Lt. Governor Karyn Polito plans return visit to Hilltowns

The Hilltown Collaborative has become a model for the state

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito looks on as Adam Dolby, chair of the Blandford Selectmen signs the Community Compact for his town last May. Waiting for their turn to sign are (left to right) Jane Thielen, administrative assistant and tax collector for Montgomery, Allan Vint, chair of the Middlefield Select Board, John McVeigh, selectman from Huntington, and Don Ellershaw, chair of the Chester Select Board. (Photo by Amy Porter)

HUNTINGTON, Mass. (The Westfield News) – Lt. Governor Karyn Polito will be making her first trip back to the Gateway Hilltowns on Wednesday, June 7 at 5 pm in Stanton Hall, for a meeting with the Hilltown Collaborative, the group that emerged from the Community Compacts signed by the six towns and the Baker/Polito administration one year ago. Andrew Myers, chair of the Hilltown Collaborative, said the Lt. Governor will be coming to pledge the administration’s continuing support and additional resources to the process.

While each town’s representative signed a Community Compact, the six were identical, pledging to work together to create conditions for a strong economy in the face of increasing pressures on municipal and school budgets. In return, the Baker-Polito Administration pledged to be a reliable partner in local aid, and to make technical assistance opportunities available. Both have been true to their word.

The main focus of the meeting on June 7 will be a presentation by Zachary Blake and Sean Cronin from the Division of Local Services (DLS) who will discuss possibilities for shared financial management operations in the towns, which include Blandford, Russell, Montgomery, Huntington, Chester and Middlefield. Blake met with all of the towns individually over the winter and interviewed town officials and financial officers for the study made possible through the Community Compact. The findings, plus statewide trends and best practices are detailed in the presentation.

“There are some new ideas to help the towns be sustainable. Potential for sharing of financial services, accountants, treasurers, tax collectors,” said Myers. “It’s not a quick fix, but a 3-5 year process of transition, with more professional staff doing these things in the future,” he added. Currently some of the financial positions in the towns are elected, and some are appointed.

Myers said that June 7 will not be a decision night, but an opportunity to present possibilities for the towns to consider and to ask questions. “We hope town officials will consider it. There is a need for us to do something,” he said, pointing to some of the downhill trends in the region, including stagnant populations, loss of students, increasing tax rates and costs.

“Our main hope is that towns come in with an open mind. We are not just sticking our heads in the sand. The status quo will not get us by,” Myers added.

Sharing of financial services is only one of the directions the Hilltown Collaborative, which has members appointed by the Select Boards from each of the towns, has taken in the past year. The group also participated in an economic development study by Elan Planning/Design/Landscape Architecture over the past year, thanks to a $40,000 grant from MassDevelopment. That plan, which focuses on the assets and opportunities in the region, is expected to be finalized over the summer.

In addition, the group recently received a grant of $100,000 to establish an office and hire an economic development coordinator for the region, enlisting the services of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to assist in recruitment of the position. PVPC has also been an active part of the other Community Compact efforts, and is also currently conducting a study of information technology services that could be shared between the towns.

The application period for the economic development coordinator ended May 22, and interviews will begin in June. Myers said they have received about a dozen applications, both local and from out of the area. The position will be located in Chester Town Hall, and supervised by the Hilltown Collaborative.

Myers said the Hilltown Collaborative has become a model for the state, which is encouraged by the cooperation between the six towns in looking forward to a sustainable economic future for the region. Lt. Governor Polito is expected to share the state’s perspective on the local effort during her visit on June 7.

Copyright 2017 The Westfield News