Hampshire Council Of Governments In Western Mass. Looks To Shut Down

Apr 18, 2019

The Hampshire Council of Governments in western Massachusetts said Wednesday it's going to run out of money soon, and is planning to cease operations. 

The regional agency faces nearly $5 million in liabilities, largely from retiree pension and insurance costs.

As it looks to wind down, the council is looking to sell off its remaining assets to cover its debt.

The council of governments provides group purchasing, energy, and social service programs to 15 member communities. It was formed two decades ago as county governments in western Massachusetts were dissolving.

"This is a very long story that's been developing for decades," said Russ Peotter, chairman of the Hampshire Council of Governments. "It's come to a head now, and ceasing operations and looking for homes for our successful programs is probably the best we can do."  

Peotter said the plan is to sell its energy businesses and real estate it owns, including the old Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton, to pay off its debt.

Much of the retiree costs come from a former long-term care facility the group inherited when county governments were eliminated in 1999.

Peotter was asked what happens if they don't make enough money.

"We don't know," he said. 

But there could be help from Beacon Hill. That's according to Northampton state Representative Lindsay Sabadosa, who said she's working with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Statehouse lawyers to help craft legislation to help with the situation.

"The Hampshire Council of Governments was set up through special legislation, so it will require special legislation to dissolve it," Sabadosa said. "The hope is that we will be able to find a way to take care of all of its liabilities as well."  

Northampton, Amherst and Easthampton — three of the largest communities in Hampshire County — all left the organization, and took their membership dues with them.

Still, the council serves a purpose for smaller towns, like Williamsburg.

Town Administrator Charlene Nardi said her community relies on its group buying program for things like road materials and IT services.

"When they do regional procurement services, that brings down the cost, and that makes a huge difference for us," Nardi said. "Especially the small communities, working on small budgets that are totally supported by our tax base."

Nardi said if the buying program doesn't continue in the near future, it could impact planned road construction for this year.