State officials urge Great Barrington selectmen to take regional lead
GREAT BARRINGTON -- Emphasizing that their town is the de facto hub of South Berkshire County, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli urged the selectmen on Monday to consider a leadership role in trying to solve a host of state-related issues.
Pignatelli and state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing weathered a 90-minute, good-natured grilling by the selectmen. Topics included various aspects of state aid, the school assessment formula, Internet access and the concept of regionalization.
Although there was also an extensive dialogue about state aid, much of the conversation revolved around efforts toward regionalization and shared services.
"Great Barrington is the hub of South Berkshire, just like Pittsfield is the hub of Central Berkshire and North Adams the hub of North Berkshire," said Pignatelli. "I think you should think about taking a leadership role in regionalization."
"As it is," said Selectwoman Deborah Phillips, "we're already the hub of South County for a number of services."
The selectmen and the state representatives agreed that overcoming parochialism in the Berkshires was the biggest hurdle.
The discussion was not solely philosophical. Both Downing and Pignatelli agreed that there are inequities built into the state reimbursement formula for schools. For example, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District gets a total of $5,000 for each out-of-district student who is accepted into the district. Yet the district's per pupil costs average about $15,000.
"The state aid formula hasn't been revised since 1993," said Downing. "Everyone agrees the formula is broken, and everyone has a different away to try and fix it."
Regional school transportation reimbursement was another bugaboo. In 1962, as an incentive to regionalize, the state agreed to pay 100 percent of regional school district's transportation costs. The assurance lasted one year.
"The carrot dangled in front of you for years was 100 percent reimbursement [for transportation]," said Pignatelli. "That money has fallen flat."
On a more positive note, Downing said the state budget includes about $50 million for improving broadband connectivity, and another $300 million in Chapter 90 money, which funds local transportation projects.
In answer to a question from the board, Downing said state legislators hope the funding comes to towns as early in the construction season as possible.
Finally, both state officials agreed to support a home-rule petition that would assess a one cent gas tax in Great Barrington. Such a petition would have to be approved by voters at town meeting.
To reach Derek Gentile:
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