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South County Programs, State Park Fund Secured for FY2020

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LENOX, Mass. — State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli says some $350,000 has been procured through his efforts in the state's 2020 budget for programs in his 4th Berkshire District, including the Berkshire Youth Development Project, Greenagers, and Community Access to the Arts.
"BYDP, CATA, and Greenagers do so much good work in the Southern Berkshires, adding real value to our communities in terms of positive youth development, environmental advocacy, and special needs integration," said Pignatelli. "I wanted to make sure we highlighted these organizations through the state budget to put an emphasis on some of the best qualities the Berkshires have to offer to our commonwealth."
Funded at $43.1 billion, H. 4000 makes major investments in education, housing, substance use disorder services, health care, and other areas while projecting a more than $476 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund – bringing the fund's balance to more than $3 billion to safeguard the future of vital programs and services.
The Berkshire Youth Development Project line item, funded to Railroad Street Youth Project (RSYP) in Great Barrington, has been a Pignatelli priority for the past several budgets, supporting the collaboration between RSYP in South County, Berkshire United Way in Pittsfield, and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in North Adams to prevent drug dependency and promote positive youth development for a smoother transition to adulthood.
Similarly, Greenagers in Egremont provides opportunities for teens and young adults to participate in farming, agriculture, and natural resource management to promote teamwork, collaboration, and environmental awareness in the next generation. 
Community Access to the Arts employs professional artists to provide visual and performing arts education to persons with disabilities across the Berkshires and in New York State, allowing students to showcase their skills through live poetry readings, art exhibits, performances and much more.
As House chairman of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee, Pignatelli further secured a $1 million increase to the Department of Conservation and Recreation's State Parks and Recreation line item.
"The DCR's Parks and Recreation are noticeably underfunded," he said. "They oversee over 450,000 acres of parks and land in the state and manage all of our natural and recreational resources on a daily basis and they still have 30 percent fewer full-time employees than they did in 2008. I'm thrilled to see the additional $1 million I requested be accepted."
One initiative secured by Pignatelli and House Minority Leader Brad Jones that did not make the final budget was an increase in funding to the Conservation Land Tax Credit (CLTC) Program, an incentive program for landowners who voluntarily donate qualifying land for permanent conservation to the state, municipality, or a nonprofit conservation organization.
"The Conservation Land Tax Credit program has successfully preserved thousands of acres of land across Massachusetts, and I believe the widespread support for the program amongst land owners speaks for itself," said Pignatelli. "Leader Jones and I will continue to advocate for increases the CLTC cap so that all landowners have an opportunity to participate."
The following initiatives are funded in the FY2020 state budget:
  • $5.17 billion in Chapter 70 education funding as part of a $268 million increase for investments in schools over Fiscal Year 2019.
  • $53.4 million for Homeless individual shelters
  • $150.2 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services
  • $47.25 million for State Parks and Recreation
  • $61 million for the Department of Environmental Protection
  • $1.5 million for Watershed Protection
  • $90.5 million for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs)
  • $50 million increase in the supplemental rates for nursing homes across the Commonwealth and an emergency task force aimed at helping to bring stability to the industry
  • $19 million towards the Councils on Aging to help senior citizens
Having been passed by the House and Senate, the legislation now goes to Governor Charlie Baker for his signature. Baker has 10 days to review and act on the budget bill.

Tags: 4th Berkshire,   fiscal 2020,   state budget,   

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Ethics Commission Alleges Conflict Violations by West Stockbridge Chief

WEST STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — The Enforcement Division of the State Ethics Commission on Wednesday filed an order to show cause alleging that West Stockbridge Fire Chief Peter Skorput, a former Select Board member, committed multiple conflict-of-interest law violations, including setting stipends for himself, his daughter and his nephew; voting as a Select Board member to reappoint himself fire chief; and terminating a firefighter who had filed a complaint against him.
According to the order, shortly after Skorput was elected to the Select Board in 2013, a West Stockbridge official contacted the town's counsel about conflict-of-interest law exemptions available to Skorput regarding his serving both as a Select Board member and fire chief. 
Allegedly, town counsel advised the official that Skorput follow the requirements for a particular conflict-of-interest law exemption that would allow him to accept pay for both positions, and this was communicated to Skorput. From the time he was elected until January 2017, however, Skorput did not meet the exemption requirements and violated the conflict of law by continuing to hold his compensated fire chief position after his election to the Select Board, according to the order.
The order further alleges Skorput violated the conflict-of-interest law by participating officially in matters involving his own and his daughter's financial interests. In 2013, Skorput allegedly voted as a Select Board member to reappoint himself as fire chief. Also, as fire chief, he allegedly decided the amount of firefighter stipends for himself each December in 2013-2015 and for his daughter in 2013 and 2014, and as a Select Board member signed the pay warrants for his daughter's stipends. Additionally, at several Select Board meetings in 2015 and 2016, Skorput allegedly participated as a Select Board member in the board's review of complaints about his performance as fire chief.
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