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After public safety facility tour in Ashfield, Conway, Auditor Bump says the state is neglecting rural Western Mass. communities

A white woman with glasses stands behind a podium smiling

Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump was in Western Massachusetts Monday, touring rural public safety facilities. Deep in the emerald band of hills west of the Connecticut River, she visited the Ashfield Fire Station and the Conway Fire and Ambulance Station alongside regional leaders like State Senator Adam Hinds, State Representative Natalie Blais, and House Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security Carlos Gonzales. Bump, a Democrat, has served as state auditor since 2011 but is not seeking re-election this year. WAMC caught up with her after the tour to find out what she learned about infrastructure in the state’s remote communities.

BUMP: The point of the excursion was to demonstrate the inadequacy of the facilities, police and fire facilities in these communities, and to underscore the need for state support for replacement of these inadequate facilities. So we saw overcrowded fire stations. You could barely fit the trucks in, they can't even have trucks of a normal size that actually meet the needs of the community because of the inadequacy of the buildings in which to house them. They don't have proper places to wash and stow their gear or even maintain the trucks. They have to be brought outside in order for simply doors to be to be opened and access to be provided. There aren't proper jail facilities, lockup facilities, in the police stations. The police stations, if you will, comprise no more than a single office space in one of them. If someone is brought into custody while awaiting a transfer to a proper jail, the person in custody is literally chained to a handle on the wall. This does not meet the needs of a modern day police force or of a public that expects humane treatment of for folks in lockup.

WAMC: So what is the outcome of this? Now that you've seen these conditions and acknowledge that there's obvious shortfalls in infrastructure out in the hills of Western Mass, what comes next?

Well, there is legislation that is pending that would create a state funded authority, an agency, to help municipalities, particularly rural municipalities, have renovate or build a new facilities for their public safety needs. It is modeled on the agency that exists to support the renovation and replacement of local schools. That is the Massachusetts School Building Authority. So we're looking for the Public Safety Authority that would complement that in terms of meeting local infrastructure needs.

Now, you've spoken a lot about regional equity issues in Massachusetts during your time in office. How does this play into long standing differences between how this kind of infrastructure is funded in the western portion of the state and the more Boston-centric eastern portion of Massachusetts?

All communities face hard decisions when they are contemplating changes in major pieces of infrastructure, but the challenge is particularly acute in these more rural areas because they don't have expanding tax bases from which to draw upon for funding. The needs are especially urgent here in western, rural Western Massachusetts. That was the point that was being made to the House chairman of the Public Safety Committee. [Gonzales] hails from the city of Springfield, and really, if you saw the expression on his face, he literally could not believe his eyes, that what he was, was seeing. This was, it was like entering a foreign country for him. And he as much as said so.

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