April 13, 2018
Dear Amherst Town Manager and Select Board,
The Hampshire Council of Governments’ (HCG) Strategic Planning Committee was formed to reexamine the structure and operations of the organization and to ensure its long-term sustainability. After months of analysis, we believe that we have reached a critical time in the process and want to share with you what we have learned.
Our initial research compared the history and structure of HCG with other Councils of Governments (COGs), Regional Planning Agencies (RPAs), and remaining County governments in the Commonwealth. Not surprisingly, HCG is unique in structure and operation. While it shares a similar mission to provide regional services, it is very different in that it is not able to adequately assess or substantially incentivize the voluntary participation of towns, nor is it able to apply for most major federal grants. Further, HCG continues to shoulder several large liabilities that are legacy costs from the former County government and the former County government employees. No other COG or RPA shares a similar financial burden.
Although these financial challenges have become more acute recently, they have existed since the enabling legislation was created in 1999. Therefore, we reached out to the entire legislative delegation and have subsequently held several in-depth conversations to explore a legislative solution. Those discussions have been revealing but sobering. Therefore, it appears that the most advantageous solution is for the cities and towns of Hampshire County to collectively work towards a path forward.
The total legacy liability covered by HCG annually is almost $400,000, while the total unfunded legacy liability exceeds $4.6 million. The liability is one shared by all Hampshire County communities. According to our analysis and discussions with the legislative delegation, in the absence of HCG, these costs would likely revert to the towns. HCG has historically covered these costs and has paid over $1.5M funding this liability since the county government was eliminated in 1999. Looking forward, HCG is concerned that the annual unfunded liability may prove too much under the current paradigm. If HCG were no longer able to pay for these liabilities, in the case of Amherst, your costs could total as much as $77,525 per year. The total liability for Amherst is $1,157,668.
We are searching for a solution that would allow HCG to maintain funding the County retirement liabilities. But without collective support and County unity, we know that we cannot continue to shoulder the burden alone for much longer. As we plot a course for the future of HCG and Hampshire County’s presence in the Commonwealth, it is vital that all of the Hampshire County communities understand this information. HCG wants to continue to assist cities and towns with services as well as the avoidance of legacy liabilities, but we simply can’t continue to do it alone.
Help HCG continue to support your community. Help us spread these costs across a wide array of services and offerings throughout the Commonwealth. We invite you to be part of the solution. We welcome your questions and your participation in the process over the next few months.
We will be reaching out to continue this process in the weeks to come.
The HCG Strategic Planning Committee
Below is the full list of annual costs and total liabilities for Hampshire County communities:
City/Town Annual Cost Total Liability
Amherst $77,515 $1,157,668
Belchertown $29,078 $434,223
Chesterfield $2,437 $36,395
Cummington $1,693 $25,274
Easthampton $31,063 $463,859
Goshen $2,072 $30,935
Granby $12,296 $183,620
Hadley $10,374 $154,908
Hatfield $6,412 $95,753
Huntington $4,238 $63,286
Middlefield $1,025 $15,309
Northampton $55,095 $822,722
Pelham $2,575 $38,445
Plainfield $1,273 $19,006
South Hadley $34,419 $513,974
Southampton $11,983 $178,940
Ware $19,153 $286,016
Westhampton $3,180 $47,486
Williamsburg $4,797 $71,634
Worthington $2,313 $34,546
TOTAL: $313,000 $4,674,000