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Small Town Summits to tackle rural woes



Staff Writer
Thursday, August 09, 2018

SHELBURNE FALLS — In the two years since the first Small Town Summits were held in Charlemont, the state has created a Small Bridge Program to help cash-strapped rural towns pay for needed bridge repairs, broadband infrastructure build-out has begun and the Legislature has approved $1.5 million in rural school aid, to help low-enrollment schools offset rising costs.

The Small Town Summits that addressed these and other rural problems are now run by Rural Commonwealth — the nonprofit organization created by former Charlemont Selectboard members Beth Bandy and Toby Gould — which is working to continue the conversation about the needs of rural communities.

Although it is now based in the former Lamson & Goodnow complex in Shelburne Falls, Rural Commonwealth will be holding a series of Small Town Summits from September through next August in several town halls. Here is the schedule. All summits are scheduled for 7 p.m.:

Payments for state-owned land, is the topic on Thursday, Sept. 27 in Peru Town Hall, 7 E. Main Road, Peru.

“Payment in Lieu of Taxes” or PILOT money is a critical issue for low-population towns such as Hawley, Warwick and Monroe, in which the state may own between 40 to 50 percent of the land, but pays much less than what towns would collect in tax revenue, if the land was in private hands.

Rural transportation is the subject of the Small Town Summit set for Nov. 1 in the Belchertown Town Hall, at 1 S. Main St., Belchertown.

Not all businesses these days exist within a town center, and fix-route buses that only serve village center or travel main state highways a few times per day may not meet the needs of rural employees trying to get to work in remote locations. Also, elders who don’t drive but who live in rural areas may lack options for getting to medical appointments or shopping areas.

Rural school financing will be addressed on Jan. 10, 2019, in the Gill Town Hall — just in time for the budget season. For many years in rural schools, the cost-per-pupil has gone up while the number of students enrolled has gone down. Many schools have merged or closed, as a result.

“Lobbying 101 for Municipal Leaders” will be led by Jessie Cooley, a former aide to state Rep. Paul Mark on March 7 in Williamsburg. (The exact location is not listed in the news release.) Many town officials who have spoken up at past Small Town Summits have strategized about having “a voice” in state government.

The last summit, on June 13, addresses a large concern in western Franklin County: ZIP codes’ impact on taxes, town clerks and schools. It will be held June 13 at the Heath Community Hall, 1 E. Main St., Heath. Many of the smallest towns are served by a multitude of post offices and may have four or five ZIP codes.

Buckland, especially, has been talking to both the US Postal Service and to state officials over concerns that property valuations and median income levels used to assess Buckland’s education costs are artificially high — because they’re calculated on information derived from a small neighborhood with the 01338 ZIP code.

Rural Commonwealth is a statewide nonprofit focused on strengthening 170 rural communities in Massachusetts. Its economic development work is based on the idea that every rural town resident deserves to make a good living in an environment that provides a good life.

For more information about Rural Commonwealth and the Small Town Summits, go to: www.ruralcommonwealth.org