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Hadley Select Board: Time to exit the Hampshire Council of Governments

  • The Hampshire Council of Governments is located in the Hampshire County courthouse at the corner of Main and King streets in downtown Northampton. Gazette file photo



Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2017

HADLEY — Questions about the financial viability of the Hampshire Council of Governments and about its image, including the bonuses recently given to its staff, are prompting the Select Board to endorse having Hadley leave the Hampshire Council of Governments.

Both the Select Board and Finance Committee are recommending that residents support withdrawal from the regional entity at the Oct. 5 special Town Meeting.

But even if an affirmative vote is taken, the town can’t leave until July 1, 2019. Hadley joined what is now dubbed HCG at a special Town Meeting in 2010.

“We continue to be concerned over the past couple of years over the financial stability of the Hampshire Council of Governments,” Select Board Chairwoman Molly Keegan said in a phone interview Sept. 22.

Keegan said there are legitimate concerns about the red flags identified in an audit by Melanson Heath of Greenfield about HCG’s financials, and whether Executive Director Todd Ford is accepting accountability or responsibility for these issues.

But Ford disputes that these financial problems still exist, observing that the agency has expanded and diversified its revenues and improved its financial footing.

“We’ll continue to be transparent and tell the story and provide financial information,” Ford said.

The move to leave comes despite the town’s participation in services that include electrical aggregation, bulk purchasing, the Retired Services Volunteers Program and information technology through Paragus IT, all of which Keegan said benefits the town.

In fact, staff from HCG presented at the Select Board’s meeting Sept. 13, illustrating that for Hadley’s spending about $1.09 per resident, it gets $65 in savings and services.

“The return on investment is very high,” Ford said.

He added that he is disappointed Hadley officials are characterizing this as minimal services.

Donald Pipczynski, the Select Board’s liaison to HCG, described at the Sept. 13 meeting that the agency was putting forward a phenomenal effort and doing “wonderful things for the town of Hadley at this point.”

One of these is the RSVP of Pioneer Valley program. Lindsay Bennett-Jacobs, who serves as its director, said the Hadley Senior Center benefits from its volunteers.

“We help them get connected to new volunteers for programs,” Bennett-Jacobs said.

These have included members to serve on the Senior Center Building Committee, revamping its website and leading its exercise classes.

Even so, Keegan said Hadley is not precluded from seeking services that could be better on the open market or through the Franklin Council of Governments. “The Select Board in Hadley is very committed to engaging in regional efforts, where possible,” Keegan said.

But beyond that, Keegan said the “CoG” has become more of a distraction than officials appreciate.

“We’re finding ourselves talking about the Council of Governments more often than we need to do,” Keegan said.

Keegan also described some of its ongoing issues as wasting her time and Pipczynski’s time.

Both Keegan and Pipczynski, in fact, offered sharp criticisms. Keegan’s centered on the recent bonuses paid to 14 employees.

“No one else does that, we’d never see that in municipal government, state government, where these bonuses can just be given out to employees outside the context of a defined compensation plan,” Keegan said.

Pipczynski also claimed that Hampshire County Group Insurance Trust is being asked to leave HCG’s building in Northampton, which he calls “antics” that he no longer wants to put up with.

But Ford said that is not accurate information, and that HCG is simply seeking additional staff space for the RSVP program as it expands to Hampden County.

“We welcome a continued dialogue,” Ford said.