Hampshire Council of Governments seeking to dissolve

  • The Main Street entrance to the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton, home to the Hampshire Council of Governments. Photographed Wednesday, April 17, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A crew from Wesfield Construction Company works on the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton, home to the Hampshire Council of Governments, on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton, home to the Hampshire Council of Governments, is undergoing repairs to its windows, roof and masonry walls. Photographed on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. STAFF PHOTO KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Hampshire County Courthouse, as seen from Gothic Street in Northampton, Wednesday, is home to the Hampshire Council of Governments. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton, home to the Hampshire Council of Governments, is undergoing repairs to its windows, roof and masonry walls. Photographed on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 4/17/2019 11:35:08 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The Hampshire Council of Governments is working to sell off its assets and transfer its programming to other entities as it charts a path toward ceasing operation.

The council announced the plans to all of its employees Wednesday morning, but Chairman Russell Peotter said they have been in the works for months.

“This is where we are,” said Peotter.

The Council of Governments, known by some as HCG, was the successor to the Hampshire County Government. It runs a number of programs, including the Regional Purchasing Co-op and the Hampshire-Franklin Tobacco-Free Community Partnership. It also owns the Hampshire County Courthouse and several energy businesses.

The organization cited two reasons for seeking to dissolve: the ongoing costs of health care and retirement liabilities for county employees, which it’s responsible for, and a sharp decline in revenue from the energy businesses.

Executive Director Todd Ford estimated that its budget was negative $400,000 to $500,000 in the 2018 fiscal year, and Peotter said that “at least” the same amount was lost in the current fiscal year.

Peotter said that, by the end of June, the council will have nearly depleted all of its cash. In the first step of a three-part plan, it would sell off the courthouse, energy businesses and real estate holdings, and would put the funds into a trust to pay off the council’s liabilities.

There has been interest from the state government in buying the courthouse, Peotter added.

“That’s still our preferred option,” he said.

The second step of the plan would be transferring responsibility for the programs that the council runs to other entities in the public or nonprofit sector, along with the employees of those programs. Peotter said that there has been significant interest in the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, the Regional Purchasing Co-op and the Hampshire-Franklin Tobacco-Free Community Partnership.

“We’ve gotten positive responses for all of them,” he said.

Peotter said discussions with potential acquiring parties have included making sure that employees of all the programs still have jobs.

“That is the priority,” Ford said.

In the third step of the plan, the council would cease operation and transfer the other county roles it still has to other entities. For example, it plans to transfer the Hampshire Group Insurance Trust to the trust’s Insurance Advisory Committee.

Peotter said the hope is to complete this plan by the end of June, although that’s not looking likely now.

The council has been in conversations with the area’s legislative delegation about the situation, Peotter said, and legislation allowing it to dissolve will need to be passed.

“All of this has been coordinated with the delegation,” said Peotter.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said her office has been involved in the process since December and that legislators have worked with the Massachusetts Trial Court and the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to explore the possibility of the state buying the courthouse. The delegation also asked the state auditor to look over the council’s finances.

“The delegation sought the best result to HCG’s difficulties,” Comerford said.

She also said legislation that would allow the council to dissolve is being drafted.

“This is coming from HCG and their estimation that they are no longer viable,” Comerford said.

The Legislature could relieve the council’s financial woes by transferring the retirement and health liabilities to the state, Peotter said, as was done when other county governments dissolved.

“This could be solved by an act of the Legislature tomorrow,” Peotter said.

If the state were to take on the liabilities, Peotter said that the council would consider not dissolving. However, he said the organization would still seek to not be a government agency.

Peotter said that Hampshire County could use an organization dedicated solely to it.

“There were times we hoped that HCG could help be that organization,” he said. “But right now, we don’t have the capacity to move forward.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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