PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Regional Planning Commission's non-profit arm handled some $123,000 in donations and grants to help support ongoing projects.
Berkshires Tomorrow is a non-profit the organization established in the last few years and is being put to work to accept charitable donations to support planning projects which may not be state or federally funded. Last year the non-profit arm allocated $74,000 to assist the Berkshire County Educational Task Force and another $46,657 for the Age-Friendly Berkshires force.
"Last year through Berkshires Tomorrow there was $70,000 that came from primary private sources... that funded work by the Donahue Institute at UMass," said BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns on Thursday when he provided an update on the activities of the non-profit the executive committee.
That group, consisting of representatives from school committees and administrators throughout the county, has been tackling the issue of education, particularly in the face of declining enrollment. That includes looking at shared service agreements and possible consolidation of schools.
"It is thinking about what the future of our schools need in order to meet our 21st-century needs," Karns said.
The Task Force was able to use some of the funds from the private donations, which Karns said were earmarked by the donors for the work, to hire institute for research and consultation as it researches and plans to handle the declining enrollment issues.
"It has a healthy balance sheet. Most of the money really is provided for something specific," Karns said.
The task force's work caught the attention of the state, and Gov. Charlie Baker has made a budget line appropriation of $150,000 to support the group's work. Baker also met with the task force in August. That allocation will then hire a consultant to take the research done so far to the next level.
The age-friendly Berkshires takes aim at the other side of the demographics - the older population. Berkshire County's demographics are showing close to half of the county's population over the age of 50. The county is getting older.
That plan received a five-year program funded by a grant from Tufts Health Plan Foundation. Some $86,000 was contributed to Berkshires Tomorrow for the efforts as that group tackles the multitude of issues associated with making the Berkshires a better place to live for the elderly.
While most of the Berkshires Tomorrow income had specific allocations, the non-profit did have some left in the balance. The ledger reads a net income of $1,562 at the end of the year. Karns said that money is eyed to built upon and eventually allocated to another project.
"We have generated a little bit of net income which we can choose to use for a specific purpose," Karns said.
The non-profit arm is becoming a tool for BRPC as it often cobbles together funding for the planning activities it embarks on. For example, the non-profit can apply for private grants which government agencies are excluded from receiving.
BRPC is already considering the potential use of the Berkshires Tomorrow for private grants to help offset a possible cut in the District Local Technical Assistance Program.
The DLTA program helps particularly small towns with little staff on a number of issues such as zoning laws, master planning, Green Communities designations, solar bylaws, and mapping. But with state revenues uncertain, Baker could implement mid-year cuts and that program could be on the chopping block.
"We continue to be nervous about district local technical assistance funding," Karns said. "Until we have something, we don't know we have anything."
Not only has BRPC accepting private donations for the planning efforts but has also set up an account with Amazon Smile, which donates .5 percent of every purchase to a charity of the shopper's choice. The shopper is able to pick Berkshires Tomorrow as their charity of choice - providing more revenue to support the planning efforts and projects.
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