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Regional News

State auditor: Western Mass. communities need more state aid

Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump
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Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump

Updated 9:30 a.m.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump is calling for increased funding for western Massachusetts communities. She made her case in a report she released Tuesday.

Bump said the western part of the state has "cash-strapped towns with shrinking populations and labor forces, declining property values and crumbling public infrastructure, all of which are deterrents to private economic capital necessary to reverse these demographic and economic trends."

She said the state should spend more money helping western Massachusetts cities and towns fix their streets and bridges, as well as their municipal buildings, like police stations and town halls.

Bump also said Massachusetts should continue efforts to increase broadband access in rural areas. She said the state has the resources to provide more local aid because of federal pandemic assistance. 

State help to repair roads, which comes through what's known as Chapter 90 funding, has increasingly flowed toward the eastern part of the state. Bump said that's because the money is distributed based in part on population and employment.

Western Massachusetts cities and towns have experienced much lower growth in residents, or even a drop in some places.

"That means a dwindling share of Chapter 90 monies are going to the four counties of western Massachusetts," Bump said.

She said the Baker administration should update the formula used to calculate how much Chapter 90 money a community can receive — and that the number of miles of roads a community has should count for more. Bump also said the Legislature should increase funding for the Chapter 90 program by $100 million per year. 

One challenge, Bump said, is that some small towns don't have the necessary staff to write applications to get state funding that's currently available.

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