents to support these important efforts.


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