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BRPC's Executive Committee has been concerned about the program for months now.

Regional Planners Still Waiting On DLTA Funds To Be Released

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns wants to help move the Eagle Mill redevelopment along.  
But, he isn't sure if he'll have the funds to do it. Last year, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission began the process of crafting a 40R zoning overlay district. It is a series of regulations aimed to encourage dense residential and mixed-use zoning districts.
The funds for the assistance came from the District Local Technical Assistance Program.
Now into December, halfway through the fiscal year, the state still hasn't released those funds. That is just one of a dozen or more projects BRPC helps towns tackle with the funds.
"DLTA would be a very logical and legitimate way to provide that assistance," Karns said.
BRPC runs the program with $200,000 from the state's $2.8 million allocation. But, Gov. Charlie Baker's administration oversees the release of those funds and they were on his list of vetoes during the budget season. The Legislature overrode the veto.
Then revenues began coming in low for the state and the threat of 9C, or midyear cuts, was looming. BRPC grew concerned about those funds being on the chopping block and began advocating to keep them. The program provides hands-on assistance for updating zoning laws, to master planning, with Green Communities designations, solar bylaws, and mappings among the array of options. 
"We are probably doing local projects, a dozen, 15 local projects," Karn said, some of which are regional in nature so close to 20 different Berkshire towns are utilizing the program.
If the funds aren't released by the end of the month, Karns isn't certain what can be done. The projects not only need to be solicited every year, and then the scope of work needs to be crafted, and then the staff will begin. 
"Even if they do release it and do it on Christmas Eve, that means we won't be ready and able to start projects until the first of March in reality," Karns said.
At this point, BRPC is going ahead with soliciting applications for projects, getting a head start for when the funding is release. 
But, Karns is warning towns that there is no guarantee the money will be there. He's hoping that at least if the funds aren't released by the time the projects are received, he can show those to the administration to support the cause of releasing the funds.
Should the money not get released, Karns said the help can get funded by the individual towns or through a small portion of the organization's budget — but it wouldn't get the amount of work the towns would hope for completed.
"The funding sources end up driving what we are doing instead of what the community priorities are, and that's not a comfortable place to be," Karns said.
Karns said multiple towns have written to the administration asking for the funds. He said all four Berkshire House representatives have written asking for the money to be released.
"What can be done has been done at this point," said BRPC member John Duval.
BRPC member Jamie Mullen wonders if the funds became a "political football." But, Karns says it is more likely that there is an "ideological difference" between the administration and the Legislature leading to the hold up of the funds. 
Nonetheless, the lack of clarity if making BRPC officials nervous about the program.

Tags: BRPC,   master planning,   technical assistance,   

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