Rural Commonwealth is focused on strengthening the 170 rural towns in Massachusetts through network development, effective communication of community needs, on-the-ground research, and local problem-solving projects.
Why Rural Commonwealth? While serving on their local town Selectboard, Beth Bandy and Toby Gould came to realize that rural communities could do more together than separately.
They began with Small Town Summits, gatherings of town selectboard and finance committee members from over 30 towns and with 75 folks participating. Topics have included legislative priorities, lack of broadband, rural ambulance service rules, state owned land payments to towns, and funding rural communities.
- Most small towns in western Mass do not have high speed internet access. By the way, most areas in western Mass don’t have cell service either.
- Some small towns from the Berkshires to the Cape are almost 50% owned by the State. The state gives small amounts of funding back to the towns. Since small towns are primarily funded by property tax, these State payments do not come close to helping those towns provide necessary services.
- The State requires every ambulance service to have two EMTs on each ambulance call. That’s great for a town or city with a paid staff of EMTs. It’s not so great where volunteers are hard to come by. As one of the western Mass residents said, “Either let a first responder drive the ambulance while the EMT takes care of me, or I’ll die waiting to go to the hospital.”
- Through our Western Franklin County business report, we have shown that businesses in rural areas are not clustered in downtowns or on major roads. If you are running a manufacturing business in your barn, you often find that your state-regulated utility hasn’t built sufficient power lines to run your machinery.
- There is no place for a start-up business or a family would wants to expand their business in a new direction to learn how to succeed. Most training takes a two-four hour commute to reach the classroom. (Remember, no internet equals no webinars).
These are some of the issues that Rural Commonwealth is pulling people together to work on.