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Happy New Year from all of us at the FRCOG! In the last quarter of 2023, we finalized several municipal plans regarding housing, clean energy, and open space; we also published regional plans to address community health, and moved forward with the development of digital equity planning at local and regional levels. We also provided training for first responders and technical assistance with Complete Streets planning. Take a look below to catch up on what we’ve been up to!

Advocacy
  • Staff are preparing letters for Joint Rule Ten Day on February 7, 2024. Joint Rule Ten Day is the last day in the current legislative session for bills to be released from Committees for further consideration.
  • Staff have drafted testimony in support of the Affordable Homes Act (the Housing Bond Bill) and will be part of two legislative panels at the Hearing on 1/18/24.
  • Working with state and federal legislators and with Regional Planning Commissions and Councils of Governments to the north and south (VT, NH and CT), staff have prepared a series of project ideas that would better predict the impacts of, better prepare municipalities for and coordinate implementation of resiliency efforts to better withstand major storm events. One grant application to FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program has already been submitted by the FRCOG and larger scale, multi-state efforts are in development.

More Information: Linda Dunlavy at [email protected] or ext. 103.

Climate Change & Land Use

Housing Planning Roundup

This quarter saw a lot of housing planning activity in the region. The Town of Orange finalized a Housing Plan and the Town of Whately received state approval for a recently completed Housing Production Plan – both of which the FRCOG assisted the towns in completing. The FRCOG is also wrapping up a Regional Housing Plan for Franklin County, which we will complete this spring. Finally, the FRCOG also received a $40,000 Community Planning grant from the state to conduct a public engagement campaign on the issue of the need to increase and diversify the county’s housing stock.

More Information: FRCOG website Housing Planning page; Megan Rhodes at [email protected] or ext. 132.

Open Space and Recreation Plans (OSRPs)

FRCOG and the Shelburne Open Space Committee submitted a draft updated Shelburne OSRP in late 2023 and received conditional approval from the MA Division of Conservation Services in January 2024.  Shelburne is eligible to apply for state grant rounds through December 2031.

Work continues on the New Salem, Bernardston, and Rowe OSRPs.  A public forum was held for the Rowe OSRP in November. FRCOG continued work on updating New Salem’s OSRP with the Town’s OSRP Committee throughout the fall. FRCOG staff prepared a summary report of the public survey results and drafts of two sections of the report, including GIS maps. The OSRP committee will review these documents over the coming months.

Congratulations to the Wendell Open Space Committee, who received final approval on their 2023 update! Wendell is now eligible for DCS grants through 2030.

More Information: FRCOG website Open Space and Recreation Planning page; Kimberly Noake MacPhee at [email protected] or ext. 130.

Community Health

Regional Age and Dementia Friendly Community Action Plan

An age- and dementia-friendly community makes it easier for older adults to stay connected to people that are important to them, and helps residents stay healthy and active even at the oldest ages, and provides appropriate support to those who can no longer look after themselves. LifePath and the FRCOG are leading an initiative toward helping the North Quabbin and Franklin County become more age- and dementia-friendly. The Age- and Dementia-Friendly Franklin County and North Quabbin Regional Action Plan, released in November, is the culmination of three years and hundreds of hours of work by residents and staff to create a roadmap of how our community can be the best place possible to age.

More Information: FRCOG website Age and Dementia Friendly Communities page; Meg Ryan at [email protected], or ext. 158.

Community Health Improvement Plan Report

In December 2023 the FRCOG completed the region’s second Community Health Improvement Plan, or CHIP. That 3-year plan focused on addressing high priority health needs identified in Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment: reducing youth substance use, increasing mental wellness and resilience, and removing barriers to active living and healthy eating.

The 2021-2023 CHIP report documents the work of four subcommittees, a steering committee, and a related housing-focused project, as well as the collective impact of health improvement activities implemented by municipalities and organizations in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. During this second cycle, our CHIP Network more than tripled in size from about 100 to 300 members, clarified its purpose and values, and capitalized on unanticipated opportunities to improve local community health.

More Information: FRCOG website CHIP Network page; Jen Audley at [email protected], or ext. 126.

Economic Development

Digital Equity Planning

FRCOG staff continue to support the creation of local digital equity plans in the region, with contracts funded by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI). With federal digital equity and broadband funds coming to the Commonwealth, the MBI has created statewide plans, and developed programs to support planning and implementation at the local level. Presently, FRCOG is working with Greenfield, Montague and Whately on individual community plans, and on a regional plan with the eight-town collaboration of Charlemont, Colrain, Leyden, New Salem, Northfield, Orange, Warwick and Wendell.

Sr. Economic Development Planner Ted Harvey And Attendees At A Greenfield Digital Equity Planning Meeting.

Each of these plans will be completed in spring 2024. We held community-wide meetings in Greenfield and Montague in December; upcoming community-wide meetings will be held in Charlemont, Northfield, Orange and Whately later this winter. Recently, FRCOG was selected by Shutesbury and Leverett to help them develop a joint digital equity plan starting this spring.

More Information: FRCOG website Municipal Digital Equity Planning Services page; Ted Harvey at [email protected] or ext. 123.

Emergency Preparedness

Regional Emergency Preparedness Committee Funding

Late in this quarter, EPP received a Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. This grant will allow the county to hold a functional exercise focusing on first response to a significant incident involving hazardous materials. The exercise, currently in the planning phase, is scheduled for spring 2024.

More Information: FRCOG website Regional Emergency Planning Committee page; Dan Nietsche at [email protected] or ext. 110.

WRHSAC Trains Local Instructors

The Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council has successfully trained 40 local Fire, Law Enforcement, and EMS personnel to serve as instructors for the Active Attack Integrative Response (AAIR) program. This program, recognized as the state standard for Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) training, promotes collaboration among law enforcement, fire, dispatch, and EMS professionals during active shooter or threat incidents. The training emphasizes the implementation of Rescue Task Force response, aiming to enhance the safety and survivability of victims in active attack/shooter situations by refining the efficiency, coordination, and integration of resources among responding disciplines.

These 40 newly trained local instructors will play a crucial role in disseminating the AAIR program throughout western Massachusetts. By doing so, they will equip responders across the region with vital skills necessary for effective ASHER, thereby contributing to the overall preparedness and resilience of the community.

More Information: FRCOG website Western Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council page; Raine Brown at [email protected] or ext. 138.

Shared Municipal Services

FY24 Collective Purchasing

The Collective Purchasing Program provides bidding, contracting, and troubleshooting services to municipalities, districts, and non-profit agencies. The Purchasing Program can save participants money by volume discount buying. We also save time and avoid potential legal risks by assuring that legally-required bidding processes are properly followed.

  • FRCOG took the lead on a county-wide School Bus Transportation bid for a five-year contract for nine school districts.  A satisfactory bid was received and contracts are currently being written.  This saved busy school business managers a lot of time and effort and had a good result.

More Information: FRCOG website Collective Purchasing program page; Ellen Batchelder at [email protected] or ext. 131.

Transportation

Gill Complete Streets

Franklin Regional Council of Governments staff has been working with the Town of Gill to develop a Complete Streets Prioritization Plan. The goal is to identify projects to improve bicycle and pedestrian access throughout the town. Completion of a Prioritization Plan will make the Town of Gill eligible to apply for funding to implement the projects identified in the plan through the MassDOT Complete Streets Funding Program. Examples of potential projects include creating new or improving existing crosswalks, developing new sidewalks or bicycle paths, installing pedestrian crossing signals, improving bicycle safety/mobility with new bike lanes or wider shoulders, or installing bicycle parking.

FRCOG staff conducted fieldwork in the fall to evaluate existing conditions and identify potential areas for projects. Examples of top priority projects include a sidewalk connection from the Stoughton Place apartments to The Mill gas/convenience store as well as pedestrian improvements in the village center by Town Hall. The FRCOG also gathered input about specific areas where improvements are needed through an online survey.

More Information: FRCOG website Complete Streets page; Jack Carolan at [email protected] or ext. 164.

Regional Bike Plan Update  

FRCOG Transportation Planning staff is commencing work to update the Franklin County Regional Bike Plan. The previous plan was completed in 2009. The update will build on earlier bicycle network planning. The work will also incorporate complete streets and best practices for creating better bicycle infrastructure connections locally and regionally. The staff will be posting an online survey and interactive map to receive input in late January 2024.

More Information: FRCOG website Franklin County Bikeway page; Beth Giannini at [email protected] or ext. 125.

Staff Updates

Keith Barnicle headshot.

This quarter we said goodbye to Keith Barnicle, who resigned his position as Grants Specialist to work for the City of Greenfield. We wish Keith well in his new endeavors!

In late December, we bid farewell to Chief Procurement Officer Andrea Woods as she began her retirement. Andrea worked at the FRCOG for 16 years. We wish her all the best in her retirement.

We are pleased to welcome Laura Phelps as our new Chief Procurement Officer. Laura comes to us with years of procurement experience, most recently with the City of Greenfield. Welcome, Laura!

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