Lenox Selectman Ed Lane, state Rep. William 'Smitty' Pignatelli, and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito at the Lee Town Hall on Saturday.
LEE, Mass. — About a year and a half ago, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito signed community compacts with 17 southern Berkshire towns as the towns agreed to pursue enhanced shared services.
On Saturday, Polito came to Lee to celebrate an agreement between the town and Lenox to share a town administrator. The agreement came after years of planning and enhancing cooperation and came to fruition the help of some $200,000 in grant funding through the Community Compact program.
"It all started with your Community Compact. It was your project and the administration's project to try to pull all communities together and develop best practices," state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli told Polito.
"We had a monumental Community Compact signing about a year and a half ago, which is still unprecedented, 17 towns, all coming together to talk about sharing services and this is really the capstone of a lot of work."
Town Administrator Bob Nason and Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen had been building toward that for years. The two towns grew the number of services they shared, paving the way for the town meeting votes this year. Nason is retiring and Ketchen will take over on July 1 as the head of both towns.
"Our communities are like mirror images in terms of organizational structure. It is not like we are trying to meld different organizations together, they are all going to be separate but very similar," Nason said.
Ketchen said the immediate benefit of the move comes through specialization. The two towns will hire an assistant who has a particular focus on human resources.
"Neither town could hire their own human resources director. I would never go to town meeting and as for a human resource director just for Lenox. But now together, we can bring that capability in-house," Ketchen said.
From there, Ketchen said he'd continue to look for opportunities to share services. Both towns will retain their organization but there could be ways to improve and streamline other services. The two towns already share a health department and a building department.
"Bob and I have been working on this for two years in hopes that this day would come and it has. We've continued to meet regularly and we've basically shared everything that is going on in our two towns up to this point and that process will continue," Ketchen said.
Polito praised the agreement, saying it is "pioneering." She said towns throughout the state will be able to learn and follow the lead of what is happening in Lee and Lenox.
"This is pioneering. It is not only historic for the two towns involved here bit it is pioneering. You are setting up a model that other communities in this commonwealth can study," Polito said. "We are very traditional in the commonwealth, every city and town is parochial about the way they do things. Local government is a deep tradition here so for you to think about doing this better is profound."
The administration provided two grants to make the agreement happen, one for information technology work and another for regionalization. The Community Compact program is designed as an agreement for cities and towns who want to implement best practices and the state will provide funds to assist. Regionalization is one of those best practices the administration will fund to help implement.
"What I love about this is that this is not state government telling you what to do or how to do it. This is you as a community, now Lenox and Lee, coming together because you want to, because you decided this is what is best for these communities and the region, and most importantly for the future generations of people you want to lay their roots in this community," Polito said.
Pignatelli said the agreement matches his three goals when it comes to regionalization efforts — to maintain individual town identities, streamline and enhance services, and save taxpayer money.
"We know there are some challenges but I do think it is a landmark day. I really do think this is very exciting," Pignatelli said.
Polito visited Saturday with Pignatelli, Nason, Ketchen, Lenox Selectmen Ed Lane, Ken Fowler, Warren Archey, and David Roche, Lee Selectmen Dave Consolati, and Thomas Wickham. Polito said she requested the stop to thank those individuals who "rolled up their sleeves" and thought outside of the box to make the agreement happen.
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