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Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Near Selection of Administrative Agent

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Less than a year after its board of directors held its first meeting, the sprawling Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership is on track to hire an administrative agent.
 
The board's search committee met on Monday afternoon and recommended to the full board that it enter negotiations with the New England Forestry Foundation to provide administrative support.
 
The Littleton-based NEFF was the lone respondent to the MTWP's request for proposals. Monday, the subcommittee reviewed the non-profit's answers to the panel's followup questions before voting, 5-0, to send a recommendation to Tuesday's board meeting.
 
"I think they've addressed, although not in terribly great detail, our concerns," said Williamstown's Hank Art, the chair of the MTWP board. "Overall, it was a decent response, especially since we gave them all of two days to come up with the answers to 13 questions.
 
"On balance, I'm happy with the fact they've addressed our concerns. It strengthens the proposal from where it was last week."
 
The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership includes North Adams and 20 towns in Berkshire and Franklin Counties.
 
Its mission is to bring financial and technical resources to those municipalities in order to support natural resources-based economic development and sustainable forestry in the region, which stretches from Peru north to the Vermont state line and from Williamstown east to Leyden.
 
To that end, the partnership has helped secure nearly a half million in state funding for local projects over the last year, with $260,000 awarded in February and $225,000 earlier this fall.
 
From its inception, the MTWP board has envisioned hiring an administrator, a process that it had hoped to wrap up this summer — before the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Monday's meeting marked a step in that direction. One taken after subcommittee members expressed a couple of concerns about the NEFF proposal.
 
Franklin Regional Council of Governments Director of Planning and Development Peggy Sloan suggested that the MTWP needs more specificity from the New England Forestry Foundation about how it plans to allocate resources to supporting the partnership.
 
"What would be helpful is if the budget was broken down by task so you could see how much staff time is allocated to developing the plan, how much to supporting the subcommittees," she said.
 
Art said that is among the issues that could be worked out in negotiating the final contract.
 
"In the contract, we could say the subcommittees are an integral part of the board, and that would cover that we need support for the work of the subcommittees," he said. "We should nail that down in the contract."
 
Whit Sanford of the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association said she liked NEFF's proposal overall but wondered about its commitment to economic development.
 
"They seem reticent about developing the whole plan within the budget framework," Sanford said. "That seems to me a problem because that's the first thing we want done.
 
"Also, while they've easily identified all the conservation groups, they didn't identify the economic development groups … They could work with the CDCs or Chambers of Commerce … and business associations."
 
Robert O'Connor of the commonwealth's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said he appreciated Sanford's concern but felt the MTWP would not be able to find one agency that would satisfy all its needs.
 
"They said they'd subcontract out with approval of the board," O'Connor said. "I think that when we actually do a contract, that's our next chance to tweak the proposal into a scope."
 
Adams' Joe Nowak agreed that the partnership should move forward with the New England Forestry Foundation.
 
"I don't want to stay in neutral," Nowak said. "I'd rather get on the accelerator and start moving forward. I feel they're a pretty good group. I get what Whit [Sanford] says, but I feel that's something that can be tweaked before the contract is signed.
 
"I feel comfortable with that group. I liked what they have to say."
 
The full Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership board is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Tags: forestland,   

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Hotels, Meals Tax in Williamstown Shows Impact of Pandemic

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Numbers from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue indicate the town's lodging industry lost 57 percent of its business from April through September compared with 2019.
 
Town Manager Jason Hoch reported those statistics to the Select Board on Monday night to demonstrate how much the local economy has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The numbers come from the DOR's report of local lodging establishments' liability under the rooms and meals tax. Although the commonwealth has given businesses the "small relief" of being able to defer those tax payments, the amount they owe still shows up on the books, Hoch said.
 
In the half year that began after the pandemic started to impact Massachusetts' economy, Williamstown's hotels, motels and short-term renters collected receipts that translated to a combined tax bill of $124,287.06.
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