CategoryRural Massachusetts

Rural issues and the 2017 Massachusetts Democratic Party platform

The Massachusetts Democratic Party is holding hearings about the 2017 party platform, which will be approved at a convention in June.  The Platform Hearing Committee was in western Massachusetts yesterday, holding one hearing in Springfield and another in Pittsfield. The following is the statement I made at the Pittsfield hearing.


Good afternoon,

My name is Beth Bandy. I am Chair of the Select Board in the Franklin County town of Charlemont, and I also will be an alternate delegate from Charlemont to the Party’s Convention in June. I am here today to make suggestions for the new State Party platform that would show support for our rural communities and help the Party engage rural voters.

As Representative Mark knows, for the last year the Charlemont Select Board has been hosting a series of meetings with Select Board and Finance Committee members from more than 20 small towns around western Massachusetts. These Small Town Summits are opportunities for us to discuss common concerns with our colleagues. We also have started reaching out to our peers in rural communities in other parts of the state. Over and over, we keep hearing that rural towns in Massachusetts are facing the same challenges.

Let me be clear. When I say “rural towns are facing the same challenges,” I mean half of all the towns in the state are in the same boat. We tend to think about Massachusetts as an urban or suburban state, but 170 municipalities in Massachusetts – that’s 48% or almost half of the total – are rural.

These communities are running on very lean budgets with limited revenue options. Town office functions and services are provided by volunteers, with a minimal number of paid staff. These towns are home to more than 830,000 people who desperately need economic development opportunities. With this background in mind, I would like to make the following proposals for the new platform.

The Preamble to the Party’s 2013 platform included 18 brief statements summarizing core principles of fairness, equality, safety, and access to basic infrastructure. As we craft a new platform in 2017, I would like to see one more bullet point added to the preamble that reads:

“We want broadband access for all residents of Massachusetts.”

I also would like to see a new section added to the platform that focuses specifically on rural issues. This section ideally would support:

  • sustainable economic development, job creation, and entrepreneurship in the state’s rural communities broadband access as an essential component of rural economic development
  • a sparsity formula for calculating rural school district aid – similar to what is already in place in more than half of the states around the country
  • fair and predicable PILOT payments for State-owned lands – an essential component of financial sustainability for many rural towns in Massachusetts, some of which are more than 40% owned by the State
  • taking the needs and unique challenges of running rural towns into account when passing new legislation

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. I look forward to seeing you at the Convention in June and working with you to make the Democratic Party a positive force in rural communities across the Commonwealth.

Where Is Rural Massachusetts?

rural-ma-map-by-pop-density-2

Most of the people in Massachusetts live in densely-populated areas, particularly in and around Boston. The state’s other major densely-populated communities can be found the Worcester area in the center of the state, and in and around Springfield and Pittsfield in the west.  Because so many people live in these places, it is not always obvious that 170 towns in the Commonwealth – 48% of the total municipalities – are rural, with under 500 people per square mile.

There are many wonderful things about rural life in Massachusetts. There also are many challenges involved with governing and providing services in these communities. I will explore these topics in future blog posts.

For today’s post, I created the map above to answer this basic question: “Where is rural Massachusetts?”

The map shows that rural communities are spread across the state. Each pin on the map represents a rural town, and the pins are color coded by population density. The swath of dark blue pins in the western and central part of the state have under 100 people per square mile. A few of these particularly rural towns also can be found on the Cape and Islands. Lighter blue and green pins represent rural towns with higher population densities. You can zoom in and access the data I used to create the map by clicking this link.

 

© 2017 Beth Bandy

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