PITTSFIELD, Mass. — BRPC finally got its local assistance funding and more than 25 towns have requested help.
The funding for District Local Technical Local Assistance program was questionable over the last few months as the state pondered budget cuts to address shortages of revenue. The state provides $2.8 million to regional planning committees to help towns with an array of planning projects.
But, late into 2016 the money hadn't been released and the governor was in the process of making budget cuts.
"The DLTA funding was spared from 9C cuts and I signed our contract on Dec. 15 and we are waiting for the signed contract back. With the holidays, that may be slightly drawn out but we are proceeding in hopes that some projects can commence very early with the new year," said Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Nathaniel Karns.
The program allows BRPC to take on projects for towns, particularly the smaller ones with little full-time staff and resources, such as updating zoning bylaws, master planning, mapping, and more. The program has helped with economic planning, the Rest of the River case, and planning for the impacts of proposed natural gas pipelines - all work that needs expertise that many towns don't have on hand.
BRPC has funding to do a dozen or so projects in a given year. The organization went forward with project solicitation already in hopes the funding would come through and Karns said more than 25 projects have already been submitted for consideration.
"It proves over and over again how valuable the community feels this is," Karns said.
BRPC is now going through a review process to determine which tasks it has the ability to perform this year. Much of the work coincides with the state's Community Compact program and can help towns adopt the best practices the state is promoting municipalities to undertake.
"The priority areas have no changed, focusing on 'Planning Ahead for Housing,' 'Planning Head for Growth,' and Community Compact activities," Karns wrote in a memo to the BRPC board. "Requests for assistance under DLTA are to be submitted to BRPC no later than Jan. 20 and we would welcome conversations about potential requests at any time."
BRPC has been running the program for seven years and receives about $200,000 of the state's $2.8 million allocation. Towns began writing to legislators in the fall when the program's fund had not yet been released and concerns about mid-year cuts arose. The program in the past had been on the chopping block but lawmakers ultimately overrode the veto.
In other business, BRPC is holding a workshop on local regulations around legalized recreational marijuana. The goal is to provide local officials with information about how to control the establishment of marijuana shops or other facilities.
BRPC member Rene Wood said overall the goal is to give officials the "lay of the land" including timelines for decisions in order to get zoning and other regulations in place before shops are approved by the state. The discussion will also outline the options of moratoriums or outright bans. The law which was passed provides very specific formulas for such certain regulations.
The workshop is on Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Lenox Town Hall.
"The timeline is relatively short for those towns which may want to consider prohibiting the establishment of marijuana shops or other facilities as such prohibition would need to be on spring town meeting warrants," Karns wrote. "For other communities, there is the ability to have reasonable regulations but those will take time to development and there appears to be adequate, not overly generous, time to do so."
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