Editorial: Council marks 20 years of commitment to local issues

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Since its earliest days, Franklin County was a creature of the state, an extension of the Boston-based government in the western wilderness. For years, county government ran local courts, tracked and recorded real estate transactions, jailed criminals.

The creation of a Franklin Regional Council of Governments to replace county government two decades ago was an experiment of sorts. State legislators, from their perch in urban metropolitan Boston, decided the county layer of government was archaic and inefficient. Legislation called for Franklin County government to cease to operate, with the state assuming operation of the jail, courts and registry of deeds. But Franklin’s county government by then had already morphed into an entity that provided cooperative solutions to modern problems that our small towns had in common, but were too large for individual towns to solve on their own. The cooperative building inspector program and county planning office were among the first shared services created under the old county government.

So when the state abolished county government as a vestige of colonial times no longer needed, especially in the heavily developed eastern half of the state, the people of Franklin County designed a replacement to continue to provide regional services needed by the rural towns

This week the FRCOG’s 50-member staff is preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary. They have assembled a multimedia presentation on the organization’s wide-reaching projects over the years — from safety improvements along Route 2 in Erving and Orange to teen pregnancy and substance-abuse prevention programs and economic development and emergency preparedness planning. It’s clear there has been an outsized impact to the region that’s worthy of a celebration.

Such a celebration is planned for Friday, from 3 to 5:30 p.m., at the COG’s home, the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield.

“We’ve been extraordinarily successful,” COG Executive Director Linda Dunlavy told the Recorder, pointing back to the original founding commission’s attempt to retain the best of county government but as a voluntary membership organization providing vital services to towns.

It’s amazing that the membership assessment is only 7 percent of the COG’s roughly $7 million budget. The rest comes from state, federal and other grants to run programs like the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Program and public health coordination.

Instead of a county government that gave towns little control over what they were charged, the COG provides towns with a menu of add-on services, like building inspection and health inspection, for which they pay a la carte.

The COG has proven successful over the years because it takes its cues from its member towns. It survives because it provides useful services to towns that can’t afford them on their own.

Every year, the COG has to prove itself to 26 towns. “And we haven’t lost any,” notes Dunlavy, a respected leader not only of the COG but in the community as well.

Over the years, the regional council has grown to meet more and more needs of the towns, helping with everything from bookkeeping and fire department planning to overseeing the communications network that emergency departments use.

The drafters of the COG wanted a flexible, responsive regional mechanism that could meet their future needs in a largely urban state.

And they got it.