NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A compromise state spending bill reached over the weekend contains good news for the Berkshires, particularly its rural school districts.
State Sen. Adam Hinds' amendment to increase the Rural School Aid grant program by $1 million, raising the total appropriation to $2.5 million, is included in the fiscal 2020 state budget along with $7.7 million for projects in the senator's district.
"This is a strong budget with serious investments in key areas such as public education and transportation, while addressing other pressing policy issues such as reducing the cost of prescription medications," Hinds said in a statement.
The $43.1 billion budget was passed on Monday by the House and Senate and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker, who has 10 days to sign it.
Included in the spending package is $270,000 to fund the pilot season of the Berkshire Flyer, of which $30,000 will be used by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority for a project manager.
The Berkshire Flyer, based off the popular Cape Cod Flyer, calls for 20 weeks of passenger rail trips next summer bringing people from New York City on a Friday afternoon to the Berkshires and home on Sunday. It is hoped to provide a significant boost to the region's tourism economy. The Department of Transportation previously did a feasibility study and agreed it would be worthy of a pilot.
The state Department of Transportation will be rquired to develop and execute a memorandum with the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, which will be the local sponsor of the rail project, to determine the distribution of funding through MassDOT, BRTA and Amtrak.
To help boost ridership, Hinds secure $100,000 for 1Berkshire to market the rail service in the New York City area. MassDOT earlier this year estimated the cost of operating the pilot initially at $421,561 a year, with revenue estimated at $185,000.
In addition, the bill includes $250,000 for a marketing campaign to support the Valley Flyer (also referred to as the Knowledge Corridor or North-South Rail) pilot service, expected to begin this fall. And it directs MassDOT to conduct a feasibility study of costs and economic opportunities related to establishing passenger rail service between the cities of North Adams, Greenfield and Boston.
Also in the spending bill is $50,000 for the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Park in Adams. The town plans to hold a celebration in 2020 marking the civil rights advocate's 200th birthday and the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. The Adams Suffrage Centennial Committee was formed a few years ago to steer this process and set a goal of $300,000 to fund the celebration and erect a statue to Anthony. The town is also applying for a state park grant to renovate the park.
The bill also has $125,000 in funding for the Berkshire Emergency Shelter Initiative to provide homeless individuals with access to overnight beds during the winter months; $200,000 for the Berkshire County youth development project through Railroad Street Youth Project; $50,000 to support the continuing efforts of the Berkshire Education Task Force; $50,000 to support operations and programming at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition; $50,000 for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts'Gallery 51 in downtown North Adams; and $10,000 for the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade.
The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge is getting $25,000 to support its efforts to renovate the Old Town Hall for programming. The building was featured in Rockwell's famous "Stockbridge Main Street At Christmas" and in "Springtime in Stockbridge" but has not been regularly used since the town offices moved to the former Stockbridge Plain School in 2008.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier was able to acquire $34,000 for the Berkshire Athenaeum to upgrade its accessibility; $15,000 to Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires Inc. for administrative support for the Tyler Street Lab; and $26,000 for acessibility upgrades for the Wild Acres Conservation Area in Pittsfield.
There's also $75,000 in funding from an amendment filed by Farley-Bouvier and state Rep. Paul Mark to study the feasibility of Pittsfield becoming an internet service provider. The study would examine if there is a market and Mayor Linda Tyer has said the city has the possibility to become the "hub" for the entire county's high-speed internet service.
Community Access to the Arts Inc. in Great Barrington also got $50,000 in the bill.
Mark had also secured $100,000 for the Berkshire Opioid Task Force. That is the second year of funding for a partnership between the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office and the Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Coalition.
The town of Peru and Windsor are both celebrating their 250th anniversaries and Mark secured $25,000 for each of them for celebrations.
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The Berkshire Flyer has it all backward. There should be train service that allows people to live in the Berkshires and commute to NYC to work. These people will spend money on groceries and goods which will benefit current residents by making a wider variety of products available. Increasing the county's population should be the goal, not tourism.
Be Alert for Opportunities When Preparing for College Costs
Now that summer is winding down, it will soon be "back-to-school" time. When children are young, your logistics for the new academic year may involve little more than a trip to buy school supplies.
But if you would like to send your kids (or grandkids) to college someday, you need to plan far ahead to meet the financial demands. And, as part of your planning, you also need to be on the lookout for all opportunities to help pay those sizable college bills.
Specifically, you will need to be ready to take action in these areas:
Financial aid: You should start thinking about financial aid at least a year before your child heads off to college. For example, you can begin submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on Oct. 1, 2019, for the 2020-21 academic year. And if the past is any guide, you will always need to remember that Oct. 1 date for the next school year. The FAFSA helps colleges and the U.S. Department of Education evaluate your financial need and determine how much financial support your child requires. And since a lot of financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it's a good idea to submit your forms as soon as possible once the application period opens.
Kevin Strahle traveled all the way from his home in New Jersey to compete in the Jack's Hot Dog Stand eating contest on Eagle Street on a sweltering Saturday.
But because of some late intestinal distress, he did not take the title home with him. click for more