PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is ramping up its advocacy for the District Local Technical Assistance program.
The DLTA program is state funded and provides money for towns to contract with the planning commission for assistance in a number of planning areas including zoning, permitting, land use, water resources, transportation, information technology and others.
This year the state Senate's budget called to defund the program completely, as the Senate has done in the past. The House of Representatives, however, has penned in $2.8 million. A conference committee will determine the final budget numbers.
"The lines have been drawn between zero and $2.8 million," Karns said.
The line has been funded at $2.8 million for the last three years but it hasn't been enough to fund all of the projects in the pipeline. Locally, there were 28 applications last year, which is four more than the year before.
"Even last year, we were unable to meet several requests and this year is even worse," Karns said.
The regional planning commissions banded together to push for an increase of funding to $3.4 million. State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, sponsored an amendment doing just that, but it wasn't adopted into the Senate's budget.
"There is a real risk of this funding not happening," Assistant Director Thomas Matuszko said. "I think strong support is in order and not just perfunctory responses."
Matuszko said it still isn't clear where the state's legislative leadership stands on the issue so while there has been a threat in the past of having the program cut, the threat is even more uncertain now. Karns will be asking commission members to write to lawmakers advocating for the funds.
"It's always helpful for the local legislators to know how this impacts their constituents," Karns said.
In other business, BRPC's Environmental Review Committee will be convening later this month to weigh in on the removal of the Tel-Electric Dam. The state has been looking to remove the dam for a number of years and held a site visit last week.
The dam, which stands off Mill Street, is eyed to improve the ecosystem by allowing fish to swim farther and food and sustenance to flow downstream. However, it poses a number of challenges including a century's worth of contamination stacked up behind it.
"It's been a long-standing goal of the city to see that removed as part of the West Branch greenway project," Karns said.
Not only has the state been considering where the sentiment will go, along with the contamination, but also what the change in the riverbed will do to nearby infrastructure. The city has a greenway project in the works for that section of the Housatonic that requires the dam to be removed. Additionally, the hope is to solve flooding issues nearby.
The commission is also looking to hold a strategic planning session among with BRPC members. Member Rene Wood told the executive committee that the session is planned for September and the organization is looking to bring on a facilitator to run it. The format of the project has yet to be determined but it is hoped to help towns in their planning processes.
"It'll be wonderful but there are some details to work out. We just thought it would be a good way to advanced the strategic planning we've been working on," Wood said.
The executive committee also on Thursday granted the renewal of a line of credit with TD Bank of $180,000. Karns said the line hasn't been touched in the past but is available to help with organizational cash flow. In the past there were a number of grants which could only be billed quarterly, so BRPC was incurring the costs without the revenue. The line of credit has been in place but rarely used, he said.
"In the past, as we were getting toward the end of the year before community assessments were in we'd use it for cash flow," Karns said.
As the fiscal year comes to a close, Karns said the financial reports show nothing alarming. There are some aged receivables still out there and the organizations are sending out reminders, but Karns expects all bills to be paid.
The executive committee also agreed to allow Karns to take vacation time instead of a bonus payout he was given during his last performance review. The commission did not give Karns a raise but instead allocated for $2,500 for professional development training or as a bonus. On Thursday, he asked to instead use the remaining $2,000 as vacation time instead of a cash payout, thus cutting down on overhead payment.
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